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Atlanta School Board discuss achievement gaps, graduation rates during forum

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Atlanta School Board discuss achievement gaps, graduation rates during forum

Atlanta Public Schools bus. Photo by Dean Hesse.

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Atlanta, GA — Decaturish held a forum on Oct. 9 with the candidates running for the Atlanta School Board, District 3 seat. The candidates discussed Atlanta Public Schools’ achievement gaps and graduation rates, among other topics.

The candidates in this race are incumbent School Board Member Michelle Olympiadis and Ken Zeff.

Each candidate was given a chance to make an opening statement, asked several questions about their strengths and priorities if elected, and then was given the opportunity to make a closing statement.

Early voting begins on Oct. 16 and Election Day is Nov. 7.

The forums are available on the Decaturish Media YouTube channel. To see all our forums in the Nov. 7 election, click here.

Atlanta Public Schools, like many school districts, are struggling with achievement gaps among students from various socio-economic backgrounds. Students and teachers lost time which other during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zeff said.

“When the money is stuck in the central office it doesn’t happen, so what happens, these achievement gaps widen,” Zeff said. “What students need are more time with teachers, more time in the presence of content, and if we don’t focus on getting resources to the schools, we’re not going to make that happen for our students.”

Zeff added he prefers to say opportunity gaps because students don’t have the opportunity to perform and achieve their potential.

Since the Beverly Hall administration, APS has had issues addressing reading discrepancies, Olympiadis said. The current administration with interim Superintendent Michelle Battle is focused on addressing literacy in kindergarten through third grade through Fundations, “which would help us get to where we need to be,” she said.

“We also need to address what’s going on in middle school and high school with respect to students,” Olympiadis said. “We have a serious issue that’s been lagging for a very long time and something that needs to be addressed by the administration.”

Candidates also discussed measures they’d take to improve graduation rates and reduce dropout rates in Atlanta Public Schools.

Olympiadis said she thinks APS inflates its graduation rates and thinks the school district be more “sincere” about its data. She would like to see students be able to have a “sincere pathway” to get to a school and have a “real graduation opportunity.”

“I mean that in a real way, meaning that I think high school graduation rates are something that…folks want to see have a high rate, so we’ve made sure that we’ve raised our rates,” Olympiadis said. “What I think there is an opportunity is to make sure that children have the opportunity or students have the opportunity to go to a school where they can actually get a really good education and move forward.”

Zeff added that the school district shouldn’t be focusing on the graduation rate, but rather the school board should be honest with parents, be transparent, and increase its investment in improving it.

“If 40% are at grade level in math and reading, even less, 35% in reading overall, how are we at an 84% graduation rate,” Zeff said. “How is that something’s happening in the last couple of years, or is it the reality that high school graduation is not an indication of mastery? It’s an indication of completion.”

The school board needs to invest more in schools, like adding more school counselors.

“If we push more money to the schools, we can lower that counseling ratio, have high expectations for students, we can give them the support, then they can make good decisions,” Zeff said. “They can figure out what their path is, but they can make the decisions that are right for them, but the board can do that by getting out of the way and putting resources in our schools’ hands.”

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