March 13, 2018 -- Atlanta -- Eric Thomas, Georgia's Chief Turnaround Officer for schools, talks to educators at a Georgia Coalition for Public Education event
Photo: TY TAGAMI / AJC
Photo: TY TAGAMI / AJC

More schools to join Georgia’s ‘turnaround’ program

The architect of Georgia’s education “turnaround” program says he wants to add about a couple dozen public schools to his portfolio in the fall.

Eric Thomas, Georgia’s Chief Turnaround Officer, has been working since December with 11 schools in five rural school districts southwest of Atlanta.

That’s a fraction of the 104 schools that performed poorly enough on the state report card to be eligible for the new program, which was created by a 2017 state law.

Thomas has been hiring staff and said he is ready to bring in “somewhere in the neighborhood of about 20-25” additional schools in August.

Thomas revealed his plans in Atlanta Tuesday at a Georgia Coalition for Public Education event about “community schools.” The concept calls for recruiting community help to address problems like asthma or hunger that suppress academic performance, something Thomas said he is already doing in the schools he has adopted.

The responsibility for improvement still rests with the schools themselves. If, after three years, their performance does not improve, they can be removed from the control of their local school districts.

Despite the risk for loss of control, Thomas said he has been able to find school boards willing to volunteer for the experiment, and he hopes to encounter the same cooperation this fall when he picks the second group of schools.

Within the next four weeks, he will talk with officials who oversee low-performing schools “to help them appreciate the work that we're doing and the approach that we're taking,” he said. Then, he said, he is going to “invite” two or three additional school districts to participate.

In January, Thomas told state lawmakers that he was eyeing schools in metro Atlanta, Augusta and southeast Georgia. Nearly half of the 104 eligible schools are in metro Atlanta, mostly in the city of Atlanta and in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

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