Sometimes A World-Class School Just Isn’t Enough

Who is responsible for our children’s education? Parents? Schools? Most would probably quickly agree that these parties are of paramount importance in insuring the education of future generations. However, what if businesses, faith-based groups, and non-profits were added to that list? What if there was community-wide shared responsibility for education?

Norcross high school is ranked 8th in Georgia.  It boasts numerous athletic state championships, and is an International Baccalaureate World School  — carrying a rigorous curriculum track that attracts students from other districts across Gwinnett County.   However, only 70% of NHS students graduated in 2012.

At first glance, many would be shocked at this reality. How does a school of this undeniable high academic quality produce a graduation rate barely above the state average (69.72% in 2012)?  In order to fairly answer that question, it helps go a few layers deeper into school data.

The Norcross cluster served just under 12,000 students in the 2011-2012 school year, of which 25% were classified as English learners and 72% as economically disadvantaged. The state averages for those classifications are 5% and 57%, respectively. This reveals a valuable insight: there are complexities impeding education that are rooted outside of the classroom.  Given the external factors in place, Norcross is truly doing a phenomenal job at educating our children.

Demographic trends show that these emerging complexities are only growing in scope.  So what is the solution?

You probably guessed it…that old “ it takes a village” cliché; except with a bit of a twist.  Granted, the parent and teacher have a bit different role than the town blacksmith, but the blacksmith should still have a great interest in the education of his future clientele.

Because a community is impacted by its schools (e.g., property values, attractiveness to employers, etc), it should take a vested interest in their performance.  As evidenced by the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati, OH, cross-sector community investment in education is proven to effect significant change in educational outcomes.  They have adopted a philosophy of varied accountability, but a fully shared responsibility.

Breakthrough Communities is GCO’s approach to taking the proverbial bull by the horns in the Norcross school cluster.  We believe that by establishing a community-wide common agenda, participating in mutually reinforcing activities, utilizing shared data measures, and implementing continuous improvement, we can see the systems of support changed for our students.

Imagine how student performance could be changed if after school programs, summer day camps, community based mentoring efforts, tutoring initiatives, and teachers were all watching the same numbers, and each one knew exactly how their efforts played an integral role in improving those numbers.

What if, through a collective alignment of efforts, the Norcross High graduation rate increased to 90%?  Don’t you think that the benefit of that change would impact more than the additional graduates and their families?  The represented cohort of 195 graduates would increase the gross state product by $3.1 million each year and spend an additional $215,000 each year exclusively on purchasing vehicles.

So, next time you read an article or hear a news report that is blasting poor school performance, stop and ask yourself two questions:  1) What is the rest of the story behind the alleged poor performance numbers?  2) How can you be a part of changing the future realities for students?


You Have to Know Your Choices before Making One

In communities across Georgia, too often parents that have school choice options are unaware of the opportunities that exist. Not because they don’t care, but because we haven’t done enough to share. Share the options, what they mean, and how to access them. GCO’s School Choice Handbook does just that. This is one of my favorite parts of the job—making information available to parents in a real way so they are armed with information and ready to proactively address the needs of their children.

Unfortunately, some areas in Georgia are limited in its choice options where they need alternative approaches to educating students in a way that sparks not only academic growth but personal character development as well. I believe we will get there one day, perhaps maybe even one choice at a time. However, we must begin with one student at a time.

Maybe you know someone that may need an alternative for a special needs student in a public school. Perhaps you know of a student who wants to pursue private school or charter school options after being bullied in a local neighborhood school. Possibly you know a parent who wants to transfer their child to another public school in their district. Regardless, this handbook gives an overview of all scenarios mentioned above. Please share this resource with other parents or use it to address your own situation.

Let’s seek better options together!

Click  here to download a copy of GCO’s School Choice Handbook.

Continuing the School Choice movement through hands on training

The school choice advocacy trainings in Atlanta and Macon were amazing. It was great seeing people from across Georgia interested in learning more about how to support choice options such as charter schools, tax credit scholarships, public school transfers, and special needs scholarships. In Atlanta, many advocates wanted to learn more so they can tell their friends and community members about how to take advantage of these opportunities.

One advocate went as far to text her friend about the special needs program while in training. In Macon, advocates shared a common desire for students in rural areas of Georgia to dream beyond the possibilities that they currently see. They believed that expanding choice options through charters would help with this. To their surprise, there were three participants who recently submitted charter applications to do just that.


Taken from the session in Atlanta, GA

Yes, I can go on about having Rep. Morgan there who encouraged participants to speak to their legislators and how the voice of the constituent makes all the difference. I can even brag about how our training in Macon was at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and included Pastor Tony Lowden, a commissioner from the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  But nothing beats having parents, grandparents, college students, and other community members who sacrificed their time to learn about choice and how to use their voice in this growing movement. I was excited to learn more about why school choice matters to them…. because our children do.

As GCO goes out into communities to hear more stories, I hope we begin to write new ones together for the sake of all students across Georgia, particularly those in urban and rural communities such as those represented by our participants.