Category Archives: Mark Niesse

Last tribunal in APS cheating upholds educator’s firing

A three-person panel has upheld the dismissal of a former Atlanta Public Schools testing coordinator, the last educator whose job status hadn’t been settled after allegations of involvement in cheating.

The panel found that Juanessa Booker “did not take adequate steps to maintain integrity” during the administration of the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test at Scott Elementary, according to findings obtained Monday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open-records request.

Booker was the only one of 185 educators named in a June 2011 state cheating investigation whose employment with Atlanta Public Schools hadn’t been resolved. All but about 24 of those implicated resigned, retired or were fired.

Booker denied during her April 23 hearing that she erased answers or knew that others were cheating, but attorneys for Atlanta Public Schools argued that Booker failed to do her job of maintaining the integrity of tests.

About 68 percent of classrooms at Scott Elementary were flagged for suspiciously high numbers of wrong answers erased and corrected on the 2009 CRCT, according to the state investigation.

Booker last worked for Atlanta Public Schools in the 2011-2012 school year. She had been seeking reinstatement and back pay. Her attorney didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

While Atlanta Public Schools’ proceedings involving cheating allegations have come to a close, other cheating-related cases remain.

Thirteen former educators, including Superintendent Beverly Hall, face criminal charges in a trial scheduled to begin this fall. Also, dozens of appeals are pending from educators whose certifications have been recommended for suspension or revocation by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Cheating Scandal, Mark Niesse

Atlanta Public Schools settle pay inequality case

The two highest-ranking women working in Atlanta Public Schools, paid much less than top male executives, recently received big raises and back pay so the school system could avoid potential lawsuits over salary inequity.

The Atlanta Board of Education unanimously approved pay increases last month to narrow the $44,833 gap in average pay between the women and men who report directly to Superintendent Erroll Davis, according to documents obtained this week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through open records requests.

Under the agreement, Deputy Superintendent Karen Waldon’s pay rose from $165,003 to $205,000, and Chief Strategy and Development Officer Alexis Kirijan’s salary increased from $148,732 to $190,000. They also received two years of back pay worth $89,944 for Waldon and $84,100 for Kirijan.

Waldon and Kirijan had previously earned about 78 percent of the average salaries of the six men on the school system’s senior staff, a figure that mirrors the nationwide pay gap between women and men. Across the country, women’s median earnings are 77 percent of men’s, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“We wanted to make sure we are treating all our employees equitably, and those steps are designed to do that,” said Board of Education Chairman Courtney English.

Waldon oversees Atlanta’s 105 schools and learning centers, and Kirijan is responsible for designing strategies, regulations and projects to meet the school system’s academic goals. Waldon has been with APS since August 2011, and Kirijan has been there since 2008.

The board’s written settlement agreements with Waldon and Kirijan prevented the possibility of lawsuits. The agreements include a clause requiring Waldon, Kirijan and Atlanta Public Schools not to discuss the case.

Read the full story on MyAJC.com.

By Mark Niesse

Leave a comment

Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Mark Niesse

Atlanta eighth-grader stricken in class, dies

An eighth-grade Atlanta student became sick during a class Wednesday and died after being rushed to the hospital.

Melvin Bussey, the boy who died, attended Bunche Middle School in northwest Atlanta.

Superintendent Erroll Davis said in a statement Thursday that when he became ill, emergency responders and the family were contacted immediately.

“This is a difficult day for the Atlanta Public Schools family. We are extremely saddened by the loss,” Davis said. “We will keep the family in our thoughts.”

Grief counselors were brought to the school Thursday.

No other details surrounding Bussey’s death were provided by Atlanta Public Schools.

Atlanta police don’t believe foul play was involved, and there’s no criminal investigation into the death, said Sgt. Gregory Lyon. An officer was dispatched to the school and followed up after the student was taken to the hospital.

APS spokeswoman Kimberly Willis Green wouldn’t say whether there would be an investigation by the school system, and she said no more information would be released Thursday.

“We’re trying to let the students and family grieve,” she said.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Leave a comment

Filed under Mark Niesse

Will APS Become A Charter System

Options weighed for Atlanta school system structure

School Choice
Fulton County Schools

tlanta Public Schools is beginning to consider whether it will become a charter system or choose a different operational model.

The city school board heard about their options during a presentation Monday from Louis Erste, the Georgia Department of Education’s associate superintendent for policy and charters.

All of Georgia’s school systems must decide by June of 2015 whether to maintain the status quo, become a charter system or adopt a different educational reform model.

Charter systems gain more school-level authority and accountability, and in exchange the school district must meet benchmarks for student achievement.
 
 
By Mark Niesse
AJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Charter Schools, Mark Niesse

School board seeks review of central Atlanta education

Atlanta’s school board has agreed to start a conversation about improving education in the central part of the city after dozens of parents and students protested the pending closure of Kennedy Middle School.

The board on Monday unanimously approved a review of education in the Washington Cluster, where Brown Middle and Kennedy Middle feed into Washington High.

The board didn’t suggest it would change course on plans set during a redistricting process two years ago to turn Kennedy Middle into a career academy next school year. Kennedy Middle has 59 students left, and they will move to Brown Middle.

“We have to have a larger conversation,” said board Chairman Courtney English. “Washington is a special place. Its history is woven into the history of this city.”

Superintendent Erroll Davis said he wanted to focus on improving the quality of education at Brown Middle rather than consider keeping Kennedy Middle open.

“I certainly am never in opposition to having discussions with the community,” Davis said at Monday’s board meeting. “I do not think, however, that we should give people going into these discussions an expectation of an outcome. We really heard tonight more about keeping Kennedy open then we did about middle grades education in that cluster.”

By Mark Niesse
AJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Mark Niesse

Google says Merry Christmas Early

Surprise donations bring supplies to Atlanta classrooms

Nearly 400 Atlanta-area teachers received funding Tuesday for supplies including a playground, pencils and magnetic tiles as the result of a $340,000 donation from Google.

The gift on Teacher Appreciation Day fulfilled requests of every teacher in the region who had sought resources from the online charity DonorsChoose.org, where they can find donors to support their classrooms.

Among the donated materials were a karaoke machine for French students at Whitefoord Elementary School in Atlanta, 10 interactive writing tablets for fourth graders at Chesnut Elementary in Dunwoody, and colored pencils for Knollwood Elementary School in Decatur.

Teachers were surprised by the “flash funding” donation, which will reach about 38,775 students.

“With two kids in the Atlanta Public School system, I’m inspired daily by the hard work of our local teachers,” said Tom Lowry, head of Google’s Atlanta office. “Today, we’re excited to team up with DonorsChoose.org to say a big thanks to teachers and to support all their classroom projects in the Atlanta area.”

Google funded 394 projects in Cobb, Forsyth, Hall, Henry, DeKalb, Clayton, Fulton, Douglas, Gwinnett, Paulding, Coweta, Walton, Spalding, Cherokee, Barrow, Newton, Fayette, and Rockdale counties.

Google previously held a similar donation event several weeks ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, when the company funded every DonorsChoose.org project in that region.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Leave a comment

Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Mark Niesse

Charter school’s strategy breaks barriers of poverty

School Choice
Fulton County Schools

When the glass and white Drew Charter School opened in 2001, it was the pristine hope for an Atlanta neighborhood stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and violence.

It started as the city’s lowest-ranked elementary school, with most students far behind in reading and math. Their East Lake community was known as “Little Vietnam.” Only 13 percent of residents in the area’s housing project held a job in the mid-1990s.

Since then, Drew has become a model for achievement among students from low-income backgrounds, putting up test scores competitive with those at schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Its strategy is being copied across the country.

Drew, which was Atlanta’s first charter school, is now expanding with a second campus that was built through a $73 million fundraising effort. By adding high school grades, the school and its partners plan to nurture students from as early as 12 weeks old through 12th grade.

How does Drew do it?

Students attend classes longer and on more days than their peers in traditional public schools. They start schooling sooner with early childhood education programs. About one-third of them attend after-school programs, where they can receive extra help on their school work.

As the school made its gains, development transformed East Lake into a safer place. East Lake Meadows, the housing project, was demolished and replaced in 2001 with the Villages of East Lake apartments, where half of residents receive financial assistance and half pay market price for rent. Nearby, a Publix grocery store, Wells Fargo branch and coffee shops sprang up.

“You have to have an integrated, holistic and comprehensive approach,” said Danny Shoy, president of the East Lake Foundation, which was founded in 1995 to improve the area. “I don’t think Drew would be as much of a success if it were placed in a neighborhood where housing was in tremendous disrepair or where there weren’t other resources.”

Beating the odds

Charles R. Drew Charter School, named for the surgeon who developed blood storage and transfusion techniques during World War II, was conceived in the heart of East Lake’s revitalization effort in the late 1990s.

The neighborhood needed a quality school to get people to live there, and the school needed stronger families and tranquil streets.

It took a few years, but 98 percent of the 1,300 students now meet or exceed standards in reading, math and language arts on the state standardized tests.

Though 62 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, Drew’s students in grades K-5 recorded the sixth-highest achievement scores in the city on the state’s school report card released last month. The five K-5 elementary schools ahead of Drew had between 7 percent and 15 percent of students eligible for free or discounted meals.

Students at Drew, who wear uniform hunter-green shirts, receive about 2 1/2 years more instructional time from grades K-8 than students in traditional public schools, said Principal Don Doran. The school day lasts about an hour and a half longer, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the school year is 185 days instead of 180.

Because Drew is a charter school, it can require more classroom time and spend less on administration, he said.

“The hardest thing is to get students engaged and taking responsibility for their own learning. This school is more successful than other schools I’ve been associated with in that piece,” Doran said.

Kids stay excited about school by participating in programs such as robotics, harp, swimming and golf on a course near the East Lake Golf Club, where the PGA Tour Championship is played, he said.

Doug Peters, a 22-year-old preparing to graduate from Georgia Southern University with a master’s degree in higher education administration, attended Drew from fifth through eighth grade. He said it had a profound impact on his academic and social progress, including teaching him how to swim and play golf.

Before he transferred from a now-defunct elementary school to Drew Charter, “I came home from school one day and told my mom that the kids can’t read,” Peters said.

Now, “I can speak to any high-level executive about golf and interact with them.”

Community building

Where many saw desolation in East Lake 20 years ago, developer Tom Cousins saw opportunity.

“From the very beginning, we knew that safe, decent housing and a great school would be the key drivers of transformation,” Cousins said.

He said Drew Charter School is a big reason the mixed-income approach to public housing succeeded.

“Every family, from the poorest to the most well-to-do, wants to live where the best schools are,” he said.

Partnerships between the school, a YMCA and the Sheltering Arms early childhood education program helped children even before they reached school.

Reaching kids early plays a major role in making sure they are prepared to read and write, said pre-K teacher Charisse Tate-Upshaw. She said the school exposes children to more words because studies have shown that children in poverty hear fewer than one-third of the words heard by children from higher-income families during their first four years of life.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap in the learning curve before third grade,” she said. “We really work on their vocabulary and how to use it in the right way.”

Safira Yasin, parent of a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader at Drew, said tutoring outside of class, longer school days, after-school programs and an involved community all help.

“There’s not too much space for kids to mess up. The home is here, the school is there and the community is there,” said Yasin, who lives in The Villages of East Lake apartments. “It reminds me more of an intensive private school that pays close attention to the children.”

Growth ahead

The changes in East Lake are a well-known example of rebuilding a neighborhood by building a school, said Jeffrey Vincent, deputy director of the Center for Cities & Schools and the University of California Berkeley. The initiative showed that significant investment in buildings, combined with extensive services for families, can increase urban population growth and help remove the barriers poverty creates, he said.

“We need to be cautious about promoting that only charter schools can work in these situations,” Vincent said. “What we haven’t seen enough of are traditional public schools doing an East Lake type of project. A big bureaucracy of a large organization like a public school district is something we need to make more nimble.”

The strategy surrounding Drew was to have the school support the community, and the community support the school, so that the whole would be greater than its parts, said Carol Naughton, senior vice president for Purpose Built Communities, which was founded in 2009 to replicate the East Lake model in other parts of the country. Projects are underway in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Birmingham, Ala., Omaha, Neb., and several other cities.

“There’s never going to be enough government and philanthropic dollars to do this without the business community’s participation,” Naughton said.

When the Drew Junior and Senior Academy opens late this summer, it will house students in grades six through 10, with an additional grade added in each of the following two years.

But even with the expansion, demand for the school far exceeds its capacity.

About 1,500 applications have been received for students to attend Drew next year, but the school only has room for 210 more students.


Atlanta K-5 school poverty and academics

School…Students eligible for discounted meals…State achievement scores

Morningside…8%…58.9

Brandon…11%…58.2

Jackson…7%…57.5

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School…11%…56.2

Springdale Park…15%…55.2

Drew…62%…52.9

Source: Georgia Department of Education data on free and reduced-price meal eligibility and College and Career Ready Performance Index scores for the 2012-2013 school year.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

The cost of development

Drew Charter School opened in 2000 and the next year moved into its current campus, which cost $15 million that was raised by the East Lake Foundation.

The Villages of East Lake, which replaced the East Lake Meadows housing project, cost $50 million to build. The Atlanta Housing Authority invested $17.8 million, with the rest coming from private sources, according to the East Lake Foundation.

The 200,000-square-foot Drew Charter Junior and Senior Academy is being built as the result of a $73 million capital campaign. Donations over $1 million came from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, CF Foundation, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Georgia Power Foundation/Southern Company Charitable Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, The Marcus Foundation, Robertson Foundation, O. Wayne Rollins Foundation and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The project also benefited from New Market Tax Credit transactions made possible by PNC, SunTrust, the Low Income Investment Fund, the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corporation and Urban America.

Any child living in Atlanta may apply to attend Drew Charter, but the school gives first preference to residents of the Villages of East Lake. Students living in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods are eligible to fill remaining spaces, and remaining spaces may taken by other Atlanta residents. Students are selected through a lottery if applications exceed capacity.

By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Leave a comment

Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Charter Schools, Mark Niesse