Though Amendment 1 spurred a contentious campaign, the points raised by both sides renewed our commitment to focus on chronically struggling schools and we, as Georgians, cannot allow this focus to wane in the aftermath of the election.
Supporting schools is a shared responsibility
The introduction of the Opportunity School District concept in the Legislature during my first days in office highlighted the need for the Georgia Department of Education to broaden our approach to supporting schools. In the past, struggling schools were primarily served by the School Improvement Division. I gave the direction that supporting these schools needed to be a shared responsibility across the GaDOE, with a common goal to decrease the number of schools on the opportunity-eligible list. We’ve made progress and have been able to work with districts to decrease the number of opportunity-eligible schools by eight percent.
Since the onset of this campaign, my commitment has been focused on our responsibility of ensuring that schools are not on the list in the first place.
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Unique challenges require a unique approach
As state school superintendent, I have traveled to schools across Georgia, including some that were on the opportunity-eligible list. Many factors contribute to the poor performance of these schools: fractured communities, unclear expectations, lack of consistent leadership, inconsistent support and students that have needs that go beyond pure academics. What I have witnessed is that each of these schools face unique challenges, and to truly address struggling schools, we cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach. We must look at each school and individualize support to best meet its needs. For that reason, our staff will partner with each of these schools so they have a personal contact to help provide whatever support they may need.
It’s time to focus on solutions
To truly customize and target our support for these schools, we must engage stakeholders. In that spirit, I will be inviting stakeholders from all invested groups — members of the education, business and faith communities, as well as families to participate in the Solutions Summit to have candid conversations about these schools and develop a framework where all parties, including the GaDOE, have skin in the game. It’s time that we stop talking only about the problems that persist in these schools and start developing actionable solutions.
Engaged leadership, engaged communities
Engaged leadership is essential, both in our struggling schools and districts as well as at the GaDOE. Several of the state’s struggling schools are located in struggling communities. To break this cycle, we must engage both schools and communities in a meaningful way. We will be organizing and holding a series of community conversations across the state where these schools are located. This will be an opportunity to invite the community in, share our resources and our data, and have conversations to chart root causes and create solutions to address school performance — all with the common goal of supporting our kids.
As state school superintendent, I am charged with overseeing a K-12 system that educates over 1.7 million students in our public schools, and nearly 65,000 of those students are attending chronically struggling schools. There is a lot of great work happening in a majority of Georgia’s schools, but we must come together as communities to work on behalf of those students whose schools are not best serving their needs. Bold action and long-term commitment are needed to bring about success. I look forward to working with all Georgians to ensure our students are given the greatest chance for a bright future.
Richard Woods, a 22-year public school educator and former small business owner, is Georgia’s School Superintendent.