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Raising the Stakes with Student Outcomes

by Dr. Lisa Herring

A key part of every educator’s focus should, without a doubt, be finding the most compelling ways to help students become their best selves. For me, this causes careful, continuous reflection on the way we work today, as well as a commitment to discovery that has both a broad and a laser-focus. We must be proactive, unafraid, and ever-willing to try new things as we pursue better, more equitable student outcomes. Governance, and the way we lead and measure our work, play crucial roles as we rethink how we operate and how we make a positive difference.

This is why I am passionate about a new way in which the Atlanta Board of Education and Atlanta Public Schools staff are coming together to do more, and do it faster and better, to address goals and gaps with a continuous improvement mindset. After all, school systems exist for one reason and one reason only – to improve outcomes for all of our students.

Student Outcomes Focused Governance – or SOF-G as you will hear it called – is this “new way” and I am very proud that our Board, some years ago, set their sights on finding a framework to guide APS and our community more intentionally towards our goals. I have had the opportunity to lead its rollout over the past year, and last month we unveiled our first big change to the monthly school board meeting in the name of SOF-G.

So… what it is, really, and what does it look like?

SOF-G is a continuous improvement framework, developed by the Council of the Great City Schools. Through clearly defined goals, monitoring and accountability, and collaboration, it aligns our actions, from the boardroom to the classroom, with our vision for teaching and learning. It is not a new approach, but it is an audacious one that requires our best efforts and full attention.

SOF-G as a whole includes many ways in which our board is changing its governance structure to be nimble and proactive around student success. However, a very visible component is our new Progress Monitoring discussion at every monthly board meeting.

Progress monitoring is a conversation between me and our Board that provides them with an opportunity to discuss, and the community an opportunity to learn about, progress towards meeting each of the board-established goals around improving APS student outcomes.

I invite you to watch the SOF-G conversation from our August 8 board meeting – check it out here. The discussion begins at the 1 hour and 30-minute mark, and we kicked off this new monthly practice by unpacking our Literacy goal (Board Goal 1) which is: The percentage of students in grades 3-8 scoring proficient or above in reading, as measured by the Georgia Milestones, will increase from 36.9% in August 2019 to 47% in August 2026.

We explored the mechanics of what happens in our schools, and we were proud to demonstrate the strategies we will continue to implement to get our data.

Last week, we unpacked our Numeracy goal (Board Goal 2) for our second monthly progress monitoring conversation – which is: The percentage of students in grades 3-8 scoring proficient or above in math, as measured by the Georgia Milestones, will increase from 35.0% in August 2019 to 45.4% in August 2026. (Click here to access the September meeting recording. The SOF-G discussion begins at the 1 hour and 44-minute mark.)

Our additional SOF-G goals center on post-graduation, and college and career readiness, targeting increases in the percentage of our high school students who graduate prepared for their deliberate next steps, without needing additional intervention.

We are intentional about helping our parents, teachers, and partners understand how everyone plays a role in improving student performance. And, we are providing evidence of why we believe our time and energies are best utilized toward very specific efforts.

SOF-G refocuses the conversation. It forces all of us to focus on how we perform in the critical areas which will change the trajectory for our scholars, and that, for me, is the “stake raising” we must champion. The game changes when we align resources, leverage new tools and tech, and measure against carefully thought-out goals.

We need all hands on deck to advance this mission with fidelity. I’m looking forward to our ability to unpack and make changes as we work. I’m also looking forward to our collective efforts to change the culture, the processes, and the success trajectory in Atlanta Public Schools.

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