By John Schaffner

Beverly Hall, the superintendant of Atlanta Public Schools (APS), recently told the Buckhead Business Association that when she came to the Atlanta system in 1999, kindergarten teachers, “the most optimistic people in the world,” did not think nine out of 10 of their students would graduate from college. “Today, they would expect all their students to graduate from college.”

Hall made that statement to emphasize the “dramatic progress” made by APS since 1999.

“In a recent national survey, APS ranked as the only one among 11 urban districts to show significant improvement at all grades in all test areas — reading, writing and math,” she told the Oct. 30 breakfast meeting of some 100 business people.

In 2000, the school district trailed the state by double digits in test scores in every subject area, she said. “That is when a coalition of the Chamber of Commerce, business leaders, civic leaders and parents said, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

She said a huge part of the APS turnaround strategy was staff quality. “Since 1999, we have replaced 89 percent of our principals. That is 109 new principals who have entered the system.

“We raised the quality of both principals and teachers. We developed individual targets for each school, looking at where it was and where it needed to be. And we set very high goals for math and reading achievement, for attendance and for student enrollment.”

The result was improvement in all areas.

Hall reported that most of the Buckhead schools rank near the top of the state in academic achievement. “The schools have state-of-the-art facilities,” she said. “Sutton has a brand-new building, Garden Hills has had extensive renovation, and E. Rivers just got a new technology lab. So many parents are choosing to send their students to Brandon, Smith and Jackson that they are accommodating the growth by opening new primary centers. If the trend continues, those primary centers will become full K-to-5 schools.”

She added: “We are converting all of our high schools into smaller training environments that offer more challenging instruction. North Atlanta High is already ahead of its transformation schedule — transformed into three smaller learning centers.”

Hall said seniors “continue to raise the bar of achievement” at North Atlanta High. “In addition to the International Baccalaureate program, it has very challenging college prep courses which culminate with a battery of exams and a prestigious high school diploma that is recognized internationally.”

She reported that North Atlanta offers courses in Chinese and Arabic. Mandarin Chinese is offered at high schools, middle schools and elementary schools across the district.

“Very few districts in the country offer foreign languages below the high school level,” Hall said.

“So much of the accomplishments we have achieved are due to the support of our 300 business and nonprofit partners,” the superintendant said. “APS is being looked at nationally as a model of urban education.”