We Must Educate The Whole Child: Banneker High School Launches New Student and Family Engagement Center

“Schools should provide comprehensive wraparound services, and make them accessible to all students.”

This is the position of many education thought leaders who understand that the associated issues of poverty can severely limit a student’s potential.

Yes, it is true — schools must work to provide wraparound services for all students, especially the ones who come from social conditions exacerbated by poverty.  We’ve known this for a while — at least since 2015 when a Southern Education Foundation study found that the majority of our nation’s public school students come from households in financial distress.  It was clear through their research that if schools are to appropriately meet the needs of students, then efforts must be made to support them beyond the classroom.  

A New Focus

If an increased focus on educating the “whole child” is to occur, the metrics by which schools are evaluated must be revisited.  The reality is that there is a palpable and ironic dissonance between whole child education and most schools’ enduring focus on producing strong academic results.  If we were serious about bridging the gap between the two, we would see change; we would demand that schools and school districts have clear goals related to the provision of non-academic supports for children.  Unfortunately, when a school’s effectiveness is solely viewed through the prism of academic performance, adjusting to a wider focus that also prioritizes socio-emotional needs becomes more difficult.

For years, it has been argued that academic standards should be more rigorous, and expectations for student performance be heightened.  Only recently have those conversations been enriched by queries into the underlying conditions that help produce improved student performance.  The most important of these are the human condition — essentials famously articulated by Abraham Maslow through his Hierarchy of Needs.  The plain truth is that socio-emotional support for students is vital to their academic success, and schools work better for children when they function within systems that prioritize both.

So What Are We Doing?

At Banneker High School, we have taken up the charge to make our school more useful and relevant. Inspired by the trailblazing work of Leigh Colburn of The Centergy Project, we have recently launched a new Student and Family Engagement (S.A.F.E.) Center which builds on our commitment to remove all barriers to student success.  Through the Student and Family Engagement Center, we will make a variety of social services more accessible for our students in need; services like mental health counseling, behavioral support and intervention, and food and clothing provisions.  This, we believe, is most crucial to our process of ensuring that students do not succumb to the many stumbling blocks set before them.

Although the academic development of our students remains a priority, it has become abundantly clear that our work as a school community must be more dynamic.  Our work now extends to providing supports for the whole child. More importantly, this shift is birthed out of a moral duty that we are deeply committed to.

Banneker High School Inspires with Bakari Sellers and Raphael Warnock at Annual Lecture Series

The Banneker High School Leadership Lecture Series was recently held as the second installment of our signature community event. The series, which began in 2016, was launched as an effort to supplement the normal course of study that Banneker students receive from their exposure to the state of Georgia’s core academic curriculum. 

Banneker’s leadership lecture series also attempts to respond to the persistent question that teachers and school leaders constantly grapple with, which is, “What is the true goal of education?”  We have arrived at the conclusion that education professionals can no longer afford to be singularly focused on preparing young people for college and career. The result of our contributions to students’ development must not be limited to superior performance on state examinations and such. There must be a loftier goal, a more righteous endeavor – and that work, we believe, is about preparing young people to lead lives of leadership and service. The mechanics of how to facilitate such a goal, however, are not easily executed during a traditional school-day. This is why our lecture series is so incredibly important.

Our goals for this annual event are straightforward. They are to 1) Expose students to highly regarded public intellectuals and thought leaders, and 2) To facilitate meaningful dialogue about topics of interest that will enhance the collective knowledge and awareness of our school community.

For the series’ inaugural event in 2016, we welcomed Ambassador Andrew Young. Ambassador Young established a high bar for the quality of featured speakers that students and other guests should expect going forward. This year, we welcomed Mr. Bakari Sellers and Rev. Raphael Warnock as capable stewards of the tradition set in motion by Ambassador Young.

Bakari Sellers at BannekerMr. Sellers, a lawyer and former South Carolina State Representative is best known as one of CNN’s most capable political commentators — appearing regularly on news shows including Anderson Cooper 360° and The Lead with Jake Tapper.  Equally accomplished, Rev. Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — the home church of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  Rev. Warnock is one of the most influential theologians and scholars in the country and is often involved in civil and human rights issues in his home state of Georgia and abroad.

Speaking on the theme, “Inspiring a New Generation of Leaders for Social Change,” Mr. Sellers and Rev. Warnock offered perspective about how and why young people should prepare themselves to address modern problems that they anticipate will “reinscribe” themselves in the future.  Mr. Sellers shared memories of his father, a former SNCC leader during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, having served as a role model for his personal leadership journey, while Rev. Warnock advised students to read more, to take their studies seriously, and to be aware that the challenges of war and poverty will always be with us.

The Reward

Raphael Warnock at Banneker High SchoolI am convinced that whatever exposure young people have to individuals who can help them become more socially conscious, more civically engaged, and more inspired to lead is an appropriate complement to the academic preparation that schools work so hard to provide. This is why my hope and expectation for the Banneker High School Leadership Lecture Series will only heighten in years to come; that it will become embedded into the psyche of our students (as it has been for me) that “all learnin’, ain’t book learnin’, but all learnin’ is good”.

Release of Performance Ratings Move Banneker HS Off Failing Schools List

Banneker High School studentsFor several months, schools across the state of Georgia have been anxiously awaiting the release of CCRPI ratings – the state’s tool for measuring school performance.  That day has finally come.  For perpetually low performing schools, the release of this data can have implications often unseen to the casual observer.  The results can mean the difference between state intervention, thus triggering a series of mandatory interventions – or to the contrary, they can release a school from the scurrilous stigmatization often associated with low academic performance.

This is a pressure for improvement that Banneker High School has responded well to, and as a practical matter, has inspired our school community to pursue higher rates of achievement.  For a school that once endured a 3-year stretch of graduation rates nearly 30% points below the state average, the call for a targeted reform strategy was courageously trumpeted by former Fulton County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Robert Avossa.  That initiative resulted in the the advent of the Achievement Zone, a descriptor applied to the 7 elementary and 2 middle schools that feed into Banneker.  Recognizing that the anatomy of failure – especially for high schools, is not always the result of the inadequacy of their own work, a blend of common expectations was introduced to all Achievement Zone schools with hopes of producing improved student outcomes.

In three short years, Banneker has moved swiftly ahead of the proverbial 5-year transformation curve.  Graduation rates have improved by nearly 10%, Milestones exam performance has seen double-digit gains in several content areas, student discipline is down by 50%, - and other, often overlooked indicators of school turnaround like teacher retention, attendance, and fiscal responsibility are all the best that Banneker has seen in the last decade.  But most importantly, Banneker High School has so dramatically improved its CCRPI ratings, that it is no longer designated as a failing school under current metrics.

Banneker’s current 62.4 CCRPI rating represents a 5.5 pt. increase from the previous year, and a  17.6 pt. increase over the past 5 years.  What is most important about this rating, though, is that it pushes the school over a score of 60 - either side of which represents failing status, or not.  This distinction is incredibly important for a school that has an unacceptably long history of poor academic performance.

There Are No Shortcuts

Staff members at Banneker would probably tell you that we are far from where we want to be.  After all, Banneker still ranks among the lowest performing traditional high schools in one of the state’s highest performing districts.  While there has never been an articulated goal of “getting off the failing schools list”, we remain primarily focused on improving our practice as adults - focusing on the highest, most critical lever of school transformation: improving the quality of instructional delivery and creating a culture of high expectations for everyone in the building.  The work that we have done to date and our annual plans for school improvement highlight our intentions, our goals, and our long-term aspirations – but most of all, they represent what we believe is possible for our students to achieve.

We have much more work to do, but today, we pause to celebrate a historic milestone which reminds us all that there are no shortcuts – no silver bullets in the work of school turnaround.

By the numbers:

A visual representation of Banneker’s remarkable story of dramatic change:

Banneker High School Awarded $20,000 Innovative Learning Grant; Will Focus on Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship

Banneker High School was recently awarded Verizon Wireless’ competitive Innovation Learning Grant.  As an award recipient, Banneker will partner with the Entrepreneurship Division of Arizona State University spanning a two-year period of engagement.  Banneker will also join a network of over 50 participating schools from New York City, Phoenix, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. – all of whom are focused on engaging students and teachers in design thinking, emerging technology, and strategic innovation practices. Continue reading

Banneker’s Graduation Rate Reaches Historic Milestone; More Work Remains

Banneker High School graduation rate reaches a milestone

Earlier today, graduation rates for the 2016-2017 school-year were released for all Georgia high schools.  With this announcement, we are reminded once more that our progress as a school is indiscriminately subject to public review and evaluation.  Without hesitation, we embrace this aspect of our work and will therefore continue to be transparent about our performance relative to critically important measures like graduation rates.

You may recall that last year, Banneker produced the highest graduation rate growth among all 16 traditional Fulton County High Schools.  In that same year, we successfully transitioned our largest graduating class in recent history, totaling over 230 students.  These results, considered together, represent a significant upwards shift in Banneker’s overall school performance.  Today, I am pleased to announce that our forward progress continues – and Banneker’s graduation rate now stands at 71.1%.

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Revelations from Alaska: An Educator’s Moment of Clarity

Dr. Duke Bradley in AlaskaFor as long as I can remember, I have wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest – to explore a part of the country once described as, “…a place for those who want nothing more than a few relaxing moments in beautiful, unpeopled surroundings.”  Until now, my domestic travels have spanned nearly every other region of the country, but the great Pacific Northwest has somehow always remained elusive.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to fulfill a lifelong dream of traveling there, I did not hesitate.

During my time away I explored central Washington and the Alaskan port cities of Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan with a bonus stay-over in Victoria, British Columbia. They were all fascinating places.  I drank from fresh water creeks and panned for gold like the pioneers of the American gold rush.  I harvested quartz from Alaskan mountainsides and ate wild berries.  I acquiesced to the pleas of dockside salesmen who peddled wildlife tours, promising a glimpse of sea otters and bald eagles basking in their natural habitat.  I stared silently at thousand year-old glaciers and boated on brackish waters collected by the fjords that those glaciers generously left behind. Needless to say, I had the time of my life.

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A Gap Year For Struggling Students: One Innovation That Education Policy Makers Should Consider

“Gap years shouldn’t be just for students recharging from academic burnout. As a policy consideration, gap years can be implemented for struggling students to prepare them for higher levels of study.”

Gap Year

Photo from campusbound.com

Each year, my colleagues and I design and implement plans focused on supporting our academically vulnerable students. For schools like mine, the percentage of incoming students who are not prepared for high school is astonishing. Imagine an incoming freshman class where over 60% of students are performing several grade levels behind – especially in the core content areas of math and reading. 

For those who follow trends in urban education reform, the idea that schools can be overwhelmingly populated by under-prepared students is not a new phenomenon. However, what remains true is that schools experiencing this challenge must have a clear strategy in place focused on interrupting the cycle of low achievement that traps scores of young people. The most commonly deployed strategies usually involve heavy reliance on blended learning initiatives, schedule manipulation, and overly used canned instructional programs. This isn’t to say that either of these strategies, individually or collectively, are worthless; however, the quick wins that they produce (and that we crave as educators) do very little to address the full range of academic problems that paralyze many students. Continue reading

Banneker High School Awarded $1.2M for School Improvement – Will Focus on Workforce Readiness and STEM

Dr. Bradley and Fulton County district officials following Banneker's presentation to the GDOE's SIG selection committee

Dr. Bradley and Fulton County district officials following Banneker’s presentation to the GDOE’s SIG selection committee

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.

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In Search of Improved Graduation Rates

Banneker High Class of 2016

Earlier this week, the Georgia Department of Education released graduation rates for the 2015-2016 school-year. In moments like this, we pause and wait with bated breath because in no uncertain terms, high schools are primarily measured by their ability to produce students who are either college or career ready. To meet that standard, they first must graduate.

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The PRIDE is Back

The Pride is Back at Banneker High SchoolThis week, we welcome our students back for the start of the 2016-2017 school-year.  As has become custom, we begin by announcing our theme for the year – a new tradition that will continue for decades on end. If you recall, my tenure as principal of Banneker High School began one year ago by declaring, It’s A New Day”.  In so doing, the goal was to transmit a new message; to express that Banneker High School was moving in a new direction fueled by the desire to create an improved school experience for our students. Although that work continues, this year, we are squarely focused on reclaiming the pride that has long defined our school community.  

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