Friday, April 9, 2010

Letter from the Lakeside School Council to the Board

Given the current economic situation and the need for a DCSS system-wide budget reduction, the Lakeside School Council implores you to preserve the integrity of the learning experience for each DeKalb County student. We call your attention to line item number 19 in the budget adopted by the Finance Committee Friday which directly impacts academic achievement. It requires teachers in schools on a current seven-period day to teach six classes with one 50-minute planning period. For the five schools this affects, we believe the impact on instruction and the schoolhouse will be significant.


  • Currently, Lakeside teachers teach five classes and have two 50-minute planning periods. They serve 100 to 170 students daily.
  • The proposed budget increases class size, adding two to three additional students to each of the current five classes.
  • If the six-class proposal is implemented, teachers will teach up to 220 students and have one 50-minute planning period. For some, this will double their current workload; for others, it will increase dramatically.
  • These numbers will mean up to 120 more papers, projects, and tests to grade for each assignment given. If a teacher spends only ten minutes assessing each one, his or her workload increases by 20 hours for each assignment!
  • It means these assignments will not receive a thorough assessment, feedback will be limited, and the students’ learning opportunities will be diminished.
  • It means student assignments will be simplified, again limiting learning potential. 
  • It means up to 120 more parents per teacher will demand prompt and thorough communications.
  • It means up to 120 more students who may need extra help but teacher time constraints will limit individual attention.
  • It means up to 120 more daily attendance and grade entries on an already excessively time-consuming eSIS system.
  • The increased load of IEP, 504, and SST meetings for a given teacher (required by law with mandatory attendance for teachers) will require additional conference time which translates to additional compensation for these teachers as less planning time will be available for conferences during the day – another expense.
  • Often one of the two planning periods is used to cover school needs such as lunch duty or coverage for an absent teacher. This flexibility will cease to be possible and will require additional substitute teachers, an increased cost to the school system.
  • Lakeside does not have the space for each staff member to have his or her own classroom. During planning periods, many staff members relinquish their classroom so another teacher can use it to teach a different class and do their planning elsewhere such as in the Media Center. Given capacity limitations in trailers, staff is already required to move often or work off carts. Teaching six classes each will require additional trailers – another expense.
  • Under the proposed budget, teachers could have up to six Preps requiring that they create lesson plans for six different classes (for example: biology, AP biology, gifted, general education, etc). Time for thoughtful preparation will be severely decreased, again at the student’s expense.
  • The burden of instruction will fall more on students as peer editing and group work become necessary, diminishing access to the expertise of the teacher.
  • Teachers will have less time to mentor students and teachers, offer tutorials, attend school activities, respond to parents, sponsor clubs, coach sports, and assist with planning enrichment events like Black History Month, International Day and Career Day.
  • Students will have fewer extra-curricular enrichment opportunities from which to choose because teachers will no longer have time to organize and supervise them.
  • Many of our teachers spend their own money for supplies for students (sometimes as much as $1500 - $2000!) to supplement the limited per pupil money our school receives (We are not a Title 1 school). They will no longer be able to afford those “extras” with additional students. Students will then be the ones to suffer.
  • Substitute teachers, whose pay will also decrease in this proposed budget, will opt to work in high schools where they only have to teach three classes daily.
  • This cost-saving idea will be detrimental to staff morale which ultimately, dangerously impacts instruction.
  • In addition to the impact on academic achievement, the proposed 6-1 system creates a disparity in workload between schools on a seven-period day and those on a block schedule.
  • Block schedule teachers teach three classes and have a 90-minute planning period while serving 75 - 102 students, less than half the workload!

Lakeside and other schools on a seven-period schedule have demonstrated high academic achievement. This schedule has also provided the opportunity for more students to enjoy vocational and fine arts classes. For that reason, teachers, parents and students chose to keep the seven period schedule. It has proven to be academically sound. The Board’s proposed cost-saving solution is punitive to these high-achieving schools which rise to the top each year in state and national rankings.

If the Board of Education is not asking every DeKalb high school to make this sacrifice, we strongly feel it is patently unfair of the Board to ask four or five high schools to shoulder a 2.4 million dollar burden for the rest of the County. We await your thoughtful response to our position.

Note: There have been comments comparing student performance on the 7 period day vs the block. There may be research showing the different results for each - if anyone has it, please share. However, we DO have research proving how income relates to math performance, as shown in this chart:
Click chart for a larger view.


Anonymous said...

everyone can write all the gd letters they want. it wont change anything. nothing but shutting down the school system will.

Anonymous said...

By law they have to respond quickly. Please post the response when you receive it Lakeside SC.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 5:14 pm

Democracy at any level is messy and inconvenient, and it often takes things getting so bad even the retirees in the neighborhood know things know something is drastically wrong. I think that's what we're seeing now. If voters perceive their own self interest (their kid's education, their property values, etc.) are endangered, then they get out and vote. That's what needs to happen.

Turning DCSS will be like turning the Titanic. It's hard, but if it's not done, we will go under. Right now everyone is trying to get on those life rafts and look after their own self interest - centers, magnets, programs, under served schools, etc. At some point, DCSS need to be a community, not a group of communities.

Anonymous said...

Well, no teacher is going to serve over 200 students a day adequately. What are Ms. Tyson and the BOE thinking? I'm sure teachers are plotting their escape as we blog. It might take them a while, but they'll eventually move out and on to a better situation whether it's a better school system or out of education entirely.

Unfortunately, most students can't escape with the exception of those students whose parents can afford private school. We live in the Northlake area and sent our child to public schools in this area by choice, but most certainly we wouldn't consider that an option if she was going to school now. In all truth, we wouldn't even have picked DeKalb to live in.

Anonymous said...

Let's hear from the other school councils. All DCSS school councils should be up in arms at what going to happen to the students with Ms. Tyson's proposals and the BOE's approval. The only happy people will be the thousands of non-teaching DCSS employees.

Teacher said...

Excellent letter. If anything, it underestimates how destructive this change would be: for one thing, the increase in recent years in the number of students at Lakeside with IEPs/other special considerations has really increased the number of IEP meetings teachers have to attend. And then, consider how much work it is during class time to do justice to all those "special" kids.

Data helps. See This is from the National Council of Teachers of English, and recommends a HS lass size of no more than 20 and a total workload of no more than 80. With 25 kids, you have 2 min/student, max, to interact on an individualized basis. That's too little time! Don't we all ask our kids "What did the teacher think of your blindingly brilliant essay on 'Deconstructionism'?" when little Maximilian walks in the door? If this proposal goes through, you can expect answers like "Dad, Mrs. Smith hasn't talked to me in over two weeks!"

Anonymous said...

You know I really like how the BOE doesn't give a flying flip about anyone but themselves. Check out Zepora Roberts comments when questioned abot raising the mill rate.
Board members Zepora Roberts, Sarah Copelin-Wood and Pamela Speaks either refused to comment or didn’t return phone calls.

“I am on vacation. I have thought nothing about it,” said Roberts, the board’s vice chair. “I just got back from out of the country and I have no thoughts [about the budget].”

Excuse me...but what the heck is that about. You don't deserve a vacation when the DCSS is 115 million in the red due to all of their negligence. They suck big time...they need to stop passing the buck and do the job they were Elected to do...get rid of all those freaking programs that do not benefit ALL students...This is not to offend but if Gwinnett doesn't have them why should DeKalb or any other local school system. This is the heart of waste right along with NCLB and over employment of family and friends. Let's really put the focus on educating all children on the same value system. Parents should be calling the BOE members all day and night making them do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

If it is fair for LHS, it shoud be fair for all. I cannot put into strong enough words the challeges that our students face each and every day. School sometimes represents the most caring place for a student. I am a parent. It is not that parents do not care. The parents and schools must work together. If a teacher is teaching 6 50 minutes periods a day,by the time she finds a restroom, gets a drink of water, checks her mailbox and e-mail, it will be time for the next class. To be fair move all high schools to a seven period day.

Anonymous said...

What Ms. Tyson, her crew, and the BOE are doing demonstrate very clearly that they do not care about the teachers and students. It is all a selfish attempt for them to keep what they have and to take from the groups least able to stop them. They truly are a disastrous bunch.

Anonymous said...

The governance council for Chamblee Charter High School also submitted a letter to the entire BOE and executive administration regarding the 7 period schools. I do not know whether they have received a formal response.

I submitted an individual letter to all the BOE members over a week ago but the only Board member to respond was Jim Redovian. He opposes this change for the 2010-2011 school year because it only applies to a handful of high schools.

Anonymous said...

What a terrible commentary on our school system that we have teachers pushing carts around to teach students while Central Office personnel and Instructional Coaches who don't teach students are sitting in offices.

Anonymous said...

Just a note on 7 period day vs. block, from a former teacher who'se done both.
I like the block. Here's my thoughts:

Benefits for the teacher
1. 90 minutes in-depth instruction with the same students. Can perform longer lessons (like labs) or switch gears and do two connected activities in a day

2. 90 minute planning, three classes, no more than 3 preps a semester.

Benefits for the students
1) Achievement goes up in some subjects, including science

2) Less homework, more time to focus on a single subject.

3) Double dosing - 90 minutes of math or other subject over two semesters for students that need it. Double-dosing AP classes also helps students prepare for the tests - and for 90 minute college classes.

4) Faster completion of course requirements for some higher level students - could potentially graduate junior year (although I've heard red tape is preventing some of this). This could save $8,000 per student per year, could affect hundreds to thousands of students district-wide. If they are ready - let them go!

Benefits for administration
Lakeside's letter notes that teachers could be teaching over 200 students in a year. Block teachers already teach a double load of students - half each semesters. It's six classloads over five already, but it's a lot more manageable for a teacher who has only three classes per semester on block. (note - its unconscionable to me that they would suggest cutting prep time to one 45 minute period per day, and teach six classes.)

We resisted change when it came to our school, but when it was over I think a lot of realized the benefits of the block. Yes, there are downsides, and special things to consider, especially with making sure students don't end up with a math gap) but I thought block's advantages outweighed the rest - IF teachers are well-trained during the transition, and enough is done to support the change.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing an author on C-SPAN a year or so ago, who had published a book about what he called "TSL", which is the total student load (number of students) that a teacher sees in a day. his analysis was that student performance increased as TSL decreased.

I agree that the agenda of the administration is to protect the administration and their salaries and benefits. at present, the majority of the BOE members are pleased to go along with this. After all, there are many friends and family members. This has to change before DCSS can improve. There only should be as few layers of administration between the superintendent and teachers. Teachers should be free to teach.

I wonder if members of the BOE ever talked to or receive suggestions from teachers. I think that the administration gives them a slanted view.

themommy said...

Anon 8:46 PM

As a parent, I really value your opinion and perspective on block.

However, this line IF teachers are well-trained during the transition, and enough is done to support the change. sums up why block isn't working at most of the high schools in DeKalb. The training never happened.

Ella Smith said...

I have taught on block and also the 7 period day.

Teaching on the block is nice. You only have 4 classes a day normally and one of those is a planning period. Teachers like the block schedule because of planning time and the number of classes taught.

However, if you look at the highest scores in high school they happened to be at Chamblee and Lakeside so apparently the block is not producing the same results in the county as the 7 period day.

Teaching 6/7 classes is not as bad as it may seem as long as there is a limit on preps. The problem is the preps. If a teacher teaching 6/7 classes has more than 2 or 3 preps then this is a problem. The least number of preps that can be given to a teacher then the more planning time a teacher has. However, you are talking about 30 more students during the day that work has to be graded.

I have discussed this issue with several principals and had discussions with school board members. The problem is simple that the school system cannot afford to give Lakeside and Chamblee teachers 2 out of 7 planning periods.

I personally do not think the board can continue to allow the block schedule without accountability. The research indicates that students perform better in a 7 period day and also the school board would save a ton of money if they did away with block. This will eventually be a necessity.

Another suggestion would be a modified block. We have a modified block at North Springs and have a block schedule two days a week. The downfall to this is that one day the teachers do not have a planning period.

We all expect that the quality of teaching will not be the same when the teachers teach 6/7 periods. However, we have no data to back this up.

I hate that the teachers at Chamblee and Lakeside are going to have to teach 6/7 classes next year. However, this has been a reality in most counties around Dekalb for several years. Fulton's teachers teach 6/7 period and North Fulton Schools (future Milton County Schools) continue to produce results.

I know that the 6/7 period day will probable happen regardless of all the emails that are sent. However, decisions have to be made based on what is best for all students in Dekalb County and even though it would be nice for the school board to please everyone. It is impossible to please everyone.

Anonymous said...

However, if you look at the highest scores in high school they happened to be at Chamblee and Lakeside so apparently the block is not producing the same results in the county as the 7 period day.

The students within Chamblee's resident program are not seeing those same high scores. Also, MLK is on the 7-day period and they don't see the same results either. The academic problem is not block vs 7-period schedule.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole issue is that the classrooms (i.e. teachers and students) are being overloaded while admin and support outside the schoolhouse are being minimally impacted.

Why should students be packed into classes like sardines with overstressed teachers so admin and support outside the classroom don't have to be impacted?

If Ms. Tyson and the BOE cut the 8,800 admin and support jobs or salaries by 10%, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Where would these non-teaching personnel go - certainly they have little options in today's economy.

I don't think there is one parent/taxpayer who would not want to see a 10% salary or job cut in the bloated 8,800 admin or support personnel rather than have children in larger classes.

Anonymous said...

It would be great to see a comparison between how much is learned by a student in a block course vs. the same course, taught year-long, at a 7 period school. I would bet that many of the block courses don't cover as much material. A big risk of the block classes is that some teachers don't actually teach the entire period (there is a lot of "homework" time at the end). There is a tendancy to move at a slower pace. By the end of the year, less material has been covered overall. While this deficiency may not show up on EOCT, I think there are significant differences in scores on SAT subject tests (which are required my many private colleges and universities). At our high school, many of the top students scored relatively lower on these tests compared to their friends at 7 period schools, particularly in math and science subjects. Yes, while many kids applying to state universities won't need these tests for admission, colleges are looking at them more and more, particularly for scholarships, and they are an objective measure of what has been learned and retained in a particular subject. Some studies have shown that these SAT subject tests are a better indicator for college admission than the regular SAT.

Anonymous said...

You cannot really look at the overall SAT scores either. They can be skewed in many ways. If one student makes a perfect score, it skews the total school scores upward causing it to appear as if a whole school improved and vice versa. Also, at least it used to be, all students were advised to take the SAT whether they intended to go to college or not. I have a friend whose child's HS actually held a pep rally to get students to sign up for the SAT.

Standardized test scores should be only one indicator of one's education. I think the pendulum is swinging back toward that direction. Colleges are looking at the "whole" student per se.

Anonymous said...

Also, on the Block there are students that take courses, such as Math, year round.

Cerebration said...

Two things:

One, I think we need to cut the central office/administration back to the level it was BL (Before LEWIS) and THEN make these necessary budget cuts from there. It's totally wrong to take this ridiculously inflated administration and make 5% cuts to accommodate the budget shortfall.

"General Administration" just about doubled - from $10.6 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2008."

(Check the number at our Facts & Sources link.)

Two: Math performance can be statistically linked to income. I will add a graphic to the article above.

Anonymous said...

The issue for the coming academic year is whether it is fair or appropriate to balance the budget on the backs of a handful of teachers and students in 7 period schools. Of course it is wrong and should not happen. This BOE is insane if they cannot find $2.5 M more to cut in the non-teaching programs.

However, the Board should finally take a position (and stick with it) that this will be the last year for the 4X4 block for all DeKalb high schools. There is no question that year long courses are preferable for most students, especially in math and foreign lanugage. Having talked to many teachers, students and parents about block vs. non-block I find that even the students admit that the block leaves them unprepared for college because they have so little homework during high school. My child has compared his math, science and AP history courses with his friends on the block. His 7 period classes have covered so much more material there is no debate on this issue for me. There are many modified 7 period schedules such as that used at North Springs that accomodates some block periods for arts, tutorials and laboratory classes.

Anonymous said...

I find that even the students admit that the block leaves them unprepared for college because they have so little homework during high school.

As a parent with a child on the block schedule, I can tell you without a doubt that your statement is flat out wrong. Please provide proof that students on the block are unprepared for college. Do you have their college grades in front of you?

Anonymous said...

Also, I recently had a parent from St. Pius tell me that my son has much more homework than her son and the curriculum being used seems much more involved than what is being used at Pius.

Cerebration said...

Here's an interesting article by Jay Mathews (best high schools list) in the Washington Post on block vs traditional scheduling;

Class Schedulers Think Outside the Blocks

Beyond effectiveness - what we need to evaluate is the cost. I truly believe that it is patently unfair to expect these teachers on the 7 period day to teach about twice as many students as teachers on the block. You will see a mass exodus of veteran teachers from these high schools (could that be the desired response?)

Cerebration said...

Really, think about it. Could it be that we could save as much or more if - instead of forcing 7 period day teachers to take on more students - we switch ALL schools over to the 7 PD from the block.

Could that make more sense and be more equitable?

fedupindcss said...

I may be out on a limb here, but it is my non-scientific opinion that the high scores (in whatever) at Chamblee and Lakeside have nothing to do with block v. 7-period day. That is the rationale that has been used by some board members to keep LHS and CHS off block, but it is a fallacy. It is all about demographics.

The primary reason that the LHS and CHS communities want to keep the traditional schedule has to do with AP classes, which do suffer on a block (you have to take AP tests in May, a problem if you are in a fall AP class).

The bigger issue here is why there is a 7 period day at all. It should be a 6 period day--heck, DCSS (and GA) require more to graduate than many top tier colleges require to matriculate. All about rigor, I guess...

Anonymous said...

It is far too late to switch block schools to 7PD for next year . Kids have already registered , teacher contracts have been given out, etc. Besides, enough about it not being -fair- to lakeside. Lots of stuffs not fair. Why is it fair for one high s hool to hAve a stadium and pool while others have neither? Why do some schools get ib and not others. "fair" is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

The 4x4 block has much less flexibility for kids taking electives, too. Kids cannot take orchestra or band for an entire year. This has huge repercussions for these programs at the block schools - fewer kids sticking with instruments, fewer kids making All State, fewer kids on newspaper and yearbook. I understand this is one reason parents at Dunwoody High School found to go off 4X4 block.

Anonymous said...

SAT subject tests are actually considered by many colleges to be a very good indicator of mastery of particular subjects and while we like it or not, scores on these tests weigh heavily in decisions by college admissions offices for admission and for $$$. If the top kids in a block chemistry or math class take these tests and score in the 60th percentile, i think these kids are not learning the course material.

Anonymous said...

Not sure where you're getting your info. Dunwoody is not going off 4x4 block.

Cerebration said...

Anon, the issue of being "Fair" regarding teachers workloads on the 7PD vs the block is far different than who has a pool or a stadium. This is a workplace issue - requiring some people with the same job title as others to handle more students. The students will suffer - as one math teacher put it at the board meeting - he will have to go back to multiple choice questions on tests, which don't allow him to see the student's work and assess how much they really understand.

It's just a bad idea to make one teacher handle between 180 and 220 students every day in 6 different classes.

Anonymous said...

I agree it's a bad idea. So I am not seeing how foisting this plan on all high schools is a good thing for the students -- which is the real reason DCSS exists. The schools on the block simply do not have the resources to pull this off on such short notice anyway. You need twice as many textbooks for the 7PD as the 4x4 block. The block schools don't have them. They would need to be purchased. Plus the kids HAve Lready registered. It is just too late to
make that change without severe disruption for the kids. I am shocked that anyone would advocate for this. Even the board members have more sense than to think that is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I am so confused. Why would we want to take an idea that everyone thinks is bad and impose it on every high school student in the county? Is that what is seriously being proposed here? This is not doing a lot for the credibility of this blog or its poster.

As for the block,why not let those high schools that feel it would be useful keep it? The schools were given the choice, let them live with it. As for whether the test scores improve dramatically under the block, well I think we are asking a bit much from a simple schedule tweak. If students show up at high school unprepared for high school, there is probably not much that can be done in the way of lengthening or shortening class periods that will really help.

Anonymous said...

If block scheduling has not been demonstrated to be effective AND it costs more money, then why are we hanging on to it? Has there been any attempt to evaluate effectiveness of block, not only on test scores but on college admission rates and other intangibles such as student participation and success in music, art, and other electives? Successful high schools in other states are NOT on 4x4 block schedules. In fact, in visiting out-of-state colleges with our teenager last year, we heard nothing positive from admissions reps about 4x4 block schedules. Can we not learn something from successful school systems outside of the state of Georgia, and outside of the southeast? Where is the evidence for the success of the 4X4 block? Thank you, Johnny Brown, for setting on this road to failure.