Greetings and Happy New Year to all of our neighbors in Butts County! The New Year is a time of change and new beginnings, and while we all have our New Year's resolutions, our focus in BCSS is strengthening relationships and moving forward in building quality in our academic, fine arts, and athletic programs!
You may not realize it, but you are witnessing the biggest change to public education in Georgia in 30 years. Speaking on behalf of our teachers and staff, it is almost stunning how quickly things are moving. Truly it is exhausting, but it is also an inspiring challenge and a privilege to be a part of it.
And that’s why I am writing you today so that I can share a little summary of what is coming to us in the next few years and how we will harness this change for the maximum benefit to our children and our taxpayers. This letter is Part 1, and I will follow up soon with additional updates.
First, everything you know about student achievement, test scores, and accountability is changing (again). Last year, Georgia implemented a brand new battery of tests for our children, and they told us that the tests were going to be much harder because we need a more accurate look in comparison to the nation of how much our boys and girls have “really” learned. The consensus was that our old testing system was too easy, meaning that many of the students who “passed” in the past really were behind in their skills. So the old tests were discarded, and a new, more rigorous set of tests was used last spring.
But this presented a challenge. For the first time in my career as a teacher and administrator, we ended the year last spring without test score data while the state analyzed the data to make sure everything was done right.
In BCSS, we had two choices: we could just twiddle our thumbs and wait to see what happens this fall OR take control ourselves and take a bold, aggressive step in continuing to improve our academic program in all grade levels.
We chose the latter. Without having state achievement data this summer to determine what was working well and what wasn’t, we pulled teachers together in the spring, summer, and fall and we set to work on our curriculum strategies and instructional plan to improve student learning.
A huge amount of work has taken place since May, and we are already seeing some benefits this year in our teacher’s capacity to meet our children where they are and take them as far as possible in a year of school. We also made some key personnel changes last summer to put people in the right seat for this year so that we could achieve better results next spring.
This may not sound very exciting to you as you read this, but I can tell you that this is the real work of school. What most people see is what happens after the planning is done. From our own school days, we just saw a teacher show up and teach. We were not aware of all the planning, strategizing, and decision making that she completed before she walked in the classroom.
As you have heard from me over the last three or four years, we have enjoyed some of the strongest progress in achievement and graduation rate we have seen in this county in many years. Almost every year since 2011, the system’s students and teachers have broken some kind of achievement record.
As an example, we learned before Christmas that the Class of 2015 has the highest graduation rate in the history of this county, with 85.7% of our children waking up with a high school diploma on the Saturday after graduation night. This rate beats the state average by almost seven points!
We are proud of the graduation rate, yes. We are proud that we have enjoyed some of the highest student achievement ever in Jackson, GA, on various tests since 2011, yes. As a father in this school system, I have been proud to know that my children are enrolled in a school system that is not standing still and hoping to maintain the status quo. In fact, I feel it is an objective fact that this isn’t the same school system that it was in 2011, and I give all the credit to our staff who just decided we were going to improve every year.
But we are not yet where we need to be, and this was validated this week when we received our new test scores. As the state shared with us, the tests are much harder, and the “passing” rate across the state of Georgia has plummeted. In some ways, this can be seen as a good thing if we take the data to mean that we have a more accurate look at where the students were on that moment in time last May. We can’t move forward to a goal if we don’t know where we are standing today.
In summary, we have new achievement data that we will use as a baseline from last year to build on this year. As I shared earlier, we did not wait for these scores, but took a bold step of action of improvement (and our neighboring school systems around us with similar issues and data are doing the same thing).
I stand behind our students and our staff, and I believe the characteristic that defines an excellent organization from a mediocre one is COURAGE. Courage to look at yourself rather than make excuses or blame others. Courage to take risks and not worry how you look or whether you will fail. Courage to actually swing for the fence and be amazing…right here in Butts County.
In the meantime, we have work to do, and I will follow up later with more information on what we can do to help each other.