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Posted by on October 26, 2012.

Buckhead (VIDEO): APS leaders talk school performance as controversy lingers

Superintendent Erroll Davis and District 4 Board of Education member Nancy Meister appear at a forum at North Atlanta High. /File photo

Recent comments about North Atlanta High from Atlanta Public School officials provide a convoluted picture of the school.

According to the latest statements, the high school is performing well academically, but the school is also under investigation for alleged cheating.

District 4 Board of Education member Nancy Meister sent out a blistering critique of claims that the school isn’t making the grade. Superintendent Erroll Davis told Reporter Newspapers broadcast partner CBS Atlanta that a recent investigation into grade changing at the school isn’t related to the system’s decision to reassign the school’s academy leaders and remove its principal weeks before his scheduled retirement.

“I can say they certainly were – this had nothing to do with their removal,” Davis told CBS Atlanta. “I absolutely can say that.”

CBS Atlanta 46

Meister’s Oct. 25 letter emailed to parents, reprinted below, says parents were misled about academic performance at the school. She hits a number of points, including claims by Davis that the graduation rate is 62 percent. The most recent state figures show a graduation rate of 88.5 percent. The newer figures, which will use a different method, won’t be released until 2013, Meister said.

“Without a clear understanding of North Atlanta’s history and an objective view of its outcomes, it is impossible to accurately measure success or failure,” Meister’s letter says. “This community has been misled.  Great gains have been made though the hard work of our cluster principals, administrators, teachers, business partners, parents and most of all students. These have gone unrecognized and have been buried beneath allegations and innuendo.”

One parent has sent out an email in response to Meister’s message. Chris Adelman says he is a parent of a North Atlanta sophomore who has had an experience that is radically different than other parents who are supportive of former principal Mark MyGrant and his leadership team.

“My experience with NAHS’ leadership team has been fairly poor,” Alderman writes. “Some of their most recent teacher hires are proving to be questionable, and I have a lengthy, documented email thread that shows clearly that the team of three administrators, still at NAHS, who have been leading the SST/RTI process for my son is insensitive, and unprofessional.  I am referring to a team that the previous administration staffed and managed.”

His full letter is reprinted beneath Meister’s, with one edit for language.

Parents, Friends and Stakeholders,

As a former APS parent and a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, I have received many requests to express my perspective on North Atlanta High School and the cluster. I thought a bit of history might make this helpful.

In November 2003, a 38 member task force was commissioned by APS. This group was tasked to identify the issues surrounding student retention in the northern cluster, and to develop a strategic plan for attracting and retaining neighborhood youth in the public school system. The team, comprised of parents, teachers, principals, business leaders, community leaders and school board members, engaged in ten 3-hour meetings over a four month period.  At these meetings, a process was established, issues impacting success were discussed, a vision was created, goals were defined and a recommendation was submitted to the Superintendent.

The vision established by this team was “Diverse, neighborhood schools offering rigorous academic programs and a seamless transition from elementary to middle to high school”. The feeder pattern at that time was Brandon, Garden Hills, Jackson, Rivers and Smith to Sutton while Sutton and a portion of Carson Middle were zoned to NAHS. There were two magnet programs at NAHS receiving students city wide, who had the talents and ability required to be accepted and successful in the programs (Performing Arts GPA 2.8 plus audition and International Studies (IS)/International Baccalaureate (IB) 3.0 plus writing samples and scores). The retention rate from 2003 to 2004 from elementary to middle was Brandon 32%, Garden Hills 86%, Jackson 32%, Rivers 64% and Smith 47%. Sutton to high school was 71%.

The recommendations of the task force included, but were not limited to, holding all system and school leaders accountable for increased recruitment and retention, the evaluation of all high school attendance zones to focus on quality neighborhood schools, reduction of administrative and magnet transfers to reflect the diversity of the surrounding community, a continuous K-12 IB rigorous curriculum, and more effective methods of communication between teachers, parents and administrators.

The initial outcome from the task force work was positively received and accepted by the community and APS administrators. Our leaders in the local cluster began to significantly increase the enrollment by intensive recruitment, modeled from real student achievement success stories. The numbers at all school levels show incredible gains in recruitment and retention.  In 2010 the retention from elementary to middle was Brandon 52%, Garden Hills 81%, Jackson 52%, Rivers 74%, Smith 66% and Bolton 70%. Sutton to NAHS was 80%.

The attendance zone was modified in 2008 so that six elementary schools would matriculate to one middle school and then to one high school. This model, implemented city wide 2012, has proved to be a successful model in the NA cluster.

Magnet programs were ended, Performing Arts in 2005 and IS/IB in 2009. All enrolled students were grandfathered.

 

Marketing materials were produced, weekly parent teacher conferences instituted, and community outreach expanded through the NAHS Foundation and partners to improve internal and external communications.

The continued outcome…

Prior to 2007, NAHS had multiple principals within a ten-year span. With the benefit of stable leadership, over the past five years, the school introduced an APS district wide concept of Small Learning Communities (SLC). At the inception there were three SLC’s, International Studies (IS), Business, and Performing Arts. The IB Diploma Program was only offered in IS.  In 2010 a fourth SLC was added known as Global Broadcasting and Journalism (GBJ). In 2011 a decision was made by the local school administration to expand the IB Diploma Program to ALL SLC’s. Now, ALL students can become an IB diploma candidate in their junior year. This candidacy is highly recognized by many universities domestic and abroad. Also new in 2012 is the reassignment of IB trained teachers so that all SLC’s have a group of certified teachers, to enhance the rigor for ALL students. Finally, all schools in this cluster are IB authorized, offering students a continuous K-12 IB experience. Every student that enters NAHS in 9th grade, is an IB student in the middle year’s program, and can choose the SLC that best fits their aspirations. This is a small sample of the desire to serve all students that has emerging from the leadership, parents and students at NAHS.

State Data

The graduation rates, as calculated by the GDOE surpassed the state target of 85%. 2011 the NA rate was 88.5%. The 2012 rate, which is based on a cohort method, will not be out until Jan 2013. The state allowed principals’ access to the portal in September, to correct students that were incorrectly captured. It is my understanding that NA should see an increase as 20 to 30 students were captured. http://archives.gadoe.org/ReportingFW.aspx?PageReq=103&SchoolId=36249&T=1&FY=2011

The method the state previously used for measuring progress is Adequately Yearly Progress (AYP). To meet AYP, each school must meet the following 3 criteria: 95% Participation, Academic Performance (Annual Measurable Objective), and Second Indicator which is Graduation Rate. While it is true the school did not meet AYP, here is why.

North Atlanta met the Participation Requirement and met the Graduation rate requirement for the past four years. It had eight measures to meet in the Academic performance area. It met 6 of the 8 criteria. It missed English by 1.7 percentage points and it missed Math by 3.5 percentage points. The schools performance is based on subgroups that have at least 40 students. The subgroups NA is measured on are Black and Economically Disadvantaged. The other subgroups are Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan, White, Multi-Racial, SWD and ELL/LEP but NA did not have enough students to make up a subgroup. If one subgroup of 40 students does not make AYP, the entire school fails to make AYP.

http://archives.gadoe.org/ReportingFW.aspx?PageReq=103&SchoolId=36249&T=1&FY=2011

As of March 30, 2012, Georgia was one of only 10 states to have been granted a waiver from NCLB /AYP. The waiver enables the state to hold schools accountable and reward them for the work they do in all subjects and with all students. Schools that are identified for needing interventional support fall into one of the following 3 categories:  Alert, Focus or Priority. While several high schools did fall into a category NAHS DID NOT. According to the state’s analysis, the school is achieving in all subjects and with all students.

http://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Accountability/Pages/default.aspx

Without a clear understanding of North Atlanta’s history and an objective view of its outcomes, it is impossible to accurately measure success or failure. This community has been misled.  Great gains have been made though the hard work of our cluster principals, administrators, teachers, business partners, parents and most of all students. These have gone unrecognized and have been buried beneath allegations and innuendo.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely! There will always be room for improvement. Perhaps it is time once again to engage in a community task force, as the task has changed, and will continue to evolve as new partners enter the picture. I believe as your BOE representative and as a parent, the leadership team that was at NAHS for the past 5 years has done an exceptional job at achieving student success and taking the school to a higher level.

-          Nancy Meister

 

Dear Ms. Meister,

I am an NAHS parent of a sophomore.  You’ve neglected to mention, at the outset that you have a conflict of interest:  you are in the real estate business with Mr. Mygrant. I’m sure you are well meaning, but I think you should recuse yourself from this issue until Mr. Mygrant is gone.  Otherwise, your intentions are up to interpretation.  Second, you need to deepen your understanding of the facts, and the problems with education in the US, Georgia, and Atlanta.  You may have become part of the problem without realizing it.

I’m the first one to admit that I’m no expert.  But, a quick check of the data immediately available to me shows that the items you have noted on your treatise, below, are misleading.  I don’t think it’s your fault, though.  I think that in general the data available from the state are not terribly helpful.  Most importantly, my experience diverges completely from what you have represented.

My experience with NAHS’ leadership team has been fairly poor.  Some of their most recent teacher hires are proving to be questionable, and I have a lengthy, documented email thread that shows clearly that the team of 3 administrators, still at NAHS, who have been leading the SST/RTI process for my son is insensitive, and unprofessional.  I am referring to a team that the previous administration staffed and managed.  The replacement for the honors English teacher who retired last year didn’t arrive until a month AFTER the start of the school year. In point of fact, I am satisfied with only one of my son’s teachers in two years.  The other one retired – so she doesn’t count.

Teachers make the greatest impact on students – what they learn, how they learn it, and what they do with the knowledge they gain in the classroom. Decades of research clearly demonstrate that a quality teacher, more than any other school factor, enables students to learn and even to overcome obstacles to learning, such as poverty and the achievement gap. The most effective teachers produce student gains almost four times greater than the least effective teachers. Students with three effective teachers in a row make gains almost three times higher than students with three ineffective teachers.  (I got this from http://www.all4ed.org/about_the_crisis/teachers  There’s back up data there, if you’re interested. I thought of saying something to this effect, but they did a better job than I could have.)

The simple fact that a small, and vocal group of parents at NAHS has emotional ties to the outgoing principal is NOT evidence that he or any of his immediate staff were doing their jobs well.  And, frankly, the information you have included below, though relevant and probably well-intentioned, is misleading.

To begin with, whether or not NAHS fell into the category of “Alert, Focus or Priority” is not indicative of adequate performance.

Under NCLB’s (No Child Left Behind) Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) system, graduation rates are not defined consistently, disaggregated by subgroup, or required to improve significantly over time in the same way that test scores are. High schools can make AYP despite a consistent, or even a growing, graduation gap; and a high percentage of dropout factories – high schools that graduate less than 60 percent of their students – make AYP. As a result, AYP is undermined as a useful tool for holding high schools accountable for improving student outcomes and for identifying high schools that need assistance.  (See http://www.all4ed.org/about_the_crisis/schools/grad_rates_data)

Next, it is likely that your graduation rate data is not accurate.   Although the NCLB requires states to use a particular graduation rate calculation, poor definitions and inconsistent implementation have resulted in a range of confusing graduation rate calculations that do not provide the accurate measurement intended by the law. According to the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, about 56 percent of all students in Georgia graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years.  But, here are some other data:

State-reported for NCLB: 72%

U.S. Dept. of Education: 62%

Education Week: 56%

This represents a 16% gap in the data.

In point of fact, NAHS’ promoting power, its ability to take 9th graders all the way through to the 12th grade and graduate them, is as follows:

 

This … shows no significant or real improvement over the years in question (Mygrant’s leadership).  In fact, it puts us at “dropout factory” status.

Here’s some anecdotal information for you:

City-data.com school rating (using weighted 2010 test average as compared to other schools in Georgia) from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) is 32.

Read more:

http://www.city-data.com/school/north-atlanta-high-school-ga.html#ixzz2APPEhufz

NAHS gets a 5 out of 10 from parents, students and teachers  http://www.greatschools.org/georgia/atlanta/124-North-Atlanta-High-School/  Have a look at the earlier reviews while Mygrant was principal.  There are some pretty bad ones – with some unpleasant facts.

So, although the school has been making progress to become a full-fledged IB school, it is still in DIRE need of fundamental improvements in administration, and teaching.  A common complaint I’ve heard is that the teaching doesn’t really improve at NAHS until students are in their Junior and Senior years.  This is rumor, but worth noting, as it may be the symptom of an inadequate implementation of IB.

Sincerely,

Chris Adelman, concerned parent.

P.S. There should be at least one Spanish Lit class for native and advanced speakers at the freshman and sophomore ages.  Right now, there’s only remedial Spanish for kids in this situation.  It would be easy to implement – and should prove marginally inexpensive.

 

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