Monday, June 29, 2009
We are always so distracted by the drama that constantly swirls around our school system and the attention that should be placed on quality education initiatives continues to get usurped by the latest news of the weird. I'd like to refocus our discussion back to education, specifically, The No Child Left Behind Act (or as they refer to it in 'The Simpsons' - No Child Left Alone). Although I agree with some of its premises and intentions, such as disaggregated testing data and early reading initiatives and I agree that it introduces an element of accountability into public school education, I still think that overall, NCLB and the fear of its repercussions has caused much damage to the way we deliver education in our system. I for one, would like to see it - and its stringent requirements dismantled once and for all.
Please read this very important blog entry at Schools Matter and then post a comment regarding how NCLB and AYP have affected your schools ability to focus on educating our children. (Some of you may even have positive things to say?!)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The board of DeKalb Preparatory Academy, a new proposed K-8 charter school serving DeKalb County, invites you to an information meeting on
Tuesday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m.
at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church,
4882 LaVista Road in Tucker.
DeKalb Prep will provide tuition-free, hands-on, challenging, and personalized learning for children from across DeKalb County in grades K-8. The school expects to open to grades K-4 in fall 2010, and grow to K-8 by adding an additional grade each year.
If you'd like to learn more about DeKalb Preparatory Academy, please visit our website. I hope to meet you at the open house on Tuesday, June 30!
Laura Crawley, Ph.D.
DeKalb County resident and founding board member of DeKalb Prep
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I’m confused. I need people to come to this blog to enlighten us. There are some things going in the leadership of DeKalb County schools that are perplexing and a bit shocking. Allow me to simply list them and hopefully you will fill the comment box with details regarding some of these issues. These are all events just from the 2008-09 school year:
• The Marine Corps Institute, after much attention, focus and debate, has been sidelined. The Marines have not signed the “Memorandum of Understanding”. Sadly, in order to make room for the marines, caught in the middle are over 40 children with highly special needs who were moved from their school (Heritage), where they were happy and thriving and merged in with Margaret Harris High School, another school for children with special needs. Now, these children face the prospect of attending school in the same small building their whole lives. And what is the plan now for Heritage? After all of the debate, it was finally ‘revealed’ by Dr. Lewis that he was only planning to use it for one year for the military institute anyway. So what will become of Heritage school and park?
• Pat Pope. All of a sudden, one day out of the blue last December, the DeKalb County DA stormed Pope’s office and confiscated her computers along with other work items. Dr. Lewis, who asked for the investigation, said he would reveal results in one week. Months later, we were told that the DA was very busy and the results would not be available until May. Now, it is nearly July. Any news?
• Cheating! We all know the story. The AJC revealed suspicious increases in test results last September for Atherton ES. Dr. Lewis vehemently defended the school’s results and leadership. Now, it has been proven, and apparently the principal and AP have admitted erasing students answers and changing them to correct answers – catapulting the school from the 10th percentile to the 77th. And so to respond, Dr. Lewis sent out a system-wide memo asking all 13,000+ DCSS employees to send these two cheaters a note of support. Has anyone in the system written one? What is the Board’s response to the scandal? Is anyone in the school system going to admonish these people for their behavior and hold them up as a warning to anyone else pondering such an action?
• Dr. Gene Walker, one of our newly elected school board members has immersed himself in a controversy so deep, I wonder if he can possibly render any effective decisions as a BOE member in the future. According to a report by Atlanta Unfiltered, his other role as director of the DeKalb Development Authority has created a huge divide among members of the BOE, inciting a majority of them to go so far as to file a lawsuit which originally named him in the complaint (the amended version deleted references to Walker). Walker was just about to take part in voting on a bond structure increase from around $20 million to $50+ million benefiting the Sembler Company, members of which donated around $20,000 to Walkers school board campaign. The vote was to have taken place on June 18th. The Board retained legal counsel on June 17. Walker recused himself from the vote. The remaining authority members voted to postpone the vote. What are we to do about a Board of Education who has plummeted so low into the abyss that they resort to lawsuits?
• Meanwhile, our school system as a whole continues to hold the label “Did Not Make AYP.” We have a bullying problem so bad that one family has claimed it drove their child to commit suicide. Yet, the $350/hour retired judge Dr. Lewis hired to investigate, found no evidence of bullying in her verbal (not written) report. We have an imbalance in school populations that leave some schools, like Lakeside, so crowded from transfers that they must bring in 22 trailers, while other schools like McNair, Clarkston and Towers as well as many elementary schools have hundreds of empty seats (totally nearly 4,000 empty seats.) We also boast new buildings with national recognition for being “green” (Arabia) while simultaneously, we have buildings with grounds so overgrown that homeless people have been found living on campus! (Cross Keys)
How can we ignore the disparities – not only in structure but in test scores and delivery of education? What is going on here? Has this billion dollar school system simply become too massive and wily to control? Is the system such a big spender, with so little oversight that the opportunities for corruption have flourished? Is there anyone with a strong focus on the future and a plan of action as to how we will get there? When I visit the school system’s website and look up the Strategic Plan, I find a one page description of a plan that was approved in 2006 and introduces the theme, “Premier DeKalb Schools - Setting the standard for Excellence through unity and purpose.” The page has a bit more information with some boxed text that reads, “The Strategic Plan will be reviewed with the full incoming Board of Education members January 2009. Dr. Sonja Alexander, Director of Professional Learning will lead the effort of the strategic plan review. Please monitor the website for continual updates.”
Well, it’s now July and I’m still monitoring and waiting for updates. Does anyone out there know anything?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Is five years enough?
Is it time for Dr. Lewis to "move on" with his life?
A cursory look at the past five years shows ITBS scores across the board not discernibly different. No significant gain, nor loss. CRCT scores in Reading and Language Arts have increased impressively, with major decreases in Science, Math and Social Studies (most certainly attributable to major curriculum changes.)
Nearly 1,600 more students are taking AP tests, however the percentage of those students scoring a 3 or more has decreased nearly 6% and have plummeted in some high schools. Most puzzling is the extremely poor performance at high schools that have screamed for more and more AP classes -- for instance, Avondale 2.1% 3+ with 144 test takers, McNair Sr. 1.3% 3+ with 156 test takers. As a comparison, Lakeside had 45.1% 3+ with 811 test takers. Is the quality of the AP teaching staff equitable? Why aren't these students getting more out of the AP opportunity? Why add more AP classes until scores improve?
Dr. Lewis did have the courage to consolidate some schools and move some attendance lines. But, he also promised at the time that he wouldn't touch the lines again for at least eight years (answer to a question posed to him at a town meeting during first round of changes). And, here he comes again. With all the money spent of demographics, why couldn't all the consolidations have happened at the same time?
He oversaw the building of a state-of-the-art high school at Arabia Mountain. The verdict is still out, but so far the parents have not flocked to it as predicted by DCSS. Yet, he has also been on board for the Tucker project and others. Despite a very bizarre harrassing of his top construction manager, he seems to let her do her job and, thankfully, has not felt the urge to fire her.
Ethically, he has been questioned on expenses and car payments. The public still have no conclusions and he has not made any public explanation on why he should even be in this predicament.
Personally, he is a very warm and caring person. He is not a racist, and he truly does not like the north/south politics that the Board Members perpetrate. In many cases, he wants to do the right thing (end magnet busing), but does not seem to have the political muscle to get the Board to go along. He wants the best for DCSS, but does not seem capable of delivering it.
He and his staff have made some remarkably bad PR mistakes, most recently the publishing of the love fest memo. In this regard, his administration has truly "jumped the shark."
Dr. Lewis has more than 30 years with DCSS, his children are out of college, he has attained the highest office he can in DCSS. The assumption is that he should not struggle financially on the retirement payments he will receive.
A huge, warm, friendly retirement party is his for the taking. Is now the time for him to take it?
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Today The Supreme Court Ruled that School Administrators Violated The Fourth Amendment Rights When A Strip Search Was Conducted Looking For Ibuprofen
Does this decision "place student safety and school order at risk by impairing the ability of school officials to effectively carry out their custodial responsibility,” or do some administrators need legal boundaries like this to protect the civil rights of individuals? Read the entire decision of our Supreme Court and then draw your own opinions and let us know what you think @ http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-479.pdf . The final vote or final opinion on this case by our Supreme Court Justices was that eight members voted that Savana's Fourth Amendment's rights had been violated by the strip search and one Supreme Court Justice voted or had the opinion that her Fourth Ammendment's Rights had not been violated by the strip search.
I thought I'd bring a little comedy into the blog. If you have 22 minutes to watch this episode of The Simpsons, you'll find it funny, and sadly relevant. There are so many spot-on satirical comments regarding the ridiculous elements of testing that you will start to wonder why we ever decided that all of this testing is a good idea. As the principal will show you, learning happens in the oddest places and much of our intrinsic knowledge cannot be tested.
Hilarity as only the Simpsons can provide. (Well, IMO anyway!)
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
As we've been discussing on the CRCT cheating thread, Dr. Lewis has responded to criminal and unethical acts by two of his administrators by encouraging ALL of DCSS employees to send them a letter of support. The post below was sent to us anonymously.
The release of this memo to the DCSS staff and faculty is a clear sign that his loyalty is to the employees and not to the students of DCSS. It is yet another example of very poor judgment. The students whose grades were inflated are the real losers in this. In all likelihood, they did not receive the special services they would have been entitled to as Level 1 math students when they entered middle school. In fact, parents were not even given the heads up that their child might need to repeat the 5th grade.
I am certain that Dr. Lewis didn’t want criminal charges pressed against the two administrators and I have to admit that I wonder how, when DeKalb has such huge crime issues, Ms. Fleming found the time to rush this through. Additionally, the AJC has certainly has focused most of their attention on DeKalb because this is the only system that has taken action. In fairness, the AJC ought to have on the front page, each and every day, an update from Fulton, Atlanta and Glynn counties until it is resolved. Regardless, though, it is in very poor taste that Dr. Lewis is so publicly advocating for the administrators.
This attitude is an example of why public education can’t get any better. Second, third and forth chances for each and every educator are the norm. Dr. Lewis (and many others like him) have no ability to hold adults accountable.
Here is the memo:
To: All DeKalb Employees
From: Dr. Crawford Lewis, Superintendent
Subject: Message From the Superintendent
Date: 24 June 2009
As you know by now, Atherton Elementary School was recently implicated in the CRCT cheating scandal that has been a source of much publicity by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).
As Superintendent, I was both concerned and surprised that this investigation was elevated to the front page of Sunday?s AJC newspaper and warranted a probe by the District Attorney?s office. Dr. James Berry and Mrs. Doretha Alexander are good people who made a grave mistake. They both acknowledged their involvement and accepted their consequences. They have served the DeKalb School System with distinction for many years. It is important that you know that the school district was not consulted nor played any role in their recent arrests. While we do not condone their actions in any way, they should be allowed to move on with their lives.
DeKalb County School System is a family, and during difficult times family should come together. As a family, I am asking the entire system to reach out to Dr. Berry and Mrs. Alexander and show your support. An e-mail, card or phone call will go a long way towards showing Dr. Berry and Mrs. Alexander that we still care about them. The DeKalb County School System is a great school district working together to ensure that all of our students are successful and prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Georgia legislature passed and the governor signed a new law requiring school systems to allow transfers within districts to flow freely. An addition to HB 251, part of the Quality Basic Education Act, it states,
Beginning in school year 2009-2010, the parent of a student enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school in this state may elect to enroll such student in a public school that is located within the school system in which the student resides other than the one to which the student has been assigned by the local board of education if such school has classroom space available after its assigned students have been enrolled. The parent shall assume the responsibility and cost of transportation of the student to and from the school.
Additionally, the bill requires school systems to set a written policy as to how they plan to implement the law, which schools will be accepting transfers and the application process.
No later than July 1, 2009, each local school system shall establish a universal, streamlined process available to all students to implement the transfer requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection.
This Code section does not apply to newly opened schools with available classroom space for a period of four years after the school opens (Arabia) nor does it apply to charter schools (Chamblee). It also looks like due to its new IE2 status, Gwinnett County Public Schools will be able to circumvent this law.
I assume our Board is working up a policy and we will add it to this article as it becomes available. Other portions of this final version of the bill include a few school board ethics, but the private school vouchers and transfers from other counties were eliminated....for now.
Monday, June 22, 2009
It is easier to criticize than to contribute. This truism is one that plagues leaders in public, private, profit, and not-for-profit enterprise. While criticism is often earned, it is also too often simply a past time for the malcontent and the lazy. A kind act or word can be a bright light in the otherwise dark night of ubiquitous cynicism.
It is in that hopeful spirit that I want to compliment DCSS for starting to take action in a relatively swift fashion regarding the vagrancy and mis-use of Cross Keys HS property (see, DKPD, DeKalb Sanitation Clean Up Vagrancy near Cross Keys HS, Buford Hwy (UPDATED 6/10 Photos). Though this has been a problem area for many years, I believe the renewed community attention (and the support of this blog's readers) has finally inspired action.
Last week, I received a call from a watchful neighbor who spotted DCSS Operations vehicles and crew working by the athletic field at the school. I dropped by to chat with the crew and learned that they have been given the order to clear the under brush and small trees out of the overgrown area adjacent to the athletic field.
While the going is slow and it may be simply a small step towards a more sustainable solution, I was greatly relieved and encouraged to see DCSS responding with direct, effective action in this case. This simple approach will decrease the likelihood of ongoing mis-use of the school grounds.
There is much to do to restore Cross Keys HS damaged reputation and the first step is winning over the surrounding communities and thereby the enrollment of their kids. A public relations effort of that size is indeed a mountain that must be moved. This is a welcome spoonful towards moving this mountain.
DCSS' critics (including this one) will certainly continue to monitor ongoing efforts at Cross Keys. For this week, let the criticism fade to background noise and let's enjoy this moment of progress.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I hope that all parents will read the Father's Day essay by President Obama in today's Parade magazine. I hope our schools and parent centers will make copies of this article and distribute them to every parent they come in contact with. His words need to be heard and need to be believed. Fathers are critical to childrens success - boys and girls.
It is rarely easy. There are plenty of days of struggle and heartache when, despite our best efforts, we fail to live up to our responsibilities. I know I have been an imperfect father. I know I have made mistakes. I have lost count of all the times, over the years, when the demands of work have taken me from the duties of fatherhood. There were many days out on the campaign trail when I felt like my family was a million miles away, and I knew I was missing moments of my daughters’ lives that I’d never get back. It is a loss I will never fully accept.
But on this Father’s Day, I think back to the day I drove Michelle and a newborn Malia home from the hospital nearly 11 years ago—crawling along, miles under the speed limit, feeling the weight of my daughter’s future resting in my hands. I think about the pledge I made to her that day: that I would give her what I never had—that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father. I knew that day that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless she had every opportunity in hers. And I knew I had an obligation, as we all do, to help create those opportunities and leave a better world for her and all our children.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Folks, son of awcomeonnow has been desperately trying to enlighten us to the school/housing connection. Our school system is under a great deal of pressure to serve the uncontrolled "affordable housing" developments and other low-income subsidized projects that on the surface, appear to be great social causes, but in reality, basically serve to line the pockets of certain politicians and developers.
To showcase the benefits of creating low income housing and to encourage more of them, our DeKalb County Housing Authority is actually hosting a $50 per person "Landlord Appreciation Gala". This event offers to "Learn investment tips and gain valuable information regarding the future of the affordable housing industry and the economy." Yikes!!! Is this truly what we want to focus on for DeKalb County development?
We owe it to our school systems to do what we can to voice our concerns about these kinds of projects and the resulting crowding at our schools and transiency problems. We need to push for a balance in the way our county develops and do our best to protect the demands on our schools that result from over-investing in "affordable" housing.
Attend the Landlord Gala hosted by the DeKalb Housing Authority and let our politicians know that we are very concerned about the repercussions of their uncontrolled development decisions.
The DeKalb County School Board went into the DeKalb County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon to try to stop the vote on Thursday morning due to the conflict of interest of Dr. Walker being a member of the Dekalb County School Board and the Dekalb County Housing Authority Board. Dr. Walker apparently did not see this as a conflict as interest after taking $18,000 from the Sembler family members for his school board campaign. Sembler is known for possible buying political votes throughout the country. Regardless of the conflict Dr. Walker intented to vote anyway on this possible item which was definitely a conflict of interest and made this none. Many of us did question why our county commissioners would appoint Dr. Walker to the Dekalb County Housing Authority Board when he was elected to the school board. We raised our concerns to our county commissioners and they ignored our concerns and now four county commissioners are strongly opposed to how the situation is being handled and apparently Mr. Ellis is also not pleased with how the situation was handled.
I do not dislike Dr. Walker but I do think you can only have your hands in so many cookie baskets at one time. I think he may be trying to put his hands in two many cookie baskets and he does not want to take his hand out of one cookie basket in order to get cookies from the other basket. He wants to continue to get cookies from both baskets at the same time. The problem is that this is a conflict of interest to the citizens of DeKalb County. He needs to take his hand out of one of the cookie baskets.
Read the entire article at:
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Also, Atherton Asst. Principal Dorothea Alexander was re-assigned. So she's still on the payroll making the nice asst. principal salary, probably in another made up Central Office job. At least Berry had the sense to resign. If anyone takes the fall for this, it will be Berry and Alexander. The Central Office administrators who are supposed to catch this in the first place have nothing to worry about.
DeKalb DA opens investigation of CRCT scores
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The DeKalb District Attorney’s office has launched a probe into allegations of cheating on school standardized tests that could lead to criminal charges.
Don Geary, chief assistant to the district attorney, said Wednesday that state law makes it a felony to tamper with state documents.
Geary said the investigation will not necessarily be limited to Atherton Elementary, the DeKalb school that had the most extraordinary gains.
The school’s principal, James Berry, resigned after being confronted with questions about the scores. The district removed Assistant Principal Dorothea Alexander from the campus pending further investigation. “We’re looking at everything,” Geary said. “It could lead us anywhere, it could lead us only there.” He would not say who or how many people are targets of the investigation.
8. No Board member shall hold another county public office. Is Dr. Walker violating this policy? Should Dr. Walker Be Voting on JUNE 18th?
“Essential characteristics of a ‘public office’ are:
(1) Authority conferred by law,
(2) Fixed tenure of office, and
(3) Power to exercise some of the sovereign functions of government.
(4) Key element of such test is that “officer is carrying out a sovereign function’.
(5) Essential elements to establish public position as ‘public office’ are:
(a) Position must be created by Constitution, legislature, or through authority conferred by legislature.
(b) Portion of sovereign power of government must be delegated to position,
(c) Duties and powers must be defined, directly or implied, by legislature or through legislative authority.
(d) Duties must be performed independently without control of superior power other than law, and
(e) Position must have some permanency.”
63C Am.Jur.2d, Public Officers and Employees, §247
“As expressed otherwise, the powers delegated to a public officer are held in trust for the people and are to be exercised in behalf of the government or of all citizens who may need the intervention of the officer.  Furthermore, the view has been expressed that all public officers, within whatever branch and whatever level of government, and whatever be their private vocations, are trustees of the people, and accordingly labor under every disability and prohibition imposed by law upon trustees relative to the making of personal financial gain from a discharge of their trusts.  That is, a public officer occupies a fiduciary relationship to the political entity on whose behalf he or she serves.  and owes a fiduciary duty to the public.  It has been said that the fiduciary responsibilities of a public officer cannot be less than those of a private individual.  Furthermore, it has been stated that any enterprise undertaken by the public official which tends to weaken public confidence and undermine the sense of security for individual rights is against public policy.”
[63C Am.Jur.2d, Public Officers and Employees, §247]
What do you all think? The DeKalb Development Authority will meet tomorrow Thursday, June 18, at 8:00 a.m. at 150 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Suite 400, in Downtown Decatur. Maybe we all should show up and demonstrate outside or just show up for the meeting. This is very sad and Dr. Walker should not be voting tomorrow but I suspect he will be. Why can he just not step aside and not vote on this issue? Is it the $18,000 he received? He says he was not bought by this donations so if this is the case then why will he just not vote on this topic so no one will question if his vote was bought. Would this not be the correct thing and moral thing to do?
"Some African American parents say their kids are suspended for behavior school officials might otherwise ignore in white children. "Well, I won't just say African American. I'll say minority. And, I'm going by an observation I saw while visiting the class."D.L. Whaley lives in Gwinnett county, with her 14 year old son who was suspended earlier this year for verbal outbursts."
Read full article:
Black Kids Kicked Out of School More Than Most
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
STUDENT DRESS CODE
1. Students are expected to follow all school rules governing safety in specialized programs that may require the wearing of protective clothing, safety glasses, or other similar requirements.
2. Clothing or jewelry that disrupts the educational process or endangers the health or safety of other students, staff or visitors is prohibited.
3. The wearing of clothing, insignia, symbols, or adornments worn or carried on or about a student which promote gangs, the use of controlled substances, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco is prohibited.
4. The wearing of clothing which shows offensive and/or vulgar words, pictures, diagrams, drawings, or includes words or phrases of a violent nature, a disruptive nature, a sexual nature, or words or phrases that are derogatory regarding a person's ethnic background, color, race, national origin, religious belief, sexual orientation, or disability is prohibited.
The wearing of pants below the waist line, bare midriffs, halter tops/tank tops, tops/blouses revealing cleavage, short shorts, net/see through garments, flip-flops, between-the-toe shoes without heels, bedroom shoes, or other footwear that interferes with freedom of movement and dresses, pants, or skirts with high splits is prohibited. Note: Students/Parents are urged to review local school handbooks for any additional requirements related to student dress.
All students are expected to adhere to the Dress Code and any additional requirements listed in the local school regulations. The following applies to all student dress code violations:
First Offense: Verbal Reprimand, Contact Parent and In-School Suspension (ISS) until End of Day or Correction of the Violation;
Second Offense: Required Parent Conference and two (2) Days ISS;
Third Offense: Contact Parent, three (3) Days ISS and Local Formal Hear
Monday, June 15, 2009
There Is A Growing Problem Trying To Find Highly Qualified Principals To Make Our School Houses Rock
I recently was accepted in an educational doctoral program in leadership and plan on starting in July but currently I have no intent of ever becoming a principal or assistant principal. You may wonder then why would I continue my education in leadership. I want to teach in college in the future and need this degree to do so. I also would be interested in working at the state department in the area of special education or at a county office in special education administration. I recently found out that even if I receive a doctoral degree this does not mean that I will be able to be certified in educational leadership by getting a degree and by passing a written test. Things have definitely changed in the last few years to meet the needs of the changing demands on our educational leaders.
I am aware of what a difficult job it is to be an administrator. I see many bloggers on this site indicating that administrators in the DeKalb County School System make too much money. In my opinion, school principals make every penny they earn and good principals deserve a great deal more than we could ever afford to pay them. They are constantly going back to school for in-services, additional degrees, and to update knowledge on current trends in education and school today is extremely expensive. They are under a great deal of stress also today to make AYP each year. They are like CEOs of big companies, and they affect many young lives, and we need to consider increasing the principals’ salaries in DeKalb County Schools to be able to provide our children with the best principals in the state. We need the means to recruit the best in the state and nation to come and be principals in Dekalb County and this may take paying them a better salary than they can make in other county school districts in Georgia or in other states. A $10,000 bonus yearly is reasonable if the principal gets results. Look at the salaries and bonuses of CEOs throughout our country.
The principals of the 21st century also must be community leaders by manifesting in a big picture of their schools role in society and in the community. The principals must work with community partners and residents. The principal must have close relationships with parents, students, teachers, assistant principals, other county school board personnel and many others in the community. The principal must advocate for school resources to meet the needs of all of his/her students in their school.
The principals of the 21st century also must be visionary leaders that can demonstrate energy, commitment, entrepreneurial spirit, values and conviction that all children will learn at high levels, as well as being able to inspire others with this vision both inside and outside the school building. The principal must get the involvement of parents and the community in order to maximize the ability of the school to reach the result of student achievement each year. This requires that many weeks they work 80 hours per week attending meetings, football games, soccer games, PTA meetings, and many community meetings.
Research indicates that by the year 2010 it is going to become more difficult than it is now to find qualified principals. This may be the reason that Dr. Lewis has some qualified candidates coming out of retirement. For several years, principals could draw from retirement and receive a salary also, which was a great incentive for them to come out of retirement, but I believe there are many strings attached to this and I believe that this year may have been the last year to do this. Please check and let me know if I am right or wrong on this issue. If I am wrong and principals can draw retirement in Georgia and be a principal then this would be a great incentive to come out of retirement and would benefit many students across the state of Georgia.
Research indicates that the problem with finding qualified principals is:
· The Pay (the compensation was too low considering the responsibilities)
· The Stress
· The lack of resources for rising expectations
· Having to address all the problems of society
· Demanding parents
· Overbearing district leaders
· Eighty-hour work-weeks
· Uneven quality of teachers
· The professions low status and poor image
· Responsibility for raising student achievement
· New pressures currently put on principals and the poor preparations they have received from their colleges to manage
I am also guilty of hijacking comment threads with snipes about DCSS' neglect of and Brookhaven's lack of involvement with this most disrespected of high schools. I participated in "Operation Urban Camper" with DKPD and Sanitation to raise awareness of what can happen when there's a lack of community stakeholders in our neighborhood high school. I have not tried to hide my agenda here - raising the profile of this very maligned school is my goal.
To that end, I challenge the very savvy readers of this blog to a trivia question: Which DCSS high school attendance areas had all of its schools (ES, MS, and HS) make AYP in the last school year for which we have data (2007/2008)?
I've tried this one on a few of my neighbors in Brookhaven and their responses include guesses like "Dunwoody and Druid Hills" or "Lakeside and Dunwoody" or "Chamblee and Lakeside." Many that know high schools around the county might include Southwest DeKalb or Tucker in their answers. These districts have many fine students, faculties, and communities of support. None of them is in the list of correct answers. In fact, only 1 high school district made AYP in all of its feeder schools most recently. Wait for it ...
Cross Keys High School and its feeder schools make up the only DCSS high school area with this achievement ... let me say it again ... the only high school area!
Are you surprised? If we ask ourselves why we are surprised about this, I think we would come up with a short list of all the ills that do affect Cross Keys, Sequoyah and their bevy of elementary schools dotting Buford Highway.
I ask myself: "What could these children and their teachers accomplish with DCSS leadership's focus and the community support they have lacked for so long?"
While groups like the Brookhaven Rotarians have long supported this school, it still remains otherwise isolated in the Brookhaven community and the subject of much mis-information and false impressions.
If you live in any of the few communities remaining in Cross Keys HS' Brookhaven base (that's Druid Knoll, Pine Hills, Deveraux Commons, Lenox Park, HillsDale, Brookhaven Heights, or other nearby communities), I want you to take a fresh look at Cross Keys High School. I will be periodically scheduling a walk-through with small groups of folks in the coming school year.
If you would like to see first hand what this amazing group of students and teachers is doing, please contact me and we'll walk it together.
Kim Ellis Gokce, mobile 678-361-4200
President, HillsDale Neighborhood Association
Sponsor, Community Radar civic news sharing
Thursday, June 11, 2009
With all the extremely highly paid administrators and their fancy school improvement programs, the Gloria Talley's, the Audria Berry's, the Bob Mosely, etc., HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN???!!! Where are the checks & balances? DCSS Central Office is bloated, ineffective and out of touch.
DeKalb principal at school in CRCT probe resigns
A principal has resigned and an assistant principal is under investigation at a DeKalb County school implicated by the state in a possible test cheating probe.
Former Atherton Elementary School Principal James Berry and Assistant Principal Doretha Alexander now face accusations of cheating from system officials.
“Atherton is a great school. It’s got great students. It’s got great teachers,” DeKalb chief deputy superintendent Robert Moseley said in an interview Thursday afternoon.
Moseley said no student and “no teacher has been implicated in this mess. It’s all the principal and assistant principal. Cheating? Yes, and that is an understatement. It’s the students who were cheated by the administrators.”
According to state and local officials, preliminary audit results by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement reveal that someone at Atherton and three other Georgia schools deliberately changed students’ answers last summer on fifth-grade standardized math retests.
At Atherton, half of the DeKalb school’s fifth-graders failed a yearly state test in the spring. When the 32 students took retests, not only did every one of them pass — 26 scored at the highest level.
We've had so many great ideas on this blog relating to cost-savings or creative directions for DeKalb Schools. One recent contributor posted this comment,
Clearly, each participant on this blog has an item that prompted them to participate. However, most make the transition from it being a personal matter to a matter of principle. And, in that process, I would think that this group should be able to make more of a difference with a collective voice. It seems that many issues are reviewed with an incredible amount of insight and detailed, accurate information. Yet, rarely do you see a collective effort to apply public pressure to the Board or Administration for change.
That statement is so true. So I got to thinking, why not have one thread that simply serves as a "suggestion box"? Add your ideas for consolidation, money-saving efforts, effective learning tools and the types of programs you would like to see offered in the future. Once we have a sizable list, we can forward our ideas to members of the Board.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sembler Update from Commissioner Gannon
From Ashford Alliance Community Organization
"As you may be aware, Development Authorities are independent entities created by the state and The Board of Commissioners does not have any say in the decisions made by the Development Authority. There is litigation pending regarding the role of the public in some aspects of Development Authority incentives, but not this kind of transaction known as a PILOT bond. PILOT is short for "payments in lieu of taxes." In this deal, Sembler will convey to the Development Authority ownership of large portions of its mixed-use Town Brookhaven project. The Development Authority will float bonds to finish construction of the project. The Development Authority also will lease the project back to Sembler. Under this lease, Sembler will make rent payments to the Authority sufficient to repay the principal and interest on the bonds. Bond funds also could be used to refinance Sembler's existing loans for the project at a more favorable interest rate. Commissioner Gannon does not support tax incentives for this property and encourages you to attend the Development Authority meetings so that they can be aware of the public sentiment. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 18, 2009 at 8:00 AM. You may learn more about the Development Authority on the DeKalb County website at www.yourdekalb.com under Departments then Economic Development. Also, State Representative Mike Jacobs held a town hall meeting on the subject last evening."
Mike Jacobs Reports on Sembler's Proposal
Partially quoted from Mike's District 80 Website
"Thank you to everyone who responded to my e-mail message last week regarding the Sembler tax abatement proposal. I intend to reply to each of your messages personally, although that will take some time.
Most responded in opposition to the tax abatement. A handful supported it.
This is not about “standing in the way of progress,” as a couple of people characterized it. It’s about transparency and accountability in the way our county and school taxes are managed. It’s also about a very serious and real concern that throwing open the barn doors to giving property tax abatements to developers whose projects are caught in the doldrums of the real estate market ultimately will place upward pressure on the tax burden of DeKalb County citizens. ...
EUGENE WALKER’S CONFLICT OF INTEREST
I also want to clarify that I do not blame Sembler for looking after its business interests.
I do, however, believe that Gene “$18K” Walker should be made to understand the intractable conflict of interest between his dual service as Chairman of the DeKalb Development Authority and as a member of the DeKalb County Board of Education.
The public should call or e-mail every other member of the Board of Education and ask them to insist that Dr. Walker allow them to vote on whether the Sembler tax abatement will happen.
Word is spreading that CEO Burrell Ellis may insist that the Board of Commissioners be given the right to vote on the Sembler tax abatement proposal. He could make this happen because he appoints the members of the Development Authority.
Shouldn’t the Board of Education have that same right? After all, the school system could stand to lose more property tax revenues than the county if these tax abatements are allowed to go forward.
Both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners should have the right to vote on the Sembler proposal. If Dr. Walker disagrees with that, then he should have to answer to his colleagues on the Board of Education for his refusal to let them vote. He has sufficient power and influence over the affairs of the Development Authority to hold up the tax abatement until the Board of Education weighs in.
You can make that happen. Please contact the members of the Board of Education and ask them to ask Dr. Walker to let them vote.
You can find their contact information at the Board of Education Website."
In fairness, Sembler rep Jeff Fuqua has a rebuttal in the AJC Letters to the Editor today in which he states that the AJC, "created a distorted and incomplete picture of our efforts to negotiate with the DeKalb Development Authority a tax abatement for part of our Brookhaven property. Beginning with a misleading headline and using loaded words and strident and alarmist rhetoric, the story created an erroneous and extraordinarily unfair impression of our proposal that has done a great disservice to Sembler, to DeKalb and to your readers. Far from seeking a “free ride,” as your article virtually snarls, Sembler is seeking support for a project that represents a $400 million investment in DeKalb and which, even with limited development, come January 2010 will pay DeKalb over three times more in property taxes than the property paid prior to Sembler’s involvement (from $400,000 up to $1.4 million)."
Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch or attend the meeting -- I'll try to catch it online. However, I will share some interesting notes from the committee meeting minutes that were included in the meeting agenda listing online. If anyone attended and would like to post comments - please do.
Board Operations, Development and Policy Committee Meeting Minutes
Committee Secretary – Dr. Speaks
+Mr. Moseley was asked by Dr. Lewis to make adjustments to the policy by Dr. Lewis because groups monopolize the citizen comments portion of Board meetings which prevents others from participating.
+A discussion followed with several comments expressed:
a. Dr. Walker expressed the proposed changes/modifications were a political decision that he could not support and that if the Board tries to control how individuals sign up for comments the Board is being punitive.
b. Ms. Wood expressed the proposed changes/modifications would result in stifling comments by citizens and their freedom of speech.
c. Mr. Womack expressed the changes/modifications would prevent groups from monopolizing and in fact give more people an opportunity to participate and be heard by the Board.
A motion by Dr. Walker was made and seconded by Ms. Wood not to go forward tonight with the changes/modifications at the Board meeting. (Vote: 2 in support of motion and 2 opposed to motion. The motion failed and changes/modifications would be discussed at the Board meeting.)
FACILITIES AND PROPERTY
+The Committee recommends the approval for Ms. Pat Pope regarding the ten properties presented to the Board.
+There was a question regarding the spending of $20 million on Cross Keys High School based on the student enrollment. The Committee recommends the approval for spending the $20 million on Cross Keys High School pending Ms. Pope’s recommendation for future programs at Cross Keys High School.
Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Minutes
Jay Cunningham, Chair
+Facilities & Property - Ms. Pope stated there are ten properties to be sold or reevaluated. Forrest Hills Elementary School will be used as a same gender (female) school. Mr. Womack stated he would like to see uniforms in schools.
+Ms. Pope said there is asbestos present in the Open Campus building and it would take $30 million to renovate the building. Ms. Pope would like to close the Open Campus building because of its appraised value of $18 million. Ms. Pope noted that there were only 60 students at the Clarkston Center and that it would be relocated. She said DISPAC will remain in Building “A” until it can be moved to the William Bradley Bryant Center for Technology. Ms. Pope mentioned the administrative offices needed a great deal of work.
+Dr. Walker stated the Cross Keys High School community is troubled by the development in the area. He inquired should the money be spent as recommended on Cross Keys or should we go in another direction?
- Ms. Pope thinks we should move forward with the renovations for Cross Keys with the idea of a different designation later, possibly a technology school, military school or school of the arts. Ms. Pope noted the DeKalb County Planning Commission does advise us of developments. She stated they build anyway without real input from the school system. Mr. McChesney made a report of the Cross Keys demographics and DeKalb County Board of Commissioners plans for the area. Ms. Pope stated the Board needs to approve the surplus plan for the future. Mr. (Ernest) Brown asked should we tear down some buildings and convert to green space?
Organization Chart – Dr. Lewis stated the goal is to organize more efficiently. Mr. Cunningham said we need to put an internal audit position back in the budget. He stated we also need a planning person to give relief to Ms. Pope. Mr. Cunningham said the demographers suggested a planning director based on the size of our school system. The salary for the Director of Internal Audit would be approximately $100,000.00.
- Mr. Turk stated the Director of Internal Audit would look at systems and processes. This person would not be an educator.
- Dr. Lewis stated he is trying to streamline instruction. He said Dr. Bouie will supervise all principals through the Area Superintendents. Mr. Cunningham, Dr. Walker and Mr. Womack suggested that the Office of Internal Affairs report directly to the Superintendent. Dr. Lewis stated in light of the economy, four positions on the Organization Chart needed an adjustment in salary; however, he will defer any raises for the promoted positions on the chart until the economy improves. The Committee questioned Dr. Lewis about possible salary schedules for new hires.
- The Committee questioned if there was a plan for the reserved funds? Dr. Lewis stated the idea is being looked at and they do not intend to touch the reserves. Mr. Schutten said it is a mistake to take away Area Coordinators and that the Office of Internal Affairs needed to be discussed.
- He also stated the teachers’ workload has increased without additional compensation. Mr. Schutten suggests peer review and evaluation. Dr. Lewis stated they are working very hard on principal leadership. Dr. Lewis wishes to increase dialogue with ODE.
+The audit on cellular services for the District decentralized use of cellular services. The multiple uses of cellular services include 926 cellular phones in the county spread across 12 areas. The annual total for all cell phone bills is $563K. The Department of Management Information Systems (MIS) has 352 phones under the MIS budget. MIS gets federal assistance for the 352 phones. The federal government funds 78% of their phone bill. The monthly cellular bill for the 926 accounts is $ 46,874. The federal government gave $202,598 for the 352 phones under MIS. The Committee recommends reducing the number of cellular phones and place ll cellular phone accounts under MIS in the future.
- It was noted that currently there is no cell phone policy; however, a cell phone policy is being constructed. Ms. Tyson stated there was a reduction in the number of cell phone users from 926 to 781. She has reduced the cell phone budget by 50%. Ms. Tyson said we are changing our cellular carrier from Sprint to AT&T if the Board approves.
- The committee agreed on the following recommendations:
1. Improve school alarm systems
2. Review Ms. Pope’s discussion and continue dialogue
3. Proceed with $20 million investment at Cross Keys High School and determine future use of building
4. Dr. Lewis will defer raises for the promotions listed on the Organization Chart until the economy improves
5. Committee agrees with cell phone presentation
6. Committee agrees with reductions in the Media Department
7. Committee agrees Mr. Moseley needs to revisit staff automobile usage and ensure chart is accurate to include the Superintendent’s vehicle
8. Continue to review Charter Schools information
Human Resources Committee Meeting Minutes
Don McChesney, Chair
1. The Mission and Vision statement from 2008 was approved without changes.
2. Experience levels of Principals and Assistant Principals:
a. Suggestion by D. McChesney: increase years of classroom experience to 5 years for Ass’t Principal and 7 years for Principal, with at least a Master’s degree if this is not already a requirement. This expectation could be waived in emergency situations with documentation of waiver.
b. Suggestion by P. Womack: aspiring AP’s and Principals to attend a “Leadership School/Academy” (possible length 2 weeks). Also suggested the administration of a psychological test battery by HR to Principal applicants.
c. Suggestion by P. Speaks: AP’s should have experience in areas critical to success as a Principal, e.g. instruction, discipline, scheduling, etc.
d. Previous suggestion by J. Cunningham: HR should develop a written manual of policies and procedures regarding hiring. Dr. Wilson will be asked if his power point presentation came from this manual.
3. Ask Dr. Wilson if there is an exit interview for exiting Principals.
4. McChesney/Speaks would like an update of Driver Education and Graphic Arts Departments regarding available open positions for employment placement.
5. P. Womack would like a further breakdown of Dr. Lewis’ organizational chart (e.g. the number of Principals reporting to Associate Superintendents)
6. Ask Ms. Tyson of possibility of informing public through emails/cell phones summaries of committee meetings.
7. D. McChesney suggests that the Human Resources Committee recommend that the committee meet only twice a year since Dr. Wilson presents the full Board with a monthly HR report. Also, after McChesney/Speaks polled several Board members from other school districts, they all convene in a COW rather than individual committee meetings.
8. Suggestion made to have Dr. Wilson and Ms. Tyson review HR Committee’s past 2009 agendas to familiarize themselves with discussion questions and attend the next committee meeting for Q&A.
9. Mr. Paxton stated that as a parent and community member he and others are asking the same accountability questions that the HR Committee is asking.
If you would like to look over the agenda and supporting documents yourself, it is all available online - click here.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Well, well, well. What can I say? The last Board of Education meeting for the 2008-09 school year was held at Lakeside HS this evening and it was, to my ears, a garbled mess. And let me tell you – the gloves are off!
We started out with Dr. Lewis expressing his disappointment in the fact that the Marine Academy Memorandum of Agreement has not been signed and the school has been put on hold – with no promise to open it in August of 2009 or even 2010. Reasons given by the marines were building selection and modifications, student application process and curriculum modifications.
Moving on to the public comments, we heard from several people who were very much against the Military Academy, including Grandmothers of Peace and the Georgia Veterans Alliance, which includes veterans of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Tim Franzen of the American Friends Service Committee presented a written resolution compiled in part by the Georgia ACLU, the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, and the American Friends Service Committee to the board advocating for adhering to the UN Rights of the Child (which only the U.S. and Somalia have not signed). Many stated their concern that the military school is a recruitment tool, citing the fact that the funding is to come from the marines recruitment budget. They also pointed out that Chicago schools have readily admitted that their long-term experiment with military schools has not produced improved test scores or graduation rates. Eric Fontaine, representing the Libertarian Party of DeKalb County made a public statement that his organization opposes the Marine Institute. One lone speaker at the end endorsed the academy.
Shayna Steinfeld (who ran for School Board, District 4 but lost to Paul Womack) gave a cogent outline of her suggestions for improving DeKalb schools. It’s too bad that she only had 3 minutes to share her ideas, as they were intriguing. Some examples: return high schools to a six-period day, align DeKalb’s graduation requirements with the state’s, create a bona fide Vo-Tech school to enable all students to finish high school with a marketable skill, get rid of the new math curriculum, end policies that promote mediocrity in teaching and strengthen neighborhood schools.
Once again, Annette Jackson and her children approached the Board pleading for them not to move DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts (DESA) to Terrell Mill. However, this time, I was intriqued by what Ms. Jackson had to say. In fact, I send out a personal apology over this blog to her from me. I have been too harsh on her. She is passionate about schools and insuring that her children do well (they are both straight A students). We should lift up mothers like Annette Jackson who stood before the board and asked, “How can you find the money to start up a military academy for at-risk students, yet not support your top performers?” She is absolutely correct. And as a result, DeKalb’s top performers continue to leak from our buildings into other systems and private schools, ensuring that we have no hope for making AYP anytime in the future.
And, happily, we were treated to another uplifting year-end presentation by Sandy Purkett, who works tirelessly for the students at the “Great” Redan high school, helping to secure over $5 million in scholarships for students graduating this year! Way to go, Sandy!
Then, after a short break, we turned to the ugly business of the school board meeting at hand. Where do I begin? Well, first, there was a contentious debate over the contract for legal counsel before the Board. The contract put counsel under Dr. Lewis – effectively reporting directly to him (what they called a "solid" line) and serving as his personal attorney. Counsel is only connected via a “dotted line” to the Board, which was problematic to Dr. Walker, as he wondered how legal counsel would ever serve the Board if they disagree with the Superintendent, if that counsel reports directly to the Superintendent. He called it a “legal disaster”. Jay Cunningham agreed and voted no along with Walker, however the rest of the Board approved, except Sarah Copeland Wood who abstained, since she was attending the meeting “telephonically” and couldn’t grasp what the action was over the phone. In fact, it was hard to grasp what her comments were due to all of the very loud, ambient phone noise dotted with her raspy coughing.
Additionally, I must tell you that Dr. Lewis was forced by Dr. Walker to admit that yes, it’s true – the seven principals that he is moving to underperforming schools will each get a $10,000 bonus for their trouble! He defended his action, stating that he had a meeting with representatives from the federal government who assured him that he could use the Title 1 Stimulus money for these bonuses. (The money does not come from the general fund, however, some argued that even so, stimulus money should be spent more wisely.)
On top of that, several Board members took issue with the tardiness of Dr. Lewis’ submittal of the meeting minutes. He presented minutes for approval from meetings dating to early April, and several Board members complained that they couldn’t remember that far back in order to approve or make changes. SCW also requested a CD or DVD of the meetings soon after they occur for review.
There were a few other issues with regard to Dr. Lewis, which made me think that perhaps the Board is no longer wearing their rose-colored glasses in support of him. He has recently suffered serious set-backs in his administration and found that he had to defend his actions at every turn. In fact, he warned the Board several times that they should be wary of “micro-managing,” especially regarding his principal bonus plan and to effectively, step back and let him do his job. Dr. Walker continued to disagree, insisting that spending money on bonuses is in effect, policy-making, which is a Board responsibility. Dr. Lewis insisted that he only moved “A” principals (apparently they graded the principals recently) and that the complaints are most likely coming from jealous “D” performing principals. Dr. Walker and others demanded some kind of accounting as to how Dr. Lewis went about choosing these “top-performers” to move to low-performing schools. They want to see his rubric! Jim Redovian, a voice of reason, suggested that perhaps the bonuses should only come after the principal creates a positive movement in outcomes for students.
More interesting information came from this fairly heated argument. We learned that this bonus scheme has been going on for a while all over the county. For instance, the entire staff at McNair Middle School and Sequoia Middle School received bonuses in the past. And at Towers High School, the teachers and principal received bonuses and the school system paid for some teachers to earn a masters degree.
We ended with Paul Womack complaining that a certain Board member, (Gene Walker) as Chair of the DeKalb Development Authority is in a position to give a $52 million tax abatement to the Sembler Company for a development in Brookhaven (near Buckhead). Womack said that this will end up costing the school system $1.2 - $1.6 million every year for 20 years in lost tax revenues. Dr. Walker countered stating that Womack was spreading misinformation. He basically said that the school system won’t earn the tax dollars if the development isn’t built, so effectively we can’t ‘lose’ something we won’t have. (However, he is forgetting that if it is built, by someone who doesn’t ask for a tax abatement, the system will earn that money.) I quote Dr. Walker as saying, “It’s a transparent situation, assess the facts on your own.” (Note: We have tried this at the blog, but there is very little information to be found. All Development Authority meetings on the subject are closed-door.)
That’s pretty much all I have to report. As a point of clarification, the “High School B” mystery was solved by Pat Pope who told us that the original plan was to use the money from the state, which replaced money in the CIP budget to build a 9th/10th grade academy at MLK high school. That has been changed to an addition (not a separate building.) She also told us that there were plans to build an Arabia Middle School, however, that has been tabled as it was deemed unnecessary.
I think I’ll hit the hay now, as my head hurts and my fingers are cramped. I will end with more thoughtful suggestions from Shayna Steinfeld (another voice of reason). Since I asked for, and was given a copy of her speech, I will quote her verbatim, “We need to decentralize and reorganize. Give Area Superintendents the authority to run their areas as self-contained districts, mini-school systems. As Superintendent, Dr. Lewis and his staff must become proactive and get ahead of issues instead of always responding to crises. His time should be spent leading strategic planning and working cooperatively with other entities – Emory, the Bill Gates Foundation, GE and others – to bring the kind of resources to DeKalb that has benefited places like Atlanta Public Schools. He should have more experts in place running the other business functions of our billion dollar school system.
As board members, I encourage each of you to recognize that we are at a crisis point and address the issues before us sooner rather than later.”
I hope the Board heard that last part.