Southern Passions: This Atlanta Superintendent Doesn't Need Research to Tell Her All Students Can Achieve-She's Living Proof. (Administrator Profile)

Article excerpt

It was when Beverly Hall was growing up in her native Jamaica with an optimistic and hard-working mother that she learned she could achieve.

So when Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, immigrated to the U.S. in 1965 for college, she was shocked.

"The biggest difference [between Jamaica and the U.S.] was the expectations people had for girls and minorities," Hall recalls. "No one [in Jamaica] thought that it was unusual that girls, and in that case, black girls, Caribbean gifts, had to pass a rigorous exit exam [to graduate high school.] High-level, challenging courses were part of the norm in high school."

It formed the belief system that she now uses to lead Atlanta's 56,000-student district. "I didn't have to be taught that ... all children could learn at high levels. My expectations had always been high. I didn't need research to tell me."

Hall's first job was as an English teacher at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Sands Junior High School. After becoming a principal of two different schools, she served as deputy chancellor for instruction in the New York City Public Schools and then as state district superintendent of Newark (NJ.) Public Schools.

Creating Teacher Grants Atlanta public school officials were so impressed they recruited Hall to move south.

Mitzi Bickers, Atlanta Board of Education chairwoman, says Hall brings a "collective buy-in to the vision." Teachers, staff, parents and community members "are feeling good about what they are doing," Bickers says. "People have bought into the goals, and they really believe they can reach those goals. She is beyond the rhetoric."

When Hall started in July 1999, she became the first Atlanta superintendent to allocate part of her performance bonus to innovative teachers. Of the $45,000 bonus received, Hall gave $10,000 over two years. The Superintendent's Teacher Mini-Grant Awards, along with other community matching dollars, funded 46 additional educational programs, including "Atlantis 2k+2: Colonizing Europa's Ocean." High school students use research/proposal methods, calculations, and computer stimulation to colonize the oceans of Jupiter's moon. Other projects funded by 100 Black Men of Atlanta, include "The Panther Speaks," where students create a school newspaper.

"I felt that that was the only way to say to everyone, `This is what the core business of the district is about-to make sure students achieve,'" Hall says. …