In Athens, Amendment 1 on Election Day ballot finds few backers

Amendment 1 is one of the more hotly debated issues on the Nov. 8 Georgia ballot. If passed, the amendment would put “chronically failing” schools in the hands of appointed officials heading a statewide program called the “Opportunity School District.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, the Georgia Board of Education, and some advocates favor this move. But it is being denounced by parents, teachers, future teachers and concerned citizens in Athens and elsewhere.

Gaines Elementary School is the only Clarke County school on the “failing” list, which includes 127 of Georgia’s 2,200 schools.

Schools end up on this list when their scores fall below 60 on a state assessment tool called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. Gaines scored 59.8.

Critics say the wording of the amendment is misleading.

“Amendment 1 is worded a little deceptively to make us think that it would increase local control and add more resources to our public schools,” said Briana Bivins, a regional field coordinator with a group formed to oppose the change. “What it really does, however, is transfer local dollars, resources, and decision making power away from the communities that really know our students best to a single, hand-picked political appointee who we don’t elect.”

Mary Kathryn Henderson, a University of Georgia junior majoring in education, agrees.

“The government officials that will step in and take over schools that are failing may or may not have a background in education — they might not know what’s good for the kids.”

Others think the idea of a statewide Opportunity School District is impractical.

“It’s already hard enough to hold together a local community of schools,” said Jonathan Bemid, a parent and a middle school teacher. If one school in a district is separated from the others, “it just causes more trouble than there needs to be.”

He also thinks the state’s test is not an accurate measure of a school’s performance.

It benefits schools whose students are well-supported at home and achieving at grade level.

“When a school has kids who are coming in as weak students before they even get to school then we just end up in a position where our schools look bad on paper when they aren’t,” Bemid said.

While everyone believes in improving schools, many believe Amendment 1 is not the best way to accomplish that.

“It totally circumvents the democratic process – creating an additional layer of bureaucracy and silencing both parents and teachers,” said Bivens. “It amounts to nothing more than a political power grab.”

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