Wednesday, October 13, 2010

District 9: Ella Smith's Answers to eduKALB's Questions

I asked Ella Smith to provide me with the answers she had previously submitted to eduKALB, as requested, but which were not published. Gene Walker's answers were copied from the eduKALB website. Both sets of answers are listed, side-by-side, below:

District 9 BOE Candidates’ Answers to eduKALB Questions

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(1) Please briefly describe the qualifications and abilities which you believe make you best suited to serve on the DeKalb County Board of Education.

Being an educator with a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a specialist degree in Administration and Leadership as well as being a parent, a taxpayer/property owner and an advocate for public education my whole life, I feel I have the qualification, passion, ability and collaboration skills needed to serve as a member of the DeKalb County School Board. I want to make necessary changes and have a vision to move our school system into the 21st century. I have the commitment to work hard, always put students first, over special interest groups, and work with all the other school board members on common goals to provide the best educational opportunities for the children in our community.

As a school board member I would follow all the State School Board Ethic Guidelines and always to try to rebuild the trust in the public of the DeKalb County School Board. As a school board member I would allow the school officials to do their job respectfully while I do mine as a school board member without meddling in the day-to-day operations. I am knowledgeable about the DeKalb County School Board as I have been actively following the DeKalb County School Board meetings for 16 years. In conclusion, I have also an understanding of the relationship that the schools and school board have with the business community and the community at large. The school board’s decisions have such an impact on DeKalb County, and I want to make sure this is a positive impact as DeKalb County is my home.

I believe I am uniquely qualified with the most institutional knowledge and relevant experience to offer DeKalb County taxpayers. I earned a Masters Degree and a PhD degree in History. I have been a high school teacher, a college professor and a football and basketball coach in the secondary and college levels. I served as a senior administrator at the K-12 and college levels, elected to 4 terms as a state senator, appointed to the State Pardons and Paroles Board and served as the Commissioner of Juvenile Justice. Furthermore, I am currently serving in the capacity of the DeKalb County School Board member in District 9, so I am already well acquainted with our current challenges and opportunities. This wide range of experiences in education, policy making and management make me eminently qualified to serve on the DeKalb School Board.

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(2) What do you see as the top three most pressing challenges facing our DeKalb Schools?

1. The top problem the DeKalb County School System right now is lack of funds. Lack of funds has caused major morale issues among it employees and has required the School Board to make tough decisions regarding cuts in the budget.

2. The second major issue that the DeKalb County Schools System continues to experience is the overall students’ lack of achievement (lack of schools making AYP) while many taxpayers as stakeholders want our students to exceed expectations.

3. The third major problem currently is the perception of the DeKalb County School System due to all the legal issues, and other news-worthy stories which have given it a bad perception. Because of the legal issues, the school system has been left in limbo without a permanent school superintendent. New arrivals to Metro-Atlanta are hesitant to move into DeKalb County because of these issues.

1. Funding – We must secure adequate funding by working with the Georgia General Assembly to have the state fully fund K-12 education as required by law. The state has been withholding funds due to DeKalb County, and we could lose millions if the state continues on its present course of not funding education as required.

2. Improve academic performance – Overall, DeKalb County schools experienced a decline in the number of elementary, middle, and high schools making AYP this year and math performance was one of the major factors influencing this decline. Therefore, a major challenge is to improve test scores especially in the areas of math and science.

3. Parental involvement – Parents must be encouraged, engaged and work with the schools to help raise the level of student performance, eliminate discipline problems and insist that students adequately complete homework assignments. Even with some of the best educators in America working for DeKalb County Schools, teachers cannot possibly do it alone. There must be a holistic, comprehensive approach.

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(3) What qualities and skillsets do you believe would be most important in seeking a new Superintendent for DeKalb Schools?

A new superintendent for DeKalb County must have a viable vision, be able to work collaboratively with the community stakeholders and make a workable strategic plan. He or she must be the type of leader that can lead DeKalb County into the 21st century and turn its school system around. The superintendent must be a future-focused leader who has a thorough understanding of the trends that will profoundly affect education and the whole society in the 21st century. The new school superintendent must understand the affect of these trends for the operation of our educational system. The superintendent and his or her staff must be able to analyze the affects of these trends and work with the school board to make decisions to meet the needs of the students in the 21st century. The superintendent will provide the leadership to the BOE in implementation of the districts and school board’s vision, mission and goals. The superintendent must be able to complete the following indicators if DeKalb County is to move ahead:

1. Collaborate with the board in the preparation of long and short term operational and instructional goals to improve student achievement.

2. Provide system data and leadership to the board in its adoption of board and district goals to improve student achievement.

3. Develop action plans with expected performances to achieve the agreed upon goals to improve student achievement.

4. Under the board’s delegated authority the superintendent either personally or by delegation through other staff members must evaluate the adopted action plan or make revisions as needed.

5. The school superintendent must oversee the planning and evaluation of curriculum and instruction.

1. A demonstrated history of success as a high level business or educational leader

2. The ability to select, evaluate and hold accountable the senior administrative staff

3. The ability to interface and interact well with others, especially DeKalb School Board members

4. The talent to foster an environment of high morale and ethics

5. The capacity to be transparent in dealing with personnel and the general public

6. Visionary leadership and the capability to marshal support for the vision

7. The understanding that the Superintendant’s role is to guide and implement policy rather than invent it

8. The ability to put together and appropriately manage a school system budget

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(4) The DeKalb School Board oversees and approves an annual budget approaching $1.2 billion. As a school board member, how would you approach making certain that those dollars are spent most effectively to support our educational mission?

I believe we need more transparency in our budget. There is a movement across the country to post the check registers of school systems online which I support. We need to demand this level of transparency as taxpayers for the DeKalb County School System.

I currently have evaluated the data and have seen that too many of our tax dollars continue to go to fund central office staff and not enough money goes to fund the schoolhouses. If elected I would work to try to get more money into the schoolhouses for new technology, and new innovative ways to teach our children.

Businesses in the United States may never go back to where they were pre-recession. In previous recessions employees were rehired and business went back to where they were prior to each recession. To come out of this recession businesses have to revise their models and their thinking to become more efficient and streamline. The businesses that are successful at this will be successful once again. A school system is no different and must therefore restructure the money they have to spend to continue to educate the children while spending less and reducing overhead.

To make certain funds are spent most effectively to support our educational mission, we must hire the best possible person as superintendent and have in place checks and balances to ensure proper management of all physical, human and financial resources.

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(5) What do you understand to be the three most important responsibilities of a school board member?

1. Hiring and setting the expectations for the school superintendent to follow and evaluating the superintendent to make sure he/she meets benchmarks set by the school board. In evaluating the school superintendent it is important to make sure the needs of all the students in the county are being met and that the school superintendent is taking the school system into the 21st century and that the students are meeting or exceeding expectations.

2. Creating the vision and making the policies and rules necessary to govern the school system.

3. Levying the local educational millage rate to support the approved budget, approving the budget, and approval of all contracts binding the local school system.

1. To develop and sustain sound educational policy

2. To hire a superintendent and require compliance with the law, SACS standards and Board policy

3. To exercise fiduciary responsibility in approving funding and the budget, establishing goals and specific criteria for evaluating the superintendent, and to be accountable to the public.

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(6) In your previous experience, how have you best been able to bridge conflict, or help to build consensus when part of a deeply divided group?

As a special education teacher I have spent most of my career working with parents and coworkers on Individual Education Plan Teams and disagreeing with parents, or other school staff. Then as a team we work together, come together with a solution to meet the needs of the students. People have differences of opinions when working together in groups. However, it is important that each member of the group respect each other for their difference of opinion, compromise, or after the final decision is made, all board members must live with the decision made and respect the decision made regardless of personal opinions. You have to be able to disagree and continue to work with people to meet the needs of the children. When others disagree it is not personnel, so I would encourage board members not to take it personnel and to work together in a professional manner and show respect for their peers while serving on the board and also while in the community. This is a behavior I would definitely model as a school board member.

As a coach I have coached young people to work together to reach certain goals and we always tried to win. I will work to build consensus and encourage the board members to win, by work together collaboratively and cooperatively and making sure they understand that winning will be achieved on the school board, by putting the needs of the students and the achievements of the DeKalb County School System and DeKalb County first, over any other interest groups or personal reasons.

When it comes to educating our children, I believe we all share the same basic ideals, yet we disagree on the best approach to get us there. With that in mind, I make the conscious decision to listen and be honestly curious and respectful of the other person’s point of view. This approach will get us closer to bridging a conflict gap and foster better understanding because it shows respect for the difference of opinion.

Ella Smith

Dr. Gene Walker

(7) Given DeKalb County’s shrinking tax digest, and other financial difficulties…how might you approach the issue of potential closure of under-utilized schools and facilities?

DeKalb County School System has too many facilities in operation. DeKalb County needs to close 12 schools in the next year according to the published school system information. This will be a tough decision but a decision that must be made to benefit all the students in the DeKalb County School System. For instance, some current data does indicate that smaller high schools are beneficial for some types of students. However, other experts’ data shows larger high schools may be able to offer more types of classes and more extracurricular activities. DeKalb County School System needs to look at what programs are effective and what programs are not effective for the money being spent. We are in an economic crisis in our school system. We do appear to have a lot of duplication of services throughout the county and might need to try to centralize some of these services and close down some of these underutilized facilities in order to save money. We would not want to deny services to students. However, students’ services may be met or exceeded in a more efficient location with better services. Stakeholders need to be open-minded about the new opportunities that may be available to their children and to their neighbors’ children. Change is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it turns out to be an excellent thing.

Transparency to the community at large and involving the community at large will go a long way toward establishing the guidelines for redistricting the entire school system. Once we have those guidelines in place, we can make decisions to close or consolidate schools based on demographic facts and a fair process, rather than disproportionately affecting several communities.


Anonymous said...

2. The ability to select, evaluate and hold accountable the senior administrative staff
4. The talent to foster an environment of high morale and ethics
5. The capacity to be transparent in dealing with personnel and the general public

You're 0 for 3 on these. Have any administrative staff been held accountable by the BOE?

Seems like it's the same old crew except for the two under indictment and Johnny Brown's
nephew replacing the retired Gloria Talley.

Environment of ethics? Transparent with the public?

This coming from the guy who took $20k+ from an out of state company, refused for a long time to resign as chair of the Dekalb Development Authority, didn't tell anyone during his first campaign that he had a bunch of relatives working for the school system or that he had sponsored Crawford Lewis' membership into the tony Commerce Club.

Anonymous said...

You're hired Ella! Let's hope the voters agree on November 2nd.

Mr. Walker I hope you're fired by the voters on November 2nd!

I read his answers and want to scream! Like the 1st poster said there is no accountability for this BOE, except by the voters November 2nd.


Anonymous said...

No wonder eduCrud didn't post Ella's answers. She blows Gene Walker away!

Greta job, Ella!!!

And shame on eduCrud for failing all of us by omitting Ella's answers. I can't wait for that circus to leave town!

Anonymous said...

Sandy, once again ... you stood for right. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sandy! They did Ella wrong! Fair is Fair! We need to make Edukalb a failure! This web is much more informative. JESTER IS GREAT! i will vote for her!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

Clearly Dr. Walker's education and outstanding career experiences more than exceed Ms.Smiths'. Dr. Walkers' voting record supports my total committment for his return for another term. Dr. Walker voted No on Lewis' raise, No on the budget that eliminated my job on6/30/10, and No on the cuts to transportation. When called about concerns he has always responded. As a parent his support has been greatly appreciated. With the task a head in selecting a new superintendent, the budget crisis and the major ramifications associated with it,I voted for a seasoned and proven leader found in Dr. Walker.

Anonymous said...

EduKalb is a joke. Apparently they have an agenda.

Since edukalb did not have Ella's questions up for viewing they might not have even looked at them.

The word is that this group only intended to go after Woods and Roberts to start with anyway.

To endorse someone whom the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on due to sexual harassment complaints says enough in itself. What a joke?