The Story of Turnaround at College Park’s Banneker High School is Nothing Short of Impressive
Just a few years ago, whispers permeated the South Fulton community suggesting College Park’s Benjamin Banneker High School might close its doors. During this time Banneker High School was the proverbial poster child for organizational dysfunction and academic failure—low test scores, a revolving door of school leaders and violent and disruptive student behavior had become the norm.
For three consecutive years, Banneker carried a sub-50% graduation rate, when the state’s average was nearly 30 points higher. Banneker’s performance was not just low, it was well below the performance of schools with similar demographics across the state of Georgia. Accordingly, excuses for Banneker‘s cycle of failure were frustrating to many of the school’s longstanding supporters.
If Banneker was to improve, then a comprehensive system of change was needed for all schools within the Banneker cluster.In response, FCS introduced the Achievement Zone, a term adopted by the district referring to the geographic area where resident schools require the most support and intervention. Through the Achievement Zone, a series of common instructional and behavioral expectations were implemented for the purpose of creating alignment between schools and to ensure a relatively common experience for students.
A Change in Leadership
FCS knew that having the right leader at Banneker was also necessary. The district turned to Dr. Duke Bradley, III, a veteran administrator who had been designated as a turnaround leader by the Georgia Department of Education. Bradley had improved the standing of Atlanta Public Schools’ Wesley International Academy. Under his leadership, the Grant Park International Baccalaureate (IB) charter school was saved from closure and was eventually awarded a five-year renewal of its charter. Most importantly, Bradley had created a new vision for excellence for a school in distress, and the same efforts were sorely needed at Banneker.
A New Day
In short order, Bradley declared “A New Day” at Banneker High School, a slogan intended to signify that the days of old were gone. Consistent with stated expectations for all Achievement Zone schools, new programmatic mandates were immediately implemented.
“We needed to immediately restore the faith of our parent community and improve every aspect of our school. Early reform efforts were wide ranging. Banneker partnered with Chick-Fil-A to train professional staff members and reassigned teachers based on their strengths rather than their teaching preferences.
Another major change was the addition of the Junior Achievement Magnet Program led by veteran administrator Dr. Ava Debro. Junior Achievement’s curricular design focuses on the business concepts of marketing, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. In its first year, JA-MBA students outperformed their peers in nearly every statistical category. For the first time in 10 years, the school is 100% staffed.
In 2016, Banneker also boasted the highest rate of growth in graduation rate among the 16 traditional high schools in Fulton County Schools. And over a five-year span, the school has produced the second highest graduation rate growth of all FCS high schools, improving by nearly 30 points. Since the launch of the Achievement Zone, Banneker has had consecutive years of growth on the state-issued Milestones Exams, and they recently doubled down on that success by producing double-digit gains in Math, Language Arts, and Science. Bradley attributes Banneker’s success to his staff, new talent imported from other schools, veteran teachers who serve as mentors, and a talented administrative team.
Last fall, Banneker received its biggest news yet. The school was awarded a $5.4 million Federal School Improvement Grant—one of only five schools statewide to earn the award. Banneker’s use of the grant corresponds with Bradley’s vision for the school.
“There are high demand industries in metro Atlanta that do not have a well-supplied workforce. With all of the community revitalization efforts happening south of our airport, we cannot afford for our kids to be excluded from the positive change happening in their own communities. We want Banneker’s narrative to be that we produce students who have the skills necessary to be competitive in the 21st century workforce,” says Bradley.
More Work To Do
Bradley acknowledges that Banneker’s process of improvement is incomplete. Though there is more hard work ahead, Banneker High School, under new leadership and a new vision for excellence, is definitely rising!