Atlanta superintendent receives top honor.
Q: Tell us a little about the make-up of your district.
BH: Atlanta Public Schools has approximately 50,000 children, 76 percent of which qualify for free or reduced lunch. Over 80 percent of students are black, 9 percent are Latino, and the rest are white and other ethnicities. The district has been on a path of improvement over the last nine years, and we've been gaining a lot of attention because it's been such steady, incremental progress. The other interesting point is that this is my tenth year, which is a little bit of an anomaly for a superintendent.
When you say nine years of improvement. what type of improvement is that exactly?. State test scores? Graduation rates?
Both. When I arrived, only 46 percent of fourth-graders were meeting or exceeding state standards. But the state has raised the bar, and now we have 86 percent of our fourth-graders meeting state standards. Our graduation rate rose from 30 percent to over 70 percent.
Let's talk about the stimulus package. Do you have a sense of how Atlanta might benefit from the new federal monies?
We don't have the fine print yet. What I do know is that without the stimulus package, we would have to consider laying off teachers. And dearly we can use the money that will come for the school modernization program and for technology. It really is a shot in the arm for public schools all across America.
Can you offer any advice to other administrators who may be struggling to raise student achievement?
I think we all have to prioritize. For example, when I got to Atlanta we took on the teaching of literacy with a great deal of intentionality, because teachers said their college's school of education did not prepare them to teach reading. So we invested heavily in professional development around the teaching of literacy. We also looked at the issue of principal leadership. If you don't have a competent leader, no matter what the central office is mandating or providing, you don't get the return on the investment for the resources you're using. And I also am quite entrepreneurial. I go out to the philanthropic community, to the corporate community, and I ask them for support--particularly for start-up costs for initiatives that I know the budget will not be able to provide.
What are some examples of those one-shot initiatives?
My signature initiative with elementary school is something called Project GRAD--Graduation Really Achieves Dreams--which has been supported by the Ford Foundation. One of its components is that you provide to schools two or three social workers who go above and beyond what the regular school social worker would do to link families and children to outside agencies for health support, mental health support, and other services that impact the child. I raised $20 million in three years to support Project GRAD, which also provides tutors for children who are falling behind in first and second grade to provide a family support team within the school. Those are things that our budget would never have been able to provide.
So it's not just standard teaching but a more holistic approach that brings multiple services together.
Right. You'll hear from the teachers, "Oh, I can't do it, because they don't come. ... They're here today, they're not here." Those are real issues in urban centers, and yet we hold teachers accountable ultimately for student achievement. Yes, teachers do have a job, but they can't say that they don't have support in getting the job done.
www.DISTRICTADMINISTRATION.COM Read more of our conversation with Beverly Hall.
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|Title Annotation:||Conversations: Beverly Hall|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2009|
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