Fulton County Schools – Fulton County, Georgia

November 30, 2023

Fulton County Schools

Shaping the Future, One Student at a Time


From groundbreaking educational pathways to vast infrastructure enhancements, Fulton County Schools is setting the stage for a transformative educational experience.

Fulton County Schools (FCS) is a bastion of transformative education in Georgia. A cornerstone of the metro Atlanta community, this school district is more than an institution; it’s a living entity, constantly evolving to the changing needs of its students and society.

Yngrid Jones-Huff, the district’s Deputy Chief Operations Officer, lays it out clearly – “Our mission is to educate every student to reach their full potential, to be responsible, productive citizens.” FCS doesn’t operate in isolation but thrives through community collaboration. She says, having parents as key partners is a reason for the district’s success, noting, “Our schools are very ingrained and very much a part of the community. They are byproducts of the community. We build neighborhood schools.”

Cliff Jones

A pivotal aspect of the district’s progressive vision is its focus on early childhood education. Cliff Jones, FCS Chief of Staff, emphasizes the critical nature of this foundation, revealing, “We offer 80-plus Pre-K classes throughout our district.”

FCS ensures its youngest learners are in the capable hands of highly trained teachers and staff, using a curriculum that is not only educational but enjoyable. Jones explains, “The Pre-K curriculum is fun and interactive, allowing teachers to scaffold important prerequisite skills in a way that’s both age appropriate and get them ready for kindergarten, first grade, and beyond.”

For elementary education, the district focuses on an encompassing literacy program called ‘Every Child Reads.’ Launched during COVID-19 to combat the learning gap, the campaign took on an even more significant role with the aid of post-pandemic federal funds. Jones expands on its features, saying, “Every Child Reads is a transformational literacy effort. It allows students and teachers to benefit from the Science of Reading, an evidence-based method for teaching reading.” With this robust structure in place, every FCS student is assured an education that addresses their learning needs.

Pathways to Success: Fulton’s Modern Approach to Education

While traditional academic pathways remain essential, FCS recognizes the value of introducing students to real-world experiences. Jones elaborates on the district’s emphasis on this -“In our middle and high schools, we’ve had an immense concentration on our career, technical, and agricultural education (CTAE) programs,” he says. “We offer aligned career pathways through our high school clusters beginning in sixth grade to ensure that students have both the rigor and relevance of those career pathways.”

These offerings are resonating with students, who, in their enthusiasm, are often completing courses ahead of their peers and securing internships. The commitment FCS demonstrates to its students is evident in its CTAE Signing Day, a notable event where students’ achievements are recognized and they are awarded internships, and, in some instances, extended job offers.

But the district isn’t stopping there. It has established an innovative program with Auburn University, aptly named ‘Auburn First’. As Jones describes, “We have a dual enrollment program with a research-based institution that is giving our students high-quality Auburn programming. If students earn a B in two classes, they get an automatic acceptance to Auburn University.”

FCS has also forged partnerships with various industries to supplement these academic offerings. Jones cites an instance – “We have a partnership with an auto dealer named Rick Case Hyundai. A student interned this past year and, upon completion, was offered an entry-level job starting at $20 plus an hour.” Such partnerships exemplify the district’s commitment to bridging the gap between education and employment.

The backbone of all these initiatives? Funding. Jones-Huff explains one of the economic mechanics underpinning the district’s growth – “Since 1997, Fulton has had an Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax,” she says. “That extra penny funded over 51 new school buildings, 63 additions to our schools, and major upgrades to our infrastructure.” She details the varied funding uses from purchasing student devices to bolstering security across campuses with features like impact-resistant window films.

Prioritizing Safety: The Comprehensive Approach of Fulton County Schools

Student safety is at the forefront of the district’s top priorities. FCS exemplifies this promise through its proactive and layered approach to campus security. Jones-Huff elaborates, “We have a district-wide police department, and they are present in our elementary, middle, and high schools. We even have our own SWAT team which trains comprehensively, collaborating closely with our local jurisdictions.” While not every grade level has a dedicated officer, the presence and commitment of this team are undeniable.

However, for FCS, safety isn’t just about having officers on site. The mindset towards security is much more expansive. Jones further explains, “Safety is paramount to getting anything done within a school. We’re focusing extensively on drills – from tornado and fire to intruder scenarios. These drills aren’t merely about the routine but also about ensuring the mental preparedness of our students and staff.” The importance of prevention in the district’s safety approach is evident in its 24/7 tip line, an initiative that allows students and parents to anonymously report concerns. It has seen substantial utilization since its inception.

Partnerships play a pivotal role in the school system’s safety strategy. With strong ties to 14 municipalities throughout Fulton County, the district works diligently to optimize response times and share crucial information. Jones concludes, “It’s a comprehensive effort – a network of relationships – to ensure that safety and security happen at the optimal level, allowing us to focus on teaching.”

Confronting Challenges: From Learning Loss to Staffing Gaps

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic posed various challenges for educational institutions around the globe. While distance learning proved disruptive for many, school districts had to develop strategies to bounce back stronger than ever. Jones confidently shares that our focus on literacy and instruction helped reclaim much needed ground and academic success.

Echoing this sentiment, Jones acknowledges the evident learning disruption but emphasizes the district’s proactive approach. “We collaborated with Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education (MAPLE), a public policy arm of Georgia State University, to accurately identify areas of student setbacks,” he says. The district has achieved impressive results by strategically utilizing federal funds and executing their “Bridge to Success” plan. He adds, “Through Bridge to Success strategies such as high-dosage, small group tutoring and ensuring curriculum acceleration, many students have returned to 2019 (pre-pandemic) performance levels.”

However, school districts grapple with another pressing concern beyond student performance: staff shortages. Jones conveys some positive news on this front, “We are 99% staffed. We started early with retention and had 90% of our school staff affirm their return last April.” Their success in this regard isn’t merely luck. He explains, “We’ve been competitive with our salary structures, making Fulton an attractive workplace, leading in innovation.”

On the operations side, Jones-Huff notes challenges but also highlights successes, particularly in transportation. “We’ve initiated an opportunity team for transportation recruitment, traveling road shows, attending community events, and hosting hiring fairs,” she elaborates. This concerted effort has nearly fully staffed the transportation team.

However, she acknowledges ongoing difficulties when addressing skilled trades. “While we face competition and challenges with competitive salaries, we’re exploring outsourcing and contracting to fill the gaps,” she says. It’s evident that Fulton’s proactive approach and adaptability are vital in navigating the evolving challenges post-pandemic.

Bridging Communities: Sports, Arts, and Wellness Initiatives

Fulton County’s endeavors extend well beyond the classroom. Jones illuminates the rich tapestry of sports and arts programs, describing them as central pillars uniting communities. He remarks, “From esports to traditional games like basketball and baseball, our athletic program is varied and highly regarded.” And there’s no mistaking the electric ambiance of a Friday night game in Fulton County, as the harmonious blend of sport and music lights up the evening.

Jones is equally enthusiastic about the arts, noting, “We’ve been regional leaders in the arts for over two decades, offering diverse programs like orchestra, chorus, and even Cirque du Soleil-inspired activities.” Standout programs for the visual and performing arts are located at North Springs High School and Tri-Cities High School. He adds, “With Atlanta’s flourishing film industry and talents like Tyler Perry close by, our students have unprecedented opportunities.”

Jones shared an important project, of which Perry was a special contributor, detailing the establishment of the Student and Family Engagement (S.A.F.E.) Center at Tri-Cities High School. This center offers many wrap-around services, from food pantries to conflict resolution sessions. “Designed with utmost respect for an individual’s dignity, it’s truly a remarkable partnership,” Jones says.

Focusing on the increasing pressures on students and educators, FCS prioritizes mental well-being. Jones affirms, “We’ve partnered with organizations across Atlanta, ensuring we have licensed therapists in every school.” Removing barriers like transportation and offering sliding scale fees, these partnerships are designed to make essential mental health resources accessible. Furthermore, the district boasts health centers at College Park and Lake Forest elementary schools, open to students and their families alike.

Responding to the unique stresses teachers face, Jones outlines several support measures. “Beyond an employee assistance program, our Fulton County Wellness Committee stands out. They work tirelessly, channeling the needs of our staff to the right resources,” he says. This committee’s expansive influence underscores the district’s commitment to ensuring every member feels supported and valued.

Changing the Future: Educational Initiatives and Infrastructure Investments

Looking beyond the present horizon, FCS reveals plans that could reshape the area’s educational landscape for years to come. With 2023 ending, Jones and Jones-Huff highlight the key areas the district will focus on in the coming year.

Jones enthusiastically shares, “FCS is stepping into the career tech space to be a national leader.” He highlights a significant shift in early education: “Currently, seven elementary schools offer career tech classes, exposing kids to future opportunities.” But it doesn’t end there. The district is launching the Promise Career Institute under Georgia’s Accelerated Career Diploma program. Jones explains, “This institution will feature six career pathways, allowing students to earn certifications, making them work-ready sooner than traditional schooling paths.”

Jones-Huff pivots the discussion to the operational side, highlighting a substantial investment for the district. “We’re deep into our five-year capital plan,” she reports, mentioning its impressive $1.2 billion budget. A significant chunk of this budget, around $648 million, is earmarked for the facility master plan. “Under this plan, we’re not just replacing three schools, but also exploring the consolidation or merging of two middle schools,” she adds.

Jones-Huff unveils a pioneering academic initiative: “For the first time in Fulton County Schools, we’re considering a kindergarten through eighth grade school, a fresh approach that’s part of our plan.” This emphasis on refurbishing and expanding facilities signifies a bright future for the district’s operations.

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Fulton County Schools

What: A leading educational institution focusing on innovative approaches to teaching, expanding career tech spaces, and infrastructural development.

Where: Fulton County, Georgia

Website: https://www.fultonschools.org


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November 2023 Issue of Business View Civil and Municipal

November 2023

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