During his final State of the Schools in Atlanta address, Superintendent Erroll Davis spoke of how the sharp socioeconomic divide between Atlanta Public Schools students affects student achievement and college readiness, calling the 51 percent graduation rate “stunningly unacceptable” during his speech Tuesday morning at the Carter Center near downtown Atlanta.
“We are much more than controversy and scandal,” said Davis, whose contract expires in December 2014. “We are certainly a system that has been filled with challenge over the years [and] have met those challenges. … But it [the district] is one of activism, one of increasing collaboration and increasingly real progress and also filled with hope.”
Justice Brooks, a fifth-grade student at William M. Finch Elementary School, scored the highest in his grade level on both the math and reading portions of the CRCT and had the honor of introducing Davis. The 10-year-old said he plans to march down the aisle with his cap and gown in 2021 and go on to attend Harvard University.
“I plan to save people’s lives by becoming a doctor and finding a cure for cancer,” he said. “I consider myself to be a legacy builder. We all are.”
Davis said the key to ensuring more students like Brooks find success involves providing a variety of learning opportunities at all schools and taking a hard look at how district resources are distributed. Davis said far too often, public education tends to “institutionalize privilege” for just a select few students.
He noted the district’s dropout rate declined 8.5 percent this year, down from another 11 percent drop the previous year. He said 55 percent of district students that went on to attend Georgia universities and technical colleges from 2007 to 2010 had to take one or more remedial courses.
“America, as well as this system, is simply not doing enough for its children,” Davis said. “Our education system is not only failing the poor kids, it is failing all children.
“We must do better,” he said. “When students walk on to college campuses and have to register and spend their time on remedial courses, we’re setting them up to walk right out of college with more debt and very little education. These young adults are going to meander through a society where no college or no post-high school training adds up to no job and no quality of life.”
Throughout the speech, he spoke candidly about the district’s shortcomings but remained optimistic about the future, noting educational partnerships with large corporations like Georgia Pacific and Sodexo and an increased focus on providing training opportunities to teachers.
Another component for success Davis outlined was the district’s need to keep its “foot on the pedal” toward full implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
“From our perspective, there will be no retreat from the Common Core,” Davis said, noting the transition has been a challenge for teachers, but hard work worth doing to guarantee student success.
During a question-and-answer portion of the event, “Georgia Gang” commentator Alexis Scott read from questions submitted by the audience and asked a few of her own — sparing no subject, including Davis’ take on charter schools and the high cost of the new North Atlanta High School.
Scott asked Davis what he thought the role of charter schools in the district would be in the next five years.
Davis said charter schools are not a “panacea,” as the system has some “wonderfully performing” schools and others that have not done as well.
“I don’t see them as competitors,” he said. “I see them as part of our system.”
In response to a question about the much-publicized $147 million price tag to build the new North Atlanta campus, which opened to students last week, Davis said he thought the school may have gotten more than its fair share of media attention.
“If you look at it on a cost-per-square-foot basis, it is not out of line with a lot of our other schools, some our newer schools. …What you don’t hear is such things as this land was appraised for over $100 million but we got it for I think probably $60 [million.],” Davis said
Big schools cost big money, he added, noting the school’s 2,400-student capacity.
“I have visited it and it’s certainly a nice school,” Davis said. “I don’t at all consider it plush. We took an eleven-story building and retrofitted it.”