Benjamin Banneker High School has a bright future…
A few years ago, that statement would have been dismissed as empty rhetoric – but there is now reason to believe in our plans for transformation. Notwithstanding increased graduation rates, improved academic performance, substantial reductions in suspensions, and several other markers signifying that real and lasting change is afoot – we are truly well positioned to serve our students and community in a dramatically different way.
Recently, I was notified of our grant award. The grant is renewable for 5 years, and when executed fully, we are expected to receive upwards of $5.4 million dollars to implement new academic programming and to dramatically overhaul the school’s current instructional design. Banneker is one of five awardees for 2017 – selected among over 25 applicants from across the state of Georgia.
What is SIG?
School Improvement Grants (SIG), authorized under section 1003(g) of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), are competitive sub-grants issued to local educational agencies who demonstrate the greatest need. The local agencies must also demonstrate a strong commitment to use the funds to provide adequate resources in order to substantially raise the achievement of students in their struggling-most schools.
We will use the award to honor three overarching tenets; quality teaching, relevant instructional programming, and flexibility and choice. Within those tenets, there are two dominant priorities.
First, we will restructure our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to include career pathways that correspond with current and projected workforce priorities specific to Atlanta’s south metropolitan area. These new pathways (computer science and information technology) represent high demand careers that are not well supplied by a regional labor-ready workforce. Our vision is to fill that void – thereby becoming an essential component to the revitalization efforts on Atlanta’s south side.
An Emphasis on Workforce Readiness and STEM
Our focus on workforce readiness emerged during the grant development process when district officials and I engaged local organizations such as the South Fulton County Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, and the Atlanta Educated Workforce Committee. Together, we worked to craft a programmatic vision that would not only create meaningful opportunities for Banneker students, but also accelerate improvement efforts in the communities where they students reside.
For example, Aerotropolis Atlanta, a multi-million commercial development project around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (the world’s busiest) is scheduled to produce approximately 64,000 new jobs – many of which will be in IT, computer science, manufacturing, logistics, and other related fields. It is our hope to produce the high-skilled labor force that will eventually assume these jobs.
Additionally, we will also use grant funds to launch a new Math and Science Magnet Program – making Banneker one of just a few dual magnet high schools in the state of Georgia. Although Math and Science Magnet programs are not innovative unto themselves – ours will be. We will work with non-profit partners Communities in Schools and AmeriCorps to embed tutors within specialized math and science classes to support the classroom teacher. The magnet program will also be guided by a carefully selected Advisory Board; a multi-sector collection of local experts in STEM and associated industries.
Why This Work Is Important
The Georgia State Department of Education is fairly prescriptive about what it expects its high schools to do – to produce students who are college and career ready. By any meaningful measure, Banneker has not been particularly successful in those pursuits in recent years. Although we have produced a fair amount of college-bound and work-ready students, our chronically low performing status signifies that not all students have been served well.
Through SIG, we will be better positioned to meet the needs of all students. More importantly, our more ambitious goal is to insert ourselves into a much bigger cause; work that extends beyond the four walls of the schoolhouse.
Perhaps more, it is Banneker’s moral imperative to do so.