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Deal keeping focus on school fixes after defeat at ballot

POSTED: January 11, 2017 6:41 p.m.
/Associated Press

Gov. Nathan Deal delivers the State of the State address Wednesday on the House floor in Atlanta.

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Gov. Nathan Deal is asking Georgia lawmakers to support a new plan for fixing low-performing schools after voters last fall rejected a proposal for state takeovers of schools that consistently struggle.

What that means for the Fair Street School in Gainesville remains to be seen, but Principal Will Campbell said his students and teachers have been unfairly branded in a recent report from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement that deems the school “chronically failing.”

“I hate the title they are choosing to use,” Campbell said. “We have students who are making tremendous growth this school year, and teachers who are highly dedicated and serious. What we’re doing is working.”

Campbell said Fair Street has shown improvement in state assessments over the past two years despite unique language barriers and socioeconomic challenges that its students face.

Though he acknowledged that additional improvements are needed, Campbell said a “moving target” of assessments has burdened the school.

“With all respect, I would encourage Deal, and anyone in Hall County, to come and visit my school,” Campbell said. “Let’s walk the hall together. Come see what’s really happening.”  

The Republican governor said in his State of the State speech Wednesday that nearly 89,000 students were stuck in failing schools last year and their number "will grow with each passing school year" if nothing is done.

“It should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, that this is unacceptable,” Deal said. “If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year.”

Deal said he’s working with legislative leaders on a bill for lawmakers to consider this year. He offered no specifics of the new turnaround plan.

Campbell’s own children have attended Fair Street, and he said he is proud of what they have accomplished alongside their classmates.

“We don’t want to ignore the data,” he added. “But we also want to highlight what’s working.”  

Deal asked lawmakers for $160 million to give teachers a 2 percent pay raise next year. Overall, he proposed $606 million in new spending for the remainder of fiscal 2017. Deal’s proposed state budget for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, contains nearly $25 billion in total spending — an increase of 3.6 percent over the current year’s budget.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County Schools, said the proposed pay raise for teachers is a “welcome and tangible step toward recognizing the important work our teachers perform every day.”

Schofield said he refused to accept the status quo when it comes to underperforming schools, but added that he would “also continue to espouse the need to carefully and fairly identify the metrics that lead to the identification of those schools.”

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said his group hopes to work with lawmakers on that final plan. He said it’s not fair to label schools as failing based on test scores alone, and he said factors such as poverty and hunger among students need to be considered.

“It’s not about the teachers not being good educators,” Chapman said. “We’re not at all about being status quo. We’re on the front lines every day.”

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said Republican plans to improve public schools and K-12 education were falling flat.

“Our schools are under assault from reckless ideas,” he said, referring to the defeat of Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District proposal at the ballot box in November. “State bureaucrats cannot and should not run local schools. Parents and their school boards should run local schools.”

Fort said Democrats are proposing a “community schools program” managed by local schools and parents to expand after-school supervision, tutoring, and provide medical care and nutrition where necessary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the full text of Gov. Nathan Deal's State of the State address


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