Dear Governor Deal: Here is an Alternative to Your Opportunity School District

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Dear Governor Deal,

I am writing this public letter to offer you and members of the Georgia House of Representatives an alternative plan to the Opportunity School District plan.

According to Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287 the state will be authorized  to takeover “chronically failing schools.”  I know you believe it is a moral duty to do this, but as you have pointed out, if anyone has another idea, please bring it forward.

Well, this post describes an alternative.

At this point in the legislative session, I hope that you and your House colleagues will  listen to an alternative plan. Instead of the state taking over 100 of the 141 schools that are eligible to be part of the Opportunity School District, the plan I will suggest is based on research, and been achieved in various city school districts around the country.

Firstly, we should agree that the plan you and your Senate colleagues have approved  is a copy the New Orleans Recovery School District, and Tennessee (which was based on the New Orleans’ plan) take over plans.  The New Orleans Recovery District’s first superintendent was a former Teach for America recruit with two years of experience teaching, and Tennessee hired a charter school organizer as its first superintendent.

Secondly, if the OSD is approved I hope you will leave the decision-making to choose a superintendent to Georgia School Superintendent Woods and his team, as well as the Georgia Superintendents Association.  They could give you a short list from which you can select.

But, of course, I hope that the House votes down Senate Bill 133 and Resolution 287.

Schools as Community Learning Centers: An Alternative to the Opportunity School Districts

I think you will agree that the plan being proposed in the Georgia Assembly is a top down, authoritarian approach to school change.  It is based on managing schools using numbers and data, rather than people and relationships.

Here is a plan that embraces people and relationships, and sees schooling in a different light.  Instead of labeling a school as a chronically failing entity, each school is envisioned as a community learning center.

I hope you will read about this alternative plan.

To find an example of an alternative plan you might consider looking at what is happening in Cincinnati, as suggested by Gloria Johnson.    Since the House hasn’t voted on these bills, what’s happening in Cincinnati and other districts around the country is very relevant to Georgia.

Instead of turning schools over to the state, reform in Cincinnati is centered on engaging the community by developing all schools as community learning centers, “each with financially self-sustaining, co-located community partnerships that are responsive to the vision and needs of each school and its neighborhood.

This is a grassroots approach to education reform, and does not rely of top-down mandates.

Instead of plucking a school or two from this or that school district, and putting them under the control of some distant superintendent this plan recognizes that school is a crucial part of any neighborhood or community.  Parents put their trust in their local school, and last thing they want to see happen is for their school to close, or be turned over a for-profit group, with few ties to the community.

Instead of a state or centralized government take over and control of public schools,  Cincinnati has chosen a decentralized, community based plan.

The Cincinnati Public Schools has created campuses around the city that build relationships between the schools and communities.  Here is what you will find about this plan if you visit the CPS website:

These schools, known as Community Learning Centers (CLC), serve as hubs for community services, providing a system of integrated partnerships that promote academic excellence and offer recreational, educational, social, health, civic and cultural opportunities for students, families and the community. Over the past ten years, this model has drawn national attention for successfully engaging community partnerships in school buildings.

CLCs offer health services, counseling, after-school programs, nutrition classes, parent and family engagement programs, early childhood education, career and college access services, youth development activities, mentoring, and arts programming.

And, of course, like it or not, testing is a part of the Cincinnati alternative, and their results have been very good: achievement scores are up, dropouts down and graduates up.

For Georgia schools, it would be unabashed mistake to adopt the New Orleans/Tennessee Recovery School Plan.

Finally, I want to call your attention to the work of Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State, Sacramento.  In a recent issue of Urban Education, Dr. Heilig and his colleague Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford were guest editors to an entire issue of the journal, entitled Community-Based Education Reform in Urban Contexts (Urban Education, 49(8), December 2014).

The researchers in this issue of Urban Education explain that “bottom-up” reform is a way of providing local communities more control over their children’s education, and the allows for the design and implementation of curriculum more relevant to the community.  A recent law (Local Control Funding Formula and Local Control and Accountability) in California that gives more local control of funding is what we need to be fostering here in Georgia.  Here is what Heilig and Horsford say about this:

The law, which created a process whereby parents, students, school staff, community members, and the superintendent work together to identify short- and long-term educational goals based on local priorities, grants greater flexibility for local communities to determine both their educational goals and mechanisms for holding schools accountable to achieving those goals. Nevertheless, the degree to which local communities have the capacity to engage meaningfully in the design and implementation of such accountability plans, rather than superficially, is of pronounced concern.

Governor Deal, and members of the Georgia House, I ask you to consider looking into this plan, and reconsider the idea of taking over certain schools in the state based on test scores and poverty concentration.

If you are House members, I hope you will vote no on the Opportunity School District bills, and get to work figuring how to work with the school districts in the state.

We don’t need another one.

Kind regards,

Jack Hassard

Emeritus Professor

Georgia State University