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Karen Miller Joe Manguno Atlanta Public Schools Phone: 404.802.2809
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) announced today a $1.4 million investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support its effort to improve high school graduation rates. This investment will fund APS’ planning effort to design a district-wide strategy aimed at ensuring that all students have the skills they need to be successful in college and work.
As Atlanta has emerged as a national hub for business, higher education, and culture, the city’s schools have focused ensuring students have the skills they need to flourish in today's economy. While elementary schools have made tremendous gains, the district is now turning its attention to the high school level.
“Our school district is focused on preparing all students for success upon graduation, and ensuring that all graduates leave APS with choices in today’s knowledge-based economy,” said Dr. Beverly Hall, superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools. “While our graduation rate has increased, we still have work to do. We look forward to partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to take our reform efforts to the next level.”
Today’s grant to APS will help fund the development of a clear vision for change. The grant supports APS in developing a strategic plan that will focus on redesigning high schools’ curriculum and instruction. It will also consider the role of new schools in this effort. APS is expected to complete this plan by June 2006.
“Atlanta joins a handful of the nation’s urban districts in its commitment to ensure all of its students will graduate from high school ready for college,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s a crucial goal that cannot be overstated, either in terms of the life opportunities for individual students and the impact it will have on the city’s broader economic development.”
Atlanta will build on the impressive progress at the former George Washington Carver High School, which is now five small, high-quality schools, each with a college preparatory curriculum. Working with the Institute for Student Achievement, APS transformed George Washington Carver High School, which was formerly one of the district’s lowest performing secondary schools. The New Schools of Carver feature smaller focused college-preparatory high schools, including Arts, Entrepreneurship, Health Sciences and Research, and Technology. A fifth learning community is an Early College High School administered in partnership with the University of Georgia.
“Research shows that high school students perform better in learning communities that provide rigorous and challenging coursework, along with the supportive relationships needed to meet high standards. These elements are most often fostered in smaller setting,” said Dr. Hall. “Now, the Atlanta Public School system is moving to implement more personalized and high-quality high schools, including smaller learning communities, to improve achievement.”
Atlanta joins some of the nation’s largest urban districts in re-thinking their approach to secondary schools, using these new high-quality schools as their model. New York and Chicago have publicly announced ambitious plans to start new schools and improve existing ones by fostering a high school system where families can choose a high-quality school that holds all students to high expectations and gives them the tools necessary to achieve.
During this planning phase, APS will work closely with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), which is actively helping many southeastern states to reform their high schools and raise awareness of the importance of graduation and post-secondary education. SREB will provide the district with research support and additional tools to expand teacher development and secondary curricula. McKinsey & Company and the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) will also assist in this planning phase. McKinsey will work with the district on the development of a strategic framework for the plan and ISA will engage school-level staff and external stakeholders in the transformation planning process.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are focused on increasing graduation rates by supporting the creation of new high-quality high schools and the transformation of existing low-performing high schools into more focused and effective schools. To date, the foundation has invested $1 billion to improve high schools, including supporting the creation of more than 1,500 high-quality high schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The foundation has invested more than $8 million in Georgia schools and districts.
### The Atlanta Public Schools has a student enrollment of 51,000 who attend 88 traditional schools; 71 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced meals. The district employs 6,261 personnel, including over 4,100 teachers. The mission of APS is to be accountable for focusing talents and resources on ensuring that Atlanta Public Schools’ students are successful in school and in life. Dr. Beverly L. Hall has served as Superintendent since July 1999.