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Federal grants lead to culture changes at three Richmond County schools

Saturday, May 25, 2013 8:43 PM
Last updated Sunday, May 26, 2013 1:38 AM
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One was labeled a dropout factory for its 37 percent high school graduation rate in 2006. In 2008, another earned the title as the campus with more handgun violations than any other in the state. At the third, gang violence and empty desks from chronically absent students were the norm.

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T.W. Josey High School students work with laptop computers purchased with money from the federal School Improvement Grant. In 2010, Josey was part of the bottom 5 percent of the nation's worst performing schools.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
T.W. Josey High School students work with laptop computers purchased with money from the federal School Improvement Grant. In 2010, Josey was part of the bottom 5 percent of the nation's worst performing schools.

Each had their own identities and challenges. But one thing Lucy C. Laney, T.W. Josey and Glenn Hills high schools shared in common by 2010 was their inclusion as part of the bottom 5 percent of the nation’s worst performing schools.

Still, with that distinction came hope and help.

In the 2010-11 school year, the three Richmond County schools began reform using a three-year federal School Improvement Grant. The grant awarded each school almost $3 million to fund intensive teacher training, technology, extended learning time, help from state intervention specialists and a renewed sense of urgency.

The SIG program, part of the Obama administration’s effort to reform persistently low-achieving schools, funneled $3 billion into more than 1,300 schools across the country.

Three years and millions of dollars later, significant changes have been seen in attendance, discipline and other aspects of school culture in the Augusta schools. Improvement on test scores has been slower – in some cases, scores are worse – but experts say it’s typical to see progress on culture before academics in intervention schools.
“It’s easier to turn the tide on school culture quickly than on academics,” said Timothy Knowles, the John Dewey director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, who researched reform efforts at 36 Chicago schools over four years. “Students in chronically failing high schools typically come from chronically failing elementary schools and so accelerating academic achievement takes significant time and effort. Creating a safe, welcoming, well organized school can happen much more quickly.”

At Laney

While each school has its own culture to reform, many of the interventions were similar. All three schools used a significant portion of their money toward training sessions and professional learning software for teachers. The rest went to purchasing technology such as computers and SMART boards, salaries for new positions, incentives for teachers who met performance targets and stipends for after-school and weekend training.

Each school’s budget also split the salaries of a SIG coordinator and technology support specialist, $112,000 and $80,000 respectively.

All were required to establish leadership teams and to analyze student data weekly. The grant required each school to have a new principal in place, and the new leadership was charged with making the schools places that are clean, safe and where students and teachers wanted to work.

The most invasive changes took place at Laney, where the district chose one of the more serious reform models available under SIG.

The Turnaround Model, used by about 20 percent of the nation’s SIG schools, required a new principal and the replacement of 50 percent of the staff.

Tonethia Beasley started those changes as principal but was replaced by Tonia Mason in November 2010.

The grant provided more than $300,000 for technology to buy high-tech calculators, desktop computers, netbooks, document cameras and curriculum software.

Teachers were put on a demanding professional learning schedule, which was gradually reduced over the three years. They took in almost three days of training a week, including Saturdays, to learn instruction strategies and differentiation skills.

The grant funded the $60,000 yearly salary of a drop-out specialist, who visited students’ homes, met with parents and helped ninth-graders survive their first year, statistically the boiling point for high school dropouts.

Graduation coach Gwen­dolyn Golatt, who worked at Laney since 2005, said the reform has been transformative yet demanding on staff and students.

The school day was built with extended learning time for students to receive remediation in various subjects.

With the change in structure, Golatt was able to work with every senior. For those on track to graduate, extended learning time was used for filling out financial aid forms and doing college searches.

Students who were behind were able to focus on credit recovery or remediation. The school saw its chronic absentee rate, those who missed 15 days or more, drop from 39 percent in 2009-10 to 3 percent in 2012-13. Discipline referrals fell from 1,773 in 2009-10 to 472 this year. Still, the school has ground to cover academically, with passing rates below 50 percent in five of eight subjects on the End of Course Tests.

“In the past, they wanted to graduate, but their focus was not on meeting requirements,” Golatt said. “There was no data being used; there were no relationships. … I thank God for the grant because we got training, technology. Kids are taking advantage of after-school opportunities.”

At Josey

When Josey Principal Ronald Wiggins took over the school in 2009, he warned teachers about the changes to come the following year with the grant.

Under the Transformation Model chosen for Josey, used at majority of SIG schools across the country, the school was not required to replace half the staff like at Laney.

But by summer 2010, after Wiggins’ first year at the school and before the grant began in the fall, 18 teachers left in anticipation of the changes and the demands that would come with them.

Wiggins implemented weekly training for teachers, collaborative planning sessions between departments, and leadership team meetings that singled out every student and tracked their progress with data.

Community involvement became a priority, and Wiggins revived his “Take it to the Streets” campaign, where school officials held meetings in the community centers of the housing projects and brought businesses in to partner on student volunteer projects and events.

“Community involvement before was extracurricular,” Wiggins said. “My baby is going to get an award, or my baby is going to throw a ball, that kind of thing. What we wanted our parents to see is having a successful high school is more than extracurricular.”

As culture changed, so did performance.

The chronic absentee rate dropped from 39 percent at the end of the 2009-10 year to 18 percent this year. The pass rate on the Georgia High School Writing Test jumped to 85 percent in 2012, up six points from 2009. And Josey’s graduation rate jumped more than five points to 52 percent in 2011-12 from the year before.

“It took a lot to get teachers and students to buy into it,” said business and computer science teacher Ina Tucker. “The buy-in was rough … but three years in, I’m a much better teacher than I was three years ago.”

At Glenn Hills

Glenn Hills faced similar grant requirements to Laney and Josey but had a disruption in leadership when Prin­cipal Wayne Frazier, who was brought in to lead the SIG process, was transferred out of the school in 2012.

Frazier’s assistant principal, Charles Givens, however, picked up where his predecessor left off.

Following the Trans­formation Model like Josey, the SIG program built extended learning time into the school day, provided weekly training for teachers and purchased much needed technology.

Givens continued a mentoring program started by Frazier, which required all school employees to work with at least one student. The goal was to focus on social and emotional struggles of the students so academics could follow.

Attendance improved drastically with just 11 percent of students chronically absent in 2012-13 compared with 28 percent in 2009-10. The graduation rate jumped 11 points to 57 percent in 2011-12. Still, passing rates on six of the eight EOCT subjects were at 50 percent or worse in 2012.

Jon Zumbro, who has taught at Glenn Hills for 19 years, said the training has given teachers more effective methods for reaching struggling students and more structure for each lesson.

“Nineteen years ago it was probably OK to not prepare the night before or just come in and wing it,” Zumbro said. “Now I know a week ahead of time exactly what I’m going to be doing.”


The challenge ahead lies in sustainability and how much of the progress made can continue without the funding. Knowles, of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, said five factors are imperative to sustain success in reformed schools: instruction, leadership, quality of parental engagement, teacher collaboration and school climate.

He said success stories come in schools that persevere when money dries up, but more often than not success often leaves with the resources or when the staff that received the training moves on.

“One of the challenges in SIG schools or chronically failing schools is their teacher turnover and retraining new crops of teachers every year,” Knowles said.

Richmond County has developed sustainability plans for each school that includes continuing data analysis, teacher training and maintaining a high-performing principal.

It is unclear how some of the SIG-funded positions will continue after this year. SIG coordinator Jackie Hayes said his department is looking at local funding possibilities for next year.

As of now, the schools are holding onto one thing provided to all with the grant.



Three under-performing Richmond County high schools received the federal School Improvement Grants for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. Although there have been decreases in passage rates for each school in certain subjects on state tests, the needle has jumped in other areas. Experts say it can take five or more years to see academic progress.


Glenn Hills cut chronic absenteeism from 28 percent in 2010 to 11 percent this year. The graduation rate jumped from 46 percent in 2011 to 57 percent in 2012.




Glenn Hills improved in four of eight subjects. Students still struggle with single-digit passing rates in Math II, and six of eight subjects had a pass rate below 50 percent. A look at how Glenn Hills has fared on End of Course Tests, with the percentage that met or exceeded state standards:

Ninth-grade literature50%63%71%
American literature/composition70%74%72%
Math I22%24%16%
Math II15%15%4%
U.S. history18%27%30%
Physical science51%39%30%




Laney’s chronically absentee rate dropped dramatically from 39 percent in 2010 to 3 percent in 2013. Discipline referrals dropped from 1,773 in 2010 to 472 this school year.




Laney made gains in six of eight subjects, with its largest improvement in U.S. history. A look at how Laney has fared on End of Course Tests, with the percentage that met or exceeded state standards:

Ninth-grade literature52%62%68%
American literature/composition72%74%74%
Math I34%35%45%
Math II16%25%34%
U.S. history7%22%36%
Physical science46%49%37%




Josey saw its chronically absentee rate drop from 39 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2013 and has seen a decrease in the number of discipline referrals the past two years.




Josey made gains in four of eight subjects, with its largest improvement in ninth-grade literature. Math scores still lag. A look at how Josey fared on End of Course Tests, with the percentage that met or exceeded state standards:

Ninth-grade literature55%55%69%
American literature/composition68%70%65%
Math I24%17%33%
Math II10%11%9%
U.S. history29%37%29%
Physical science48%41%42%


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avidreader 05/26/13 - 07:39 am
To Tracey McManus

This story was well-prepared. It offered both the human side and the statistical side in perfect correlation. And yes, the culture must change first. If Mason, Wiggins, and Givens are driven and committed to the future of their schools, then it is probable that the academic improvements will follow.

It's apparent that a lot of work went into constructing this story. Good job.

ymnbde 05/26/13 - 08:00 am
just ONE teacher was interviewed?

just ONE!
my goodness, this isn't journalism
this is standard puffery

Bulldog 05/26/13 - 08:31 am

Culture is indeed the issue. The vast majority (with notable exceptions)of the students attending these schools come from "homes" which are culturally deprived by any modern measure. That is not to say that they lack a culture. The culture that prevails in these areas embraces the worst of human nature. Turning a blind eye to crime/ bad behavior and the acceptance of welfare as a natural part of life as well as absolutely refusing to take personal responsibility for anything will continue to chain our people to a miserable existence. Schools are not parents. The community has got to stand up and say no to this continuing issue before any real progress can be made. If ever there was a time for some real leadership to attack this cultural divide it is now!

Riverman1 05/26/13 - 08:36 am
Objective Testing Says It's Not Working

“Three years and millions of dollars later, significant changes have been seen in attendance, discipline and other aspects of school culture in the Augusta schools. Improvement on test scores has been slower – in some cases, scores are worse…”

That’s the problem. By objective evaluation, testing, nothing has changed for the better. The only aspects that have are warm and fuzzy statistics that are easily manipulated. It has been shown across the nation that throwing money at poorly performing schools doesn’t work when the approach is similar to this one.

However, if there is any kind of justification for reparations due to illegal segregation in the past, it should be with schools. These predominantly black schools deserve our help as a way of uplifting the entire community.

My suggestions are to focus on measures that do work. Mentors and technical training. Put that money into those facets. I know the process has started and it’s slow going, but it will work eventually.

soapy_725 05/26/13 - 08:59 am
Warm and Fuzzy is a book.....

A management philosophy. So is"I'm Okay, You're Okay". So is "Values Clarification". So is "Having Fun at Work". All written with the specific intent to allow for the embracing of other cultures, work habits and learning issues in the workplace. A "cobb salad" that can get the work accomplished at a profit. We have to embrace a "cobb salad". Because a "melting pot" is politically incorrect. In the workplace this can result in higher profits for a company.

In the public education system it is a tool that allows incompetence to be embraced equally with competence. Both having equal value. The outcome is as observed. Collective thought and consistence decision making covers a multitude of sins. Amen?

The USA corporate world must deal with the USA public education system. As observed, they have to go outside of the USA.

This from one of the books on dealing with diverse employees. Those that are:

Unconsciously Incompetent
Consciously Incompetent
Unconsciously competent
Consciously competent

soapy_725 05/26/13 - 09:11 am
Federal Grant Money? Taxpayer Money?

It free money. It grows on trees. Trees fertilized by hidden federal income taxes. The local property tax is down because we got some free grant money. Politicians brag about lowering one tax and then increase another. Which shell is the pea under? Can everyone say "redistribution of wealth by taxation".

Tracey McManus
Tracey McManus 05/26/13 - 10:41 am

Thanks, avidreader! I did spend a ton of time on this story so thanks for reading!!
And ymnbde....I actually interviewed several teachers at all three schools. I also interviewed the state intervention specialists, students, parents, the deputy superintendent for school turnaround, about four turnaround researchers, counselors, principals...the list goes on. I of course can not include all of those interviews in the story. I tried to balance the information and just include what best explains the reform. Than you for reading.

afadel 05/26/13 - 10:53 am
Important Story - Money Results in Improved Schools

Isn't it more important to continue these grants than spend money on putting drug users in prisons, maintaining a bloated military budget and chasing undocumented workers?

@Bulldog 8:31 AM - How is the community supposed to change this negative culture you allege to be the cause of students' problems? The article identified all kinds of interventions that have positive effects. Are you saying the money spent to effect those interventions is wasted?

As an FYI, there was a Frontline episode about how a Texas high school used this grant program.

Big shout out to educators who are trying to patch holes which parents and other social institutions cannot for various reasons fill.

Annabelle Lee
Annabelle Lee 05/26/13 - 12:01 pm
Richmond County Board of Education Needs Culture Change

Yes. This is a well written article. Tracey now we need an article on the rapidly deteriorating financial status of the Richmond County School System. Some think that the system is almost bankrupt. The schools that you wrote the article about received a great deal of federal money to improve their scores and culture. How about the 50 plus other schools who don't receive extra federal money or DOE staff to help us turn our scores around. Our school system is in very bad shape financially. Some think we are close to bankruptcy. The Board of Education has asked Dr. Roberson and his Assistant Superintendents to ask Principals and Directors to cut the operating cost of their schools and departments by 7%. For the smallest school in Richmond County that is at least 100,000 dollars. The largest cost is personnel, so that means people are going to lose their jobs. ON THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE BOARD MEETING THE BOARD MEMBERS VOTED OVERWHELMINGLY TO SPEND 78,000 ON A PERSONNEL SOFTWARE SYSTEM TO DETERMINE WHO SHOULD BE CONSIDERED FOR PROMOTION for TEACHER LEADERSHIP POSITIONS AND LEADERSHIP POSITIONS. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this decision? The board members would put people out of work, and recklessly vote to purchase a computer system in order to help prevent cronyism and identify the most qualified candidates. Somehow I don’t think that is going to go over well with the employees of RCSS. Why are we paying Norman Hill the Director of HR and the Assistant Superintendents over 100,000 not to mention the Superintendent much more than 150,000 to select the best candidates? This expensive and unnecessary computer program requires candidates who are interested in moving up in their careers to take a series of timed test and make a certain predetermined score to make it to the screening process. So I guess advanced college degrees, experience, and hard work means nothing in Richmond County. Maybe the citizens of Richmond County should require that our Richmond County Board of Education and City Council Members take a competency test before they can run for office.

Board members why are you so intent on keeping such an antiquated and ridiculous policy of requiring that anyone who wants to work as an upper level administrator live in Richmond County? Board Members the Constitution gives Americans the right to the pursuit of happiness? For a lot of people that means living where you wish to live and can afford to live. What gives the Board of Education the right to take that right away from the employees in RCSS as well as the opportunity to advance in our careers? People who work in New York City commute as far away as New Jersey, people who work in Boston often commute two hours away, simply because they chose not to live in New York or New Jersey or because they cannot afford to live in New York or New Jersey. Even closer to home, there are people who live in Augusta but drive to Atlanta or Macon to work every day. Most people who work in Atlanta can’t afford to live in the better or safer neighborhoods or simply don’t like living in a large cities. A lot of people from Burke, McDuffie, and Jefferson counties, who drive to Augusta, North Augusta, and SRS to work because there aren’t many jobs in the small counties where they live.
So should the cities of Augusta, North Augusta and Aiken create a policy that prohibits anyone who doesn't live in their cities from working in their cities? The last time I checked there weren't any hospitals or major malls in Columbia County. If you live in Columbia County you have to come to Richmond County to go to the hospital, and if you want to do any major shopping you have to come to Augusta Mall which is located in Richmond County. Columbia County residents spend a great deal of money in Richmond County. I hope this is not about race, because your White employees are not the only employees that live in Columbia County, you have Black and Hispanic employees that live in Columbia County too. It is very interesting that this policy only applies to the Assistant Superintendent and cabinet administrator jobs at the very top of the Superintendent’s cabinet; it doesn't apply to lower level jobs. It’s okay to live in Timbuktu if you are a teacher, lunchroom worker, principal, or custodian. If paying taxes is your argument, Richmond County has a high poverty level, so a great deal of the residents of Richmond County don’t pay a great deal of taxes, and people such as yourself that are over the age of 65 don’t pay taxes that support the school system. If I am qualified and I come to work every day, why should it matter where I live? The Superintendent and all of the Assistant Superintendents except for Dr. Ashe who was grandfathered in before the board adopted this policy, including board members live in Richmond County. Our test scores lag behind the state and most other school districts our size.. The system's test scores, financial, and morale data doesn't support continuing to uphold this unfair and ridiculous policy. You are creating not only a glass ceiling but a glass wall for a lot of talented and qualified employees in the Richmond County School System.
Most counties pay taxes and during hard times raise taxes to support their schools, but everyone knows that our board members refuse to put this tax issue before the citizens because they don't want to lose their powerful positions. They would rather see the Richmond County Public School System collapse. Citizens of Richmond County you have to increase taxes and help support your school system. State and federal public school money has decrease dramatically and citizens over 65 don't pay taxes to support schools. Remember these children are the future of Richmond County.

RoadkiII 05/26/13 - 12:43 pm
Good Riddance

18 teachers left in anticipation of the changes and the demands that would come with them.

I know there are many excellent teachers out there, if fact the majority. But how many great teaches does it take to overcome the damage done by the "gimme my check" teachers. The school is better off without them.

rebellious 05/26/13 - 04:13 pm
I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help....

As I read the article, it occurs to me the pivotal factor is leadership. I know Wiggins and know of Frazier. Both are disciplined leaders who require Teacher preparedness and demand accountability. Maybe the extra money and different rules allowed them to implement (i.e. rid the system of lazy, ineffective educaters) effective staff. Gotta let these good ones do their job instead of saddling them down with fancy, new-age, feel-good solutions from the molly-coddling left.

mrsbras 05/26/13 - 07:27 pm

What people don't know is that gallop system only make the recommends who the best person is they still don't have to select them then I say why spend that money if you still hire who you want not who the best person is

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