Osborne High School: Beyond Graduation Rates Transiency Poverty

On its face, Osborne High School appears to be “failing,” based on criteria set by the state and the Cobb County School District. With a population of 2,200 students who are 51 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black and 6.9 percent white, graduation rates for Osbourne are below average. These statistics take into account the absence of students leaving school without a forwarding address.  In essence, those students disappear.

Principal Josh Morreale, who serves a large low-income and immigrant population (with 80 percent free and reduced lunch), is tasked with tracking missing students. Because of a large number of unaccounted-for students, Osborne has an overall graduation rate of 67 percent. In contrast, he has “cohorts” of four years that have a 93 percent graduation rate (in education terminology cohorts are a group of students who enter and work through the curriculum over the same time period). Mr. Morreale reveals it requires the use of one full-time and two part-time staff members to account for students’ whereabouts.

Certain aspects are out of his control, he says. “We are responsible for these kids from the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Our job is to make them feel safe and loved, but we cannot control what happens when they leave school and have no authority over attendance. We are happy to do extra, but there has to be some accountability on the parents’ part.”

Currently, the school also is addressing the issue that students from other countries enter Osborne to learn English, then might be missing at the time of commencement. By law, the school must accept any student. Morreale’s theory is non-English speaking students can benefit from English programming as a means to learn the language.

Issues Affecting Graduation Rates

A child’s parent is working two jobs at $10 or $12 an hour and has a rent of $800. What is the likelihood they are able to maintain residency in this housing situation? According to experts in the property management industry, it doesn’t take much for these families to lose their financial footing. “Sometimes we see great families moving out of a community simply because they fall behind on rent. Something like a car breakdown or even a small medical emergency can trip up a family living on minimum wage income,” says a representative of TM Multifamily Management, a company that buys distressed properties and adds amenities to them to improve safety, such as access gates, and standard of living, like energy efficiency and playgrounds.

Star-C Properties, a 501(c)(3), founded by Margaret Stagmeier, is another company with expertise in transiency. Their mission is to reduce transiency in the local school system and improve students’ academic success through a focus on three factors: affordable housing, free access to on-site after-school programming, and affordable medical care.  Reduced transiency stabilizes the community and improves the performance of the local elementary school. Stagmeier explains an $18,000 household can effectively sustain rent of $675.

Morreale said that in immigrant families, parents are seeking work and move to places where they can find good jobs. “We find it impossible to locate some of these students once the parents relocate them.”

Principal Josh Morreale & Columbia University

Principal Morreale came to Osborne from South Cobb High School in 2011 when the school’s graduation rate was at an abysmal 37 percent. Since then it has risen to 67 percent (with transiency) and 93 percent (with cohorts) under Morreale’s guidance. He credits a partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College. Faculty receives professional training from the university. Columbia also takes its model from schools in the Stanton/The Bronx region of New York and advises Morreale on the next steps for academic achievement.

A book written by Osborne students (photo by Angelia Pressley)

Paths for improvement include mindset growth (teaching children to dream beyond their circumstances), and critical thinking conversations. “They are teaching us to perfect what we do have.” The college has provided guidance to AP and IB students who have written several books. The latest from Osborne students is entitled, The Fear of Four Years. Writing is part of the learning process and completion of the project is followed by a book signing.

“It’s a way to make learning fun and meaningful, “says Morreale. “I wish I our legislators found a way to measure more than test scores.”

Other programs to enhance education at Osborne are the leadership program of Kiwanis Key Club, with 50 plus students,  and ROTC, whose participants have a 100% graduation rate.

Osborne Capital Improvements and Post 2 Board Member Susan Thayer

The South Cobb district voted ‘no’ on SPLOST funds during year IV. This made it is easier for political interests to circumvent or delay some capital improvements in Post 2. Susan Thayer, the retiring Post 2 Board member, says Osborne was inherited as a capital improvement project, but it had made little progress. “I was that seat at the table, a voice for the community when the Board met. I fought to move the project along. Fast forward to V and SPLOST has $150,000,000 for new buildings, technology and other school needs, because we worked to educate the community, and the area had the highest voter turnout for SPLOST.”

Temporary buildings have already been set up and students will move into them in on August 1, 2018 to allow demolition of the old school and begin the new build.  Not all of the structures will be torn down. The areas of the school built in the 1990s will remain and the new buildings will be attached.

The long-awaited Career Academy also will begin sometime in 2019. The academy will face Windy Hill Road.

“The community thought it was important Osborne be connected to the larger part of the community and not only Favor Road. We [the board] did want to honor that request.” Thayer explained that in CCSD capital improvement projects every theater, gymnasium and classroom is set up to look the same. The orientation to Windy Hill Road did not pose a problem with respect to the codes.

Thayer additionally feels the dual-immersion elementary school program she championed that adds a second language will help to build stability at Osborne as all students rise together through grade levels.

The Community and District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid

Josh Morreale tells a story of community members carefully using the basketball courts after hours during a staging for tests, dismantling the area and then reconstructing it. “No damage was done, but it indicated a need in the community.  Commissioner Cupid who has been really involved in listening and helping the school decided to dedicate $10,000,000 in Cobb County SPLOST to bring the Osborne district a recreation center.”

“It was an eye-opener to hear the story and was a strong indicator something needed to be done.” Cupid says it was in her monthly meetings after being elected Commissioner of District 4 she learned about Osborne.

“Six Flags was getting a lot more attention, because of stakeholder involvement. This area lacked a Town Square, and I wanted the community to know we were listening. The center gives the community a way to ‘re-create’ themselves.” Commissioner Cupid said the recreation center is also a part of the comprehensive plan for the district.

“Jason Gaines who is with Community Development helped connect our efforts with the Urban Land Institute and they did a Mini-TAP which is a Technical Assistance Project for the Osborne area,” Cupid wrote in an email.

Campbell High Faculty Parents Briefed On AlertPoint Security System

Response time is a critical element to the safety of students under siege on school campuses around the nation. AlertPoint, an alarm system attached to the badges of every school employee is an answer to the angst running high among parents, teachers and community members after the Parkland massacre. Cobb County Public Safety Department (CCDPS) in partnership with Cobb County School Police and Cobb County School District (CCSD) introduced the safety alert preparation just days after 17 children were cut down by a lone gunman in Florida.

Codes on the equipment include RED, to signal a total lockdown of the property, YELLOW, indicating a medical crisis, and other color codes for lesser emergencies. All school sites in Cobb are projected to the have Alert-Point by summer. Educational facilities have several access points and the devices will allow first responders to pinpoint exact locations of a threat, and quickly move to minimize casualties that can happen in an active shooter situation. Each school principal also can ask CCDPS to help map out a plan for optimal protection, as was reported by Chief Register during the Faith Forum on February 19th.

With all staff armed with this tool, it takes a push of the button on the badge to warn authorities of imminent danger. This can be really effective considering all staff will be wearing the device. “This is really good,” said one of the parents during Campbell School Council meeting March 12, “Think about it, who knows better than a facilities manager who is supposed to be in the building?” In addition, the doors of every Cobb school will be re-keyed after some 20 years, according to a report by Community Affairs Office Jamar Hicks at the Cobb Faith Partnership meeting on March 21.

Campbell High School faculty and parents were briefed during that council Meeting by Sergeant Phil Bradford of the Cobb County School Police force. He demonstrated for members of the council how the combination of the campus floor plan, AlertPoint and vigilance among staff can save lives. Moreover, each school principal can ask Cobb County Police to help map out a plan for optimal protection, using the “suitcase” protocol. The layout of the building is stored in a briefcase, which will permit officers to create a defense plan to neutralize an issue when they arrive on the scene.

Cobb County Police will conduct surprise inspections to ascertain how far they are able to go into the hallways before being stopped. Based on predetermined standards for operations, the institution will be graded, and any failures will be addressed for improvement.

Other important factors to school safety include a culture where student See Something and Say Something when they recognize suspicious behavior in and around their school; as well as in-school drills each semester to prepare the school body in case of emergencies.

While many schools in Cobb have cameras to detect visitors before granting them access, high schools are open. Because of the activities of those teenagers at higher levels, it can be more difficult to secure. Dr. Jeanne Walker of Campbell, reacting to parents’ concerns, decided she would lock all doors on her grounds. Fire code demands exit points. Children will be able to leave through the doors at Campbell, but not enter without permission.