Originally created 07/01/03

Failing schools face penalties



Richmond County Schools Superintendent Charles Larke wanted area educators to hear the news from someone other than him.

So he asked U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson to explain the consequences for schools that don't improve test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The answer: Principals can lose their jobs, teachers can be reassigned and the state can take over the school.

"We are preparing to offer choice for 17 schools in the fall, and that's why I wanted him to respond to the sanctions part of it. I wanted everybody to know that there is a price to be paid for low performance," Dr. Larke said after the two-hour meeting at Glenn Hills Middle School.

State School Superintendent Kathy Cox and Mr. Isakson - who served on the House committee that drafted the year-old federal law - met with about 100 parents and educators Monday to give them an idea what to expect. No Child Left Behind lets parents transfer a child from a low-performing school to a higher-performing school within the district if their school fails to meet performance standards for two consecutive years.

Pupils at 17 low-performing schools in Richmond County were given the choice of attending another school beginning in August. The low-performing schools will be given state and local help in raising test scores for the pupils who remain.

Ms. Cox, who has been state superintendent since January, praised the federal act Monday as the "prescription medicine" Georgia has needed for a long time. She said it will offer targeted assistance to schools identified with problems.

"I think once we get everybody on the same page ... we will be able to pull our kids out of the bottom of the education statistics," she said.

Mr. Isakson called it one of the boldest and most aggressive education reform acts ever.

"The results, I believe, are going to be overwhelming," he said.

Augusta mother Donna Gregory attended Monday's meeting, trying to understand whether she will be able to move her son and daughter to another school. She moved last year and had to transfer her children to a new elementary school, where their grades fell dramatically. She wants to move them back to their former school.

"It's just because the teachers are more caring there. They do one-on-one with students," she said.

Kathey Rucker, whose husband is stationed at Fort Gordon, wanted to learn more about the act, but she already has plans to move her children to Columbia County. Her son's reading scores plummeted when she enrolled him in a Richmond County school, she said.

"I can't take the chance of him regressing even more. This is my child's education," she said.

Seventeen schools in Richmond County have been labeled in need of improvement Of the nearly 10,000 pupils eligible to move to a better-performing school, officials have received applications from 745.

Because of space constraints, not all eligible pupils will get to transfer, Dr. Larke said. Open slots will go first to the poorest students, who will be transferred to one of two schools in the district. Others might have to wait a year.

On July 18, Georgia will release an updated list of "needs improvement" schools based on the 2002-03 test data. Dr. Larke said pupils at any schools that are added must wait until next year for school choice because of a federal desegregation order Richmond County schools remain under.

"We are under court order, so we need time to plan to offer choice," he said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.