“They expect us to give them a better world than we got from our parents. … We all know that’s a big challenge,” said Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr., who has been with the system for one year.
Davis described the past year as “busy,” as it began with the legislative threat of removal of the school board.
“We all shudder when we hear ‘the biggest cheating scandal in the world,'” he said, referring to the CRCT cheating scandal.
“Just about every day I was waiting for another shoe to drop; then I felt like a centipede because they began dropping very quickly.”
But he said after “a lot of work and soul searching” from system employees and the board of education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will hopefully move the school system from accredited on advisement status to full accreditation status.
“We’ve certainly been through a tumultuous year,” he said. “We made some difficult decisions to streamline our workforce and reduced a lot of operational costs. … We’ve taken great strides in normalizing our offerings across the city.”
This year, he said the focus of the system’s work is on excellence, equity of opportunity, ethics and engagement.
New Common Core Standards are introduced this year, prompting a “new standard of academic excellence,” Davis said, and teachers will have intensive professional training throughout the year.
“We can’t expect our students to be ready if teachers are not ready,” he said.
However, Davis said, “shoes are still dropping” with 80 percent of the system’s schools in need of “intensive support.”
“We created these disparities,” he said, referring to the massive gaps in CRCT scores between Atlanta’s low-performing schools and high-performing ones. “Good organizations find isolated pockets of performance unaccept-able.”
Davis said he is not using a “one-size-fits-all” approach and described the new cluster system, which consists of nine clusters of schools in the system, each with a main “feeder high school.” For example, there is now a North Atlanta cluster and a Grady cluster.
He said the clusters will result in better vertical alignment of academic programs and students will receive more progressive courses of study.
Additionally, he said schools will increase practices for special-needs children and they will learn alongside their peers.
“Location, color, class and other circumstances of birth are not going to dictate education,” Davis said.
He said they are a more “transparent organization” with a new office devoted to open records requests and communications, as well as more collaboration with parties like Neighborhood Planning Units, the city council and the mayor’s office.
“I’d like to applaud the transparency I see today,” said Coan Middle School PTSA President Cindy Smith. “A lot of the questions I had through the first week of school were answered. … I can see that change.”
Davis said the school system is “poised to succeed” but “still not out of the woods yet.”
“Our plans are still being put into place and infrastructure is still being built,” he said. “True payoff is probably two or three years away.”