Following the threat of state takeover under former Gov. Nathan Deal, Atlanta Public Schools may soon adopt its own turnaround approach, dubbed the "System of Excellent Schools," that would add more partner-operated schools and charter schools to the mix if approved on March 4, The 74 reports.
What the district is considering is sometimes known as a “third-way” system because it is a blend of autonomous schools and centralized district services. The district has also partnered with two charter organizations — Purpose Built Schools and Kindezi — as part of turnaround efforts and plans to add KIPP in the coming year, though details of the oversight of these groups would need to be ironed out if the plan is adopted.
- In an effort to improve schools and avoid potential state takeover of low-performing schools, the district has already established partnerships with other organizations, such as Communities in Schools, to expand wraparound services to students. Another effort that has proved successful is putting a tenants rights lawyer in the front office of a high-turnover school to help families deal with housing issues affecting school attendance, The 74 notes.
While state takeover efforts have had mixed results in turning around schools, the threat of a state intervention can act as a catalyst for change in schools and districts. Takeover efforts usually target schools or districts that are performing at the lowest levels, so becoming the target of a potential state takeover often highlights that whatever is taking place may need reevaluating and improvement.
However, some district leaders may feel more comfortable or passionate about controlling these changes themselves. District leaders are more familiar with the history of a school, its student population and its unique challenges. And since finding solutions often requires creativity, it can be easier for school leaders to devise plans that fit their schools. For example, installing a tenants rights lawyer is not a solution that would likely leap out to most problem-solvers. Yet housing instability is one of the greatest reasons for chronic absenteeism, so finding a way to help address it makes sense as an element of school turnaround.
Successful school turnaround efforts also usually include a high degree of collaboration. Sometimes, this happens among teachers and leaders within a district. Other times, it's with community partners and nonprofits, perhaps in establishing a community school model. And in other scenarios, this could come in the form of district-charter collaboration — an effort that can have marked benefits for all schools and the community at large. Developing a strong collaborative relationship with the state Department of Education can also help in avoiding state takeover and establishing a strong turnaround model, Martin Pollio, superintendent of Kentucky's Jefferson County Public Schools, said in a recent interview. Though some of these measures may be outside a leader’s comfort zone, they are worth exploring if they yield results the district and its schools.