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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Teacher Shortages Spell Trouble for Struggling Schools

2014-15 Teacher Shortage ChartIn just a few short weeks, children will return to school marking the end of summer vacation. When they return, if a degreed, certified, and credentialed teacher has been assigned to lead their classrooms – luck will surely have fallen upon them.  They will be lucky because America’s teacher shortage problem is real, and the devastatingly harmful effects of those shortages have the ability to further handicap this nation’s schools – especially underperforming, high poverty schools.  

Notwithstanding these shortages, even the casual observer could rightly assume a couple of things about why low performing schools are so deeply affected by teacher shortages.  Those assumptions would likely be: 1) The working conditions are difficult, and 2) The residual impact of those conditions result in high rates of attrition.

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The Paradox of Proficiency

Recently, a friend of mine and I furiously discussed an issue that ever since, I’ve been unable to find peace about. In our exchange, she said to me, “Schools have a moral imperative to ensure that students are successful when they graduate.” “They must be proficient at something!” Clearly, my well educated, super smart physician friend was associating proficiency with future success – a position that to me was far-reaching and stubbornly idealistic. In my attempt to give her adamance the benefit of doubt, I tried to draw a connection between her position and Dr. Benjamin Mays’ legendary musings about “…an air of expectancy”. But my friend’s argument wasn’t just about sending students into the world expecting that they do well. She argued that every diploma we award should come with a warranty of proficiency.

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We Need Them All


we_need_them_all_groupI believe that teachers have the most direct and measurable impact on student achievement. And although sharp criticisms have been offered in recent years about those who enter the profession through non-traditional pathways – I am convinced that time has come to upend the treachery of this debate. I’d rather focus on something that we can all agree on: This nation’s public schools are in crisis, and if we are to ever solve this enduring problem, we need to support our teachers while working to identify a new generation of professional educators.

As a principal, I know too well how a tough, smart, and unrelenting teacher can change a student’s life. For me, it was Mrs. Crawford – my third grade teacher. To an 8 year old, she was a tall woman with an intimidating presence. By all standards, Mrs. Crawford could be best described as “old school” – a strict disciplinarian and a lover of structure and routine. She managed our class from behind her desk and could bring swift order with the narrow squint of her eyes alone. Our assignments were on the wall-length chalkboard each day, and her impeccable classroom – smartly decorated with bright colors, posters of famous Americans, and a variety of motivational sayings.

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The Stars Among Us

Ms. Prayer Indowu

Ms. Prayer Indowu

I am a sports junkie – and without shame or fear of reprisal, I admit to regularly scouring the pages of sports magazines and watching ESPN more often than I should. So, in my unapologetic obsession, I do all of the things that people who have unhealthy addictions do. I overindulge.

On one of my recent binges, I came across an article that discussed how the use of analytics (the discovery of meaningful patterns in data) has become an indispensable tool used by most professional sports teams. In no uncertain terms, there is a new complexity to modern day athletics, and the use of analytics has become essential to gaining competitive advantage and for identifying talent. Nearly every major professional sports team is now steeped in the art of predictive analysis – a practice that relies upon the utility of complicated algorithms and statistical models. Together, they have the very specific purpose of foretelling performance outcomes within an anticipated, but very small margin of error.

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Leveraging the Full Thrust of Community Partnerships


A coalition of Banneker’s community partners

As the nation recently paused to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I have found it difficult to overlook much of the corresponding commentary offered about New Orleans’ hotly debated education reform movement. While many conscious observers have remained fixated on topics such as school choice and reform sustainability – for me, the most compelling discussions emerging out of this debate have been about what’s actually happening in the schools themselves. Whatever your politics may be – there is no question that the work of modern education reform must extend beyond the classroom.

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It’s a New Day


Ms. Ojofeitimi, Dr. Bradley, and Mr. Oliver

Having recently completed week 1 of the new school year, I am pleased to announce that we are off to a fantastic start.  Last Monday, we happily welcomed over 1600 students and a staff numbering 192 in all.

Represented among those faithful 192 staff members is an impressive collection of professional educators.  We have people like Mr. Raynard Oliver, a 35-year veteran mathematics teacher who has been with Banneker since its opening in 1988.  We also have new additions like Ms. Marie Ojofeitimi, a very talented Teach for America Corps member from Long Island, New York.  She will be teaching a variety of English courses.  I could mention several more individuals on our team, but Mr. Oliver and Ms. Ojofeitimi represent the whole of Banneker’s instructional staff – a combination of experienced and novice teachers who share in the work of teaching our students.  It has been my good fortune to work alongside them during the summer months and now into the early weeks of the new-year.

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