ATLANTA -- A total of 14 schools in Bibb County and an additional two in Twiggs County have made Gov. Nathan Deal’s short list in a plan for the state takeover of “failing” schools.
It’s the start of a plan to improve the worst-performing schools in Georgia, using New Orleans’ post-Hurricane Katrina public school reorganization as a model.
“We have a moral duty to do everything we can to help these children. Failing schools keep the cycle of poverty spinning from one generation to the next,” Deal said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon.
A new “Opportunity School District” would overlay the entire state and allow the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to swoop in and take over failing schools.
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A “failing” school is one that has spent at least three years at the bottom of the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index.
By that metric, some 140 schools are failing statewide, including the 14 in Bibb. The new bill that lays out Deal’s plan says the state would take over no more than 20 at a time.
Choose too many and “you have budget issues,” said state Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin.
It’s not clear which 20 may be chosen first.
State Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, said he thinks the bill is an excellent idea. He said he would feel comfortable applying it to any school in his district if it needed it.
“I think what we’re doing is trying different approaches, innovative approaches,” he said. “We’re going to go in there, try it and work on it and then hopefully give it back to them.”
Tennessee and Michigan also have created school districts fashioned after New Orleans’ post-Katrina model.
“The rationale for our achievement school district was we had a lot of schools stuck on bottom,” said Kevin Huffman, the former education commissioner of Tennessee who oversaw the creation of the special districts in that state.
Just six Tennessee schools have completed two years as recovery schools, Huffman told a special hearing of the state House and Senate education committees. He said parents call from outside of those school districts asking how their children can get in.
“That’s a promising sign,” he said.
In New Orleans, the recovery district delegates a lot of power to each individual school, said Neerav Kingsland, formerly of New Schools for New Orleans, an independent group that supports that city’s recovery schools. That includes hiring and firing, curriculum, instruction and finances, he said.
And the results are starting to show, he told the legislative panel Wednesday.
“In 2004, only 54 percent of New Orleans students graduated from high school. ... We’ve now got this up to 73 percent,” Kingsland said.
New Orleans schools are not at the top, he said, but they have risen from F-minus to average in just 10 years.
But New Orleans also did away with collective bargaining for teachers and tenure, something bound to attract criticism in Georgia.
Kingsland also told lawmakers it was difficult to make such “bold change” at first, though New Orleans’ public opinion has since come around.
Dickey said he could foresee pushback on the ground in Georgia.
“If you’re doing it for the children, I think it will be well-accepted. If you’re more interested in protecting your turf and territory, yeah, you’ll get pushback from those types of school boards and individuals on school boards, administrators,” he said.
The Bibb schools listed as failing are Brookdale, Bruce, Burghard, Hartley, Ingram-Pye, King Danforth, Rice, Riley and Williams elementary schools; Appling, Ballard Hudson and Bloomfield middle schools; and Northeast and Southwest high schools.
In Twiggs County, the schools listed as failing are Jeffersonville Elementary and Twiggs County High School.