Live Blog: Board of Education Special Meeting 12/18/13

Thank you for following our live blog of the December Special Called Board of Education Meeting for Atlanta Public Schools.

View today’s agenda here:

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The meeting will begin soon.

Toomer PTA President:  I am here to talk in support of the K-8 proposal.  We held a PTA meeting in November and a motion was passed to support K-8 unanimously.  Also our Local School Council is in support. As a PTA president I’ve had the opportunity to speak with neighborhood leaders in East Lake and we all agree that we want to see our community as an education destination.

East Cluster Parent:  We support what they want to do at Toomer, but there is also strong interest at Burgess Peterson and burgeoning interest at Whitefoord around K-8.  Each one of those schools in each one of those communitites have strong support systems set up and they reflect those schools.  We see challenges in APS with vertical integration PK-12th grade and having that jump in middle school.  That said, when you look at the proposal, please think about the need of the entire cluster, the long term and the fact that there are 3 schools interested in that idea and the impact that could have.

An east Atlanta parent says that the 5th grade parents of Toomer, due to no decision about K-8 at the school, are planning to make other choices to attend charter, private and other schools outside of the neighborhood.

Coan Parent:  Why is there any talk of expanding Toomer Elementary?  Our children are a great example of the APS mission statement.  There are happy parents there.  I ask myself also if it is the betterment of all kids to stay in a building K-8 and the answer to me is no.  I have 2 children at Coan and I see changes in my 6th grader, being away from the younger kids is helping her to mature.

–End of Public Comment

-Breaking News–

Over a 10-year period, Atlanta Public Schools fourth- and eighth- grade students have demonstrated consistent and significant gains compared to all participating Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) school districts in the nation. From 2003-2013, APS students posted the highest growth in Grade 4 reading and Grade 8 math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.  Students demonstrated the second highest growth in Grade 4 math. APS students also tied with Los Angeles for the highest growth in Grade 8 reading. The results of the 2013 tests released today also show steady improvement between 2011 and 2013.

Since 2003, APS fourth-grade reading scores increased 18 points, the highest of all TUDA districts. Student performance grew from 37 percent testing at or above basic to 57 percent, which represents a 20 percentage point increase. APS eighth-grade students gained 15 points on the reading test over the 10-year period, which tied APS with one other district for the highest of all TUDA districts.  Student performance grew from 31 percent testing at or above basic to 54 percent, which shows a 23 percentage point increase.

In mathematics, APS eighth-grade students gained 23 points on the NAEP tests since 2003, the highest of all TUDA districts.  APS went from 30 percent of students testing at or above basic in 2003 to 54 percent in 2013, a 24 percentage point increase.  APS fourth-grade students gained 17 points in mathematics for the same period, the second highest of all TUDA districts. In 2003, 50 percent of fourth-grade math students tested at or above basic. This number escalated to 73 percent in 2013, which represented an increase of 22 percentage point. Additionally, 42 percent of APS eighth-grade students tested at or above basic in reading in 2002.  This number increased to 63 percent, which shows a 21 percentage point increase.

APS Superintendent Erroll Davis attributed the steady increase in NAEP scores to the district’s consistent focus on instructional and organizational improvements.  “What you see over this 10-year period is a commitment to advancing students consistently and with fidelity,” said Davis.  “The district has invested heavily in the area of standards-based learning, which includes, most recently, the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS).  School leaders embraced professional learning communities for teachers and administrators while also providing quality professional development in all subject areas,” Davis added. “Coupled with the recent announcement of an 8 percentage point increase in our graduation rate and 2.5 percentage point decrease in the district’s dropout rate, our future looks bright.”

Good afternoon.  Mr. Chair, I usually don’t give opening remarks during a special legislative meeting.  But I have a few timely updates for board members, employees  and the general public. I would like to start by congratulating/thanking the APS family at large. The past few years have been difficult in terms of the tremendous transition under way across this school system.  Students, families, employees and partners have remained focused on the real work of educating children.

Three strong/clear signs that the hard work is paying off: Students’ performance on the nation’s report card has improved.  The dropout rate has improved.  The graduation rate has improved. Allow me to explain each briefly.

Nation’s Report Card

The 2013 results for the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment were released today.

Each board member should have a packet of information about this assessment. The general public may recall that this assessment is often called the nation’s report card or NAEP for short.  Atlanta is one of 21 urban districts that voluntarily participate in the assessment. (See Press Release Above)

Dropout and Graduation Rates

Other reliable indicators are our dropout and graduation rates.  Across Atlanta, more  students are graduating on time and fewer students are dropping out.  According to results released last week by the state, the 4-year, on-time graduation rate for APS increased by 8 percentage points – or more than 15 percent – from 51% in 2012 to 59% in 2013.

This encouraging news about the graduation rate follows our announcement earlier this school year about the HS dropout rate. The annual dropout rate for APS decreased from 11% in 2012 to 8.5% in 2013.

Improved NAEP scores, graduation rate and dropout rate – these are ALL signs that APS is moving in the right direction.

Positive results can be attributed to many factors – following are a few:

Consistent focus on instructional improvements and more rigorous instruction in APS, most recently with the implementation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, intensive professional development for APS teachers and principals, students’ innovative learning opportunities, such as the Atlanta Virtual Academy.

College scholarship announcement

Last night, I received another piece of good news.  For 2013-14, Atlanta Public Schools has produced 23 Posse Scholars. This is the highest number of Posse Scholars in our history since the program came to Atlanta in the 2007-08 SY.

Each of our scholars will receive a four-year, full-tuition scholarship that is worth approximately $100,000!  We commend the scholars, and their teachers, counselors and entire school community.  And we thank the Posse Foundation and its donors for these generous, prestigious scholarship opportunities.

This is all good news!  However, I do NOT want anyone to suggest that the data indicate we are where we need to be.  Actual achievement levels are still much too low, on average.  And a consistent and disturbing gap remains between our white students and students of color, AND between students who are economically disadvantaged and those who are NOT. With every passing year, more and more of our families are struggling financially:  Two years ago (SY12), 75% of students were eligible for F/R meals.  This year, we estimate the number to be 77%.

In spite of the challenges, we ARE adding value,  far more than most, and we ARE making progress.  But we are not where we need to be.  To continue moving forward, schools that achieved large increases will be studied and best practices will continue to be replicated districtwide.

Sharing the Good: Communication Milestones

Consistently, senior leaders and I have been asked to do more to share the good about APS.  We ARE doing a better job spreading the word and engaging audiences, and we have reached an important milestone.  Our Talk Up APS blog – the districtwide online newsletter – is becoming a reliable source for timely information about our schools:  Since the blog was created 4 years ago, it has generated nearly 1 million page views. So far in this school year alone, the blog has received more than 40,000 unique visitors.  By Jan. 2014, all 100+ APS learning sites will have received online coverage.  The objective is to achieve not only more coverage, but also more equitable coverage.  Several of our Talk Up APS stories were picked up and repurposed by mainstream media outlets.  Good news also being shared in other ways: our Ch. 22 TV programming, community meetings, Twitter and more!

Kudos to the district communications and external affairs department, as well as to students and teachers for giving the department a wealth of solid, good news to report!  We hope everyone will stay tuned for more to come in the new year. Best wishes to everyone and Happy Holidays!

With that, Mr. Chair, I have no further updates.

–End of remarks

“What is Progressive Discipline” – Presentation by Karen Waldon

This presentation will be posted after today’s meeting.

Meeting minutes will be posted as soon as they become available.  We are ending our blog early this afternoon.  Thanks for following.

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