Georgia’s Chief Turnaround Office and the Synergy Around Rural Georgia

Ashley Harris

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

The schools and districts that make-up Cohort I of the turnaround focus (as outlined in HB 338) are primarily focused in rural, Southwest Georgia. While the turnaround team would love to take credit for the synergy of this rural focus, it was a force brewing well before the establishment of the Turnaround Office.

As you may know, the Turnaround Office was established under HB 338 to partner with the lowest-performing schools, the students attending those schools, and the communities they serve. Under HB 338, schools remain under district governance and the role of the Turnaround Office is to support schools and districts to ensure improved outcomes.  This work is anchored by schools and districts “owning” their work.

The framework established in the Turnaround Office involves three major components: 1) creating and leveraging partnerships, 2) focusing on academic needs, and 3) acknowledging and attempting to address the non-academic needs of students.

This research-driven approach acknowledges that turning around a school and/or district is not an easy task. However, when everyone is working together it becomes a more manageable task. It is the intent of the Turnaround Office to work in partnership with districts and schools to implement HB 338.

In addition to the Turnaround Office’s initial focus on rural communities, there are several other organizations also focusing on rural Georgia.  The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has created the Center for Rural Prosperity to address four critical areas: 1. Empowering leadership, 2. Strengthening economic drivers, 3. Improving quality of life, and 4. Recruiting, retaining and training talent.

Georgia’s House of Representatives created the Rural Development Council.  It also has a focus on improving economic development, education, health and many other factors in rural Georgia. These organizations along with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, the Georgia Foundation for Public Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and others are focusing on ensuring rural Georgia excels.

The Turnaround Office recognizes the complex and interconnected aspects of all these efforts.  Simply, improving schools in rural Georgia is likely only possible by improving the broader quality of life and economic vitality of those communities.  With that lens, the Turnaround Office has recently championed three endeavors:

First, to identify and strengthen the alignment between the various organizations and sectors, the Turnaround Office sponsored its first Rural Roundtable on Friday, March 2.  The organizations noted above, elected officials, and others shared what their groups were doing to promote rural Georgia.  A second Rural Roundtable is being considered for late May to continue efforts toward alignment and cohesiveness.

A second activity focused on student wellness.  In partnership with Amerigroup, the turnaround office held a student wellness kick-off on Friday, March 9 at Clay County Middle School.  Music, games, popcorn, and health information were available to parents and students.  This event will be followed by health screenings for students at the school on March 13-15.  Amerigroup and the Turnaround Office will replicate these student health screenings at all partner schools.

Finally, the third activity involves a focus on teacher and principal recruitment to rural communities. The Turnaround Office will be leveraging expert talent management consultants to assist partner districts with creating effective strategies to recruit and retain effective teachers and principals.  A budding partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation (focusing on STEM teachers and school leaders) is also being discussed.

As one can see, there is great synergy and momentum about supporting the students, families, and communities in rural Georgia.  Please look out for more information on this rural focus and consider how you can become a partner.  For more information please contact Ashley Harris, Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement, Chief Turnaround Office, at 678-378-5111 or at [email protected].