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Atlanta Public Schools to Accelerate High School Reform Efforts – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

$10.5 Million Investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Expand High School Transformation Effort and Improve Teaching and Learning

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Joe Manguno
Atlanta Public Schools
Phone: 404.802.2809

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Public Schools (APS) today announced plans to accelerate and expand its high school transformation initiative through a $10.5 million investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The school district is working to transform all of its large, traditional high schools into small schools or small learning communities over the next five years to ensure all students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the challenges of today’s global economy. 

“We have a unique opportunity in Atlanta to create a culture of high expectations and high achievement for our students,” said APS Superintendent Dr. Beverly L. Hall at a news conference to announce the grant at The New Schools at Carver. “We are headed in the right direction, particularly with the strong support of our community and a firm belief that every student in every school can reach their full potential in learning environments that challenge and support them.” 

The first two schools to initiate their redesign through this new investment, South Atlanta High School and D.M. Therrell High School, will open in the fall of 2007. Each will be comprised of four small theme-based schools that emphasize a personalized and academically rigorous learning environment. The school district’s newly created Office of High School Redesign will work in close partnership with the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) to implement changes at these two schools.

In 2005, ISA helped APS convert George W. Carver Senior High School into The New Schools at Carver, which include five small schools housed on one campus with a college prep focus. ISA is a national leader that assists school districts in recreating large underperforming high schools into academically rigorous and personalized small learning communities that improve academic performance, raise graduation rates and cultivate a college-going culture. Carver students are already showing gains in academic performance and attendance.

“We know that with rigorous and challenging coursework, along with the supportive relationships with teachers and adults needed to meet high standards, all students can achieve at high levels,” said Dr. N. Gerry House, president and CEO of ISA. “We look forward to building on our progress and our strong and productive partnership in Atlanta to ensure that every young person can thrive in a high-quality high school.”

Today’s announcement builds on two years of planning within APS for its district-wide high school transformation process. Since 1999, the district’s elementary schools have shown dramatic improvement on test scores, and attendance and graduation rates have also increased.

“While we have made tremendous progress, we know the hardest work is yet to come as we transform each of our high schools into quality learning environments that engage students and prepare them for success in life,” said Dr. Hall. According to the state of Georgia, the graduation rate for Atlanta was 69 percent in 2006, nearly the same as the state’s graduation rate of 71 percent.

Throughout Georgia, the Gates Foundation has invested more than $13 million in schools and districts to help raise graduation and college-readiness rates. The foundation provides professional development for superintendents and principals and establishes high-quality education options for students, including early college high schools and performance learning centers.

“Across the country there is an urgent need for communities to come together to prepare all young people for college and work success,” said Jim Shelton, program director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Atlanta has demonstrated the unified commitment and strong leadership required to improve its schools and provide students with the high-quality education they deserve.”

Nationally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are focused on increasing graduation and college readiness 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 learning environments. To date, the foundation has invested more than $1.7 billion to improve high schools, supporting more than 1,800 schools in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

The Atlanta Public Schools
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.

Institute for Student Achievement (ISA)
Focusing on improving academic achievement, the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) is a leading school redesign partner that facilitates the transformation of low-performing high schools into small learning communities and small schools designed to prepare all students for success in college and beyond. Founded in 1990, ISA partners with school administrators and teachers to create and sustain intellectually rigorous and caring, personalized learning environments. A set of Seven Principles defines and guides the ISA Model. Building upon these Seven Principles, the Institute for Student Achievement collaborates with schools to create comprehensive plans and implementation strategies for school redesign that are customized to meet the unique needs of schools and districts.

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