SCCPSS looking at plans to help six failing schools

SCCPSS looking at plans to help six failing schools

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - One of the more notable questions on your ballot in Georgia this November is Amendment 1: the Opportunity School District.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is calling it his landmark legislation and legacy to the Georgia student.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School officials say the ball is already rolling to improve those schools. Whether the amendment passes or not, the reality is these schools need help. The district says they recognize that.

Amendment 1 would allow the state – with the creation of an opportunity school district or OSD – to take over these failing schools. The six in Chatham County include DeRenne Middle, Haven Elementary, Hodge Elementary, Mercer Middle, Myers Middle and Otis Brock Elementary.

The school district recognizes this problem. They say out of 54 schools, this is not a bad number. They are currently looking at aggressive ways to turn these schools around.

They hope to complete the three to five-year process in 18 months. The governor says the amendment isn't about state control, though. It's about making sure these students get what they deserve.

The school system says it takes more than just them to turn it around.

"What we need is the community to recognize that to solve this problem, were going to need everyone's help. That's really what we need," said SCCPSS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett.

"I'm all for local control if local control produces the results that we want. Nobody should be satisfied with any school or any group of children in their local school systems who are required to attend a chronically failing school," said Gov. Deal.

Beach High School is now one of the more successful schools in Chatham County. Six years ago that wasn't the case.

The school found itself very close to being taken over. The school chose an aggressive approach to remove the principal and a lot of the staff.

"At first turnaround didn't go over well, because it is aggressive change on steroids," said Aretha Rhone-Bush, with SCCPSS.

In just one year the school was passing. The results setting a nationwide example.

"Instructional leadership and access to quality teaching is what's going to make the biggest difference in student achievement," Rhone-Bush said.

Now, six Chatham County elementary and middle schools are in a similar position. The district says the turnaround method isn't the best right now, but certain parts of it are being used in each of these schools.

"So, the elements of the school turnaround model as mandated by the federal government for Beach and Groves High School is coming alive in our schools today," Rhone-Bush said.

"It can be done if we take an aggressive approach, and that's what we're looking at doing is taking an aggressive approach so that we can make that turnaround in 18 months," said Dr. Vallerie Cave, with SCCPSS.

Amendment 1 - if passed - gives the state the power to take these schools over and form an opportunity school district. Gov. Deal says it's not a power move. It's what's in the best interest of the students.

"We cannot continue to allow about 68,000 students attend chronically failing schools just because of their zip code," Gov. Deal said.

When you ask the school district, though, they recognize the problems in these six schools. They feel their plan is working.

"It's not a task that we can do overnight, but together we are working to make sure that we're turning them around, and it's working, slowly, but it's working," said Cave.

Funding is another issue here. If these schools are taken over, the district would lose whatever funding is allocated to that school. There are 54 schools in the district. The funding is broken up by the amount of students in the school.

Schools would qualify for OSD if they fail state requirements three or more years in a row. They are rated on things like test scores, student progress and evolvement, graduation rate and school climate.

The state does update districts annually on their scores. The governor's office alerted the district about these six schools last year.

Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods presented Jacob G. Smith Elementary with the blue ribbon award for its continued progress on Friday. We caught up with him afterward to talk about Amendment 1 and what he believes is the best way to turn around a failing school.

"We're already in the process of reaching out to individuals that are key stakeholders across the state. But also, I think looking at what we're doing internally. I think we're trying to take an internal audit of our processes," said Woods.

Just to clarify the timeline for schools that will be part of the Opportunity School District if this amendment passes. Schools that qualify as failing will be under state control for no more than 10 years or until the individual school has three straight passing years.

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