Sunday, April 4, 2010

The issue of cohesion - Let's seek to support every student and mend inequities

Kim Gokce's comments about Cross Keys (in the Fernbank letter post) just about brought me to tears. Nicely said and so true. We are in such a mess and all of his key points are spot on. Where and how do we begin to dismantle this mess and then put it back together? We simply cannot slash $100 million randomly here and there–we must take this opportunity to make wholesale change in the way we "do" education in DeKalb. I think this is what Marshall and the Fernbank School Council meant in their letter but people only focused and grabbed on to the Fernbank issue (scarcity mentality).

Marshall's points were basically these:
We urge an approach which, as far as possible, keeps intact the instructional environment and needs at the school house. To this end, we believe that certain selected cuts may appear easy on their face but will have significant ramifications in the day-to-day school life.

And then to bullet point his letter he defends -

-Library clerks
-Pre-K parapros
-Good quality high achiever programs
-Consolidating school buildings
-Sunsetting any new revenue (temp tax increase)
-Giving more responsibility to schools
-Seizing the opportunity to "reimagine" the system
-A long-term point of view

Not a bad agenda when you bullet point it.

He further says,
With all the challenges faced by the system, there is a rare opportunity for a wholesale re-imagining of the system. We believe devolving decision-making and accountability closer to the point of implementation can create an environment of innovation and success while enabling DCSS to realize greater savings in non-instructional/non-schoolhouse expenses. We certainly do not wish to adversely affect the lives of many of DCSS’ tireless employees but economic realities dictate a change in our economic structure. At the same time, we can reinvent how our school system works, to the betterment of all DeKalb children.

But even Marshall cannot truly speak for or understand the depths of needs and feelings of inequity that identify Cross Keys. Kim lives, eats and breathes for those students and teachers. He fights hard for them, yet he is swinging at windmills. It must be so frustrating - no one is listening. Yes, Cross Keys has seen a bit of construction lately - hurrah! But check out that piece of land. This property could be as gorgeous a facility as Arabia (yet, unlike Arabia, accessible to everyone via Marta) - but it is still basically blighted.

If you are not effected by Kim's stories of success in the face of adversity described below, then you are not human. As always, no one can really paint a picture better than Kim.

If there is an attendance area that faces a combination of all the problems we highlight on this blog, it is Cross Keys' area - old buildings, issues with parental involvement, crowding, lack of amenities, lack of business community support, readiness of incoming students, America's Choice (CKHS is one using this program) and the list goes on ...

In this environment this year, our high school has produced the County Champion Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team, the overall Grand Prize winner, and the 1st and 2nd place Biology category Science Fair winners (both go to State this month and one goes to San Jose, CA for Int'l competition in May), a robotics team that is going to compete in World Championships in Dallas, TX, and we're graduating the top award-winning, incoming freshman at Georgia Tech (President's Scholarship - 1 out of 6900 competitive applications).

In the case of the Grand Prize winner of the science fair, she is a product of Woodward ES, Sequoyah MS, and Cross Keys HS and from immigrant family from Mexico that has made DeKalb their home 15+ years.

These accomplishments occur in what few argue are the worst facilities in DeKalb County. Surely these individual kids were destined to succeed because their parents are well-off and educated themselves, right?

Wrong on both counts - these young people are supported by working class and poor households with none of the common indicators for academic "success." They are all non-white. They are all "dreaded" apartment dwellers, too.

Ah, but I've got on my high horse again ... let me climb down. My point is that we are making the job of public education much too complicated in DeKalb because of the politics of the past. While everyone snarls and barks over their little slice of shrinking, stinking corpse of the budget, our area kids put left foot, then right foot out and keep moving forward with the help of a loving and competent faculty.

Right on, Kim. I implore our board, our readers and fellow bloggers to heed these words. Please - look at the system overall and seek to fix the inequity. Demand that the toughest cuts are made outside the classroom. Protect our children and their teachers. Fight for a better system. Fight for every child in DeKalb Schools.


Anonymous said...

Many of Marshall's points were related to what is best for Fernbank.

"To this end, we believe that certain selected cuts may appear easy on their face but will have significant ramifications in the day-to-day school life."

Nothing is going to impact children (and teachers) more than class size increases. Maintaining Fernbank and the magnets helps very few.

Open + Transparent said...

"we must take this opportunity to make wholesale change in the way we "do" education in DeKalb"

Yes, Cere, we must use this opportunity to look at every facet of the school system. And changing the Fernbank Science Center to a non-profit affilated with the school system is a clear example.

FSC is an awesome amenity. But in this budget crisis, it is an amenity. Millions are spent on FSC, and it's not a sustainable model. Every penny countys, and keeping class size as is now instead of increasing them takes precedence over millions for FSC, MIS, school police, instructional coaches, etc.

AppleCorp has done a fine job with the ATL school system. We need leaders like they have on AppleCorp to be board members of a new non-profit FSC. The money is out there for federal and foundation grants.

Remaking the school system is needed now, and the Fernbank Science Center is the logical place to start. The Fernbank Elem PTA should be taking the lead on this.

Anonymous said...

Another honor awarded to a Cross Keys senior: A student just won the Goizueta scholarship for Agnes Scott. The Goizueta Foundation awards scholarships at several colleges and universities and Agnes Scott had only one to give out, and a Cross Keys student won it! She has all four years of tuition and room and board covered. I cannot think of a more deserving student than this young lady. She is a product of Woodward, Sequoyah, and Cross Keys. She came to this country speaking no English and now she's Goizueta scholarship recipient.

By the way, this is the second Goizueta scholarship winner from Cross Keys. A Cross Keys graduate won the Georgia State Goizueta a few years ago.

Teacher said...

The tone of your posting is very welcome and helpful. It's good to keep in mind. However, as recent national politics show, aiming for consensus and conciliation doesn't ensure that such will result. Sometimes a stronger arm is needed.

One thing of note: I've been struck by the complete absence of interest, on the parts of either the Board or the citizenry, in input from teachers as a group. Granted that we have completely ineffectual teachers' associations--I won't call them "unions" because they aren't--but still, Cerebration and others, haven't you at least wondered what TEACHERS think about the potential changes that will dramatically impact their personal and professional lives? Has anyone even asked? The tradition of DCSS is to be so top-heavy and centralized in its authority, that it doesn't even occur to the teachers to make their views known.

Besides the obvious importance of caring about all stakeholders (in the mood of your piece), teachers' opinions matter because the better we feel, the better we can do our jobs. Although it may seem like "random here and there slashing" (to paraphrase you), the outcomes of arguments about 2 vs 1 more student per classroom, the number of furlough days, the continuation of a Montessori program or two, etc, have serious impacts on the classroom atmosphere because they affect teachers. That sounds selfish,but let's face it, if teachers felt they could continue as usual even with all these cuts, the fuss would be minimal. We know that you know this--but we don't hear much about it from the community. What kids learn depends on what teachers teach, and a high school teacher simply cannot be effective teaching 200 young people each day, many of whom have special needs and other concerns, with only 55 minutes of planning, including grading, each day.

Where is the teacher's voice? Why are none of the community groups concerned with teachers, but rather, ONLY with what will happen to their kids, as if the academic fate of the children is somehow separate from that of the teachers. Has anyone spoken up for us?

Cerebration said...

I see your point, and I can only say that I guess I neglected to state the need for teacher input as this has been our long-term on-going conversation at the blog. One basic premise we all have had here for a long time is support for the teacher in the classroom. Of course, if you are new and have only read this post then you may not be aware of our concern for teachers - which is also concern for students.

I should have stated it specifically. I tend to be too close to all of our conversation and therefore assume the reader has been involved in our long-term conversation. I should try to remember to repeat basic tenets like support for teachers in every posting.

Teacher said...

Thanks for that statement. I AM new to this blog, partly because such participation is frowned on by some administrators. Strange, because we are also community members, and many of us have kids in the schools. I think there's something about one's right to self-expression written somewhere...

What I am after, though, is a demand by ALL parties for more teacher involvement from the ground up, in the "wholesale re-imaging" of the schools, which many of us teachers strongly support. Many of us felt burnt when the Georgia Performance Standards were established despite our strong attempts to make them more relevant, accurate, and (at least) gramatically correct. The message we heard was: teachers are here to serve, not to help decide what and how kids will learn.

Yet in a system that rewards "highly qualified" teachers--many of whom have Master's degrees--not giving teachers a bigger voice in both curriculum and administrative decisions, is neglecting a great source of expertise. In the "re-imaged" system, I'd like to see teachers on equal footing with administrators and community members on key decisions about class size, block scheduling, school closings, transportation,etc--everything that impacts the classroom. There is nothing we think about more.

We are, after all, salaried employees with a stake in the outcome (well-educated young people who know enough to take their place in this complex world), and as such, we need to be part of the planning that will bring about that outcome.

Cerebration said...

Very well said, Teacher. You can be certain I will be quoting you on that, as well as paying more attention to how I write my posts. Our audience has quadrupled here in the last six months and we need to remain mindful of our new people.

So glad you're here!

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for this blog and the heart-felt posts herein, I'd think DCSS was totally incompetent. Somehow, someway, we need to supplant the Central Office and the BOE with people like YOU... How do we make it happen?

Anonymous said...

By having parents demanding more of the principals, area superintendents, superintendents, other high ranking DCSS official, and the school board members. Until Parents rise up and stay that they have had enough in both words, at meetings, and at the ballot box, things will never change in DCSS.

Anonymous said...

I agree with just about everything posted on this blog, in general, and I am very thankful for this forum. But one thing that I would like to point out that I don't think everyone realizes...Montessori does receive some special funding, yes, but it is located in North, Central and South DeKalb and each of the 3 schools has numerous out of district children enrolled. AND each of the 3 schools are in very diverse neighborhoods, with nice single family homes and affordable apartment housing close to each school. If there ever was a "fair or equitable" program available to everyone, it seems this would be the only one that comes close in DeKalb. It truly is a choice available to all. And as for funding, the total amount is pennies in the total budget (a few positions in the bloated central admin earn more than the total program costs). A tremendous amount of money has already been invested in the program (those costs are behind us) and it has attracted great teachers and great families to DeKalb...not something to be overlooked. So in these times, the program should make cuts, yes, and based on the meetings I saw, I think the parents were proactive in suggesting that aspects of the program could and should be cut. But to argue that the entire thing should be cut, in the name of "fairness" I think might be misguided. I'm not saying anyone was specifically suggesting this, but just in case, I wanted the facts to be out there.

Cerebration said...

Great points, everyone. I am so happy to "see" so many new (type)faces!

Although there are many people who feel strongly that magnet, choice, theme and other programs are using more dollars per student than "regular" schools, we don't have all of the data on the subject yet. We also doubt that the board has all of the data either. But logic tells us that there are areas here that have some wiggle room for budget cuts.

HOWEVER - most of us agree that the task before us must not BEGIN with the classroom - any classroom. No one (and I think I can safely say no one) currently trusts that the board is dealing with true, fair data. The first task - and the task that will serve as an olive branch extending trust - is to make the heaviest - hardest cuts to the administration. And by that I mean anyone who does not directly have an effect on learning in the classroom.

We have gathered so much evidence and published it here that there is no excuse for our board to avoid the task of cutting admin staff first - and deepest. When push comes to shove, honestly, our students and teachers can get through the day without many of these people. But taking away teachers, crowding classrooms and shuttering programs haphazardly will not fly.

Roll up those sleeves board. Dig for some good, reliable data. We'd like to see reliable, quantifiable reasons for the decisions being made.

Pass me the koolaid said...

I agree with Kim and Cerebration:


Thanks, Kim and Cerebration for solving ALL our problems....

Anonymous said...

Since DCSS only has a week until budget approval, my prediction is that Ramona Tyson will just cop off teaching positions and other lower paid and politically connected schoolhouse employees along with TSA contributions and be done with it. Ms. Tyson and the BOE are hoping that the economy will pick up and tax collections will increase. That way they can do "business as usual".

My main concern is that as the tax collections pick up, Ms. Tyson or whoever the BOE hires will not add more teachers. Rather, they will choose to add more admin and support.

Anonymous said...

If anyone wonders why Gloria Talley added so many administrators to DCSS under Dr. Lewis's tenure, take a look at what her job was for the Southern Regional Education Board:

Gloria Talley, "director of Project LEAD, part of a fifteen state initiative of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, Georgia"..."through Project LEAD, she works to strengthen and develop the pool of potential educational leaders by improving training and creating conditions that will allow them to work effectively. "..."Where do districts find such people? Ms. Talley encourages them to look deliberately at teachers who are leaders in their schools and encourage them to apply for leadership positions. She calls this “tapping” and says that often it is all an individual needs to be inspired to move into leadership programs."

Cerebration said...

Wild! But that makes sense. However, I disagree - we don't need so many "leaders" - we just need really great teachers. Lots and lots of them.

(An aside: Anon 7:57 PM - I totally don't get your point but I'll assume you are being facetious.)

M G said...

The TENTATIVE budget approval is what happens at the April 12th Board meeting. There will be 2 public hearings before final approval.

There have been changes made to the budget between the tentative approval and the final approval in May.

Once the tentative approval happens, the entire budget will be available for public review at the Board office.... The budget is usually 4 huge books - it would take several hours to go through, but that's definitely the place to find where the money is going.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Teacher and I'm glad she is posting. I am a 20-year veteran teacher with Dekalb and I am proud of the work I do and the work that other teachers do in our schools each day. Teachers have been suffering under this current administration silently. A few years ago, Dr. Lewis instituted a policy in which teachers could not contact upper level administrators without permission from their principals. That policy continues today. A couple of years ago my co-teachers and I found problems with a test. I was the Grade Chairperson so my principal at the time asked me to contact a Deputy Superintendent. I sent her an email outlining our concerns. I immediately received a scathing email from her admonishing me for daring to contact her. My principal then had to contact her and tell her I had permission. (She never addressed the problems with the test.) This is the environment we work in. We have been told not to speak ill of top administrators for fear of losing our jobs. That is why I cannot post my name here. Ironically, it is the teachers and paras and other "lowly" employees who will be carrying this financial crisis on our backs. A 6.5% pay cut is devastating to all of us. We do not make the salaries that the administrators we are not allowed to contact make. Our only saving grace will be the outrage of parents and other community members. We need all of your support. You need to know that good work is still being done in the schools by all of us "little people".

Anonymous said...

I was in a meeting where the administrators above the principal's level were asking if FirstClass, DeKalb's email could screen out emails from teachers. Kind of frightening. I guess they don't want any feedback or knowledge about what going on at the "bottom" meaning the classroom level with the teacher and students.

Cerebration said...

Wow. Those are outrageous stories. Of course, we all also remember when Moseley referred to parents as "background noise" -- I wonder what they think of students?

Anonymous said...

You guys will keep arguing over programs like Montessori, Magnet, and Fernbank. And I get the feeling that some of the anonymous posters who stoke this fire are people who don't want you to focus on their non-essential jobs.

The reality is there is enough money in the DeKalb budget to fund all these programs, give the teachers the step increase they deserve, and to fully fund their retirement. Yes folks, the money is there. There is no shortage or budget shortfall. Of course, I have to qualify that statement.

There is enough money in the budget to provide education to students. There is not enough money in the budget to employ THOUSANDS of individuals who have jobs that other counties do without. THOUSANDS. This is the ONLY thing you should be focused on.

We keep making the mistake of comparing DCSS to other bloated and corrupt metro school systems. Funny that DCSS looks bad in those comparisons, but DCSS would look much worse if compared to smaller more efficient systems in communities that are too small to hide nepotism, graft, corruption, and waste.

#1 - What is the job of a school system?
To educate kids. Nothing more, nothing less.

#2 - What jobs do we eliminate?
See question #1 to determine if a job is truly needed.

Cerebration said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I hope you will send your comment to the entire board. (Use the easy link on the side panel of the home page, just above the recent comments.)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Anon 8:54.

Unfortunately, I do not think that school board or school officials working on the budget want to hear this, will hear this or do anything about it.

It's difficult to layoff friends and family.

I am convinced that the administration including the school board do not care about the education of the children, if they did they would touch the schools last when making budget cuts.

I realize why schools in the South are ranked lower than schools elsewhere in the nation. Education is not their priority. It's ashame, but true.

We are loosing some of the brightest children, as more houses go up in my neighborhood and the neighborhood where I teach. People are moving for one reason and one reason only, the poor quality of the schools. Good things do happen in DCSS, but unfortunately the best education can only be received if in a magnet program. I question, why this type of education isn't available to all children. It can be done. It has been done in other places in our country. As a teacher, it feels that they are trying to keep people down. Not sure if that is what their goal is, but that is what it feels like.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 8:54 AM
and Cerebration

I have thought this for the longest time! I don't know why I never said it before.

Anonymous 8:54 AM -- you are 100%, absolutely on point!

I feel so helpless. Clearly, writing the board members is not going to help. They don't care. And November elections are a long way off.

Ramona Tyson -- I knew her "way back when" -- is only a puppet. As a friend of mine used to say, "If she had a brain cell it would be lonely."

SACS is more concerned with going after a school board that dares to meet without using Roberts Rules of Order.

The State BOE is looking the other way and completely ignoring the desperation in DeKalb.

Fran Millar, Mike Jacobs, Jill Chambers, Dan Weber -- they are fully aware of ron Ramsey's fraud, yet they are loking the other way as well. Do they not read the newspapers and this blog? Their abandonment of their constituents -- and their fiduciary responsibilities -- should mean that they MUST NOT be re-elected.

The DeKalb County DA and the U. S. Attorney have no interest in the DCSS problems, despite the fact that fraud is involved.

What can we do? Can we bring a class action suit?

Do we refuse to register our children for the coming year and, instead, apply to home school (whether we actually intend to or not)? It would paint a vivid picture of the disconnect between DCSS/DCS BOE and the students, parents and taxpayers they are supposed to serve.

Anonymous said...

Actually, writing your BOE members is the most effective way to bring change short of meeting face to face with them or voting in an election. Most politicians (and BOE members are definitely politicians)are always concentrating on their next election so they are looking to see which way public opinion is swaying.

Writing Ms. Tyson is more effective than you would think as well. She has never been a position where she has to face parents/taxpayers. Ms. Tyson has always made her decisions in a vacuum with information filtered through the people under and beholden to her. Defending you decisions to parents/taxpayers is much more difficult than defending your decisions to other DCSS personnel who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 10:30 AM

You are wrong. Writing Tyson and the BOE is an exercise in futility and frustration. They don't care and they are not listening.

Albert Einstein said it best: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Kim Gokce said...

Anon 12:14am: "... admonishing me for daring to contact her ..."

I wish this seemed out of character but in my experience as a student, the child of a career public educator, and as someone who spends a lot of time working with our public system, this has been de riguer in academia for a long, long time.

As a student, I had run-ins with puffed-up administrators in public and private systems who reveled in the power they held over students and teachers. I can't explain it but it seems that academia has more than its fair share of tin-horn despots wearing ties. These are found in government and corporate bureaucracies also but rarely do they enjoy the unchecked power of an academic administrator.

I have wrestled for months trying to think of an organizational structure that would allow the decentralization of as much power as possible from the central office to the school houses. Also, I'd like to see a viable way for the will of the people (notice, I did not say "will of the parent") to be integrated into the decision-making process at the highest level in public education.

Too much happens in the inner sanctum and we need a reasonable public oversight - the Georgia BoE and County BoE structures don't seem to accomplish this very well and the Superintendent and BoE relationship seems too cozy and discrete to me. Still thinking on these things in my spare time and I hope folks with more experience and insight are, too ...

One quick fact check/correction - the young lady who just Friday was confirmed as the Goizueta Foundation Scholar for Agnes Scott came through Cary Reynolds ES, not Woodward ES.

The point, or course, remains the same - young people such as she are educated to very high level of achievement in what many told me was one of the least desirable attendance areas of DeKalb Co. I'm asking how is that possible in the absence of what many are saying are "must haves" for high quality education?

Anyhow, thanks for re-posting my comments from the other night, Cere ... it was the end of an unending day and I was very tired and discouraged.

No Duh said...

Regarding the teacher who posted about never being part of any decision-making process within DCSS, I have always been fascinated by that. I have wondered why we hear all about parent adivsory councils and task forces, but the teachers are consistently muzzled.

If I were a teacher, I would not be able to hold my tongue and I would last about 10 minutes in DCSS before being fired on some trumped up charges of "insubordination."

So, as we beg the BOE and administration to shake up the system and the way we fund and deliiver services to students, we must understand when and how the wall was erected between the schoolhouse and the central office. We have to understand why teachers, parents and students are considered the enemy.

No organization can be successful with the word "insubordination" in its lexicon.

Can we all now agree that the emperor has/had no clothes? Can we start over? Where do you find emperors who are not afraid of constructive criticism?

Ms. Tyson, tear down this wall!

Cerebration said...

No Duh, I swear, no one makes me laugh like you do. What a line - Ms. Tyson - Tear down this wall!

Love that!

No Duh said...

"If we couldn"t laugh we would all go insane." Jimmy Buffett

Unfortunately, I'm being serious. It can not possibly have been this way forever. Could it?

Come on teachers...were you ever listened to? Encouraged to make processes better? Asked your opinion? When did that change? What does Ms. Tyson need to do to chip away at the wall?

Come on teachers... release your inner dissidents on this blog, maybe someone out there in DCSS world will pick up an idea and champion it...

Don't just tell us what you hate (America's Choice, etc.) but what you could be doing in your classroom if you weren't forced to use these packaged curricula. Write an open letter to Ms.Tyson on this blog. "Dear Ms. Tyson: You cannot possibly be aware of all the things happening in our schoolhouses that do not contribute to our success in educating students. May I make the following suggestions..."

POint out redundancies. Cost inefficiencies, equipment needs/failures. Talk about building issues (mold, etc.) and how they are affecting you and your students.

Then, follow up with what you consider viable solutions.

I think it's important for you all to get these things off your chests -- and I for one, am listening to you and am willing to push for you until such time we can get a leader who is willing and able to value his or her most valuable possessions -- our teachers.

Cerebration said...

Right on No Duh. I didn't laugh at you - it's just that your expressions make me chuckle (not many people do that here). I just think the way you write is always so creative and enjoyable to read. Thanks for your many contributions - they're always creative and insightful.

Teachers - what do you think? I think this is a great idea.

Cerebration said...

Let's follow California's lead --

Go to Say No To Cuts for a video from an elementary school PTA in the Los Angeles area about the impact of their budget crisis. Funny, very well done, starring Megan Fox and her boyfriend.

Source: The L.A. Times today.

Cerebration said...


The Brookhaven Community Connection (BCC) will be hosting its monthly meeting tomorrow morning at Hudson Grille. Our guest speakers will be Dr. LaShawn McMillan, Principal of Cross Keys HS, and Ms. Sandra Sanders, Counselor of Career Technology.

Networking will start at 8:00am and the 15 minute presentation begins at 8:30am with reserved time for Q&A. We end promptly at 9:30am.

This will be a great chance for area parents and civic-minded individuals to learn about Cross Keys High School first-hand. While much of Brookhaven is no longer in the attendance area of Brookhaven's local public high school, our area students can still benefit from the Career Technology Programs which serve not only Cross Keys HS but also Dunwoody HS, Chamblee Charter HS, Lakeside HS, Druid Hills HS, Clarkston HS, Tucker HS, and Stone Mountain HS.

I guarantee you will learn a lot if you attend and a lot of what you learn will surprise you ... for example, did you know the Career Technology program includes Computer Technology, Health Sciences Technology, Dental Technology, and other high tech programs? They even have a competitive Robotics Team sponsored by AT&T, Dye Aviation, and Moncrief Heating & Air that is competing at the World Championship in Dallas for goodness sake!

Don't miss hearing about these amazing programs and some of the accolades being earned by this year's senior class - the top incoming freshman at Georgia Tech (President's Scholarship 1 out of 6900 applicants), the only Gozuieta Foundation Scholarship for an incoming freshman at Agnes Scott, a Gates Millenium Scholarship National Semi-Finalist, the County Science Fair winner (and 3rd at State), the County Reading Bowl Champs and more!

If you were not aware of the amazing things going on at Brookhaven's public high school, you will be proud to hear the briefing they have planned for us about their programs and the current $20 million renovation. I hope to see you there - vitals below!
-Kim Gokce, Director, BCC

Brookhaven Community Connection Monthly Meeting

Admission: Members & 1st time guests - FREE

Returning Guests: $10

Location: Hudson Grille, 4046 Peachtree Road

Date: Tuesday, April 13

Time: 8:00am, networking; 8:30am presentation