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City Schools of Decatur aiming to refocus equity work on students

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City Schools of Decatur aiming to refocus equity work on students

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

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur has been focused on equity work for some time and is refocusing those efforts on students, Superintendent Dr. Gyimah Whitaker said at the Feb. 20 Decatur School Board meeting.

Whitaker said her core beliefs are No. 1, equity is the vehicle to excellence; No. 2, leadership matters; and No. 3, engagement inspires.

She added that CSD should be a school that builds the capacity of adults to sustain positive outcomes for all students.

Over the last few months, the school board has taken deep dives into student data at meetings and retreats. They have looked at various scores from the Georgia Milestones, the College and Career Ready Performance Index and other assessments.

With the CCRPI data, one of the indicators for students is their ability to read at or above grade level, which is usually touted as a key indicator of success for elementary students.

“Essentially, we are in the business of teaching children to learn how to read and then reading to learn. But what does it mean when we have students who are in 10th grade and their percentage of reading at or above grade level is at 38.46%,” Whitaker asked. “What will we do to not have socio-economic status, race, gender or even neurodiversity or any other type of designation as a predictor of success?”

City Schools of Decatur is planning to strengthen its equity work by becoming more student-focused, providing greater degrees of support for teachers, and optimizing the effectiveness of leaders.

CSD will partner with One Goal and Communities in Schools Atlanta to focus more on students.

“One Goal is an elective course taught in the 11th and 12th grades at DHS,” Whitaker said. “This course targets students with a 2.0 to a 3.1 GPA, free and reduced lunch eligible, first generation college students who are from traditionally marginalized communities.”

Students would receive support and be monitored in their pursuit of college, technical school, or their career path. This support would follow them through their first year of post-secondary education.

Communities in Schools will provide student caseload support regarding attendance, academics, school behavior, and status in school, such as promotion to the next grade, retention, graduation, or even dropouts.

“The students served will be at DHS, Beacon Hill Middle School, Talley Street and also Clairemont,” Whitaker said.

Communities In Schools of Atlanta is a dropout prevention organization whose mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, according to the CIS website.

“Each school that we’re going to be in, we’re going to have a site plan for the school. Each student on our case management service will have an individual student plan,” CIS Chief Executive Officer Frank Brown said during the school board retreat on Feb. 27.

The case management services also run through the summer, so CIS would work with CSD and students all year. CIS will conduct a needs assessment and connect with CSD staff.

“Once the school support plans are completed, the student support plans are completed, we then move into providing the actual services which are largely integrated supports. Those will largely be focused on what the student support plans are saying,” CID Senior Director of Strategy and Programs Greg Heinrich said.

CIS would also engage with families and be able to offer them resources. CSD is also partnering with CT3 to support teachers, and this work began in January. The school district is focusing on providing professional development opportunities to support teachers.

“Through a workshop of no-nonsense nurturing, staff began the process of collective efficacy building regarding relationships and replacement behaviors for students,” Whitaker said.

To optimize leader effectiveness, CSD is partnering with two universities, one of them being the University of Virginia’s Partners and Leaders for Education program.

“Select school leaders and district staff will engage in executive education over the next two and a half years,” Whitaker said.

The program would focus on Talley Street and Fifth Avenue Elementary Schools, Beacon Hill Middle School and Decatur High School. The principals at each school and assistant principals for Beacon Hill and DHS will participate.

Following a school board retreat on Feb. 27, a team from UVA did a readiness assessment with CSD to talk with district leaders, principals, and teachers.

“Our organization was founded to bring world-class leadership development to the educators, the people who are doing the most important work imaginable in terms of creating our future, in terms of applying that learning towards lifting our schools and experiences of our most underserved students,” William Robinson, executive director of UVA’s PLE program, told the school board on Feb. 27.

At the beginning of the partnership, UVA PLE will engage with the school district and design its program.

“We’re going to get to know from your stakeholders how are they experiencing the school system, particularly in the question of conditions, so schools can thrive on behalf of underserved students,” Robinson said. “That’s going to initiate some work of designing and launching our partnership together that’s a larger context over the next few months.”

The school district will additionally work with a Harvard University graduate school of education doctoral resident next year.

“CSD will provide the resident with various opportunities to engage in internal strategic initiatives on which they are actively focused,” Whitaker said. “The resident is expected to have the opportunity to lead at least one major project on behalf of CSD, such as the creation or the implementation or even the evaluation of a strategic initiative.”

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