The Clarke County school board will vote this week on creating a new corporate-funded business program at Clarke Central High School.
3DE is an offshoot of the Junior Achievement program, funded in part by archconservative industrialist Charles Koch, that counts Walmart owners the Walton family and the New School Venture Fund, founded by billionaire investor and charter school advocate John Doerr, among its donors. Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, Georgia Power and Home Depot are among the other sponsors. It is currently in 13 schools and plans to expand to 23 next year and 55 over the next five years, senior vice president Parky Rogers told the school board at a Jan. 9 work session. Clarke Central could be one of them.
3DE uses business case studies as lessons, bringing real world experience to the curriculum, Rogers said. “The idea is that seeing that relevance will drive engagement that unlocks the potential of those students,” she said.
At Banneker High School in Fulton County—a school CCSD Chief Academic Officer Brannon Gaskins oversaw in a previous job—the graduation rate rose from 62% in 2015, when 3DE was implemented, to 92% last year. According to 3DE, 90% of students outperformed their peers on the 2019 Milestones standardized test and 88% went on to college.
BOE member Greg Davis said he visited Banneker during a conference and was impressed. “To some degree, it’s a school within a school, is how they were describing it,” with its own staff and administrators, he said.
Rogers said the program uses a “cohort model.” It’s not a separate school, but 3DE does have teachers assigned to it, as well as a 3DE-funded volunteer coordinator to recruit businesspeople to speak to classes and a director who serves as a coach. “[Students] can still take band, art, what have you,” Rogers said. “They’re just taking four or five classes within that cohort.”
Any student can join the program, Gaskins said. Although it was difficult at first to recruit students at Banneker, the program quickly became popular, he said. “It could potentially be schoolwide, if we wanted it to be schoolwide.”
Board President LaKeisha Gantt said she is inclined to support it. “Teachers and counselors need help, so any support staff can be useful,” she said.
Other board members were more skeptical. “It’s sort of hard for me to believe there isn’t any cost to the district,” Kara Dyckman said.
Tawana Mattox also raised concerns about how the nonprofit is funded and who will benefit. “What are you going to get out of this, and who does the curriculum truly come from?” she said. “There are some trust issues.”
“This feels pretty business heavy,” Patricia Yager said. The UGA oceanography professor asked how 3DE uses business case studies to teach science. Rogers gave the example of students being assigned to calculate the calories of Chick-fil-A menu items.
Davis asked about the status of the Junior Achievement Biztown, a middle school program, that was supposed to be built on the vacant Old Gaines School property. The Biztown is not a prerequisite for 3DE, Gaskins said, and interim superintendent Xernona Thomas added that the plan is now defunct, anyway. Former superintendent Demond Means—who is currently on administrative leave while negotiating a buyout with the board—had envisioned a Biztown, a Boys & Girls Club and an early learning center at the Old Gaines site, but CCSD was unable to secure SPLOST funding from the Athens-Clarke County government, Thomas said. “That project ceased in its entirety in discussion and exploration.” she said.
In addition, board members nominated officers for 2020 and will vote on them Jan. 16. Mattox and Greg Davis are the nominees for vice president, while Gantt and Linda Davis, currently the vice president, are the nominees for president.
Gantt also announced that accreditation agency Cognia will come to Athens Jan. 26–28 for a “special review” to investigate complaints that board members attempted to micromanage Means and undermine his authority. The three board members named by Means—John Knox, Greg Davis and Mattox—have denied those allegations, saying they were only asking questions or raising concerns, and in turn they accused Means of bullying and intimidation.
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