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Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak to
educational leaders from across the state at a conference in Athens. Part of my
trip was visiting two schools in the Clarke County School District -- Cedar
Shoals High and Gaines Elementary.
One of my commitments is to visit struggling schools
in Georgia. I specifically chose Cedar Shoals and Gaines Elementary because of
their scores on the CCRPI, a tool used to score the performance of schools.
Both schools were in the low 50s.
Before the visit, I had never walked through the
doors of Cedar Shoals or Gaines. My only image was that which was painted by a
series of state-collected data points. Logically, my thoughts turned to weak
leadership, weak teaching, or unmotivated students.
These were my first two school visits as State
School Superintendent. When I entered Cedar Shoals, I was met by a charismatic
principal and a group of ROTC cadets, all beaming with pride in their school.
As I walked in and out of randomly selected classrooms, I observed great
teaching and engaged students. The principal knew every student by name and was
eager to brag on this school and staff -- their 9th Grade Academy, 1:1
initiative, and professional development partnership with UGA -- all things
that aren't counted on the state's CCRPI. The school was clean and orderly, a
real climate of effectiveness.
I was able to have lunch with teachers. I was
humbled and honored to have the chance to speak with and listen to them. These
individuals weren't the leftovers or outcasts from surrounding schools, these
teachers were passionate and dedicated professionals -- all elements that our
current accountability model struggles to measure.
Entering Gaines Elementary, I was greeted by the
principal and assistant principal -- a true dynamic duo who are laser-focused
on student achievement. The halls of the school roared as the students shouted
and waved in excitement. This school's climate of engagement and hard work is a
model of excellence that we should want for all of our schools, but again,
these are all elements our current accountability model struggles to measure.
I started the day looking over data points but, by
day's end, it wasn't the TEMs, LEMs, and CCRPI that made an impact on me, or
defined my notion of real effective teaching and learning. It was meeting school
leaders who saw their schools as their homes, their teachers as their family
members, and their students as their own children. It was meeting teachers who
did what they asked their students to do: constantly work to get better. This
wasn't a show; it was sincerity.
I can promise you that any individual who had spent
some time in these schools would have walked away labeling these schools as
model schools with CCRPI scores in the 80s or 90s and would be shocked to learn
that they are in the 50s.
There is a place for accountability, and I am fully
committed to addressing the issue of chronically underperforming schools
head-on, but I believe that we need to take a measured and targeted surgical
approach. We need to develop, implement, and execute these tools with the
utmost fidelity. We use these tools to paint a picture of our schools,
teachers, and students. Only when we start using all mediums, brushes, and
colors can we begin to get a clear picture of the individual works of art that
form the education of our children.
Richard Woods, a 22-year public school educator and former small business
owner, is Georgia’s School Superintendent.