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FCS Community Update for November 11, 2020


November 10, 2020, Work Session Update

Tuesday the Fulton County School Board held its monthly work session at the North Learning Center. Following are highlights of some of the more highly-discussed topics, with the full agenda available online.


Innovation Academy and Global Impact Academy

The School Board was updated on the new STEM high schools opening next fall – Innovation Academy (IA) in Alpharetta and Global Impact Academy (GIA) in Fairburn. Innovation Academy’s Principal Tim Duncan shared that the school is currently holding tours for prospective students, and to date, has received nearly 350 applications for the 900 student slots available for its first school year. Similarly, Global Impact Academy Principal Anthony Newbold said that GIA, which is still under construction, expects to begin holding physical tours in the spring but has hosted information sessions and posted videos though its website. GIA has 500 student slots available, and to date, approximately 150 students have submitted applications. Should applications exceed either schools' capacity, students will be selected by a lottery and a waitlist will be generated.

Community and corporate partnerships are flourishing at each school and will create an educational experience that provides unique opportunities for students and staff. Both schools have an instructional focus on engineering, healthcare science and information technology, and together they have secured partnerships with 50+ prominent corporations in those fields including major hospitals in the North and South Fulton areas, leaders in the software and technology industry, and colleges and universities in the metro Atlanta area.

Applications for both schools are due by December 15.  Interested students and parents can apply at this link.


Drop-out/Graduation Rates

This week the Georgia Department of Education released data showing that Fulton County Schools continues to keep students on track toward graduation. The district has lowered its dropout rates – as much as 44% over the past three years – by putting measures in place that help keep students on track toward graduation.  In 2018, 1,010 FCS students dropped out, followed by 1,216 in 2019, and in 2020, only 685 students. This decrease is partly attributed to a new district plan that identifies students at risk for dropping out, such as those with significant absenteeism or who may have moved, and provides a gated support structure. As an example, before a student can drop out, he or she must undergoes a meeting with the school principal and receive a sign-off from their zone superintendent. While the decrease in drop-outs is exciting and worth celebrating, district leaders caution that these results could be difficult to sustain given the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

FCS also is applauding its Class of 2020 seniors for meeting their graduation goals. The district’s 2020 graduation rate is 85.5%, which is 1.6 percentage points above the Georgia graduation rate of 83.8%. Cambridge High School posted a graduation rate of 98.2%, the highest in FCS. Five other schools also posted graduation rates above 95%: Johns Creek High School (97.3%), Milton High School (96.9%), Alpharetta High School (96.5%), Chattahoochee High School (96.2%), and Northview High School (96.1%). Alpharetta High School also had the largest one-year gain, increasing its graduation rate by three percentage points – 93.5% in 2019 to 96.5% in 2020. In all, eight of 19 FCS high schools saw an increase in the graduation rate for 2020.


Enrollment Trends

Chief Academic Officer Clifford Jones shared that the pandemic has impacted districtwide enrollment. The October 2020 enrollment data lists 90,477 students across the school system, a decrease from projections. Much of the decrease is attributed to parents not enrolling their kindergarten students at the beginning of the school year and instead choosing other options through daycare kindergarten programs, private schools or homeschooling. However, through “Kindergarten Round-Up” virtual events and other outreach efforts, including the return to Face-to-Face instruction, enrollment has risen since the beginning of the school year. Since August, nearly 2,500 students have enrolled in FCS, with kindergarten and ninth grade as the grade levels experiencing the highest return rate.


COVID-19 Update

Superintendent Looney shared that FCS continues to monitor COVID-19 data across the district and has noted the current increase of cases in Fulton County. He and other leaders are discussing plans should the community spread numbers continue to go up, with a return to districtwide Universal Remote Learning remaining an option if deemed necessary by health partners. To date, COVID cases have been managed by temporarily closing a handful of schools and transitioning instruction to remote learning, which shows that the FCS Closing Matrix is effective in handling situations locally and therefore limiting the disruption to learning across the district’s 100+ schools. Compared to the district’s total number of students and staff, only a limited number of individuals have been diagnosed with or had to quarantine because of COVID-19. Superintendent Looney said that potential scenarios for second semester are being discussed and he will address the School Board at its November 19 meeting.

Superintendent Looney reinforced the need for continued cooperation in protecting others through wearing masks, washing hands and adhering to social distancing guidelines. Parents and staff are reminded to report COVID-19 test results to their appropriate reporting portals, and to keep students or themselves home when sick, quarantined or awaiting the outcome of a COVID-19 test.


K-8 Model for Conley Hills ES Replacement School and Hapeville ES

Over the past several months, Superintendent Looney has been discussing a proposal to bring a K-8 model to Fulton County Schools. The model is popular among private schools and charter schools because of its positive impact on student achievement, school climate and safety. Research shows it helps young learners by eliminating the move to a separate school for grades 6-8, which can be a socially and educationally difficult transition for some students. It also provides longevity among the same students and staff members, creating a more “family” environment in the school.

Two schools have been selected as potential locations to house the K-8 proposal – Conley Hills Elementary School and Hapeville Elementary School, both of which are feeder schools for Tri-Cities High School. The existing Conley Hills school is slated for replacement, and under the proposal, it would be closed and nearby Paul D. West Middle School would become the site of the replacement Conley Hills K-8 school. The middle school campus is located less than a mile from Conley Hills, and due to multiple factors, it became a natural fit to house the new K-8 model and replacement school. Extensive renovation, reconfiguration and construction would occur to deliver the replacement school facility, support the K-8 curriculum and the addition of younger grades. Hapeville Elementary School, which originally opened as a high school, also is being considered for a transition to the K-8 model and would receive students in grades 6-8 from nearby middle schools. It also would undergo renovation to support the different grade levels being added.

To start the process, Fulton County Schools will begin hosting community forums next month to further explain the K-8 model benefits and to gather input regarding the K-8 model.  Schools primarily impacted are Conley Hills Elementary School, Hapeville Elementary School and Paul D. West Middle School, but other schools in the area may be impacted by modifications in attendance boundaries to balance enrollments among the schools and by possible changes in feeder patterns. Action on this requested community input process will be considered at the November 19 School Board meeting, followed by public forums in December and January.  Final decision, after community input, on these potential school changes would not occur until February or March of 2021.  If the overall concept is adopted, the Conley Hills and Hapeville K-8 schools will debut in August 2022 with new attendance boundaries going into effect at that time.


Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Parameters

Looking ahead to Fiscal Year 2022, Chief Financial Officer Marvin Dereef presented for consideration  parameters requested by the School Board to provide guidance to staff as budget development begins. These include seeking alternative funding sources while continuing to maximize revenue from the state and to create a revenue neutral budget to the extent possible. The proposed parameters also include allocating at least 75% of the General Fund to schools; maintaining a competitive compensation structure; keeping at least two months of fund balance; identifying cost efficiencies; continuing a transparent budgeting process; demonstrating sustainability related to budget recommendations; and preparing for a reduction in state revenue.


Review of Agenda Items

The School Board also received initial information about several agenda items that either are under review or will be voted on next week. Following is a sample; the full agenda is available online.

  • Superintendent Looney asked the School Board to consider specific parameters for developing the school year calendar so dates for 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 may be developed and brought forward for approval in subsequent months.
  • FCS is preparing to host a textbook adoption for Reading and English/Language Arts for grades kindergarten through second grade. Due to gathering restrictions caused by the pandemic, there will be no school sites displaying the materials, but they will be made available virtually. Three FCS administrative locations, however, will house materials for in-person, socially-distanced review.
  • SPLOST revenues, which had been lagging due to COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy, are rebounding. The monthly report for October 2020 shows that collections are back on track after the forecast was adjusted earlier this year to account for the decline. The current report shows that projects have appropriate funding to move forward, including Tri-Cities High School’s addition and renovation project which is set to name a general contractor next week.


November 19 Board Meeting

The School Board is set to convene again next Thursday, November 19, at the South Learning Center with the meeting also streaming live online. A post-meeting update will be sent the following day.