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Education

    A new survey says that while teens are aware of the risks of vaping, it has become a common part of the youth landscape of America. The poll by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey reflects the rapid spread of vaping among teens  and the powerful reach of social media in exposing kids to the risky trend. The results also underscore the challenges to school in preventing vaping. A third of the teens in the survey say they see classmates vaping in school a few times a week or more. More than half  say they see vaping at school at least monthly. Battery--powered smoking devices, vaping pens have cartridges filled with a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and chemicals. The liquid is heated into a vapor, hence the term “vaping.”  Originally marketed to help people quit smoking, vaping has caught on with teens, in part because of the kid-friendly flavors such as bubble gum, youth-oriented advertising and easy-to-conceal design. The e-cigarette JUUL, for example, resembles a USB flash drive. Other devices look like regular pens, so they blend easily in a school backpack. Most metro districts have declared war on vaping; DeKalb has an information campaign that features student-collaborated anti-vaping videos and ads. Among the findings of the new poll: -Nearly eight in 10 teens say vaping is popular among their peers and is a part of their daily experience, in real life, in schools, and on social media.  -Nearly a quarter (23%) first heard about vaping on social media as it infiltrated their feeds.  -A majority of teens (59%), especially those on Instagram and Snapchat, say they are likely to see a social media post that mentions or shows vaping. 'As these results show, vaping is everywhere kids are, whether it is online, at home, or at school, and now, because of the woeful lack of regulatory oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it has become a national health epidemic,' said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense. 'While we certainly need tough government action to protect kids from Big Tobacco, we need more than that. Parents, educators, media, and public officials at all levels of government need to work together to raise awareness and protect kids from mysterious vaping illnesses and the scourge of nicotine addiction.' Here is the official release: There is some good news in the survey. Likely as a result of the recent spike in media coverage on the dangers of vaping, most teens understand vaping is as harmful as smoking cigarettes, despite tobacco industry claims that vaping is healthier. More often than not, the messages teens are now seeing online are against vaping rather than promoting or glorifying it. More than twice as many teens say they've learned about 'risks or harms associated with vaping' as those who say they've heard that 'vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes' (72% vs. 34%). “Understanding teenagers’ opinions on issues that are critical to their health can help us anticipate—and in some cases avoid—health crises in the future,” said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. “In our study, 43% of teens who say vaping is less harmful than smoking have seen messages online to that effect, highlighting the key role social media and online advertising play in shaping public attitudes among young people. If we want teens to make healthful choices based on the latest information, engaging media and social media companies as part of the solution is a logical first step.” Selected key findings: Vaping is popular among teens, and it's happening regularly at school. One-third of teens (33%) say they see classmates vaping in school a few times a week or daily. More than half (54%) say they see it monthly. Nearly eight in 10 (78%) say vaping is popular among people their age where they live. Most teens think vaping is as harmful as smoking. Just over half of teens (52%) say vaping is 'about as harmful as smoking,' while 31% say it's more harmful and 17% say it's less harmful. Among those teens who say vaping is less harmful than smoking, 43% say they've gotten messages online telling them that 'vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes.' One in four teens first learned about vaping on social media. A plurality of teens (44%) say they first learned or heard about vaping from someone they know, while 23% first heard about it on social media, 9% from TV or a movie, and less than that from outdoor ads, in a store, on a website, on the radio, or on a podcast. Vaping is common in teens' social media experiences. When thinking about their typical experience using social media, 59% of teens say they're likely to see a post that mentions or shows vaping. Instagram and Snapchat users are most likely to see vaping content. About three-quarters of Instagram (76%) and Snapchat (73%) teen users report seeing posts that include vaping on each of those respective platforms. Slightly fewer—64%—who visit YouTube say they've seen vaping content on the site. Most of the vaping-related content online is advertising. Most of the vaping-related content that teens are seeing, according to them, is advertisements (61%) rather than content shared by a friend (40%) or shared by celebrities, personalities, or influencers (25%). More often than not, the messages teens are seeing online are against vaping rather than promoting or glorifying it. More than twice as many teens say they've learned about 'risks or harms associated with vaping' as say they've heard that 'vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes' (72% vs. 34%). Similarly, more than twice as many teens say they've seen content related to 'how to stop vaping' vs. 'how to use vaping devices' (38% vs. 15%). More teens now use TikTok than Facebook, and more than half of teens on TikTok see vaping-related posts. More than four in 10 teens have used TikTok in the last year, compared with 39% who've used Facebook in the same time period. More than half of teens (56%) on TikTok say they've seen posts that include vaping on the platform, compared with 40% of teens who use Facebook. This poll comes on the heels of the launch of the public education and advocacy campaign by Common Sense on the dangers of Big Tobacco and e-cigarettes. Most recently, Common Sense called on media leaders to refuse advertising by Juul and e-cigarette companies and urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban flavored cigarettes. As part of its work with educators across the country, Common Sense created a lesson plan for teachers called 'How to Use the Vaping and Juuling Trend to Teach Media Literacy' to help teens better understand persuasive tricks and deeper meanings of advertisements and commercials.
  • It’s usually the teachers who give out grades, but new rankings from Niche.com flips the script.  The site gave educators a report card, using categories such as: academics grade, teacher absenteeism and parent/student surveys.  Other factors included: teacher salary index, teachers in their first or second year, average teacher salary and student-teacher ratio.  » RELATED: Which states are the best for new teachers? Georgia near bottom of the pack Niche, which ranks all things education related, bases its data on both nationwide stats from the U.S. Department of Education and surveys collected directly from students and parents, according to the site.  So which schools in metro Atlanta have the best teachers?  Best public high school teachers in metro Atlanta: 1. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology (Gwinnett County Public Schools) 2. Walton High School (Cobb County Schools) 3. Alpharetta High School (Fulton County Schools) » RELATED: 2 Georgia public high schools rank in top 100 in USBest public middle school teachers in metro Atlanta: 1. Dickerson Middle School (Cobb County Schools) 2. Carrollton Junior High School (Carrollton City Schools) 3. Riverwatch Middle School (Forsyth County Schools) Best public elementary school teachers in metro Atlanta: 1. International Charter School of Atlanta (Charter) 2. Bremen Academy (Bremen City Schools) 3. Jones Elementary School (Bremen City Schools)  » RELATED: Georgia’s best pre-K teacher shows kids success is ‘more than sports’ Earlier this year, Niche ranked two of Georgia’s schools in the top 100 public high schools in the country. In those rankings, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science & Technology came in at No. 13 in the United States and No. 1 in Georgia. While Northview High School in Johns Creek, which ranked at No. 91 in the country and No. 2 in the state.
  • A North Georgia community is divided over the school district’s decision to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice. Pickens County Superintendent Carlton Wilson said a Florida appellate judge’s ruling mandates that public schools allow students who identify as male to use the boys’ restroom and vice versa, Channel 2 Action News reported. RELATED: Georgia joins lawsuit over transgender students in schools Now, the controversy is brewing in the mostly conservative town as some parents push back against the district’s decision.  “There could be a fight. The safety in general is my concern, regardless of where you stand on the issue,” parent Becky Hernandez told the news station Friday. Others, such as parent Rachel Evans, said allowing students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity is the right move. “They would use the stall and it wouldn’t be an issue,” she said. “They just want to be treated like everyone else.”  MORE: Transgender student policy at forefront of Decatur schools’ battle Wilson said there are several transgender students who attend school in Pickens County. “Every one of these students are our students and every one of the students — all of them — are going through different things in their lives,” he said. “They all need to be nurtured and loved.” ALSO: Schools, activists, disagree over bathroom for transgender students A community meeting to address the matter is planned for 6 p.m. Monday at Pickens High School. Wilson said he expects more than 600 people to attend. In other news:   
  • When the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on the firing of a popular Virginia French teacher last year for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns, journalist Graham Moomaw noted, “…the dispute has all the makings of a legal fight, presenting a novel mix of questions about LGBTQ rights, religious freedom and the limits of free speech for public employees.” Today, it became a legal fight. Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit against the West Point School Board on behalf of fired teacher Peter Vlaming. “Peter went out of his way to accommodate this student as he does all his students; his school fired him because he wouldn’t contradict his core beliefs,” said Alliance Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton in a statement. “In his French class, he always calls his students by the name they choose. He even used the student’s preferred masculine name and was willing to avoid using pronouns in the student’s presence. He just didn’t want to be forced to use a pronoun that offends his conscience. That’s entirely reasonable, and it’s his constitutionally protected right. Tolerance, after all, is a two-way street.” The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit legal organization that advocates for 'the right of people to freely live out their faith.” Last year, it reached a $1.2 million settlement with Atlanta for former fire chief Kelvin Cochran over his firing after he authored a book that condemned homosexuality. It also represented two conservative student groups last year that sued Kennesaw State University. Both of those lawsuits were settled. In its unanimous decision to fire Vlaming in December after a four-hour  meeting in front of a packed house, the West Point school board cited insubordination. It issued a statement following its vote: West Point Public Schools has the responsibility to ensure all students have a safe and supportive school environment where they can learn and thrive. We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family. Mr. Vlaming was asked repeatedly, over several weeks and by multiple administrators, to address a student by the pronouns with which this student identifies. The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue. Mr. Vlaming consistently refused to comply going forward -- including in a statement made at the hearing -- a willful violation of school board policy. According to the Richmond paper in its story about Vlaming’s dismissal:  Vlaming, 47, who had taught at the school for almost seven years after spending more than a decade in France, told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female. The student’s family informed the school system of the transition over the summer. Vlaming said he had the student in class the year before when the student identified as female. Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new, male name. But he tried to avoid using any pronouns — he or him, and she or her — when referring to the student. The student said that made him feel uncomfortable and singled out. No one suggested that Vlaming deliberately used female pronouns to refer to the student in the student’s presence, but he did use female pronouns to refer to the student in conversations with others. Witnesses described one pronoun “slip-up” during a class activity on Halloween when the student was using a virtual reality headset. The student was about to run into a wall, and Vlaming told others to stop “her.” Vlaming, who is pursuing a master’s degree in school administration at the College of William & Mary, asked the School Board to consider what he called the “absurdity” of punishing a teacher for discrimination on the basis of pronoun usage alone, with no accusation of overtly malicious behavior. “I am being punished for what I haven’t said,” Vlaming said. Many parents and students at West Point High School in Williamsburg, Va., supported Vlaming. About 100 students staged a walkout in which some carried signs proclaiming 'Men are men. Women are women.” And nearly 14,000 people signed a petition calling for the board to give him back his job. But a counter petition to protect trans students said:  Mr. Vlaming got fired because he refused to call a trans student by their correct name and pronouns. He refused to, just because his religion was against it. Religion is an important thing to most people, but as a teacher he is not allowed to bring his religion into anything with a student. This student just wants to be called by the name and gender they want, and Mr. Vlaming was not using the right pronouns all throughout the year. This student has been openly trans for the whole year and they constantly were correcting him and no matter what they did Mr. Vlaming didn't correct himself. Trans people have to wake up every morning and hate themselves because they were born into a body they didn't want, so the least everyone can do is respect their preferred names and pronouns. In the end, this isn't about a teacher. This is about a problem that has been going on for years. Trans people should have the right to be able to walk outside their homes and not get ridiculed for who they are and who they want to be. If you agree please sign this petition to protect trans kids everywhere.  Your thoughts?  If you are interested in this issue, you can read here what the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network advises.
  • When a Fayette County father glanced at a field trip permission slip from his daughter's charter school last week, he was stunned. The destination printed atop the form said 'Confederate Soldier Cemetery,' and the mission, according to his seventh grader, was to clean it. The form stated students would be visiting the cemetery once a week over four weeks. The father, who is African-American, reached out to the sponsoring teacher at Liberty Tech Charter in the town of Brooks to voice concerns, saying the activity was inappropriate for a black child or any child in a public school class. The teacher explained the community service project was suggested by a parent, and she told the dad she hoped the cemetery could be disassociated from the Confederate graves in it. Students, she said, would weed and help combat erosion at the cemetery. She said they would not be touching the graves, according to the dad.  The father asked me to withhold his name for concerns about fallout to his daughter.   While he had seen the cemetery in the heart of Brooks, the father visited it again Friday and concluded disassociating the site from the Confederacy would be impossible. Along with a large sign proclaiming, 'This cemetery is maintained by Sons of Confederate Veterans,' Confederate flags adorn some of the graves. (Not all the graves are former Confederate soldiers.) In an email, the father explained to Liberty Tech principal Melissa King why the project was ill-conceived: Given the history of the confederates — who fought a war mainly to protect a society of which slavery was an integral part — I do not believe this a suitable assignment for a child; especially an African-American child whose ancestors gave their lives to gain freedom. The true history of slavery is one of violence and oppression. It is a history that needs to be taught with appropriate weight. Something has gone terribly wrong when children are asked to clean the graves of those who enslaved, killed and oppressed their ancestors. This may be an excellent opportunity to implement some training and awareness on issues encountered by diverse students. Understanding cultural differences and weighing the long-term impact of assignments that deal with history and race could spare many students from unintentional alienation and humiliation. I understand that the original idea of this project was to support the community and the thought is that the confederate history could be dissociated from the cemetery and community service. I visited the graveyard and it there isn’t no way to dissociate the graveyard from its historical context. There are confederate flags that are very present as well as a very large sign for the Sons of the confederacy. I am not confident that for this field trip there has been an assessment, consideration and safeguards put into place to protect diverse students from the emotional pain of past events...It would be great if the criteria for field trips can be reassessed to also included the considering the emotional well-being being of children — from the perspective of those who could be negatively impacted. I also reached out to principal King with several questions about the field trip. Did Liberty Tech Charter ask students to clean a Confederate cemetery? No, students will not be cleaning any cemeteries, Confederate or non-Confederate. The goal of this opportunity is to allow students to visit multiple cemeteries in close proximity to the school to understand their importance to the community. A specific focus will be on who in a community is responsible for preserves and maintains these public areas. Students will be learning this information by observations, interviewing professionals, and researching not by cleaning. Is this project a service project or an academic one? This is not a service project and is academic in nature to give our students an opportunity to better understand who is responsible for preserving and maintaining graveyards. The particular graveyard in question has had a major erosion problem. Several Eagle Scout projects have been conducted at this graveyard. The students thought it would be a location that would help them in their research to better understand how communities preserve these public areas. Other graveyards in local proximity to the school have been discussed and will be visited. Who suggested it? We asked our entire school community to help us generate ideas on what are some real world problems that our students could work on. Our middle school-students had a variety of projects from which to choose, one of which is to answer the question, “How do communities preserve graveyards and promote awareness regarding these public areas?” This particular idea was suggested by a parent but each student individually selected which academic project they would work on. What did the teacher mean when she said she hoped the Confederate elements of the cemetery could be 'disassociated' from the project? The cemeteries were selected based on proximity to the school, and cemeteries were not selected because they are Confederate. Liberty Teach Charter Schools celebrates and values the diversity of its student body. The school would never require its students or staff to take part in an activity or experience that would undermine its commitment to fostering the strength of diversity. Liberty Tech decided to shift the cemetery visits from Wednesday mornings to Saturday mornings, which the principal told me was due to transportation concerns. (The children were going to walk the .03 miles to the cemetery.)  'Due to being a one-school district and a state charter school, we do not own buses or have extensive funding for the renting of transportation. Our No. 1 concern is always the safety of our students, hence the change in the project plan. Furthermore, the breadth of the project required more time than one hour per week allotment in order to properly make observations while utilizing project based learning,' said King. What are your thoughts about this project? I spent a few hours today reading about how schools still grapple with teaching students about the Civil War and slavery, especially in the South. I found this Atlantic article compelling.  The writer notes: The question of what students should learn about the Civil War, the role that slavery played in it, and the history of Reconstruction—the period from 1865 to 1876 when African Americans claimed their rights to freedom and voting, followed by a violent backlash by white Southerners—causes contentious disputes among educators, historians, and the American public. One outcome of these disputes is that ideologies often masquerade as historic facts. Texas’s 2010 standards, for instance, listed states’ rights and tariffs, alongside slavery, as the main causes of the Civil War—even though historians overwhelmingly agree that slavery was the central issue. Another common problem is omissions: A 2017 survey of 10 commonly used textbooks and 15 sets of state standards found that textbooks treated slavery in superficial ways, and state standards focused more on the “feel-good” stories of abolitionists than on the brutal realities of slavery. When the same study surveyed 1,000 high-school seniors across the country, it found that among 12th graders, only 8 percent could identify slavery as the cause of the Civil War, and fewer than four in 10 students surveyed understood how slavery “shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness.” Projects and field trips of this nature can go wrong, as occurred with a Catholic school in Louisiana  and a private school in New York.  In 2016, I wrote about the playing of an Underground Railroad game by a Cobb fifth grade class and the objections of a grandmother who felt rolling the dice to travel the railroad trivialized the horrors of slavery.  At the time, I talked to experts who cautioned that projects around race and ethnic identity must be thought out carefully so students are not hurt or marginalized.  Your views?
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved Georgia’s plan to pilot alternative assessments to the Milestones tests given to public school students each year.  DeVos also approved North Carolina’s submission for an alternative test to satisfy the annual testing requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act. “I’m pleased that Georgia and North Carolina are rethinking how to assess student achievement in ways that are more relevant and connected to the classroom,” said DeVos in a statement. “This pilot program gives states that are willing to try a new approach an opportunity to assess student achievement without sacrificing rigor or skirting accountability. I look forward to seeing the impact this study will have on student outcomes.”  The Georgia Board of Education sought a waiver from federal testing requirements in response to complaints from parents and educators about the use of a single high-stakes test on a single day to measure what kids were learning and how well schools were teaching.  Districts banded together to develop alternative tests for the federal “innovative assessment” pilot program. Under the pilot, students in these districts will take the homegrown tests rather than the Milestones While Georgia submitted three alternative testing approaches proposed by local districts to the federal education agency, DeVos approved only two of them, the Georgia Map Partnership and a Putnam County-led consortium that will employ a test developed by a company called Navvy Education.  The Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership entails Marietta, Dalton and Trion city schools and the Clayton, Floyd, Jackson, Jasper, Polk, Gilmer and Haralson county school systems. The Putnam County Consortium includes Calhoun City and the Dougherty, Evans, Fayette, Floyd, Liberty, McIntosh, Oglethorpe and Pike county school systems. The feds did not approve a testing alternative developed by Cobb County called Cobb Metrics, saying it failed to meet several requirements of the innovative assessment pilot program. “I am proud that Georgia continues to be a national leader in pursuing flexibility for our schools and students,” state School Superintendent Richard Woods said today. “A maximum of seven states will be selected to participate in this demonstration authority, so Georgia is in a distinguished group. For the benefit of our students, we must all continue to rethink assessment in the state of Georgia. I will keep pursuing a change in state law to get state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum, along with a more realistic use of test scores for accountability purposes.” Georgia’s pilot program was part of Senate Bill 362, a 2018 law enabling school districts to experiment with alternative tests. The law also requires the state Department of Education to eventually select from among the alternatives a system that the rest of Georgia’s 180 school districts could use in place of the Milestones. The pilots will use tests that give teachers real-time insights throughout the year on how students are performing, as opposed to the Milestones where testing and scores come too late to inform instruction.  These more frequent and smaller tests – closer to quizzes than end-of-the-year blockbuster exams – will help teachers see where students may be losing ground or lagging. And the more frequent testing will remove the spring panic that many students and schools felt over the annual Milestones. Before the participating districts can stop giving the Milestones to their students, they’ll have to satisfy the state that their alternative tests are comparable and provide reliable insights into student performance.  As GaDOE explains:  Each approved consortia must demonstrate comparability between their innovative assessment system and Georgia Milestones before being approved by GaDOE to implement their assessment system in lieu of Georgia Milestones. Additionally, ED is requiring that the Putnam Consortium’s assessment model produce a measure for the literacy (Lexile) indicator of CCRPI before being implemented. The consortia will have the opportunity to present their comparability evidence to the newly formed innovative assessment technical advisory committee as early as this fall. Once comparability has been established, GaDOE will work with the participating districts to amend their state flexibility contracts accordingly. That is the vehicle through which districts will be approved to use the innovative assessment system in lieu of Georgia Milestones. Here is the official statement from the U.S. Department of Education: The Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) program is designed to encourage local involvement in the development of the next generation of assessments. As part of the program, states can pilot new and innovative assessments on a small scale, avoid double-testing students on both pilot and statewide exams, and develop strategies for implementing such innovative assessments statewide over time.  North Carolina’s new innovative assessment will rely on the use of a customized, end-of-year assessment (called a “route”) for each student, developed in response to a student’s performance on two formative assessments taken during the school year. Each route represents a cluster of test questions designed to measure a student’s achievement accurately and efficiently. To participate in the pilot, states must apply and demonstrate how their innovative assessments are developed in collaboration with local stakeholders, aligned to challenging state academic standards and accessible to all students through use of principles of universal design for learning, among other requirements. Georgia and North Carolina join two other pilot states, Louisiana and New Hampshire, which were granted flexibility as part of the IADA in 2018.
  • The first day of school for public school students in metro Atlanta happens well before Labor Day, with quite a few schools opening their doors on Aug. 1. Students in Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County are among the last to start back, on Monday Aug. 12. Rockdale County starts back to school on Monday, July 29. Drivers, take note: Even if you don’t have a school-age child, these first days of school are almost certain to mean more traffic for your morning and afternoon commutes.   Learn more in our county-by-county school stories: Atlanta city schools start Aug. 12 Cobb schools start Aug. 1 Decatur schools start Aug. 1 DeKalb schools start Aug. 5 Fulton schools start Aug. 12 Gwinnett schools start Aug. 5 Marietta schools start Aug. 1 MORE: Complete back-to-school coverage   Start Dates for City School Districts  > Atlanta: Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. APS school calendar   > Buford: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Buford school calendar  > Decatur: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Decatur school calendar > Marietta: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Marietta city school calendar   Start Dates for County School Districts  > Cherokee: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Cherokee schools calendar  > Clayton: Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Clayton schools calendar  > Cobb: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Cobb schools calendar  > DeKalb: Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. DeKalb schools calendar  > Douglas: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Douglas schools calendar  > Fayette: Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Fayette County schools calendar  > Forsyth: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, Forsyth County schools calendar  > Fulton: Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, Fulton County schools calendar  > Gwinnett: Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, Gwinnett schools calendar  > Henry: Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, Henry County schools calendar > Rockdale: Monday, July 29, 2019, Rockdale County schools calendar   > RELATED: What happened to Georgia sales tax holiday for school supplies? By Start Date > Monday, July 29, 2019: Rockdale County > Thursday Aug. 1, 2019: Decatur City, Marietta City, Cherokee, Cobb, Forsyth, Henry  > Monday, Aug. 5, 2019: Clayton, DeKalb, Fayette, Gwinnett  > Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019: Buford City, Douglas County  > Monday, Aug. 12, 2019: Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County School guide and information from the AJC Find school test scores and more useful information about every metro Atlanta public school in the AJC Ultimate Atlanta School Guide. The AJC is also your source for local school news at ajc.com/news/schools/.
  • UPDATED Tuesday with comment from Gov. Brian Kemp: To fill a vacancy on the State Charter Schools Commission, Gov. Brian Kemp has nominated former state senator Hunter Hill, who had a secondary role in the downfall of chief Kemp rival Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle during the 2018 Republican contest for governor. Hill was also a candidate for governor. In a letter to the state Board of Education dated June 3, Kemp nominates Hill, who works for a wealth management firm, or Lisa Durden, who is director of appointments and business regulation in his office, for an open seat on the Charter Schools Commission. (The law requires the governor offer at least two nominees for each appointment.) In a statement, Kemp said, “Hunter has long been a leader in advocating for parents and students to have better educational outcomes. His work in the state Senate paved the way for greater innovation and choice in the classroom and I look forward to the work Hunter will do on the Charter School Commission to put Georgia students first.” Approved in 2012 through statewide referendum, the Charter Schools Commission has the power to approve charter schools, even over the objections of local districts. A similar commission had been in place since 2008 but the state Supreme Court declared it illegal in 2011. That led to a Republican-crafted amendment to the Georgia constitution re-creating a state-appointed commission to approve and fund charter schools. Cagle wanted to ward off a donation to Hill by the pro school choice Walton Family Foundation by enhancing his own reputation as a choice ally. As the AJC reported, Cagle met with then Senate Education and Youth Committee Chair Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, about House Bill 787, which would raise charter school funding for the 20 charter schools approved by the Charter Schools Commission.  Tippins opposed the bill, explaining to the AJC that under the current state formula, funding for those state-authorized, brick-and-mortar charter schools stands at $8,415 per pupil, which was more than the combined state and local spending per student in 46 of 180 Georgia public school districts. Including Gwinnett, HB 787 would increase the per-pupil spending to $8,816, which was more than the combined state and local spending per student in 96 Georgia school districts. Tippins did not think that was fair, pointing out that to spend the equivalent on all other public schools in Georgia would run to more than $500 million a year.  The AJC reported:  'Well, I've got to have the bill,' Tippins quoted the lieutenant governor as saying. Tippins described what came next: 'He said, 'Look, this is the deal.' He said, 'I've got to do something for charter schools.' He said, 'The Walton Family Foundation is fixing to put $2 million in Hunter Hill's campaign. And he said, 'If this bill passes, I'll get it in mine.' He didn't go into any details, but that was my understanding.' A secret recording by Tippins’ nephew captured Cagle admitting the bill was bad public policy. The recording was made by Clay Tippins, who came in fourth place in the Republican primary for governor. As the AJC reported:  Cagle told Clay Tippins in the recording that he circumvented the state Senate’s top education leader and swallowed his own misgivings over the bill, which raised the cap on tax credits for private school scholarships to $100 million, purely to prevent Hunter Hill from receiving financial help from a super PAC. “They wanted that $100 million SSO,” Cagle told Tippins in the recording, referring to the abbreviation for the tax credit program, Student Scholarship Organizations. “And, you know, I was the only guy standing in the way. Is it bad public policy? Between you and me, it is. I can tell you how it is a thousand different ways.”    
  • Tracey Nance Pendley, a fourth-grade teacher at Burgess Peterson Academy in Atlanta Public Schools, earned the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year award tonight. “Tracey’s Georgia Teacher of the Year recognition speaks to her love and passion for our students and for teaching and to the tremendous impact she is having on our students’ lives and on their future,” said APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. “This is an incredible honor for Tracey and for APS as it’s the first time in nearly four decades that one of our teachers has won this award. We are so proud of Tracey for being a shining example of what teaching excellence is and should be, and we are grateful to her for being a part of our APS family.”  Pendley is the current holder of APS’ Excellence in Teaching Award,  which highlights the district’s best, brightest and most accomplished classroom educators. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Atlanta Families Award for Excellence in Education.  According to the state Department of Education: Pendley graduated from Furman University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and religion and completed a master’s in teaching in 2009 through the University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program. She has been a classroom teacher in Atlanta Public Schools since 2012; prior to that, she taught in the Chicago Public Schools.  “Tracey Pendley was a child who benefited deeply and irreversibly from her own education, and she chose to pay that forward to her own students,” said Georgia Superintendent  Richard Woods. “The passion and joy she brings to her classroom are inspiring, and her focus is right where it belongs: on the relationships with students that serve as the foundation of all meaningful learning, development, and growth. I am honored to name her the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year.” As a child, Pendley found hope in her education, and describes her own life as “the story of the impact that great Georgia educators have on students.”  “As I attended nine different schools and managed the uncertainties of life with a single parent who was an addict, my teachers provided the stability and encouragement that my twin brother and I needed,” she said. “I had several superhero teachers who showed me what a huge impact an engaging, loving, and trust-filled education has on a child’s life. Our teachers were our cheerleaders, our role models, and sometimes, even our caretakers.” While a student at Furman University, Pendley took over management of the Clubhouse Gang, an afterschool program for students in underserved neighborhoods. Along with volunteers, she met with students twice a week to mentor them and help with homework. After college, she initially began work on a doctorate in sociology, but realized that she belonged in the field, with students. “When students leave my classroom, I want them to know that they are loved, uniquely talented, and that learning from their mistakes is the key to becoming successful,” Pendley said. “I never want students to be held back by the numbers they receive on papers, but rather, I want students to know that their growth is what matters – growth as a confident individual with integrity, growth in their relationships, and growth in their academic abilities.” As Georgia Teacher of the Year, Pendley will represent Georgia teachers by speaking to the public about the teaching profession and potentially conducting workshops and programs for educators. She will also participate in the competitive selection process for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.  2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year Finalists Tracey Pendley, 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year, Burgess Peterson Academy, Atlanta Public Schools  Stephanie Peterson, 2020 Runner-Up, Westside Elementary School, Lowndes County Schools  Kristen Applebee, Georgia Academy for the Blind, State Schools  Amy Arnold, Colham Ferry Elementary School, Oconee County Schools  Dr. David Bishop Collins, Fernbank Science Center, DeKalb County Schools  Carlos Hernandez, General Ray Davis Middle School, Rockdale County Schools  Lewis Kelly, Newton High School, Newton County Schools  Kiana Pinckney, Palmetto Elementary School, Fulton County Schools  Teresa Thompson, South Tattnall Middle School, Tattnall County Schools  Francisco “Frank” Zamora, Johnson High School, Hall County Schools
  • President Jimmy Carter was released from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center today and will continue to recuperate from a broken hip at home, according to  information from The Carter Center. The former president will undergo physical therapy as part of his recovery from hip replacement surgery. He broke the hip Monday when he took a fall while preparing to go turkey hunting in south Georgia. The Carter Center said that Carter will teach Sunday school on his regularly scheduled date this weekend at Maranatha Baptist Church.  Also, Wednesday, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter felt faint and was admitted overnight to the hospital for observation and testing. She left the hospital with President Carter this morning. Both of the Carter’s extended their thanks to the many people who sent well wishes the past few days. Monday, both Gov. Brian Kemp and President Donald Trump tweeted out their wishes and support for the 94-year-old former president. > RELATED: Carter Center invites public to sign get-well card for President Carter