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Dear Decaturish – It’s time to address real equity issues in City Schools of Decatur

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Dear Decaturish – It’s time to address real equity issues in City Schools of Decatur

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

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Dear Decaturish,

I have been a proud City of Decatur resident for more than 20 years. When my husband and I moved here, I quickly fell in love with the neighborhoods and sense of community. As our family grew, we immersed ourselves in the school system by serving in the classroom and at the school level and supported the culture of collective accountability in our children’s learning environment. I tried to convert others to become CoD residents just to be part of the school system.

Over the years, we have weathered many educational storms together. We tolerated years of poor leadership at the district, Board, and individual school level. We came together with a collective voice to push for change, and finally, we have the ability to experience the school system we all want and believe CSD can be. But sadly, I find myself embarrassed by the school community I believed so much in because of our behavior over the past several weeks.

We are the City of Decatur! We were recently named the 2nd richest city in Georgia by Forbes with the lowest percentage of students on free/reduced lunch at 16% with the closest metro-Atlanta school system at 49.6% and lunch-gate becomes our equity issue?! We should stop! Talk about disappointing. It is just time to move on!

Now, I would like to get into real newsworthy issues of equity and how this community should put the same “righteous indignation/pearl-clutching” energy into working with the schools and administration to solve — literacy and the achievement gap.

The data is embarrassing given our small well-resourced community. According to the GA DOE College and Career Readiness data, our high school tells a sad story. We have a 95% graduation rate, but when you dig into the numbers, the story is quite different. Achievement levels are abysmal for students with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged. While the high school scores well with 83.81% of students at or above reading level, only 42.86% of students with disabilities are reading at or above the target — meaning more than half are not. For economically disadvantaged students, that number at or above reading level is 38.46%. Black students have a score of 64.5%, but that means more than a third are not reading at grade level.

We have a career and college readiness score of 75% for the high school. The subgroup scoring is disappointing here too.  Students with disabilities are sitting at 34.2% and the economically disadvantaged are at 15.38%. Can we be proud of how we are preparing students to leave our community ready to be citizens of the world?

Last summer, we hired Superintendent Dr. Whitaker who has a record of addressing these very issues. Within six months of arriving, she has made changes. This includes more transparency around topics like the lack of a clear grading policy, the district’s budget issues and what is happening with subgroup achievement (or lack thereof). Let’s take a collective breadth and give her time to work on these real issues.

Dr. Whitaker is no stranger to the challenges we face. Based on a little research, I learned that while at Fulton County School District (the one referenced above with the 49% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch), she supervised 30 principals in evaluating classroom implementation of the Georgia Standards of Excellence and use of student achievement data resulting in 17 schools (57%) increasing a minimum of one letter grade and seven additional schools increasing their overall state score. Dr. Whitaker was also responsible for monitoring the quality of 13 schools’ implementation of literacy and math frameworks, resulting in the reduction of “failing schools” by 50% – of which six schools increased a letter grade, and another school increased two letter grades.

Clearly, she has done this in school districts 11X+ the size of CSD with more students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged. My hope is that we give her the opportunity to do impactful work like this for our schools as well. Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the meetings to shape our school plan for the next five years. Literacy, achievement, and intervention were the three areas of focus. The needs are clear, and we hired with those priorities in mind.

As a community, we need to stop majoring in the minors. We need to do our part to handle our issues within our city and in our schools by volunteering, serving and supporting (as some do but more can/should) and hold our leadership accountable for implementing successful interventions that improve literacy and reduce the achievement gap. That is how we address the concerns about equity in our school district and result in a story we ALL can be proud of.

— Ayanna Robinson, CoD resident and mother of two CSD-educated children

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