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Honoring Our Legacy, Building Our Future

By Erroll B. Davis Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent | 8/23/2013, 6 a.m.
Atlanta Public Schools

In Atlanta Public Schools, we see pockets of growth and achievement. We see points of light in classrooms in all regions of the city. We see committed, hard-working teachers and parents. We see real signs of improvement in everything from early learning and the administration of special education to an increase in our students’ performance on standardized tests and a decrease in our dropout rate.

On a systemwide scale, however, we simply do not see enough. We cannot be satisfied with these outcomes:

• 8.5 percent – our 2013 dropout rate (actually down from 11.1 percent in 2012)

• 51 percent – our 2012 four-year graduation rate, stunningly unacceptable

• 55 percent – the estimated percentage of our graduates who require remedial support upon entering University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia institutions

When students walk out of high school and onto a college campus to register for remedial courses, we are setting them up to walk right out with more debt and little education. These young adults will meander through society, where no college or no post-high school training adds up to no job.

Recently, I learned that executives at GE had decided to bring 1,000 jobs from overseas back to Louisville, Kentucky. For every job announcement posted, the company received about 100 applications, which means a total of 100,000 people applied for the open positions. In spite of such a staggering pool of applicants, a year later GE still had 200 unfilled positions. The company simply could not find qualified candidates right here in America.

GE’s predicament says more about the American education system than it does about the company’s hiring practices.

From Our Classrooms to the World

As Americans, we should find this situation disconcerting. But as Atlantans, we should remember that when legacy builders come together, we can overcome anything.

Before access was granted to all students, our schools thrived academically – so much so that families from as far as Chicago paid tuition to send their children to Booker T. Washington High School because it was one of the Southeast’s only and preeminent public high schools for black students.

From our classrooms to the world came such pioneering leaders and industry titans as Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Mitchell, S.Truett Cathy, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Herman Russell, Maynard Jackson, and far too many more to name.

If the professionals at the Georgia-Pacific Corporation have their say, from Atlanta’s classrooms to the world will come many more students who are prepared not only to compete for jobs, but also to create them. Georgia-Pacific has administered its Youth Entrepreneurs of Atlanta (YE-Atl) program in our high schools for several years. The program is a nationally certified course of study that teaches free-market skills to our students. Students participate in business plan competitions and earn money for college or a business venture. Even as this program evolves in our schools, we thank our partners at Georgia-Pacific for their willingness and flexibility to continue serving students – through the good times and the bad. We also appreciate their support of district wide improvement efforts over the years.