November 1, 2011
Dear Students, Parents, Employees and Friends of Atlanta Public Schools,
I have just returned from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) Annual Fall Conference in Boston, where Atlanta Board of Education Chair Brenda J. Muhammad and I conducted a panel discussion entitled, “The Atlanta Cheating Scandal: What’s next—How APS dealt with its ‘perfect storm’.” CGCS is composed of approximately 60 of the largest urban public school systems in the U.S.
The meeting venue was very well attended, as representatives from large urban school districts from around the country gathered to hear what we had to say about the myriad of issues that have impacted our school district over the past year or so. The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) cheating scandal topped the list of topics that most people were apparently interested in hearing about. But, Ms. Muhammad and I also talked about the other issues we are currently managing our way through, including the high school accreditation issue with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the transition to new leadership at APS, and budget issues, just to list a few.
Looking at all of the issues we are currently facing at the same time can make the task of resolving them seem all but impossible. But, that isn’t the way issues usually get resolved. You take them on one-by-one. And that is how APS and the Atlanta Board of Education leaders are tackling our issues.
The CRCT matter is now largely in the hands of the local district attorneys and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC), following the release of the state investigatory report. We are gearing up to conduct disciplinary hearings for the employees named in the report only after these other agencies conclude their work.
As I write this column, we are awaiting the decision from SACS regarding the status of the accreditation of APS high schools, which the organization put on accredited probation earlier this year. We are anticipating a positive outcome, following six months of concentrated, focused work by the school board to resolve issues laid out for them by SACS.
And, we are currently conducting a top-to-bottom assessment of the entire district to determine where we go from here in terms of direction and focus, including how best to resolve a projected $60 million operating budget hole for next year.
A good example of an institution that had to tackle a multitude of major issues right off the bat is The White House, immediately after President Barack Obama took office. He hit the ground having to deal with two wars in the Middle East that had been going on for half a decade and a collapsed economy far worse that anyone had experienced since the Great Depression. These are but two of the major issues he faced immediately upon taking office.
I can honestly tell you that I know exactly how the President feels. But I can also tell you that the issues facing the country just like those we are facing are totally resolvable. In the end, effective leadership at every level of the organization will usually get you where you need to go. And we’re getting there one step at a time, while keeping our main focus on the district’s primary mission – providing a quality education for each and every one of our students. I expect these things to get even more challenging before we turn the corner. Only with your continued help and support, however, will we reach our final destination. Excellence is neither a goal nor an aspiration. Excellence in everything we do must become our only acceptable standard.