Southern Passions

Southern Passions

This Atlanta superintendent doesn't need research to tell her all students can achieve-she's living

SOUTHERN PASSIONS

This Atlanta superintendent doesn't need research to tell her all students can achieve-she's living proof

It was when Beverly Hall was growing up in her native Jamaica with an optimistic and hard-working mother that she learned she could achieve.

So when Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 for college, she was shocked.

"The biggest difference [between Jamaica and the U.S.] was the expectations people had for girls and minorities," Hall recalls. "No one [in Jamaica] thought that it was unusual that girls, and in that case, black girls, Caribbean girls, had to pass a rigorous exit exam [to graduate high school.] High-level, challenging courses were part of the norm in high school."

It formed the belief system that she now uses to lead Atlanta's 56,000-student district. "I didn't have to be taught that ... all children could learn at high levels. My expectations had always been high. I didn't need research to tell me."

Hall's first job was as an English teacher at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Sands Junior High School. After becoming a principal of two different schools, she served as deputy chancellor for instruction in the New York City Public Schools and then as state district superintendent of Newark (N.J.) Public Schools.

Creating Teacher Grants

Atlanta public school officials were so impressed they recruited Hall to move south.

Mitzi Bickers, Atlanta Board of Education chairwoman, says Hall brings a "collective buy-in to the vision." Teachers, staff, parents and community members "are feeling good about what they are doing," Bickers says. "People have bought into the goals, and they really believe they can reach those goals. She is beyond the rhetoric."

When Hall started in July 1999, she became the first Atlanta superintendent to allocate part of her performance bonus to innovative teachers.

Of the $45,000 bonus received, Hall gave $10,000 over two years. The Superintendent's Teacher Mini-Grant Awards, along with other community matching dollars, funded 46 additional educational programs, including "Atlantis 2k+2: Colonizing Europa's Ocean." High school students use research/proposal methods, calculations, and computer stimulation to colonize the oceans of Jupiter's moon. Other projects funded by 100 Black Men of Atlanta, include "The Panther Speaks," where students create a school newspaper.

"I felt that that was the only way to say to everyone, 'This is what the core business of the district is about-to make sure students achieve,' " Hall says. "Teachers work hard. ... I started as a teacher. It's an honorable profession. And I want to remember that."

Bernard Porche, president emeritus of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, says the mini-grants made teachers better. Many "don't have copiers, don't have textbooks, and can't go on field trips," he says.

"She's passionate about what she does," Porche says. "If you could demonstrate to these kids a commitment to them, if you convince them that they can achieve, and if you hold expectations for high performance, they will do it."

Hall has also pushed an entire school reform effort, which includes improving reading/language arts and writing, improving math, having more students in higher level courses starting in middle school, and improving student attendance.

In 2001-02, test scores and dropout rates improved, though slightly. Seventy-seven percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the writing assessment target established by the Georgia Department of Education, compared to 76 percent the year before. And the dropout rate fell to 32 percent in 2001, 5 percent lower than the 1999 class.

And the percent of students meeting or exceeding the standard set for the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests increased in most grades and subjects throughout the system.

Hall encouraged the "right" educators to lead, says James E. Bostic, executive vice president at Georgia Pacific and education committee chairman of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. "She has strong support from the business leadership in this town," he says. They want to improve the schools."

"We are convinced the system can really become a model system," Hall adds. "We want to make it one of the most rapidly changing and improving urban school systems in America."

Angela Pascopella, apascopella@edmediagroup.com, is features editor.


Advertisement