Saturday, October 31, 2009

School Closings?

Trailers, trailers everywhere. A new Arabia Mountain High School which was originally supposed to relieve overcrowding in the south, but was switcherooed right before it opened. A call to close schools, while, despite the alledged shrinking enrollment, Superintendent Crawford Lewis keeps adding administrators and made up positions for these former principals, like "Executive Director of Corporate Wellness" (?). And a quiet, out to lunch BOE that refuses to ask any tough questions.

“It can get heated, and I’m sure it will, but the public feedback is very important to us,” Moseley said.
-That's codespeak for we're going to listen but this train has left the station, and we're closing schools, but we are not even considering downsizing the bloated, wasteful, ineffective and unproductive Central Office legion of executive directors, administrators, middle managers and admin assistants. Crawford is closings schools but keeping his army of pencil pushers.


School official: District will have to close schools in DeKalb
CLICK HERE TO VIEW REPORT


The DeKalb County School System will have to close an undetermined number of schools and redraw attendance zones to help eliminate nearly 16,000 empty seats the district anticipates over the next seven years, district officials said.
The closures will be part of a broad effort to consolidate space, save money and correct heavily lopsided enrollments throughout the district, particularly in areas where some schools have more than 500 empty seats, Associate Superintendent Robert Moseley said.
The district has not released which schools are top candidates for closure and where lines will be redrawn, but officials plan to publicize a draft of their recommendations by Dec. 1, according to an Oct. 23 school board presentation.
The enrollment imbalance is widespread in elementary, middle and high schools. Projected enrollments for next school year show schools across southern, central and southwestern DeKalb County with dramatically low enrollments, and the situation is projected to worsen by 2016-17, the last year of the school district’s capital improvements plan, which Superintendent Crawford Lewis began in 2006.
The district projects nearly 13,000 seats will be empty next school year and an additional 3,000 by 2016. Stephenson High School, for instance, can hold 2,237 students, according to district data. It’s projected to have 476 open seats next year, but that number is expected to increase to 787 by 2016.
McNair High School has a capacity of 1,663 seats, data show. The school is expected to have 692 empty seats next year and 635 in 2016. Nearby McNair Middle School also has similar enrollment issues. The school, which has a 1,427-student capacity, is projected to have 535 empty seats next year and 584 in 2016.
Reasons for the districtwide imbalance are varied. Shifts in the housing market have pushed people outside central DeKalb, Moseley said, but it’s not entirely clear why. More students have enrolled in private, charter and home school programs, the school board presentation indicated. The district is also analyzing how serious No Child Left Behind’s school of choice policies contributed to the imbalance, Moseley said. The federal legislation allows parents to transfer their children out of an under-performing school to a better-performing one if they choose. Regardless, they know school of choice isn’t the largest issue, he said.
“Even if we took them out, we would still have over and under capacity issues,” Moseley said.
As it decides which schools to close, the district will consider the following factors in addition to projected enrollments: proximity of schools to students’ residences, including travel times; the impact on neighborhoods; school feeder alignments; and the district’s long-range capital plan.
Closing a high school, for instance, will likely be more complicated than closing an elementary school because there are fewer of them, and relocated students might have to travel significantly longer distances to attend a different high school, Moseley said.
To further balance school enrollments, the district also will consider changes to admission and transfer policies that govern magnet and theme schools.
Next, the district will have to manage the inevitable roar from parents demanding answers. The district plans to present a “pre-public” draft to the school board, Lewis’ cabinet and the district’s citizens’ advisory committee between Nov. 2 and Nov. 6. After district recommendations are published by Dec. 1, the school system plans to hold three public hearings from Dec. 1-3.
“It can get heated, and I’m sure it will, but the public feedback is very important to us,” Moseley said.
After the district examines public feedback, it will present its final recommendations to the school board at its Jan. 4 meeting. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan at its Jan. 11 meeting. Attendance zone changes and school shutdowns would occur between June and July.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/files/FA2B9F2A53E54A9EB3009D4C662C8D5D.pdf

Friday, October 30, 2009

"High Schools that Work" - Just Curious - Does it work?


Item number 18 on Monday's Board of Education meeting's agenda is, "Proposed High Schools That Work (HSTW) Contract with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) for 2009-2010, Presented by: Ms. Stacy Stepney, Director, High School Teaching and Learning". It occurred to me that I've been hearing about this program for a number of years, mostly in terms of what it is going to do for high schools - not much about what it is doing or has done. The whole premise seems full of jargon and mystery and for the life of me, I've never been able to figure out what it is.

Basically, the overview and description of the program goes like this:

High Schools That Work (HSTW) is an effort-based school improvement initiative founded on the conviction that most students can master rigorous academic and career/technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motivates students to make the effort to succeed. HSTW is a national effort to engage state, district and school leaders in partnership with teachers, students, parents and the community to raise student achievement in high school and middle school grades. HSTW seeks to advance the mathematics, science, communications, problem-solving and technical achievement of students by providing a framework of goals, key practices and key conditions for accelerating learning and setting higher standards. In creating this environment, more students will recognize that high school matters to their future and more students will become independent learners able to set future educational and career goals and choose courses to take to achieve those goals.

High Schools That Work is based on the belief that everyone in the education hierarchy must work together to align policies, resources, initiatives and accountability efforts to support schools in adopting and implementing comprehensive school-improvement designs. Several conditions are fundamental in using HSTW to raise student achievement:

A clear, functional mission statement
Strong Leadership
Plan for continuous improvement
Qualified teachers
Commitment to goals
Flexible scheduling
Support for professional development

The following are the HSTW key practices that provide direction and meaning to comprehensive school improvement and student learning:

High Expectations
Program of Study
Academic studies
Career/Technical Studies
Work-based learning
Teachers working together
Students actively engaged
Guidance
Extra help
Culture of Continuous improvement


My question is, "What is it?" What is it EXACTLY? Does anyone really know? Is it making any kind of impact? Should we just continue our endorsement of this "initiative" when we simply don't know if we are in any way getting our money's worth? Aren't these guidelines supposed to be things that school system leaders should already know? Why are we paying for what amounts to a consulting program to inform people of how to perform their job? I can't get past this statement, "High Schools That Work (HSTW) is an effort-based school improvement initiative founded on the conviction that most students can master rigorous academic and career/technical studies if school leaders and teachers create an environment that motivates students to make the effort to succeed."

Really? Is that a novel idea? Did we not possess this belief before? Is this "initiative" really as vague as that description makes it sound? If someone has answers and knowledge, please share it with us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Could it be? Or is it just a dream...


CEO Burrell Ellis is inviting us to a gathering of DeKalb County community and neighborhood leaders who are "working together to strengthen our neighborhoods". This event is billed as "a roundtable discussion on developing a new vision for neighborhood empowerment in DeKalb County". Personally, I'm not sure what this means, but I hope they will include a discussion about our schools. The event will be held on Saturday, November 14, from 8:30 am- noon. If you're interested in attending, you must register at www.OneDeKalb.com.

It's Your $20 Million, Too

Below is an editorial I am circulating to my Brookhaven neighbors but one I think is relevant to all DeKalb tax payers. Readers of this blog have been very supportive of my efforts to speak for CKHS. I hope some of you will attend this critical briefing where your presence, observations or questions will have a significant impact ...

"Tuesday, November 3, beginning at 6:00pm, the team from the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) responsible for spending $20 million of your money renovating Cross Keys High School (CKHS) will be hosting a public briefing on the school campus at 1626 North Druid Hills Road. This may be your only chance to express your opinion about DCSS' plans or to ask questions about how your money is being invested.

I have spent many hours getting to know my local high school and to help reconnect it to its Brookhaven neighbors. Like others that have taken the time to learn about the school I have been impressed by 2 things: 1) the high quality of the young people there, and 2) the dilapidated condition of the current physical environment. It is an embarrassment that our young people spend their school days in such poor conditions just one mile from the heart of Brookhaven.

After reviewing the plan, I am of the opinion that the $20 million being spent at Cross Keys this year provides far from what is necessary to restore the physical plant to one that is worthy of its students or of Brookhaven. I also believe a key reason why relatively little is being invested in our local public high school is because many have become indifferent to the fate of this 52 year old Brookhaven institution.

It's time to wake up. Most of Brookhaven's children may have been taken out of Cross Keys over the years but Cross Keys is still in Brookhaven. If we don't watch over Brookhaven's local public high school, who will? I hope to see you this Tuesday night. After all, it's your $20 million.

-Kim Gokce, Member, CKHS - School Council, Director, Brookhaven Community Connection, President, HillsDale Neighborhood Association, Sponsor, CommunityRadar.com"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Enrollment Numbers Game - Let's Play!





Ok, this is strange. When you check out the scans of the DCSS Powerpoint presentation posted at Atlanta Unfiltered, you get a whole new picture of enrollment projections than we have ever seen before. We at the blog have been tracking these numbers for about a year and have a chart of data that we update as we receive information. The chart is posted above. Our graphics person has set this up so that if you simply click on it, you will be taken to a large copy to view and/or print out. (Same goes for the attendance zone map below.)

Basically, we see a wide range of predictions, which is not usually a problem, except that the most recent predictions - obtained from the data on the Powerpoint, are the numbers the administration is basing its' decisions for school closings and consolidations. As a community, we need to ask our board for more research into this data and a presentation of solid, reliable data with citations from which to make these very important decisions. For example, the DCSS planning department projections dated July 23, 2009 (found at this link) show Avondale as under-enrolled by 650. Even adding in 300 DSA students, the school still would have 350 available seats. However, the Powerpoint figure says that Avondale is only under by 146 and will only be under by 48 in 2016. Further, Lakeside figures from the planning department's most recent projections show 268 over capacity. But the Powerpoint puts Lakeside at 350 over now, dropping to 23 under-enrolled by 2016. But the jaw-dropping prediction is for Southwest DeKalb - which the Powerpoint says is currently over capacity by 278 now but will drop to being under-enrolled by 657 in 2016! Get a cup of coffee and digest this chart for yourself.


UPDATE: Now that we have received the enrollment data used by the planning department in their Oct 23 presentation, we thought it was important to add their updated enrollment projection chart above. (At least for high schools.) The new data clearly shows that even with the planned additions, by 2016 Dunwoody will be over-crowded by 587 seats, Stone Mountain over by 223, Cedar Grove by 102, Lithonia by 125, Druid Hills by 190 Chamblee by 27 and surprisingly, Cross Keys will be over-crowded by 265 seats. The chart also includes the most recent October enrollment count, FYI. To download your own copies of these documents, click here for enrollment data and here for the powerpoint presentation .

Click maps below for a general overview of HS attendance zones (left) and school locations (right).


Friday, October 23, 2009

Notes from DeKalb School Board Meeting on 10/23


This was sent to us by a "friend of the blog".

Bob Moseley handled the overview and closing. Dan Drake, the new director of planning, discussed the high level specifics. The detailed recommendation was not discussed though some board members asked pointed questions.

DeKalb is 3rd largest school district in GA and 27th largest in the country. The current FTE is 99,905. This number is expected to remain flat until 2016. DeKalb has more school facilities than any other district in the state.

When you look at the ratio of schools to students, Gwinnett and Cobb have over 1000 students per school. DeKalb has fewer than 700.

Elementary school population expected to go down by 3000 by 2016
Middle school expected to go up by 500 by 2016
High school expected to go up by 2500 by 2016

Operational costs are higher at under populated schools. The impact of the recommendation would be a cost savings at the administrative layer and general operational savings. Most classroom teachers would remain. Overall staff reductions would be handled through normal attrition.

There will be objective criteria to guide how decisions are made.

Elementary schools have more than 6000 empty seats. Expect to have 9000 empty seats by 2016 (this factors in scheduled additions at several high schools via SPLOST III).

Enrollment expected to be 96,366 in 2010-2011.

10 of 22 middle schools with have over 200 empty seats next year
2,952 open seats in 8 middle schools currently
924 seats over capacity in 4 high schools

3,574 open seats in 7 high schools
1,492 seats over capacity in 6 high schools

Timeline

November 2-6 – small group meeting with members of the board
December 1 – publish plan on website
December 1,2,3 – public hearings to receive feedback from community
January 4- formally present recommendation to the board
January 11 – ask for up/down vote from the board. It was clearly stated that the board would need to approve the plan in January if they wished to begin implementation in August 2010.

There were several questions from board members. The specifics of the plan were not discussed and would be reserved until the small group meetings. The objective of these meetings would be to present the recommendations to the board and solicit their feedback prior to informing the public.

Interesting discussion about Wadsworth. There are less than 200 students at this school and the rumor was that there was consideration of moving this program to another school. It seems that due to an outstanding lawsuit against Kittredge at Nancy Creek, this school will remain open for the current time. This needs to be confirmed but it seems the lawsuit was filed by parents suggesting they were ‘harmed’ with the relocation to the Nancy Creek site with respect to access.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

News Flash!


Kim Gokce just called in an important news flash. He has heard from an "extremely reliable source" that Pat Pope has been "relieved of her duties". She has a contract through June which will evidently be paid, however she is officially out of the DeKalb County School System.

Please Support Kim's Effort


Hi all -- I found out that our buddy Kim Gokce is up to yet another good deed and wanted to share it with everyone with the hope that you will support his efforts (and his feet)!

This Saturday, Oct. 24, I will attempt to circumnavigate Stone Mountain using only my feet (and possibly hands and knees). Let's be optimistic and call it a 6.2 mile "walk" for charity.

The fact is, I haven't walked 6.2 miles between the TV and the refrigerator during the past year must less in one go. So, I'm taking great personal risk in undertaking this effort and I would appreciate your support (and prayers for my knees).

Any contribution you make will be used to support Wesley Community Centers, Inc to help inner city kids participate in a summer camp full of fun and inspiration or, provide needed home repairs or social services for seniors in poverty. That's 100% of your giving - not one penny will be spent on my medical expenses or physical therapy.

Won't you "ChipIn!" $1, $5, or even $20 using the link below? You could write a check made out to "Wesley Community Centers, Inc.," and send it to 1955 Fairway Circle NE, Atlanta, GA 30319. But there's a risk I won't survive long enough to deposit the check. So, please consider instant sponsorship by credit card available at this link - it will get to those in need even if I don't survive my walk.

For those that sponsor, I will be sending out a link so you can track my progress via GPS technology on the web. If you see the dot stop moving before the finish line, please call 911.

Thank you! -Kim

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Community & Misc. Announcements



This posting will maintain a continuous thread of meeting and other announcements that our readers might find interesting. Feel free to add your input in the comments section and we will make the link available on the home page permanently.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oct 22 - DeKalb Delegation Town Hall, our State Senators and State Representatives (and other announcements)

DeKalb House & Senate Public Hearing
7 pm, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009
Porter Sanford Center
3181 Rainbow Drive
Decatur, Georgia 30034

-It is always important for our state senators and state representatives of the DeKalb Delegation to hear from their constituents. It is also important that they hear our concerns regarding the DeKalb County School System. If you remember a while back, Gwinnett County schools received $40 million from the state for facilities, and DeKalb received a million. Even Clayton Co. schools received millions more than DeKalb. A weird situation when you take into account that the DCSS Director of Internal Affairs Ron Ramsey is also a long-time state senator (Ron has missed most of if not all of the DeKalb Delegation town halls over the past five years).

I want to believe that our state senators and state representatives are aware that when it comes to attracting new businesses to DeKalb, and retaining present businesses, that the school system is one of the most important factors. The DeKalb Delegation hopefully realizes that all of the various scandals over the past year, such as the Pat Pope investigation, the Sembler proposed land buy at N. Druid Hills, Sembler wanting a huge tax break at Brookhaven, Gene Walker on the Development Authority, the Jaheem suicide, the eSIS debacle, etc., along with other longstanding issues such as the bloated, top heavy Central Office, promotions and increased pay for principals now in jobs where they have no prior experience, and the disgraceful conditions of schools such as Cross Keys and Sequoyah, etc., all have an effect when it comes to keeping DeKalb's economy healthy.

So come on out this Thursday and let your voice be heard!

CRCT cheating hurts children and society



Well, as the (thankfully still investigative) AJC is reporting, there are at least 19 other schools, mostly in the Atlanta Public School System, who appear to have altered answers or otherwise cheated on the CRCTs. I am personally disgusted by this kind of activity, the motivation for which is only to protect and promote teachers and administrators. (Each teacher at a school that meets testing targets gets a $2,000 bonus in APS.) The substantial losers are the children. There is no worse crime a teacher can commit against a child than allowing that child and their parents to think that the child is doing very well, when in fact, the child may be failing - even to the point of illiteracy. Children know in their hearts that they aren't processing the material, so when they are told otherwise, a conflict arises in their head and they begin an internal struggle that if acknowledged, could be corrected, but if denied, will only fester into a horrible sense of self-worth. If children are struggling, we need to catch it as early as possible and provide intervention. Lying to a child about their abilities to save one's job or worse, to get a promotion, should be met with swift, strong punishment.

What kind of example is this setting for our youth? Although there aren't many stories about teachers cheating nationally, there are news stories all over the country about students cheating on tests. At one school system in Columbus, Ohio some seniors hacked into a teachers file folder and retrieved test answers -- so many seniors either cheated or knew about the cheating but failed to report it that the school actually cancelled the graduation ceremony. But when we don't proscecute teachers and administrators who change test answers in order to make themselves look good, are we not holding the cheating up as admirable? What about the state of our economy in the U.S. - how will we as a society survive this era of dishonesty and personal advancement regardless of the cost to others? Our society cannot survive with a high level of cheating and greed. The big picture that results from the act of cheating is frightening for us all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hurrah for McNair Middle School!


This is such a Cinderella Story! I was so excited to hear about McNair's climb into "AYP passing status" after so many years of hard work. Kudos go to the students and their focus and diligence and to their clever, creative, devoted principal, Susan Freeman. This school experienced a complete reconstruction four years ago, when not only was Principal Freeman hired, but 98% of the staff was replaced. They used gender-based group learning led by national expert in that field, Dr. Leonard Sax, which not only improved learning, but improved discipline as well. In addition, teachers use common planning periods and engage in professional learning activities three to four times per week. These people worked really hard and they achieved their goal - congratulations McNair Middle School!

To read about the changes and gutsy programs Principal Freeman employed to steer this turnaround, visit the homepage at DCSS right now as this is the current feature story. To download a pdf version of the story, click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GBI Will Assist In Investigation Of Pope's Office

Patricia Pope, who oversees the Dekalb County School System's $466 million construction program, has been under investigation recently. On Tuesday, allegations of irregularities with DeKalb County school construction contracts appeared to intensify as law enforcement officials carried out an investigation at the Tucker offices of the DeKalb County School System Chief Operating Officer. According to local television stations, Mrs. Pope's husband’s office also was searched on Tuesday. According to Mr. Pope, he was met with pulled guns when he apparently got out of the shower on Tuesday morning.

On the morning of Wednesday October 14, 2009, the DeKalb County School Board met in Executive Session. The School Board has decided not to give up their client privilege. Some may question what our school board has to hide from the public? However, a client should never give up this privilege. In this case, the client is the DeKalb County School System. Apparently, Gwen Keys apparently wanted the school board to give up this privilege to see communications between attorneys and school officials.

An Now for the Element Song!



"The Elements" (1959) is a song by musical humorist Tom Lehrer, which recites the names of all the chemical elements known at the time of writing, up to number 102, nobelium. It can be found on his albums Tom Lehrer in concert, "More Songs by Tom Lehrer" and "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer". The song is sung to the tune of the "Major General's Song" from "The Pirates of Penzance' by Gilbert and Sullivan. Very funny! And amazing to realize that as of 2006, the table contains 117 chemical elements whose discoveries have been confirmed. Ninety-four are found naturally on Earth, and the rest are synthetic elements that have been produced artificially in particle accelerators.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Survey for the 2010-11 school calendar


DeKalb County School System has posted two draft calendars–one for 2010-11 and one for 2011-12. Visit this link and then click to take the survey regarding the calendars by close of business Thursday, October 22, 2009.

From the DCSS Website -

The proposed calendars:
  • Include 180 student-contact days - the maximum number funded by the state
  • Include 189 teacher-contract days with the final day (Day 190) being comprised of four (2 hrs. each/2 per semester) conference nights during the year as scheduled by each local school
  • Include nine teacher workdays - three of which are dedicated to professional development to facilitate the meeting of requirements for annual professional learning
  • Closely mirror the calendars of some of our largest neighboring school districts
  • Take into account state-designated testing windows and dates
  • Conclude the First Semester before the Winter Break in December - which prevents students from returning from the break with Final Exams and End of Course Tests still ahead of them
  • Offer some form of break for students and teachers each month of the year (September - May)
  • Schedule a spring break during the first week in April, beginning on a Sunday. This spring break is scheduled in accordance with those of surrounding school systems
  • End the second semester prior to Memorial Day - which allows the district to offer a short break to both students and teachers prior to the start of summer school

The SAT & Test Anxiety

video
Have we gone overboard with testing? Do test-makers, those who tutor, those who score and those who judge make too much money off of these tests? Do the tests tell us what we really need to know about a student? Has testing simply become a crutch for schools and a very big, money-maker for business? Watch this video and then weigh in.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Support the Fugees Family!


Dear Friends,

This summer in partnership with Agnes Scott College, we ran a six week summer academic camp for 86 boys. Each day we biked five miles to the college, read, wrote poems, performed group challenges and biked back to Clarkston. I would like to share with you one of my favorite poems written by the boys:

I am like a river eroding a mountain
Sometimes soldiers sob
I'm from a country where you always hear boom or pow.
I am a man of duties.
Sometimes I wonder if the bombing and killing will ever stop.
Sometimes my secrets are exposed. I am a secret swept under the rug.
Sometimes I try to fly. Sometimes I'm frightened to cry.
I am a leader who fights for his people.
I'm from a nation of destruction and war.
I'm from a marvelous galaxy.
I'm from a terrorizing place.
I am Menace Balegamire a unique and special kid.


I remember watching Menace recite his poem this summer at our showcase. He stood up in front of 200 people, recited his poem and showed us the movie he had made to go with it. I remember nodding my head when he said he was a unique and special kid. Knowing that all our kids are and that we want to provide the best for them. The best programs, the best teachers, the best opportunities.

Some days the kids ask what it is that I do all day. I try to explain to them my daily routine of running the organization, managing a staff, fundraising, and keeping them all in line. One of the kids gave the most accurate job description: "You write letters, you talk to people, you coach, and you fire people."

Last night as I was catching up on emails I came across America's Giving Challenge on Facebook. This is an opportunity for us to raise money and win $50,000 for our organization. To do this we need you get involved and give. If you have ever thought about giving to us now is the time. We need every person to give and to get their friends to give. There are 3600 people on this list. If every person who reads this email gives then we will win this competition hands down. Your $10 daily donation could increase 8 fold when we win this competition. No organization can sit back in this economy and expect money to just come in. I ask you to commit yourself to giving $10/day for five days in this challenge. I am personally committing to giving $10/day for the duration of the challenge (29 days) because I have 86 boys and their families who are all "unique and special." And I believe our Fugees Family can do this.

Click for America's Giving Challenge: Team Fugees

Coach Luma

FugeesFamily.org
========
Share this on your Facebook Page and help the team win this challenge!
Also, check out Coach Luma's blog - it's much better than this one!
Many of these kids are students in DeKalb County Schools - they need our support. Please donate!

Highlighting yet another great DCSS student!

Chamblee teen a model of resilience
By Kyle Dominy
kdominy@neighbornewspapers.com

Chamblee High School junior Paisley Maxwell did not let misfortune stand in the way of her academic success.

Growing up in a single-parent household in Chamblee, Paisley lost her mother to breast cancer when she was 10 years old. Paisley went to live with her aunt, another single-parent household, and her three cousins.

“It didn’t really settle in until a year later,” Paisley said. “Even now it’s hard. If I do something great I wish she was here to celebrate with me, but I know she is watching me in heaven.”

This month, the 16-year-old had one of those great moments.

The Indiana-based Simon Youth Foundation named Paisley a Simon Scholar.

The scholarship program provides assistance to students who are underprivileged or face some sort of hardship.

“It was a very exciting moment,” Paisley said about when she was notified she won the scholarship. “I felt great.”

The award offers Paisley a $500 stipend in her junior and senior year in high school, a laptop computer, SAT prep courses and a $4,000 scholarship for her first four years of college.

===========

To read the rest of the article, visit Kyle's link at the Neighborhood Newspaper.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The School Board Needs To Make Decisions Based On What Is Best For the School System Now in the 21st Century


First - a little history. The courts supervised the desegregation of the DeKalb County school system for over twenty-five years. After the process of desegregation was deemed over, the school district still appears from time to time to be divided over race (Bates & Gagnon, 1996). This can be observed repeatedly by actions of the members of the DeKalb County School Board Members (Smith, 2009).

In 1968, several black high school students from DeKalb County, including Willie Eugene Pitts, and their parents in addition to four white students and their parents decided to file a class action lawsuit against Jim Cherry, the superintendent, and the entire DeKalb County school system. The complaint dealt with the county’s failure to integrate the school system as well as the failure to comply with the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare that was mandatory under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If the DeKalb County School System did not comply with this would result in the elimination of federal funding to the school (Bates & Gagnon, 1996).

In June of 1969, the courts ruled that the DeKalb County school system must be completely desegregated by the start of the school year in the fall of 1969. The court also ordered DeKalb County to redraw the school zones. The school system could not have any all black or all white school districts. All the black schools were closed in DeKalb County School System and over the years many policies and procedures were implemented to encourage integration such as busing, the Minority to Majority (M to M) program, the magnet schools for high achievers and other initiatives. In the early 90’s the Supreme Court allowed the Dekalb County School System to stop busing students and the court later dismissed the mandate due to the fact that the system had become a majority African-American. However, the school district remained largely divided in terms of race (Bates & Gagnon, 1996).

Even today, sadly, the DeKalb County School Board appears to remain largely divided in terms of race. Dr. Speaks read a statement last night indicating that she had been bullied by other board members to vote along racial lines on the issue of contracting a law firm. Dr. Speaks however will not vote on racial lines. Dr. Walker indicated last night also that he sees black and white. He went to an all black high school so apparently race does matter. Don McChesney also read a statement indicating the possibility of ethics being broken in situations like this. (IMO)

The issue was over hiring the most qualified attorney firm and saving the school system a great deal of money. The issue was discussed at a called board meeting last Monday. (On Common Ground News has a good report on the heated discussion). However, some members of the school board wanted the African-American attorney, Alexander and Assoc, who the county has had for many years in the past, which is part of the reason the county has such large bills to start with. The previous attorney’s office could not handle many of the cases so other attorneys were hired. It appeared to also be "warm fuzzies" verses getting the best attorney firm to represent the school system. The two attorney firms that represented us before had conflicts. Womack proposed hiring Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, LLC, a big firm downtown which had 400 lawyers who would do all the school systems work for 1.7 million dollars a year. According to Common Ground, "DeKalb County Superintendent Crawford Lewis, who was charged with negotiating the contracts, returned to the board with a figure of $2.4 million after reviewing bids from both firms. Lewis recommended that $1.5 million go to Sutherland and $900,000 go to Alexander. But Womack said Sutherland would be willing to do all of the work for a flat fee of $1.7 million."

In the end, the votes were not there and Jay recommended that the the two groups get together and see if together they would share it for 1.7 million dollars. The two groups did get together and will do it for 1.7 million dollars. However, there are still many who question if the decision of the group based their decision on race and warm fuzzies and were willing to pay an extra $800,000 just to hire the other attorney on the side.

DeKalb County is home to some of the finest leaders in the state. However, some Dekalb County School Board members continues to be stuck in the past. Could this be due to the age of some of the school board members? Could age not matter at all with other school board members? Could this be just because of the history of the Dekalb County School System? Regardless, should decisions of the Dekalb County School System be based on warm fuzzies and race? What is wrong with the picture here? Regardless of our race, our disability, our religon, should we all in Dekalb County not ban together and do what is best for our children in Dekalb County? For the Dekalb County School System to move into the 21th century do we not need to make decisions based on what is best for the school system now?

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Can! I Will! I Did!

Hands on Atlanta partnered with Newell Rubbermaid to bring a corporate work day to Cross Keys High School this past Saturday, October 3, 2009. The bright fall day was ideal for the project. Over 200 souls gathered around the flag pole in front of the school in the early morning cool.




I couldn't pass up the chance to pitch in at the school so I joined in. I wanted to help in any way I could but I also wanted to see who actually showed up and thought I might be able to recruit new supporters for the school.

I met Andi (thank you!) from our site bloggers for breakfast at Waffle House and we headed over to the school. I immediately ran into at least three "joe citizens" from Brookhaven neighborhoods who heard about the event from this blog and others and wanted to volunteer. It was very clear very quickly that it was going to be a good day.

The management contact for Newell Rubbermaid stood up on the flag pole dais to welcome everyone and to thank them. She also said it was her 1st visit to the school. She had arrived early to take a tour and, as she described it, was nearly moved to tears by what she saw. She said privately that Newell Rubbermaid could stay there working for a year and still not do all that was needed. She was proud of her company and its employees for volunteering to help on this day.

Our principal, Dr. McMillan, stood up and welcomed everyone by telling them how proud she is of her students. She told guests that, in spite of what they might see in the facilities, Cross Keys was blessed with great students and faculty members. She was particularly proud that over 100 of the students showed up on their own to help with the work.

I was blown away by the turn out of the students - with very few exceptions, they were there on their own. We are talking about over 10% of the student body showing up for manual labor on a beautiful October Saturday folks! Would another DCSS High School have this kind of turn out for hard labor? I don't know but Cross Keys sure did!

I talked to two students separately that both had traveled an hour by bus, train, and on foot to make the event. Many went to their own jobs after spending the morning working hard at the school. How impressive are these young people?

The folks running the project did an excellent job of identifying the projects, organizing the teams, and empowering the work on site. We cleaned gutters, installed concrete paver walkways (my back is still sore!), painted, beautified landscaping (including a butterfly garden), and installed storage solutions in classrooms and in the gym (it was Rubbermaid, after all!).

In addition to just making the place look a little better, the work as designed to help the students and faculty deal with the fruit salad turnover going on now during renovation. Many teachers have lost their rooms, storage, and their classes are sharing temporary space with others. The additional storage management solutions provided this day will be very valuable through the reno period.

A very inspirational day for me. As with every other interaction I have with the young people at Cross Keys, I was struck by their quality. We truly have some of the best at Cross Keys and they showed it once again on Saturday!

Pope Debacle Continues

Check out the latest report on the investigation into Pat Pope's office at Atlanta Unfiltered today. Many of you may recall that this investigation formally began in December of 2008 as the school system police and IT department stormed Pope's office, taking various files and computers. Dr. Lewis said at the time that he would know more "next week" as he turned the findings over to the DA. Now, the DA is saying perhaps in May of 2010 - about 18 months later. The DA describes the situation as ‘complex and enormous’. Uh oh.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Ron Clark Phenomena

Embedded video from CNN Video


How fun is this school?! We have to admit -- this is the NEW MILLENIUM -- and we can no longer expect students to learn by passively sitting at a desk or working on group projects at home. No - we have to change how we interact with kids today and quit trying to squeeze them into our 1890s mold. Can we do it? To borrow Obama's line, "Yes, We Can!"

Friday, October 2, 2009

An American Story Right Here in DeKalb


We were recently directed to an article written by Jamie Gumbrecht and posted at her blog about her visit to the International Community Charter School in DCSS. It's amazing to think that within our DeKalb County School System is this charter school full of promise - the genuine original promise of what it means to come to America. The video highlights a story of two boys - one born an American and one a Burmese refugee - who became fast friends at the International School. The school suffers great challenges as it is comprised half of refugees and has no official school building. They struggle to meet their annual funding goal of $400,000. But amazing things are happening here - you may recall ICS student Genevieve Wilson who won a national poster contest for World Refugee Day and was flown to DC, stayed at the Ritz and was presented an award by Angelina Jolie! Her poster will be exhibited at the National Geographic Museum.

In addition to the article and video above written and produced by the New York Times, the school has been highlighted in the Christian Science Monitor with the story of "Little Bill Clinton", as well as the inspirational story, "Outcasts United", by Warren St. John (also the author of the NYT piece.)

We need to rejoice for this school, be glad in it - and support them in any way that we can.

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To make a donation to the school click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Schools suffer maintenance neglect countywide


Parents at Southwest DeKalb High are getting justifiably upset with the condition of the school grounds. Trees fall down and they are left they for days until a parent asks how long it will take to clean up. There is trash everywhere, including the front of the school. Sidewalks aren't edged and get overgrown. The curbs are overgrown. It's a mess. And it wasn't too long ago that the school had a $21 million dollar renovation.


A lot of the blame goes to the students, who are responsible for almost all the trash, and are old enough to know better. But a school's principal and administrative staff have to a) set an example for the students and remind them to be responsible, and b) they need to inspect their grounds often, and make sure the Sam Moss staff is doing their job with keeping a school's grounds the right way (because Sam Moss staff won't and don't if no one stays on them).

This is a perfect example of why parents and taxpayers around the county have had enough with the Crawford Lewis administration. We spend hundreds of millions on new and renovated facilities, and the facilities are simply not maintained to any kind of competent, professional standard. It's county-wide, too, not just at Cross Keys, Lakeside and Sequoyah. Parents are not happy at both ends of the county.

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Sent to us anonymously via email including photos.

New Math Finally Explained!



SwitchedOnMom in her blog, The More Child, which focuses on giftedness and teaching advanced and AP courses, has this to say to Jay Mathews regarding pushing the math curriculum in high schools:

Jay Mathews, as they say, has some “’splaining ” to do. From his column in today’s Washington Post.

Nobody writing about schools has been a bigger supporter of getting more students into eighth-grade algebra than I have been. I wrote a two-part series for the front page six years ago that pointed out how important it is to be able to handle algebra’s abstractions and unknown quantities before starting high school. I have argued that we should rate middle schools by the percentage of students who complete Algebra I by eighth grade.

Now, because of a startling study being released today, I am having second thoughts.

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, has looked at the worst math students, those scoring in the bottom 10th on the National Assessment of Educational Progress eighth-grade test. He discovered that 28.6 percent of them — let me make that clear: nearly three out of every 10 — were enrolled in first-year algebra, geometry or second-year algebra. Almost all were grossly misplaced, probably because of the push to get kids into algebra sooner.


For more on the subject, read her post titled, "Just Say No to Accelerated Math", or the recent post by blogger Frizzle titled, "Algebra and AP - No, not for everyone".