Monday, August 31, 2009

A Flu Update - What you Need to Know about H1N1 (aka the Swine Flu)

We have received many questions about the Novel H1N1 flu virus (formerly known as the Swine flu). The H1N1 flu continued to spread over the summer in camps and schools. In the southern hemisphere, which is in the middle of its flu season, it emerged as the most common cause of the flu.

H1N1 symptoms are very similar to seasonal flu symptoms and may include fever over 100°, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. It is expected that most people will recover from H1N1 without needing medical care.

The spread of Novel H1N1 virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by contact with contaminated objects, such as occurs when a well person touches something that is contaminated by flu droplets and the contaminated hands are brought to the mouth, nose or eyes. (Flu virus can survive minutes to hours on surfaces).

Most cases of H1N1 have been mild, but there have been hospitalizations and deaths-just as there are every year with seasonal flu. To minimize the impact of this virus in our community, it will be important to heed the advice offered by public health experts.

The DeKalb County School System is working closely with the DeKalb County Board of Health (DBOH) and is receiving on-going guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) and the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE). The school district modifies its procedures in response to revised guidance from these agencies.

What can you do to prevent the flu?
The key is to stringently follow sanitary measures to reduce the spread of germs.
#1. All persons are encouraged to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Hand sanitizers are currently being placed in DeKalb County schools and other district facilities. The Lakeside PTSA is in the process of purchasing hand sanitizers that can be placed in every classroom at Lakeside. Encourage your child to wash their hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing, and to make use of hand sanitizers.
#2. Cover your cough/sneeze by using a tissue (and properly discard) or your sleeve if a tissue is not available.
#3. Do not share personal items such as drinks.
#4. Parents/Guardians should monitor your child for flu-like symptoms. Students, faculty and staff who appear to have a flu-like illness upon arrival at school or during the day will be isolated in a room away from others. The parents of students will immediately be called. Persons who appear to have a flu-like illness will be sent home.
#5. Get vaccinated. The CDC, DCH and DBOH encourage citizens in high-risk groups, such as school-age children to get vaccinated against seasonal and Novel flu viruses. The vaccine for H1N1 is anticipated to be available in mid-October.

Those with flu-like illness should follow the following exclusion period recommendations:
#1. Stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, without use of fever-reducing medicines and regardless of whether or not they are using antiviral drugs.
#2. Those who are sick should stay in the home during this period, except to seek necessary medical care, and should avoid contact with others.

How can you help?
#1. Keep your child home if he/she has flu-like symptoms and follow the guidelines provided above.
#2. Support prevention efforts by educating your child about proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Discuss with your child ways of staying healthy and the importance of staying home when they are sick.
#3. Send in hand sanitizer and Kleenex for your child's classrooms. We encourage our Lakeside families to assist us in our distribution of hand sanitizers by providing additional bottles to your child's teachers.

If your child is home with the flu, remember that they may be too ill to study while they are recovering. Contact your child's teachers to explain why your child is home and to make arrangements to keep up with assignments.

Remember that there are many illnesses with symptoms similar to those of influenza. For example, a common cold or allergies can cause nasal symptoms and cough. If you have questions about your symptoms or feel you need to be seen because of symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

Up-to-date information on H1N1 can be found on the CDC website.

For more information about the swine flu from the DeKalb School System, please click here.

Many thanks to the Lakeside PTSA for this informative update!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Just in Case You are Inclined to Trust the Government with Your Tax Dollars

Where exactly does the money go? This video shows the insane incompetence of the Federal Reserve, but think about it -- the federal government is now trying to take over the multi-multi BILLION dollar education system. Will the money become as "lost" as the money the feds have supposedly 'invested' off the books? Will they simply use it to line the pockets of friends in high places who have the "next big idea" to "save" our schools? (BTW, those ideas generally involve dismantling our current schools, firing the staffs and reopening as a charter - ready to place enrollment requirements on its students as well as turn away anyone with "special" needs.)

This is a very, very slippery slope and I am strongly encouraging all of you to pay attention - don't be lulled into a sense of security that our government is going to rescue our schools from themselves.... We all know our public schools are far from perfect - but then again, we need to be very careful what we wish for.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is NCLB About to Be Replaced?

As reported in the AJC education blog, "Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the No Child Left Behind Act failed to produce the radical changes necessary to improve the nation’s lowest-performing schools. He intends to change that with an aggressive $3.5 billion school improvement aid plan that demands striking changes."

Duncan said the federal government was determined to raise the “bottom on the bottom,” the 5,000 lowest performing schools in the nation, half of which were urban, 30 percent were rural and 20 percent were suburban.

“In those schools, tinkering around the edges is not sufficient,” Duncan said. “Those children are being poorly served in chronically underachieving schools and marginal incremental change is not the answer.”

The AJC posting continues, "Under his plan, systems must discard scalpels and take chainsaws to failing schools. Systems can close them, restaff them and reopen them under new leadership or as charters. They can shutter the schools and transfer students elsewhere. Or they can make deep, “transformative” changes, including replacing the leadership, adopting comprehensive reforms including performance pay for teachers and extending learning time."

Duncan says, “If we are to put an end to stubborn cycles of poverty and social failure, and put our country on track for long-term economic prosperity, we must address the needs of children who have long been ignored and marginalized in chronically low-achieving schools,” said Duncan, who made the announcement with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid at Harley Harmon Elementary School in Las Vegas. “States and school districts have an opportunity to put unprecedented resources toward reforms that would increase graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and improve teacher quality for all students, and particularly for children who most need good teaching in order to catch up.”

“The large investment in school improvement funds made possible by the Recovery Act presents a historic opportunity to attack education's most intractable challenge -- turning around or closing down chronically low-achieving schools,” Duncan said. “Our goal is to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, as part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the drop-out rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace.”

The secretary would require states to identify three tiers of schools:

Tier I - The lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring in a state, or the five lowest-performing Title I schools, whichever number is greater.

Tier II – Equally low-achieving secondary schools that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds. The secretary proposes targeting some of these extremely low-achieving high schools and their feeder middle schools. There are close to 2,000 high schools in this country in which graduation is at best a 50/50 proposition. U.S. Department of Education data indicates that fewer than half of these schools currently receive Title I Part A funds. If the provisions proposed become final, school districts would not be required to include Tier II schools in proposals. However, including Tier II schools would enhance a school district's likelihood for funding because states would be required to give priority to districts that commit to serve both Tier I and Tier II schools.

Tier III – The remaining Title I schools in improvement, corrective action or restructuring that are not Tier I schools in the state. "

To read about Duncan's entire plan, check it out at the US DOE website.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dr. Crawford Lewis scheduled to address the DCPC on Wed Sept 2nd at 9 am

September 2nd, 2009
9:00 a.m.

Even though this is a Dunwoody Chamblee Parents Council meeting -
All DeKalb County School Parents Welcome!

Dunwoody High School
5035 Vermack Road
Dunwoody, Georgia 30338
Phone: 678-874-8502

Cross Keys advocates - make this your opportunity to ask questions of Dr. Lewis!

Uneven Allocation? Let's Pay Attention to the Money Trail

I am not pleased with many parts of the DeKalb school system, but am optimistic that we (residents of DeKalb) can reverse what has happened in the past few years.

A majority of the problems with DeKalb Schools is the allocation of resources. So I have several questions we all need to ponder upon.

However, first a brief story: My sixth grade child is having a hard time adjusting to middle school. The primary problem is his lack of organizational skills and it appears that these skills have impacted his grades. My wife and I asked him this weekend what he needs to be better organized? So he came up with a laundry list of items. The total cost of his list was less than two tanks of gas so we provided him with everything on his list along with an ultimatum to get his grades back up.

I believe that Dr. Lewis, not unlike my child, realizes that there is a problem. However, unlike my child he cannot just cash in his allowance to fix the problem. Dr. Lewis stated he knew the problem by making 2009 the year of Raising the Bar and Making a Difference, but if we cannot give him the tools, there is very little he or any Superintendent will be able to accomplish.

So here are my questions:

1) Is the DCSS (DeKalb County School System) getting every dollar it is entitled to from local, state, and federal taxes along with outside foundations?

2) Is DCSS using that money as efficiently as possible?

3) If the money that DCSS receives is not enough to properly teach our children, what are they doing to raise more money?

4) How much does it cost to properly teach a child in DeKalb compared to the rest of GA?

Before anyone gets two quick to respond do not forget the following:

It does cost more to teach a student in an inner city and here are two primary reasons:

a. Variable cost, primarily the cost for the teacher, as most teachers would rather live and teach in the suburbs we need to understand that a premium of 20-30% will need to be added to have them teach inside the perimeter.

b. Fixed cost, primarily the cost of a building, is higher for DeKalb. If a School board wanted to obtain 20 acres for a school in North Georgia they would just do it for about $5,000 per acre, in DeKalb that cost could be as much as $500,000 per acre or 10,000% more.

My final point is to make sure we the residents of DeKalb speak-up loudly and clearly about the following:

a) We should not be considered part of a national or state average when it comes to cost. We need to be compared to other inner cities across the nation. All other data should be considered invalid.

b) Demand that at our meetings that we get more per student for reasons above.

c) Demand that we get even more per student to make up for lost ground again for the same reasons.

d) Do not tolerate waste and fraud, but also understand that certain things do cost more because of where we live.

e) If we have money allocated for the schools, then it should go to the schools.

f) In the end if we need to raise more money, then we need to raise more money.

A city is just a group of people living, learning and working together. It is the School Board's responsibility to manage the learning part of that puzzle and it is our role as citizens to make sure the School Board has the tools to do their job.

Mike Swahn

Saturday, August 22, 2009

eSIS Beefs - Let's hear 'em!

So far, the new new master schedule builder software called eSIS has not made a very good first impression. We're still hearing horror stories of this thing reducing teachers and counselors to tears in our First Day of School posting. The administration seems to be in denial of the problem, having posted a statement at the main website stating that the system had some glitches but all students now have schedules.

We know that the problems with the system run much deeper than that. Apparently, the system is not allowing teachers to input proper attendance numbers, which effects class sizes, the need for more classes, ordering books and supplies and a whole host of related issues.

Teachers and staff, please feel free to post your experiences with the system last week–anonymously, from your personal computer, on your free time. The administration needs to hear the details only you can provide but have no place for you to provide it where you can feel safe from repercussions.

We will compile your comments and send on to the administration and the board. Be nice! Be constructive!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Is a Bomb Threat Really a Threat?

An email went out to Lakeside families today about a bomb threat at Lakeside yesterday. The principal decided not to evacuate the students and instead put them in lock-down in their classrooms while a search was conducted. In the intercom announcement to students, he called it an "Intruder Alert Drill" rather than a "Bomb Threat". We, here at the blog, have been discussing these kinds of threats and similar types of incidents and wondering if there is written code or standard protocol for principals to follow in such events. We can't find any - apparently, there is discretion in the principals ability to decide how to handle these kinds of events.

Read the notice - and let us know - do you think the principal made a good decision? Do you think there should be an airtight, stringent, standard protocol for handling threats? Or do you think it should be left up to principals to decide on what action (if any) to take?

Notice of Bomb Threat
August 21, 2009

Dear Lakeside Families,

This morning shortly before 10:00 a.m., the 911 center received a non-specific call from a cell phone stating that there was a bomb at Lakeside. I met with our SRO (school resource officer) and Dekalb Police. Because of the nature of the call and after listening to their advice I decided to do an intruder alert and lock down the school. The Dekalb Police, our SRO and the SRO from Shamrock, our campus supervisors and our custodians conducted an extensive search of all common areas inside and outside the school for any sort of suspicious package. We found nothing.

It is normal procedure in these cases to contact Homeland Security. The Dekalb Police did this and they arrived at 10:20. They will do a trace on the phone call and if they find who made the call, the consequences could very likely include time in prison. The Homeland Security officials were satisfied with my decision not to evacuate the building. I ended the intruder alert at 10:30.

I have also communicated this information to our faculty and staff.

Joseph P. Reed
Lakeside High School

On another note - what is it about Lakeside and bomb threats? They had at least three last year that we're aware of here at the blog. Do other schools have bomb threats and we just aren't hearing about them? What causes someone to call in such a thing and what - if anything - can we do to stop this madness?

What’s Killing DeKalb Schools?

by Paul Womack

(This posting is taken from a public letter written by board member Paul Womack and published at Go Dekalb by "Lefty", on November 18, 2008.)

Parents with children in DeKalb County Schools are worried about the future of the system and the quality of the education their children are getting. They’re doing anything they can to get their children into good school, and many are abandoning their neighborhood school. We have overcrowded schools in one area and nearly vacant schools in another, while transportation costs skyrocket. The problem is eerily similar to the situation in the late 1980’s, when I served on the school board before.

In response to court-ordered desegregation, DeKalb schools created a program called “Majority-to-Minority” (or M-to-M) transfers, where any student in a majority population at one school could transfer to any school in the County where they would be a minority. In other words, any black student could transfer out of a majority black school to a majority white school –and the County would provide the transportation.

DeKalb Schools were integrated –but there was an unintended consequence. Black parents didn’t like having to send their children across the County for a quality education. They wanted quality schools in their neighborhoods too. They were right. 16 years later, they’re still right.

The M-to-M program allowed the DeKalb Schools to duck a serious problem –making educational excellence available in every neighborhood, every school and every classroom. Until every school offers a quality education, parents will abandon the ones that don’t and pack their children into the ones that do.

No school should have more students than its design capacity, and preferably, not a single student more than its educational capacity. Parents in the neighborhoods should be able to readily assess which students should be attending their schools. Transfers between school attendance zones should ONLY be permitted when a student has a specific academic need that their assigned school can not meet. The long-term solution is to make every school in our DeKalb System excellent, which will eliminate the need (or excuse) for student transfers. In the short term, we must enforce a strict policy of attendance in schools only by those students legally entitled to be there.

I am not satisfied with current DCSS Board policy on administrative transfers, nor on residency verification procedures by the school system. More important than that, however, is an appalling secrecy about how parents can verify, for themselves, that their schools are following any policy at all. Does your child come home and tell you about 15 new students in his or her class after the school year has started? If so, how can you find out who these students are, where they came from and why they’re there? Most parents can’t, and that creates rumor, suspicion and resentment that can destroy a school and weaken a school system.

If we won’t fix problem schools, we should at least follow the law. State law limits the number of students in classrooms–if a school is over design capacity then no more students should be enrolled from anywhere. Any school administrator who enrolls in a school more students than that school has capacity for should be reprimanded, including possible termination.

The bottom line is this: If you created excellence and ample opportunities for academic success in every school in DeKalb, you wouldn't have parents trying to break down the doors of the "best" schools. For instance, Lakeside High School has capacity for 1320 students. The last report from the principal showed 1702 students enrolled - more than they had when school year started! Where did these students come from? Is there a good reason they are there (ie, an academic reason, and not just an "administrative" transfer or a favor pulled for a big-shot or a complaining parent?)

When I served on the School Board, parents wanted their children to get an excellent education then, and they still do. We need a system that puts excellence everywhere.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dropout crisis is statewide problem

From today's AJC -

A few weeks ago, the AJC’s front page story was “State’s high school graduation rate a crisis.” It reported that Georgia has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.

In fact, Georgia is in the bottom five states. But the focus was solely on the Department of Education and schools. Are they really the only ones to blame? Are they the only entities that should be held accountable?

This is a statewide crisis — not an Atlanta crisis, not an urban crisis, not a poor crisis, not a North Georgia crisis, not an African-American crisis — a Georgia crisis.

Most of our Georgia students attend a school where graduating is not the norm. Most of the districts that we live in have low levels of graduation rates at our neighborhood high schools.

With over 20,000 Georgia dropouts annually, the graduation rate is a crisis in every community throughout Georgia. And every community needs to take responsibility for its schools and recognize that this is a community issue. We must all play a part in the solution.

Businesses, parents and extended family, faith-based organizations, community organizations and government must take ownership of their part in the solution to Georgia’s graduation crisis. This cannot fall solely on the shoulders of educators, administrators or the Georgia Department of Education.

Communities, as a whole, must make graduation rates a priority and mobilize to support and, in some instances, transform high schools. We need more mentoring programs and tutors, better after-school programs, smaller class sizes, individualized attention, specific programming for at-risk drop-outs, parent education and the list goes on. Dedicated partnerships between schools and their communities are needed to connect resources and services.

A number of organizations met at Communities In Schools last week to work on a “graduation summit” for Atlanta and Georgia. Because the many causes underlying dropping out of school are so complex, the group is seeking ways to link support for schools, families and students to all who are committed to raising graduation rates — from chambers of commerce, to United Way groups, to community developers, to after-school programs, to technical colleges, to work-force development activities. Undeniably, there should be a focus on high expectations and academic rigor.

But there must also be a focus on nonacademic barriers that potential dropouts and their families face. There has to be a holistic approach to increasing the number of Georgia high school graduates.

Through Communities In Schools’ Performance Learning Centers, many likely dropouts transform themselves into high school graduates through the use of individualized learning programs in a small, nontraditional setting.

In fact, this year over 1,000 students, who were at one time identified as future high school dropouts, graduated from our PLCs. So yes, achieving higher graduation rates can be done. Will it take a lot of hard work and collaboration from all facets of our communities? Absolutely.

The stakes are too high for us, as Georgians, to wait on the sidelines for changes to be made for us. We have to hold ourselves accountable — all of us do. The future of our state depends on it.

Chris Womack, an executive vice president at Southern Co., is board chair of Communities In Schools of Georgia. Neil Shorthouse is president of Communities In Schools of Georgia.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SPLOST Spending for High Schools is Racially Imbalanced

I don’t know if people in south DeKalb know or realize this, but schools in north DeKalb are totally integrated and highly diverse. Conversely, schools in south DeKalb are almost completely homogenous as they are nearly 100% African-American. Ironically, north-end schools that are integrated have been ignored as far as repairs, additions and remodeling with SPLOST dollars, except Druid Hills - which has received some remodeling to their nearly 100 year old facility - and Tucker High School, which is being torn down and completely rebuilt - but then again, Tucker is 72% African-American. That is the only school in the north end of the county to be given attention beyond the standard auditorium/career tech packages promised–some even drawn–but none yet built. Chamblee, Lakeside, Cross Keys and Dunwoody still wait for their share of SPLOST construction. Lakeside at least has architectural drawings, but those have taken years to develop. Dunwoody and Chamblee have heard rumblings, Dunwoody even has some drawings, but neither has seen construction action whatsoever. Cross Keys, built in 1958, is a disaster of a building and was apparently given all of the equipment and students from sold and closed HS of Technology North - but no guidance or program director. Ironically, when we voted for SPLOST 3, Cross Keys was #2 on the list of priorities - just after SPLOST 2 carry over - and well before Tucker HS.

Don't believe me that spending correlates to race? Check out the data, in case you can't visit these schools --

DeKalb School of Arts – 284 students - 184 (64.8%) black, 74 (26.1%) white, 7 (2.5%) Hispanic, 9 (3.2%) Asian, 10 (3.5%) other; $10,000,000 has been allocated to move this school to Avondale HS. (This equates to spending $35,211.00 per student.) DHS will operate as a separate school within a school – 2 principals, 2 sets of teachers, counselors, etc..

Clarkston HS – 934 students - 742 (79.4%) black, 29 (3.1%) white, 36 (3.9%) Hispanic, 103 (11.0%) Asian, 24 (2.6%) other. With a design capacity of 1260, Clarkston offers 320 available seats. With $11,694,682 scheduled for an Auditorium/Career Tech Center - Plus an additional $4 million for other improvements – Clarkston should soon be a sought after, very roomy, newly remodeled high school.

Columbia HS – 1,322 students - 1,303 (98.6%) black; Total renovation of the building, including the pool. Also recently completed the auditorium/fine arts/career tech addition. The original design capacity of this building was 1,474 giving Columbia currently at least 152 available seats.

Martin Luther King Jr. HS – 2,044 students - 2,005 (98.1%) black; “MLK opened in August, 2001. Scheduled to receive a $9.8 million multi-classroom addition with SPLOST 3. Plus a new project surfaced for this school - MLK HS - 9th Grade Academy at a cost of $6,858,842 is listed on the June 09 CIP. With a current capacity of 1,407, MLK is over-capacity by 637, however, relief was promised by the brand new Arabia HS in August, 2009. Arabia could have easily relieved over-crowding in South DeKalb, however, the superintendent instead decided to make Arabia a magnet/choice/theme school requiring an application/lottery process.

Lithonia HS – 1,683 students - 1,606 (95.4%) black; “totally wireless facility built October, 2002. The school has 188,000 square feet of space and is one of the largest schools in DeKalb County. Lithonia has a state-of-the-art media center, a music, art, and NJROTC wings, a cyber cafe for parents to communicate online with teachers, and a 500-seat auditorium.” Lithonia's multi-million addition has been postponed, due to very low enrollment.

McNair HS – 1,124* students - 1,107 (98.5%) black; COMPLETELY RENOVATED 2006 – including a new auditorium. With a budget of over $21 million, they even went so far as to spend $25,000 on the Mustang Statues on the pillars at the entry.

Miller Grove HS – 1,751 students - 1,697 (96.9%) black; All instructional spaces receive natural daylight through walls of windows. The media center and cafeteria are state of the art, and the gymnasium comfortably seats over 2,000 people. MGHS boasts a 2,345 square foot Health Occupations Center. As their website states, “Miller Grove High School is truly a state of the art 21st century school facility.” Located less than a mile and a half from Lithonia HS, Miller Grove is scheduled to receive an addition with SPLOST 3. (However, the school is currently under-enrolled by about 300.)

Open Campus HS – 777 students - 640 (82.4%) black, 24 (3.1%) white, 80 (10.3%) Hispanic, 18 (2.3%) Asian, 15 (1.9%) other; $10 million has been allocated to “move” Open Campus to a new location at the Stone Mountain facility.

Southwest DeKalb HS – 1,862 students - 1,803 (96.8%) black; SW enjoyed a total renovation and addition using over $21 million in SPLOST 2 funding. Additional funding (approx $2 million) beyond the original scope was also built. With a design capacity of 1365, SWDK is 500 students over capacity – requiring 30 trailers on site. This is a magnet school, and some would say enrollment should be limited to the number of available seats. It is also very close to Arabia, so one could also assume that many of the students could transfer. (Take note that there are now two high-achiever magnet schools within 5 miles of each other in South DeKalb – one brand new, one with millions in construction spending and plans for a performing arts center, however Chamblee, the magnet school in the north has seen zero dollars spent and has no auditorium nor plans drawn.)

Stephenson HS – 1,893 students - 1,825 (96.4%) black; Stephenson HS - A separate 9th Grade Academy building - with it's own science labs and cafeteria was built using millions from the SPLOST 2 funds. The capacity is 2098 for this school, leaving over 200 seats available.

Towers HS – 1,044 students - 990 (94.8%) black; Received a total renovation using over $20 million in SPLOST 2 including new bleachers as an extra budget item. Although under-enrolled by over 350 we went on to spend $1,500,000.00 SPLOST 3 funding for an 8 Classroom, 12,000 SF addition, PLUS $350,000 for an addition of an art studio. Moreover, they have received a beautiful auditorium/tech addition.

Tucker HS – 1,493 students - 1,075 (72.0%) black, 226 (15.1%) white, 81 (5.4%) Hispanic, 58 (3.9%) Asian, 53 (3.5%) other; TORN DOWN, currently in the process of being completely rebuilt at a cost of over $50 million, it was in bad shape, but not as bad as Cross Keys.

Arabia Mountain High School is a brand new, $50+ million, 240,000 square feet building with a capacity of 1600-2100 students built with SPLOST 2 funding. The school includes an environmental sciences lab, three business labs, a 600-seat auditorium, three music rooms, an indoor running track, practice athletic fields, tennis courts, an outdoor classroom/amphitheater and walking trail.

The campus is located in the southern corner of DeKalb, about 2 miles from the Rockdale and Henry county lines and sits near trails leading to the federally recognized Arabia Mountain national heritage area, which comprises thousands of acres of protected green space. The school was built to relieve severe crowding at nearby high schools, as press releases at the time show. (This plan has been changed and Arabia will function as a magnet/choice program, providing only 600 spaces to relieve local over-crowding.)


In evaluating the facts, SPLOST spending appears racially motivated. If you look over the list of schools who have been promised projects, but nothing delivered to date, other than maybe approvals to request proposals or architectural drawings, the losers are the schools with less than 50% African-American. The biggest loser is Cross Keys, a school with a majority Hispanic population. In fact, Lewis & the BOE have gone further down the design stage for the dream of a High School of the Arts than they have for Chamblee, Dunwoody & Cross Keys - they have sketches and have asked for proposals and bids for a Performing Arts School!

Here's the irony -- Lakeside, Dunwoody and Cross Keys are the ONLY schools left that are not over 50% black. The ONLY ones. (Lakeside - only 35% black, Dunwoody - only 36% black, Cross Keys - only 3% black.) Druid Hills at 52% black is finally getting a long overdue renovation. Tucker - at 72% black is seeing a teardown and completely NEW rebuild. Chamblee just crossed the majority black threshold - at 54% black. Just imagine for a moment, if those numbers were reversed. We'd have another Federal Case. 

And renovation spending doesn't correlate to capacity either. True, Cross Keys only has around 900 students. However, incredible construction is going on now at Clarkston HS - with only 934 students. McNair - at 1124 students has enjoyed a complete reno - same with Columbia - a school that is UNDER enrolled by 132.

 Towers HS has only 1044 students - with a full renovation/auditorium/tech/classroom addition - and new tennis courts. (Lakeside’s tennis courts host 22 trailers, forcing their champion tennis team to hold practice off campus.)

In addition, regarding race, DeKalb is not providing acceptable educational facilities for Hispanics – and this effects a lot of kids. At a total of 9,422 they are currently 9.4% of the total student population. For comparison, there are 10,465 whites (10.5%). The Hispanics are concentrated mainly in the schools in the north end of the county and therefore, IMO, tend to get overlooked by our zealous board members who hyper-focus on the needs of South DeKalb. Hispanics are the new largest minority in DeKalb schools and deserve the focus and attention to equity that black students enjoy. Otherwise - I smell another lawsuit.

Further, Lakeside has over 1600 students - hundreds over capacity in an old crumbling building (and has been seriously over capacity since at least the year 2000). Dunwoody also has 1600 and is predicted to be 750 over capacity by the year 2016. 

Most school systems base spending decisions on the theory that the money should be used to benefit the most students at one time - but we have done exactly the opposite. Our system has FAVORED the schools with fewer students for renovations and additions, at least the ones with a majority black population, leaving diverse schools in the north over-crowded, with no auditoriums or career tech facilities and in dire need of major renovations. 

Equitable? Heck no - not at all. Not with our current leadership in DeKalb.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Against All Odds

This is a story is about Abu Bangura, a 2009 graduate of Cross Keys HS who was born in Sierra Leone, survived years in a refugee camp to escape war in his home country and immigrated to the U.S. in 2003. As 2008 Team Defensive MVP and 2009 Co-Captain and Team MVP, Abu is an amazing soccer player who earned a 4 year scholarship to Piedmont College from his hard work in the classroom and on the athletic field.

Abu became a citizen of the United States in June, 2009!

We admire your courage and confidence Abu!

"Against All Odds" is a new topic that we hope to post as often as possible. We want to focus on students in DeKalb schools who have success stories to share - against all odds - stories to inspire and encourage all others. Send us your story!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Indian Creek Elementary student / Remembering Cameron Dunmore

We will never, ever forget Cameron Dunmore, and hope that the school system has worked closely with the county Transportation Department to identify and fix any pedestrian hazards at or by every single county school.

Second-grader hit, killed in DeKalb school crosswalk
Neighbors had earlier expressed concern about intersection safety at Princeton Elementary

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, February 02, 2009

Cameron Dunmore headed off to school early Monday to start his day in the gifted program at Princeton Elementary School in south DeKalb County.

His older sister had seen the 7-year-old second-grader to the corner in front of the school on South DeShon Road. That’s when it happened — a parent’s worst nightmare.

Police say as Cameron crossed the street at the school crosswalk at 7:30 a.m., he was struck by a sport utility vehicle that did not stop for the crosswalk.

Now, we have another tragedy. 6-year-old Suk Maya and her 10-year-old brother were to have started at Indian Creek Elementary on Wednesday. Unfortunately, Suk was killed by a driver with a long history of idiotic driving violations.

Another young DeKalb resident is gone because of a selfish driver who couldn’t wait a few seconds for a MARTA bus to unload. Gregory Armwood, a truly awful driver, should have been charged with a felony, but because the laws are so weak in Georgia for dangerous drivers, he’s out on bond facing misdemeanor charges.

According to state records, Armwood has had a number of traffic offenses since 1992, including DUI, running stop signs and red lights and causing accidents and speeding by as much as 33 mph over the posted speed limit. His most recent conviction was in DeKalb County on Sept. 9, 2003, for driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Things have to change in DeKalb and Georgia. It is unacceptable to lose any more of our young because of self-centered, ignorant drivers. The school system, county Transportation Dept., Georgia Dept. of Transportation, Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, etc. should do everything in their power to educate drivers on driving smarter and slower, especially near schools and during the school year.

Check out PEDS for more info., and go to to see their powerful Anti-Speeding Ad video.

And here’s hoping that David Guillory and the large administrative staff of the DCSS Transportation Office has worked very closely with the DeKalb County Transportation Dept. since the Cameron Dunmore/Princeton Elementary tragedy for better safety for all of our students walking and bicycling to every county school. You have, right David??!

Inclusion: a balancing act of students’ rights

The evolution of Special Education is America has created education models of many shapes and sizes – most immeasurable, but all driven by compassion for special education students and their families. The days of nearly complete segregation of these students from the general student population are virtually over.

The latest model adopted by the county’s educational experts is called “inclusion.” It is a more aggressive form of “mainstreaming.” Many parents of special education students strongly advocate for inclusion of their child into the general classroom. Some claim including special ed students improves their academic performance and their behavior (through modeling of the general student population). There are no conclusive studies to prove this.

A most comprehensive and readable article about inclusion (pros and cons) from the Wisconsin Education Association Council can be found by clicking here.

It begins:
“Inclusion remains a controversial concept in education because it relates to educational and social values, as well as to our sense of individual worth.
Any discussion about inclusion should address several important questions:
· Do we value all children equally?
· What do we mean by "inclusion"?
· Are there some children for whom "inclusion" is inappropriate?

There are advocates on both sides of the issue. James Kauffman of the University of Virginia views inclusion as a policy driven by an unrealistic expectation that money will be saved. Furthermore, he argues that trying to force all students into the inclusion mold is just as coercive and discriminatory as trying to force all students into the mold of a special education class or residential institution.
On the other side are those who believe that all students belong in the regular education classroom, and that "good" teachers are those who can meet the needs of all the students, regardless of what those needs may be.
Between the two extremes are large groups of educators and parents who are confused by the concept itself.”

DCSS has embraced inclusion whole-heartedly and is slowly whittling down its self-contained special education classrooms. Is this motivated by a perceived monetary savings or compassion and parental requests? Are special education teachers pressured to create IEPs for their students that include inclusion – whether the student is truly ready or not? Are special ed students with severe behavioral issues being included in general education classrooms at the expense of the other children? Are general education teachers properly prepared and trained to handle the unique needs of special education students? What have your experiences been?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Well, how did the 'first day' back go?

It's just unbelievable that it's back to school time already. I was so enjoying the easy-going traffic. Let us know your "first day back" stories -- how was it letting your kindergartner go off for the first time? Your new to middle or high-schooler? What kinds of welcoming tactics did your teachers and schools employ? What did your child have to say when they arrived home? How was lunch? And how did the buses do? We'd love to hear your stories!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cross Keys Renovation to Begin

As published in yesterday's Brookhaven Reporter, Evergreen Construction has begun to prepare for $20 million in renovations to Cross Keys High School. School system reps confirmed the plan to renovate without admitting the horrible conditions there. "By no means would I classify Cross Keys as dilapidated," said Pat Pope, the school system's chief operations officer. "It's a sound structure and a good environment for a renovation."

Although this is very good news, I am still perplexed as to why there are no plans for an auditorium/career tech addition, as was promised for every high school in DCSS when we voted for SPLOST 3 funding. SPLOST 3 collections are ahead of projections, and are providing money in the bank – earning millions in interest. The money is there - and it must be spent as promised. So, why no auditorium for Cross Keys?

The excuse has been that the population is low, however, when you check out the way the district has been gerrymandered, it's obvious that the population is what it is due to politics. To create a "low population problem" and then declare it the reason for lower spending is disrespectful and unfair. Don McChesney is the board rep for this school and he needs to get in there and fight for Cross Keys' fair share - and their auditorium, just as Jay Cunningham did recently for SouthWest DeKalb and then later for Cedar Grove.

I am also perplexed as to why Pat Pope has suddenly started blaming the community itself for the architect quitting the project.

"Pope indicated that frustration with the design team of teachers, administrators, students and parents played a part in the first architect quitting the project.

"The community would never come to a consensus on design," she said."

I"m sorry, I just don't believe that. Big, rough, hard-hitting corporate architects would never just walk away from a project due to community issues. The Design Team at Cross Keys' only contribution to the plans to renovate was a 2 page wish list. All they ever asked was if the architect had received that list. Something else came into play. We will be watching more closely this time.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


We hear a lot of rhetoric about Japanese education and how advanced it is compared to Georgia and the rest of the U.S. This video shows us that there is a very intangible component in Japanese schools that effects outcome -- love. Watch this video and you will feel the love, care and devotion this teacher has for his class and the empathy he fosters in his students for each other. This classroom looks a whole lot different from any classroom I've seen in the U.S. - it functions much more like a family - even though the actual class size is quite large.

Check it out. Check out the other four parts in this five part series as well. I found it enlightening.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back to School "Need to Knows"

Oh boy! Summer is almost over and the "Back to School" sales are in full swing. We have decided to list items we see as "Need to Knows" for students and parents in DeKalb County Schools as they head back to school on Monday, August 10.

First, the biggest deal is the new dress code. The important, new changes include: No low-cut shirts, blouses or tops. No cleavage at all. No see-throught clothing. No short shorts. No short skirts. No low-hanging pants with underwear showing. No clothing with vulgar or offensive language. No bedroom shoes. No flip-flops. No between the toe shoes without heels at all. Of course, included in this initiative there will be basically zero tolerance for cell phones and texting. Students can expect to have their cell phones confiscated if they are caught using them in school.

The first offense includes a verbal reprimand, contacting parents AND In-School Suspension.
Second offense: Parent conference and two days ISS.
Third offense: Three days ISS, a local hearing that could result in 10 days ISS, local probation and/or - (my favorite) a parent can attend classes with the student in lieu of ISS.
Chronic violators may be referred to an alternative setting.

Dr. Lewis has introduced a very important parental involvement initiative. He plans to improve parental involvement across the entire school system and has set this as a top priority. A task force made up of parents, community leaders, teachers and principals was organized to study parental involvement throughout the U.S. and as a result, the group created the Parental Involvement Framework, a tool to map out strategies to improve involvement. A major component of the program ins the newly created Parent Resource Guide, which describes the initiatives and will be distributed countywide, as well as available online.

From DCSS Press Releases: Another component within the parental involvement framework is the E-Parent Communications system that is currently being piloted at nine schools throughout the district. The pilot program aims to bridge the communication gap between schools and homes by providing instant information to the parents via telephone, cellular phones and text messaging communication. The program will operate on the local school level as well as the system-wide level.

Principals, for example will be able to keep parents updated on PTA meetings, testing schedules and other school related activities. At the county-wide level, parents will be able to stay further informed about educational initiatives via message posts. The system will also provide instant communication with parents in the event of an emergency.

“Right now, we are dependent upon notes that go home to parents in backpacks and we all know sometimes those notes don’t make it home,” Tyson said. “[E-Parent Communications] will allow the district to connect directly with the parents electronically, so that there is an instant delivery of information.”

The pilot program began in May. The nine schools participating this summer are located within the Cross Keys, Redan, and Martin Luther King High School attendance areas. When the pilot period concludes in August, DeKalb will then evaluate the efficiency of the pilot program, make any corrections or adjustments that may be needed, and make preparations to launch E-Parent Communications system-wide in 2010.

This system will greatly improve the power of the Parent Portal.

Another new program is called, "America's Choice" and is being implemented in 40 schools in DCSS. You can read more about this on the DCSS homepage or by reading the press release.

To read about how DCSS is handling the new state law called HB 251, which allows for transfers within a district, visit this link. The deadline to apply for a transfer has already passed, but look for this program to increase offerings in the future, as many at the state level are pushing for more and more flexibility and school choice.

Of course, one very big continuation of a new program is the new math, which has it's own thread for discussion.

Please add any relevant "Need to Know" back to school info in the comments section.