Sunday, January 29, 2012

DeKalb School Watch Blog is Moving!

Click here to visit DeKalb School Watch Two for a fresh, new site with a new look powered by Wordpress! Don't miss our latest BIG report on the shuttered and vacant schools scattered around DeKalb!

DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

Click on over and continue to chat - we'll see you there!


Yes, it's time. My job is complete. I am going to retire from the DeKalb School Watch blog. Although others will continue with a fresh, NEW blog full of announcements, news reports and blog posts that our writers contribute on their own, this blog will now be flying on 'team-pilot' without Cerebration as moderator.

We have spent four years reporting on the waste, fraud and corruption in DeKalb Schools - as well as the good news as it comes our way. We've created over 950 original posts, played host to many divisive but insightful conversations that generated over 50,000 comments, and built a place that has had almost a million and a half page views! All of these postings will stay in perpetuity and can be searched using the search bar.

My biggest hope is that you will all take the time now to simply pray for Dr. Atkinson. Pray for her to have wisdom. Pray for her to have discernment. Pray for her to have clarity. Pray for her to have support. Pray for her to have the power to implement the changes she seeks for the betterment of nearly 100,000 children's futures. And pray for her protection.

And then look to be astonished! This school system has the capacity to garner national attention as an exemplary turnaround. We can show the world that when communities work together, discuss differences, honestly address issues, grapple with challenges and make decisions with the same end-goal in mind, great things can happen. I believe great things do happen and will happen more for the students of DeKalb county. And I hope that we will always remain mindful of the damage that can occur when we take our collective eyes off the prize. We owe it to our children. They cannot easily recover a missed education. Never turn away.  When your job is done at your school, carefully pass your torch. Insist on integrity from the top down.  Our schools belong to us. They belong to our children. They represent our greatest hope. Love them. Support them. And work together to make a difference.

Au revoir my friends! I've truly loved "meeting" you all - whether live and in-person at a variety of coffee shops around town–or virtually–on the blog or via email.  This adventure has surely been one of my most enjoyable and endearing.  Putting it away is bittersweet.  But DeKalb county is chock-full of wonderful people - true Americans - and like a family, we will continue to work through our differences together with love, commitment and dedication to a mutual cause.

All the best,


* Make sure that you click over to the new blog and set up an ID to continue to participate in our discussions. Although you will have to create a moniker, or blogging name, your identity will continue to remain anonymous.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Show and Tell: A mess of shuttered vacant DCSS buildings litter the DeKalb landscape

Have a look at this map.

Vacant buildings scattered around DeKalb
After doing extensive research on the shuttered, abandoned buildings left scattered around the county by the DeKalb school system, we took a driving tour of the county.  We wove our way over about 60 miles and took pictures of the blighted, decaying structures discarded by the school board.

Tune in to our story at the new, DeKalb School Watch Two:

DCSS vacant properties causing blight countywide

Friday, January 27, 2012

Superintendent Atkinson releases her Excellence in Education Plan

Dr. Atkinson knows how to adhere to a schedule and make good on her promises.

And as promised, she has delivered a draft of her plan for the future of DeKalb schools that she is calling "Excellence in Education".

First, as we all know, Dr. Atkinson spent her initial 90 days on the job reaching out to all areas of stakeholders - teachers, parents, administrators, community leaders and school house staff. Then she interviewed and replaced some critical top level staff members. Now she is turning her attention directly on results for students.

I really like her 5 Guiding Principles:

No. 1......... Students Come First.
Student achievement is our business and must be the central theme in all initiatives.
No. 2..........Every school must believe that parents are our partners.
It is the School System’s responsibility to include and value parent and guardian input into their children's education and school.
No. 3..........Leadership and accountability at all levels are key to success.
Every classroom, every school and central office department must have a strong leader.
No. 4..........We are not alone in this endeavor.
It takes the entire community to ensure the success of the district, and we must tap into the knowledge, skills, and support they can offer to assist in providing a quality education for all students.
No. 5..........Victory is in the classroom.
Daily teaching and learning is where the battle for improvement in student achievement is fought.

She then informs us:

With the information from the listening and learning sessions and guiding principles established, the next and final phase of the entry plan was to develop and present to the Board of Education and community the "Excellence for Education Plan ‐ 2017.” This is the explicit and tactical strategy to improve the achievement of all students and improve internal operations, reporting and accountability systems.

The "Excellence for Education Plan 2017" has also been designed to actualize and prioritize the levers necessary to deliver a balanced scorecard and an aligned management system that reiterates and executes our core values and mission.

This "Excellence for Education Plan ‐ 2017" will become the district’s essential and critical guiding document for continuous improvement.

Click here to read the plan in its draft form and prepare to give Dr. Atkinson relevant feedback. Do what you can to advance her stated goals. It will take all of us to turn this ship of schools around!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Smokey Bait and Switch Arising at Smoke Rise?

The photos of the playground equipment above were sent to Kaboom in order to get a $15,000 grant.

Monday night the Smoke Rise Charter Elementary (SRCE) School Principal and Governance Council called a special meeting and demanded that the Smoke Rise Elementary Foundation (SREF), a separate fundraising entity, provide them unlimited access to nearly $45,000 in funds previously raised by parents and the community over the last 3 years for the specific purpose of replacing the current dangerous playground equipment. The Principal and Governance Council want to cancel the previously approved playground upgrade project. The administrators are wanting carte blanc use of the money that had been designated for the playground; including to pay an additional salary to a current full-time Dekalb County School System employee whose children attend the school.

In addition, last spring, SREF volunteers applied for and received a renowned KaBOOM!® $15,000 grant ( to match funds already raised for the playground. After previously approving the playground purchase, the Principal and Council at SRE suggest to just “walk away” from this generous grant. Nearly every fundraising event that has occurred over the last 3 years was advertised specifically as going to fund a new playground for the school children and local community. The $45,000 includes funds that were collected via a website established explicitly to collect funds for a new playground ( and to show issues with the current playground equipment built in 1969 and 1980’s.

The mission of the SREF ( is to continually improve the educational experience at Smoke Rise Charter School by creating sustainable business and community partnerships that provide financial and other resources. SREF was established years before the existence of the SRE Governance Council and without regards to the Council. The Council believes SREF is forced to do as it says.

Parents who donated for the expressed cause of building a new playground for their children are outraged that their money appears to have been donated under false pretenses.

Please contact current Foundation members for more information: Monti Staton 678-467-6996 or Karen Weitzel 770-906-2477.

Click here to link to the photo album directly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Budget decisions can sometimes return to haunt

It may be time to pay that piper.

Read this article by Ty Tagami at the AJC:

Suit could cost DeKalb millions

The school system in DeKalb County experienced a setback in a lawsuit brought by employees that could someday cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, yet a top official says he’s unaware of plans to set money aside in case the county is forced to pay.

Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger ruled in October against DeKalb’s claim that it was immune to a lawsuit over suspended payments to a supplemental retirement fund for teachers, bus drivers and other employees.

The case is on appeal, with hearings scheduled for April. If the school system loses the appeal, the lawsuit will continue in the DeKalb court system. So far, the case involves only two plaintiffs, but they are seeking class action status. If it is granted and if the county loses the case, taxpayers could be compelled to make back payments to the thousands of employees in the retirement plan.

The school system had been paying into the plan since 1979, but suspended payments in 2009 because of a budget shortfall. A teacher and a school counselor sued last March, charging the suspension was a breach of contract. They are demanding the restoration of all payments for three years and counting. It’s unclear how much the total could be.

The only calculation available in the court record is for the 2009-10 school year, when DeKalb was scheduled to pay $26.5 million into the tax-sheltered annuity plan.

Assuming the annual contribution — about 6 percent of each employee’s pay — didn’t change much, the total could exceed $50 million, said John Salter, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Yet school board Chairman Eugene Walker said he knows of no plan to save money for the possibility of a payout.

That's the word from the former finance chair who is now our board chair.

Click this link to read the rest...