CUMBERLAND — The leaders of Cobb County’s two school districts on Monday morning urged Cobb businesses to give employees more time off to get involved with their child’s education and criticized certain state and federal measurements as “unfair.”

Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera were the stars of the show at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s First Monday Breakfast event.

With the state’s recent release of 2019 graduation rates, both superintendents have criticized lawmakers’ calculations of the rates, saying they do not take transiency into account. After touting his district’s test scores and highest-ever graduation rate of 86.9%, Ragsdale again said some of the county’s lowest-graduating schools have been misrepresented by the statistics.

Ragsdale has repeatedly used the example of Osborne High School, where he said the student population’s transiency rates skew its overall graduation rate. This year its rate rose 5.6% to 71.2%. Ragsdale says a more accurate representation of its graduation rates would be about 96% or more if students who attended the school for all four years were factored in.

“Osborne has to overcome the tremendous hurdle of the negative perception of their school, because of the way the school is perceived as a direct result of how the school is ‘graded,’” he said. “We need to do a better job — not as education, but we as a state — in deciding how we’re going to put a label on schools.”

Rivera also voiced his opposition to graduation rate calculations when this year’s rates release showed graduation rates at Marietta High School dropped for the second year in a row. Marietta’s rates dropped 2.3% from 2017 to 2018, and about a four tenths of a percent, to 75.7%, from 2018 to 2019. At a recent school board meeting, Marietta officials estimated the high school’s graduation rate would reach around 92% if students who attended all four years were counted.

Ragsdale also took aim at Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores, which rate each school in the state using five different measurements: content mastery, progress, closing gaps, readiness and, for high schools, graduation rate.

“We can both sit up here and tell you how unfair rating schools is,” he said, gesturing to his Marietta counterpart.

Both districts saw their average CCRPI scores rise over last year. Cobb’s rose 6.5 points to 86.1, and Marietta’s rose 5.2 points to 80.4.

Ragsdale also said school safety has changed greatly over the years, and he highlighted the increasing social-emotional needs of students, saying “the plate is overflowing.”

“We’re living in a different age today, folks,” he said, adding that school districts are expected to provide a wider range of services now. “While we can’t do everything, we’re going to do all we can.”

He also encouraged the attendees to partner with the school district and to donate to the Cobb Schools Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting Cobb students.

Rivera took a different approach to his time at the microphone. The leader of Marietta schools called on business leaders to make a “value statement” about the education of the community’s children, challenging them to allow their employees more paid leave to get involved in their children’s education.

“I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t want your backpacks,” Rivera said, referring to a common donation to schools. “What I want is learning.”

The Marietta superintendent said, even for him, it can be difficult to navigate K-12 education as the father of a first-grader. Referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Rivera said the single largest determining factor of whether a person will be successful is “the degree to which their families are involved in their education.”

“If I walk into your business, how are you allowing families to be more engaged in their child’s education?” he said, adding that many hourly employees struggle to take unpaid time off work to do so. “They can’t take off work to learn how to do phonics with a kindergartner. They can’t take off work to learn how to help their child in math or SAT or ACT.”

Rivera challenged business leaders to allow paid time off for such activities, as well as asked them to take steps in work settings to better inform parents on how to get involved in schools.

“Do you have a laptop ... in your place of employment with directions on how they can check their kids attendance and grades, and then if they see something, what are the two questions (they) should be asking?” he said.

For his part, Ragsdale said the recent rollout of his district’s Cobb Teaching and Learning System, an online portal for parents, offers those resources to families.

Rivera added that more needs to be done to “extend the school year,” referring to a need to ensure school districts offer supplemental learning opportunities outside of the normal school schedule for students who are learning below their grade level.

“If that takes more than 180 days, we’ll do that in this community. We’ll do that in Marietta,” Rivera said to applause from the crowd.

He also took his opportunity to celebrate the success of Marietta’s Emily Lembeck Early Learning Center, which opened in August 2018.

Both superintendents also touted the construction of college and career academies in their districts, which they say will better prepare students for the workforce or higher education.

Construction of the academy at Marietta High School is expected to be complete by the end of the year, and a soft opening is scheduled for January, Rivera said.

Cobb’s Innovation and Technology Academy at Osborne High School in Smyrna is expected to welcome students in the fall of 2020, according to Ragsdale.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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