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I am Atlanta Public Schools…Choosing to Move Forward… I’m in…Are You?

We are all responsible and accountable for the education of our children. Their education must be pervasive to all of our thinking. We should accept praise when it is due but also shoulder responsibility when things do not work as we had expected.

We are all responsible and accountable for the education of our children and their education must be at the foerfront of all of our thinking.

We should accept praise when it is due but also shoulder responsibility when things do not work as we had expected. 

Contributing to a child’s academic success requires commitment, honesty, openness and an environment which fosters mutual respect and teamwork. 

Solid support systems must be in place in order for urban youth to succeed. Research consistently shows the importance of parents being actively involved in their child’s education. 

When parents are involved, they will understand what a child is expected to learn, the degree in which they are learning the expected subject matter and when additional help or support may be needed. 

When the parents are involved, they gain a sense of confidence that they are empowering their child and contributing to their future success.

Today, I challenge each of you to read this article and accept that we all bear some responsibility for the situation that Atlanta Public Schools (APS) finds itself in today. We must all recommit ourselves to our children and improving APS so that what has happened can never reoccur. 

The objective of the article is to create a dialog of what roles are essential in providing the best education possible for Atlanta’s
children.

What Happened?

The Atlanta Public Schools system—which includes the Board—lost sight of its primary goal. As a result of losing its focus policies, practices and procedures designed to ensure children receive a world class education were not followed. 

For example, teaching national and research based standards were traded to teaching to the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). 

Based on test results, this method of teaching has not produced the desired results. According to the 2010 CRCT results Atlanta Public Schools students in grade 3, 5 and 8 scored substantially lower than the state average in all content areas. 

In addition, the 2011 Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT), given in order to receive a diploma, demonstrated that Atlanta Public School juniors produced the lowest passing rate (58%) in the Atlanta metro area. 

As a school system with highly qualified administrators and teachers and supportive business and community partners, one would expect better outcomes. 

It becomes clear that teaching to the test has failed and is not providing students with knowledge to compete with their counter-parts. 

I personally believe that researched based practices that have proven to be successful with urban youth be implemented. Whether a student goes to college, vocational school or enters the workforce, the 21stcentury learner must have these capabilities: higher-level critical thinking and problem-solving skills; effective oral and written communication skills; the ability to analyze information; and curiosity and imagination.

Accountability

It is the responsibility of a good leader—whether at the district level or school level—to utilize a curriculum that ensures success for students.  This curriculum must be evaluated regularly so that we know that we are getting the desired results. 

All resources must be available to appropriately implement the curriculum. This includes focused and honest teacher and administrator evaluations. Even though interim superintendent Mr. Erroll J. Davis, Jr. has not had time to address the learning issues in the district, he seems to exhibit the qualities of what an accountable leader looks like. 

I believe, given time, he and his staff will implement a district-wide curriculum that will serve our children well so that we will see consistent improvement on state and national assessments. We must demand that we have rigor in all of our classrooms.

Solutions: Student-focused

Every student enrolled in APS must immediately be assessed
in order to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses relative to their grade level. An individualized plan of remediation must be afforded for students who are not performing at grade level. 

We cannot afford to wait to implement a curriculum that is rigorous and challenging but at the same time, supports in place to assist students when needed. 

This means that parents, educators, politicians, and the business community all have a role and can become positive contributors to the success of our students. These student-focused solutions are critical considering changes in new academic requirements to attain the HOPE scholarship, and the elimination of remedial programs which had previously been offered at all two-year transfer community colleges
and most four-year colleges. 

Students who are unable to make a passing score on a brand new  assessment tool which will measure their readiness for college level work will be required to enroll in one of the technical colleges. Only a few programs offered in technical colleges are transferrable to four-year colleges in Georgia and some other states.

Parents are paramount to this future success. Parents must have high expectations for their children, monitor their progress, create a learning environment at home and work in a positive manner with school staff. 

The National Education Association (NEA) reports that parental involvement results in fewer absences, improved behavior and increased educational success. 

This is true regardless of the parents’ income, education level or cultural background. Caring and supportive parents coupled with caring yet demanding teachers implementing a researched based curriculum is a good formula for success. Title I funding is designed to assist low achieving children in high poverty schools.

This should provide extra academic support and learning opportunities for students struggling to meet academic targets. Title I provides tutoring, special teachers in reading and/or math, pre-school programs, extended day/year programs, learning laboratories, professional development for teachers and parents, and home-school liaisons. 

The home-school liaison will also work with parents to raise their own capabilities in assisting their child.  Parents can contact their child’s principal to find out who the parent home school liaison is in their child’s school.

Enhanced Engagement Plans

Parents – at least twice a month, attend parent-focused activities – PTA meetings, Title I seminars/workshops and parent-teachers conferences; serve as a family engagement leader

Teachers – must develop top quality lesson plans and follow them each day making them available on teacher websites, hard copy and in local libraries

Parents/Community member – volunteer five hours a month in local schools

Local businesses and churches – invest in local schools by becoming sponsors in schools events with in-kind donations or cash contributions

Parents/Students – create a two-way communications system to ensure all school correspondence comes home and is reviewed, completed and returned to school

School administrators – enforce all school polices particularly bullying, dress and discipline codes with a clear uniform system-wide message that failure to comply with these guidelines will have consequences; create a parental involvement policy which will be managed and monitored and results-driven; incorporate parent home-school liaisons in outreach plans; fund three communications officer positions for high school, middle school and elementary schools; intentionally seek out leaders who have diverse backgrounds and have implemented best practices

Board members – work cooperatively with the superintendent and seek outside resources for the school district; visit schools monthly and host quarterly community meetings in their respective districts; be accessible, approachable and value the opinions of parents and the community

Websites You May Find Useful

National Education Association - www.nea.org
National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education -www.ncpie.org

Atlanta Public Schools - www.atlantapublicschools.us

National Fatherhood Initiative – www.fatherhood.org
Georgia Department of Education - www.doe.k12.ga.us

National PTA - www.pta.org

Parent Information Resource Centers - www.nationalpirc.org 

National Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents - www.nctic1p.org

I am SW Atlanta … I’m in, Are You?

I am an APS parent, employee, product of APS, native of Atlanta and a community and business leader dedicated to teaching my child and her peers spiritual and life principles.

 I hope to equip them with tools needed to succeed as life-long learners whether it is in school, college, work and life. I strive to demonstrate the true meaning of a positive role model imparting wisdom and resources that can make our young scholars goals in life a reality. 

I believe in engaging all those who are open, unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to touch as many children as possible. I will continue to seek out and work with people who advocate for the success of our children. 

Looking ahead, I have decided to focus on improving educational outcomes for children focusing on enhanced parent and community involvement engagement.

Sources: Georgia Department of Education, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta School Guide – Summer/Fall 2011,
21st Century Schools, and the U.S. Department of Education

Dawn Brockington Shaw July 19, 2011 at 12:18 PM
I'm in.....great editorial Jennifer!
arealparent July 19, 2011 at 03:09 PM
I agree that all hands must be on deck but also there has to be a mind change with the teachers. They have to believe our children are beautiful, bright and can learn. Both of my children attended Atlanta Public Schools and what I found was that the teachers did not believe in the students.
John Sam July 19, 2011 at 05:05 PM
BEFORE YOU MOVE TOO FAST FORWARD...Think about the message you are sending to the young minds of today's society. www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=185396358186640 Beverly Hall and all her minions need to be criminally charged and serve time in jail. If you think this is the end...it is only the tip of the broken education pencil. Check out the APS Finance department formerly headed by MARGARET COLEMAN. JACKSON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL principal had a direct hot-line to the APS-Cookie Jar. Making up numbers over the phone to payout Bonus Checks to select JACKSON STAFF MEMBERS with no criteria...and you guessed right... Reich's hands were not clean. The media needs to dig deeper into the politics behind the multiple layers of cheating our children. It's not just about TEST SCORES. Rename this Education Scandal - Atlanta's version of WATERGATE...and some of us are labeled the DEEP THROAT. The media has not peeled back the layers of corruption in the Georgia State Professional Standards Commission...Someone needs to interview attorney Warren Fortson and the lead investigator John Grant and ask them what's going on with their Code of Ethics. THE FLOOD GATES HAVE NOT OPENED YET! www.TopPublicSchoolCorruptionAtlanta.com YouTube Channel: TopSchoolAtlanta
Jennifer Freeman July 19, 2011 at 10:21 PM
Mr. Sams you obviously DID NOT read the article with an open mind. The focus was not test scores but the kids. Please don't read anything else into it. I respect your opinion, respect mine. Have a great evening!
Jennifer Freeman July 19, 2011 at 10:26 PM
You are absoultely right. In my experiences I have heard the same. You can't teach children if you don't love them. Some of the words I hear come out of not only teachers mouths and behavior, but parents and students, I hope I never hear again. This is why it takes a paradigm shift for the whole community.
Jennifer Freeman July 19, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Thanks Dawn! Good talking with you last week. You are a refreshing group to work with. Upward and onward to progress.
Delores "Dee" Turner July 20, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Great article Jennifer!!! I am with you. And I would love to see a superintendent go into each and every school and tell ALL students, teachers, and principals that poor discipline will not be tolerated....that there will be zero tolerance for all acts of violence and disrespect. Then send letters home with this message to parents. Tell them that students will be removed who don't or won't allow teachers to teach. To my knowledge, this has never been done. I wish someone would attempt this.
Let's tell the truth please July 20, 2011 at 11:06 AM
Jennifer how can you "move forward" without sending a message that there is real accountability for the likes of Hall, Augustine, and others? Without this message, that there are real consequences for what they did to Atlanta's kids, you send the message that if others are just a little less blatant, they too can shortchange the kids and get away with it. Justice brings closure and that's what will move APS forward. Without this, how can you expect those teachers who have been repeatedly violated by APS to have any, and I mean any, "buy in". Trust must be earned, not taken for granted with platitudes about "moving forward"
Let's tell the truth please July 20, 2011 at 11:06 AM
Jennifer how can you "move forward" without sending a message that there is real accountability for the likes of Hall, Augustine, and others? Without this message, that there are real consequences for what they did to Atlanta's kids, you send the message that if others are just a little less blatant, they too can shortchange the kids and get away with it. Justice brings closure and that's what will move APS forward. Without this, how can you expect those teachers who have been repeatedly violated by APS to have any, and I mean any, "buy in". Trust must be earned, not taken for granted with platitudes about "moving forward"
Jennifer Freeman July 20, 2011 at 12:45 PM
I appreciate your opinion and totally understand what you are saying. This article intentionally did not focus on Hall, Augustine, the SRT directors, administrator, teachers, nor the Board, etc. because we've heard enough of it played out in the media. You would have to be blind NOT to know they either knew or should have known about the cheating and the unhealthy culture that permeated through the system. An unhealthy work environment breeds selfishness, destruction and greed. I have chosen to spend my energy on helping children and all those who educate them so that on Aug 8, there's a plan in place to support the emotional affects of this horrible fallout, and assessments conducted to determine where students are academically relative to their grade level. This will be my families focus. Inappropriate and alleged illegal adult behavior will continue to come to light but in the meantime, I choose to MOVE FORWARD for the sake of our children. I'll let the justice system deal with them. BTW - Who are you and what are you doing to make a positive difference by recommitting yourself to community service and other young scholars?
Jennifer Freeman July 20, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Delores, Thank you so much for taking time out to read and respond to my article and the great idea. I know at Mays High School, when a student has violated a policy such as fighting, a letter is sent home to the parent requesting a meeting with the principal immediately regarding the infraction. Myself and others plan to send Mr. Davis some suggestions for his consideration. If it's ok with you, I would like to add your idea to the list. Thanks again for reading the article. Have a great day!
Tracie Howard July 20, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Excellent article! Let's hope that ALL take heed and focus on what is truly important: the education, success and future of your youth, which by the way, is all of our future!
Delores "Dee" Turner July 20, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Keep those ideas flowing Jennifer! Feel free to use any of my suggestions.
Tammy Garnes July 22, 2011 at 09:53 AM
Last week a town hall was held at Douglass on the South Side - the turnout was weak at best, people left before it was over, I'm not sure if a single principal from any of the Cascade area schools was present yet the majority of SW schools were implicated. Last night there was a town hall at Garden Hills in Buckhead - the turnout was tremendous, the questions flowed for over an hour, principals from all of the area schools were on the front row, folks stayed AFTERWARDS to network, connect, plan for the future even though only one school had teachers impicated..... *sigh* You have to be the change you want to see in something....if nothing else you have to show up to town hall meetings, school board meetings, etc and at least pretend to care.
Delores "Dee" Turner July 22, 2011 at 11:27 AM
Tammy: That's a major part of the problem...parental involvement!! If parents (and the community) showed an interest in educating our kids there would not be the need for "some" or "any" teachers to cheat. After second & third grade many of "our" parents stop showing up to adequately check on students. Studies have shown this. Parental involvement and discipline (or lack there of) are keys to our schools failing. However, let one instructor say something negative or touch a child. These same negligent parents show up at the schools to raise unholy hell. Too bad they don't do this when a kid fails a subject.
Janita Poe July 22, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Wow. Interesting comments from all ends. I'm not a parent but I am an observer and I think one problem is that a sizable number of these parents are young moms who see the teacher as "the system" more than as a "partner" in educating their children. When I was coming up (in APS, West Manor Elementary) my mom and dad were friends with the teachers and the principal and THEY all were watching out as a team for my best interest. THEY all attended PTA with other parents and networked with the teachers and were at the schools. I'm sorry but, from my view, good education starts in the home. No matter how wonderful a teacher is, he or she cannot help a child if the parent doesn't respect the teacher and unite to help educate the child.
Yolande M. Minor July 23, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Jennifer, How do we get your message out to more people?
Jennifer Freeman July 23, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Amen Tammy! I'm still praying about what the parent involvement model looks like and how to implement a long-term plan of success. I know it has to do with the PTA, Title I parent liaisons, APS PAPACs and more, but how do we do differently to get the desired results . I refuse to believe that the majority of parents don't care about the lonife-long success of thier children nor or want to be involved in thier education. We have to keep on brainstorming and brainstorming and praying and praying for innovative ways of doing things and NOT doing things the same way.
Jennifer Freeman July 23, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Will do Dolores!
Jennifer Freeman July 23, 2011 at 11:07 AM
Janita, You are right and that's why we have to find news ways to reach and engage young parents. The attitudes of the administrators and teachers will have to change. This goes for students and parents as well. I heard someone say that Mr. Erroll Davis was on a local radio station and said that the bar has been set so low at APS that the expectations were that children can't learn or meet mandated targets so we have to help them - I'm paraphrasing. NO. We have to assess that child's strengths and weaknesses and develop a individualized plan for that child in order to reach the goals and objectives of the plan then implement, monitor, measure and repeat the cycle until successful results are evident. The challenge comes in when no one is delegated to hold the "team" accountable with following through with the components of the plan.
Jennifer Freeman July 23, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Yolande, It's going to take everyone. Sharing informaiton in my opnion is a gift. Believe it or not, there are people who don't like sharing information; imagine that. Jocking for position or what I call "God complex symdrome". Sharing relevent information in a timely manner is one key, but this requires advanced planning and proactive steps to develop programming and activities. Right now, quite honestly I'm tired of meetings. I'm really to have hands-on training, classes focusing on the arts, culture and fitness and tutoring with students, parents, and the community. I have dedicated my life to making a positive difference in everything and one I touch. If it's not positive and getting affective results, I won't be involved. So for me the involvement piece is about going full throttle. As time goes by, I'm learning more and more that having a FEW dedicated, unselfish and humble people on a team with a collective goal is better than A LOT of undedicated, selfish and prideful people on a team going no where. There are some great organziaitns doing some great things. Some of which need help with reevaluating their purpose, mission and outreach strategies. The PTA has so many resources and systems in place to reach not only parents, but educators and community partners.
Jennifer Freeman July 23, 2011 at 11:41 AM
Who are you?
Sean July 23, 2011 at 01:15 PM
Sorry APS...I can't help you. You need a change in demographics. Until Sw residents care about their community, all of this is just talk, the same talk I hear at community association meetings, the same reason I don't attend them anymore. Residents have to start educating their children at home first, it's pointless. SW Atlanta has been setback 15 years by this scandal. It will take 10 years to "forget" and 5 to get back to where we were. I actually regret buying property over here. Who wants to move their children to an area with failing schools? Had this happened 3 years ago I would have moved to east Atlanta or dekalb.
Yolande M. Minor July 23, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Great article, Jennifer !!!
W Calvin Anderson, M.Ed September 04, 2011 at 12:34 PM
This is an extraordinary commentary. Parents and community stakeholders must step up to the plate beyond the "do process" of the academic fraud case and be trained to understand Comprehensive School Improvement Plans (CSIP) on the classroom level and statewide testing scores. And we need to understand who every compassionate and qualified vendor and their "best practices" are too. Everything...demographically around the culture of education is measured since NCLB was federally ratified and data driven from the statistics of parent involvement to the efficacy of whether we are comfortable sending more kids to prison than to college 50 plus years after Brown v. Board of Ed of Topeka. W. Calvin Anderson, M.Ed

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