Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good News for Atlanta

According to a recent article in the AJC, "A new study ranks Atlanta the fifth-most literate major American city, up from sixth last year and eighth the year before. ...

Seattle came in first, followed by Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Rounding out the top 10 were Portland, St. Paul, Boston, Cincinnati and Denver.

Seattle has finished in the top two for five straight years.

Central Connecticut State University graded cities of 250,000 residents or more in several categories, including educational level, Internet resources, number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and local publications."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

May you find beauty and peace in this holiday season and prosperity and happiness in the new year.

Thanks so much for participating in our lively discussions here at the blog. We appreciate your thoughtful insight and look forward to more great chats in 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

10 Resolutions That Show Your Kids You Care:

This list comes to us from the website,

These suggestions are geared mainly toward parenting teenagers and serve to keep those lines of trust, communication and love open as our teens navigate this very interesting passage of life.

  1. Teach your children to trust you by seeing you as a role model.
  2. Be patient, not just tolerant. Apologize when you make a mistake or do something you regret.
  3. Ask teens what they need from you – and do whatever you can to meet those needs.
  4. Listen to your teens, a lot. Avoid interrupting.
  5. Teach your children about ethics, values and principles they can apply in choices and decision making.
  6. Help them discover the feeling of gratitude, not just to say thank you.
  7. Keep the promises you make. If you do not keep your word, acknowledge that. Help your teen understand the circumstances or choices that precipitated the change in your plans.
  8. Answer your teen’s questions and be consistent. When you notice behavioral changes in them, make yourself available and encourage them to talk about what is going on in their life.
  9. Be understanding when they have a difficult time and let them know you will love them no matter what.
  10. Be diligent. Have ongoing conversations with your kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Schools “Transparency” Bill Offered After School System’s Year from Hell

By Tom Doolittle

The DeKalb County School System has had a tough year—certainly with its administration in the media. Regional print journals and television news have covered Superintendent Crawford Lewis’ under-market surplus car purchase, bullied student Jaheem Harrera’s suicide and $400,000 investigation payment to a former judge, a state-level review of scholastic testing fraud, the condition of Cross Keys High School, school board member Eugene Walker’s influence in a tax abatement case and recently and a GBI investigation involving a high level school administrative official (Pat Pope) in charge of over $200 million in SPLOST 1 and 2 capital projects. These issues all have at least one thing in common: they involve expenses and effort having little to do with educating students.

At least two of these matters, the Pope and Walker cases are related to a question of undue influence stemming from conflicts of interest. In turn, relating to employee hiring ethics, the DeKalb School Watch blog has highlighted the names of nearly a dozen highly paid school administrative executives who have family members in positions to have influenced their being hired. The blog has also pulled the number of administrative positions that pay over $100,000 a year from state Department of Education records, some for non-teaching positions initiated this year as tax revenues have plummeted.

All of these issues might at least partly explain why Georgia House Representative Kevin Levitas (D-Northlake/Tucker) has authored "The DeKalb School Board Transparency Act" which among other things would regulate conflicts of interest among school board members and DCSS employees. When asked about the process for the local legislation’s passage, Levitas e-mailed, “I think that we need to pass this bill as quickly as possible… to install a much-needed check in the system...”

The school system has no specific ethics code while the county government’s rules, legislated and passed by public referendum in 1990, do not apply to DCSS. After Levitas made his state legislative proposal public, the school board proposed its own ethics code. A vote to implement the DCSS policy was deferred at the last open school board meeting, to the dismay of at least one member, District 4’s Paul Womack. Womack said, “Either the board passes policy that is strong or stronger (than Levitas’ bill) or I will actively support his proposal.” With regard to the school board’s failure to vote last week, Womack mused, “It’s a mystery to me why anyone would oppose it.” Board members Walker, Roberts, Redovian, Copeland-Wood and Cunningham voted to defer the item.

Levitas e-mailed that he had not seen the school board’s rules draft, so he had no comment about it. The legislative bill, as currently crafted is ten (10) pages versus a three-page DCSS draft “policy”. One fundamental difference is that Levitas’ 10-page bill governs employees as well as school board members, in fundamentally stark contrast to the school board proposal which in part, seeks specifically to stay out of the administration’s business. Levitas stated, “I think it is important that neither DCSS employees and administrators nor elected officials have a conflict (potential or actual) regarding their exercise of their respective duties.” Regarding employees, many of Lavitas’ stipulations would have an impact on cases such as the highly-publicized Pat Pope investigation. For example, employees could not, “Engage in or accept private employment … for private interests when such employment or service is incompatible with the proper discharge of such person's official duties or would tend to impair his or her independence of judgment or action in the performance of his or her official duties.”

Not all prohibitions in Levitas’ legislation would necessarily be judged by an ethics commission. For most “business” conflicts, the law’s emphasis is on “transparency” or disclosure, stating, “Any board member who has a financial interest in any contract or matter pending before the board shall disclose such interest (in board records).” A board member’s or employee’s business or familial relationship, sometimes framed as “cronyism” and “nepotism”, is then advertised to the public, and subjected to discussion in a school board meeting after a 45-day public review period. In essence, if undue influence is deemed to exist by the school board, a contract or purchase is killed and punishment or sanction is not at issue—there is no role for an ethics body in such cases.

However, one type of conflict of interest is directly prohibited by Levitas, without any involvement by school board or ethics commission. In what the state representative termed as an “inherent” conflict at a recent public forum at Henderson Middle School, school board members would be prohibited from holding other public appointments or elective offices. If the regulation had already been in place when he was elected to the school board this year, Dr. Eugene Walker would have been forced to resign a position on the DeKalb Development Authority which he had held for several years. Walker resigned by choice after a public uproar when the finance authority proposed a tax abatement for the Sembler Company’s Town Brookhaven project, an action that would have reduced school system tax revenue. Sembler and individuals associated with the company had earlier made financial contributions to Walker’s school board candidacy.

Of course, as in all appointed commissions, public satisfaction is primarily dependent on the members chosen and the public’s trust in what interest they serve. In Levitas’ bill, the DeKalb Legislative Delegation chooses the commission members. An interesting twist in the proposal is the Delegation has the option of requiring that all members be from outside of DeKalb County.

Levitas said he expects the county-wide legislative Delegation to support the proposal because, “I have had very positive feedback from people across the county and hope that they will express their support to their respective legislators.”


Tom Doolittle is a 16-year resident of the Northlake area, was a columnist for former Community Review newspaper and now distributes news to several local blogs and websites. The writer has two children who have attended Lakeside High School.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2008-09 Georgia School Report Cards Now Available

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement has released the public school report cards for the 2008-09 school year. These online report cards are designed to give parents and the community insight into a variety of public school characteristics, such as test scores, graduation rates and school demographics.

To see how DeKalb and your school performed visit this link at the Georgia DOE.

U.S. schools chief stops in Atlanta on 'listening and learning' tour

As reported in today's AJC, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stopped here as part of his “listening and learning” tour undertaken in anticipation of an effort next year to reauthorize the nation's education law.

Duncan repeatedly stressed Monday the "competitive" spirit he wanted to see in schools moving forward. He noted the administration's new "Race to the Top" program, in which roughly $5 billion in competitively awarded grants will be available to schools willing to raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and allow more innovation. He said he supported ongoing work to develop common national academic standards in English, language arts and mathematics for grades k-12. Georgia is among 48 states that have signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Drafts of those standards are expected to be made public sometime next year.

Duncan also spoke encouragingly about some school choice efforts, particularly charter schools. His first stop Monday was at Tech High School, an independent charter high school in Atlanta that has a 97 percent graduation rate. The city system's average rate is 69 percent. He also toured the city's Grady High School in Midtown and attended a discussion about a White House initiative to prevent youth violence.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crawford Lewis Demands a Higher Salary (or to paraphrase "Hey BOE, I want Mine...Now!")

This is beyond comprehension, beyond belief. No STEP increases for teachers, bus drivers get a 29% pay cut, and facilities like Cross Keys are literally falling apart but Superintendent Crawford Lewis says about his salary: '“I am going backwards,” Lewis said Wednesday. “I can’t continue doing this. I am not a rookie anymore.”.

He intentionally forgets to mention that DCSS enrollment has shrunk since he's been superintendent (and that there would be between 1,000 to 2,000 less DCSS students is he and Ron Ramsey ever seriously investigated residency).

Simply unbelievable. He has worked for DCSS for 36 years, will retire with an awesome pension, and has been part of the DCSS decision-making inner circle for much of that time. He has substantially increased the amount of non-classroom related administrators, almost all of whom make well over $100,o00 per year. All that is asked for of these administrators is their blind loyalty to him, not our student bobdy.

This is equally offensive as his ridiculous memo supporting convicted criminal.CRCT test cheater James Berry and the soon to be convicted asst. principal, the low point of his tenure as superintendent.

Check out this article at CrossRoads News.

Earlier this year when DeKalb Schools’ highest paid employees – those making more than $100,000 a year – took a two percent pay cut, Superintendent Crawford Lewis voluntarily took a 2 percent cut even though his contract didn’t require it.

When teachers lost their step increase, Lewis gave up his $10,000 cost of living increase that should have kicked in July 1; and when he met his goals and earned a $22,000 bonus, he only took half of it.

“I felt that if the people I lead have to give up something, let me demonstrate my leadership by joining them,” Lewis said.

The DeKalb School Board, which employs Lewis, is now negotiating his contract amidst shrinking revenues and lots of belt-tightening brought on the economic recession.

At its Dec. 7 meeting, David Schutten, president of the teacher’s union, Organization of DeKalb Educators, signaled to the board that there would be rumblings in the ranks if board members increased Lewis’s pay or benefits while teachers and bus drivers are preparing for more cuts.

“It would send a terrible message to everybody in this county,” he said. “This would create a crisis of confidence beyond anything we have ever seen in the school system.” Schutten said people are under stress and morale is at an all-time low.

“I hope that you are acting in good faith and have the best interest of all employees,” he said. “Think about the message you are sending to the people on the front lines in the school system that have taken cut after cut after cut and are getting ready to take more cuts.”

Lewis, who completed his fifth year as superintendent in October, leads the state’s third-largest school district, behind Gwinnett and Cobb counties.

Board members and Lewis say that he voluntarily gave up $29,000 in pay and bonuses in the last two years out of solidarity with employees and teachers who had to take salary reductions.

When those reductions are factored in, Lewis’ $255,924 package of pay and travel benefits, is really $226,924, which moves him from the third highest paid superientendent to sixth place behind Fulton County’s Cynthia Low, who manages a district with 89,000 students.

Even Clayton County’s superintendent, Edmond Heatley, who has been on the job for five months managing a district that is less than half the size of DeKalb’s makes more – $3,676 – more than Lewis when both men’s package of pay and travel benefits are compared.

“I am going backwards,” Lewis said Wednesday. “I can’t continue doing this. I am not a rookie anymore.”

Board members who completed Lewis’s annual evaluation in October have been meeting behind closed doors about his contract.

Tom Bowen, the board’s chairman, said they should have 2010 goals for Lewis finalized by the end of the month or by January, the latest.

Lewis’ contract, which was extended by a year in March without any financial incentive, now expires October 2011. Bowen said they had to extend it because it is customary for superintendents to have contracts extending 12 to 18 months out.

Lewis said that if it gets to a year and the contract is not extended, superintendents know to start job hunting.

While he had not had any contract discussions with the board, Lewis’s lawyer and board lawyers have spoken.

“They have the eight dimensions I want,” he said.

None of them includes him making less money.

“It’s not reasonable for me to start out with less,” he said. “I am a bargain for this board. I am so underpaid compared to other superintendents.”

Board members are mum on the talks and some expressed surprise at the rumors that Schutten mentioned during his comments at Monday’s board meeting.

“That’s a personnel issue,” said Sarah Copelin-Wood, who represents District 3. “I don’t understand how it gets out in the public arena.”

While she could not comment on the superintendent’s contract discussions, Copelin-Wood said she is a great proponent of the employees and teachers getting a step increase or cost of living raises.

“They have not gotten anything in two years,” she said. They deserve it. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians are the lowest paid employees in the system. I am in support of them getting their step increase or a cost of living increase.”

Dr. Eugene Walker, the District 9 Board member, said the rumors mentioned by Schutten have no merit.

“I can’t speak for any other board members, but it is inconceivable to me that we would give our superintendent a raise and our teachers have not had a step increase and we have cut bus drivers’ pay by 29 percent,” he said. “This is one board member who would not be party to it. Before we can consider any increase for the superintendent, we would have to increase those making the least amount of money first.”

District 4 board member H.Paul Womack Jr. would not say whether an increase was on the table for Lewis, but he noted that even Clayton County pays its superintendent more than DeKalb pays Lewis.

He said Lewis has performed “admirably and has done an outstanding job.”

“He has brought the school system forward on a lot of high goals,” Womack said. “If we were to lose Dr. Lewis, it would cost us $300,000 easily to replace him.”

Womack, who led a $5.2 billion a year company before he retired, said Lewis would measure up in any company in which he worked.

“Dr. Lewis is worth more than we are paying him,” Womack said. “He sets high goals and he passed every one of them. This community is damn lucky we have Dr. Lewis.”

Lewis, who worked 32 years with the school system before he became superintendent, says he would like to finish his career with DeKalb Schools but he acknowledged that he is being courted regularly by other school systems across the county.

“I believe I can make a difference,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean I am going to continue falling behind.”

The AJC Brings Us a Clue!

'Tis a busy day for DCSS for a Sunday. The AJC has treated us to a very well researched and organized investigative report by Tim Eberly on the Pat Pope/DCSS SPLOST construction situation. I strongly suggest that everyone reads this article - it will definitely bring you up to speed. Eberly has done a remarkable job of investigating and retelling this story.

Click here to read the whole article.

End of Year CIP Released

One of our regular bloggers gave us the heads up that the latest CIP report has finally been posted at the DCSS website. Right out of the starting gate, I have to wonder where on earth the cover photo was taken - does anyone recognize that school? I will say, however, that the other page layouts are very well done, organized and informative. And the pictures are of the actual schools.

(UPDATE: this is definitely a stock photo. Here is the link to the stock house version. This is a photo of a classroom in a German university. We do not have a building that looks like this in any way, shape or form.)

Highlights include:

This month’s featured project is the Lakeside High School Additions, Renovations and Modifications project. The Project includes the phased construction of Additions, Renovations and Modifications to Lakeside High School. The Project Scope of Work includes significant site modifications and improvements including, but not limited to, extension of entrance drive, faculty parking area modifications, student parking redevelopment, tennis courts, football field and running track, underground storm water detention, and site utilities. The Project Scope of Work includes three additions to the existing facility; a Fine Arts Addition, a two story Classroom Addition, and a Kitchen Addition. The Fine Arts Addition includes a 600 seat Auditorium and instructional space for Band, Orchestra, Choral, and two Art Rooms. The two story Classroom Addition provides space for 24 classrooms, which includes a Professional Foods Lab / Kitchen, 6 Science Labs, and an Engineering Technology Lab. The Project Scope of Work also includes renovations and modifications to the existing two story facility. Work in the existing facility includes major renovations to the existing Kitchen, Locker Rooms, Toilets, Administration, and Classrooms. The minor renovations include Media Center, Cafeteria, Corridors, and Classrooms. The designer, Manley Spangler Smith, has completed the 50% Construction Documents, and the 100% Construction Documents are projected for January 2010. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2010.

Columbia HS - Scope includes a Fine Arts building addition, resurfacing of the track, restoring the baseball dugouts, regrading the football field and miscellaneous renovations inside the existing buildings, which includes HVAC, ceiling and lighting improvements.

McNair HS - The scope of work for this project includes a new handicapped ramp at the performing arts building and improvements at the sports fields, including goalposts and new dugouts at the baseball field and regarding/re-sod the football field. The tennis courts will receive a new surface and new netting. New storage buildings for football and baseball will be constructed. Repaving, curb repair and new sidewalks, stairs, and ADA ramps will be installed.

Cross Keys HS - This project includes renovation and upgrades to HVAC, ceilings, lighting, and electrical systems. Also included is a 15,000 SF expansion to a classroom wing to accommodate the relocation of Dekalb High School of Technology North and re-roofing of the existing building.

Tucker HS - The new facility will be built in two phases around the existing school. Phase 1 includes a two story building fronting LaVista Road which will house academic classrooms and the 9th Grade Academy. Additionally, a four story general classroom wing with administrative offices and a media center and a three story parking deck will be constructed. Phase 2 consists of the Career Technology Labs, Auditorium, Fine Arts and Gymnasium facilities. Site work for the new fields will also be completed in this phase.

Woodward ES - The scope consists of HVAC, ceiling and lighting replacement. The multipurpose/gym building is not included in this scope (other than new fire alarm system) because it is a relatively new addition to the facility.

Stone Mt. HS - The scope includes the replacement of the HVAC system, interior lighting system, fire alarm system, and ceilings. The roof will also be replaced and a new emergency generator will be installed.

Redan HS - The scope consists of technology addition, HVAC, ceiling, and lighting replacement, ADA upgrades, and roof replacement. The existing facility is approximately 173,900 sf, and the addition is approximately 6,500 sf.

Cedar Grove HS - The scope of this contract consists of HVAC, ceiling and lighting replacement, as well as roof replacement and addition of an emergency generator at this 177,700 sf facility.

Druid Hills HS - This project includes renovation and upgrades to HVAC, ceilings, lighting, and electrical systems. A 31,000 SF, two-story science classroom addition is also included.

DSA - The project includes renovation of the third wing at Avondale HS to accommodate the relocation of DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA) and an addition to the existing auditorium. Also included is a renovation to the technology wing to accommodate ROTC and the gym stage to accommodate the band. Four new classrooms were also built for the 9th grade academy.

Sam Moss Center - This scope consists of replacement of the HVAC system, ceilings, and lighting, as well as relocation of partitions. Additional work at the Sam Moss Center includes painting interior walls, ceilings and install flooring in the office and administrative areas of the building.

Towers HS - The scope includes a four (4) Classroom Suite Career Technology addition and bus loop renovation. Existing sq footage is 170,679.

Chamblee HS - Campus Master Plan, ADA Modifications, Auditorium Addition, and a three (3 ea.) Instructional Unit Career Technology Addition; 193,320 square feet in existing building.

Clarkston HS - A building addition of 32,000 SF that includes Career Technology space and a new auditorium. Also included is replacement of HVAC, ceiling and lighting systems in the existing building as well as other facility improvements.

Dunwoody HS - The scope includes HVAC, Lighting and ADA upgrades, Career Technology Renovations and Classroom additions. The existing facility is approximately 170,030 sf and the planned additions are approximately 38,180 sf.

Budget Summary for Active Projects

At its May 2009 meeting, the Board of Education approved the Mid Program Assessment Report which included authorization to add the first five (5) prioritized projects to the current CIP. This approval included adding $47,469,963 to the CIP for Southwest DeKalb High School, Lakeside High School, Cross Keys High School, Technology and Roofing. The approval of the budget allocation to the proper cost codes was approved at the July 2009 Board meeting, therefore, the total of the cumulative budget is $513,469,963.

The Capital Improvement Plan Budget Summary (which follows this narrative) provides an overall financial synopsis of the projects currently in Design and Construction. The total spent to date for all active projects in Design and Construction for the Capital Improvements Plan is $134,868,111.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Charter School Push in On!

It looks like the state is not one bit intimidated by the lawsuit filed by Gwinnett and DeKalb fighting the state's approval of the charter school, "Ivy Prep Academy".

As reported in The Weekly online,

The Georgia Charter Schools Commission announced Thursday that it has recommended five charter petitions for approval.

Charter petitions for the following schools were recommended for approval when the Commission holds its regularly scheduled meeting, Monday, Dec. 14, at 10 a.m.:

· Atlanta Heights Charter School. Originally denied a charter by the Atlanta Public Schools, the proposed school would serve students in grades K-8, and is backed by National Heritage Academies, Inc.

· Fulton Leadership Academy. Originally denied a charter by the Fulton County Public Schools, the proposed school will serve students in grades 6-12, and would be the nation’s first all-boys school with a curriculum based around aeronautics and science.

· The Museum School of Avondale Estates. Originally denied a charter by the DeKalb County Public Schools, it would serve students in grades K-8.

· Pataula Charter Academy would serve students in grades K-8, living in Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Early and Randolph Counties in southwest Georgia.

· Peachtree Hope Charter School. Originally denied by the DeKalb County Public Schools, the proposed school would serve students in grades K-12, and is backed by SABIS Educational Systems, Inc.

I am very happy to see that the Museum School is being supported by the state's commission on charter schools. I was very impressed with the detailed, exciting plans presented by this very hard-working group of parents and educators dedicated to creating an excellent school for their community. Hopefully, DeKalb will support them in their efforts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 2010 U.S.News & World Report Americas Best High Schools

from U.S.News & World Report–

"U.S.News & World Report—
in collaboration with School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education and data research and analysis business that provides parents with education data—analyzed academic and enrollment data from more than 21,000 public high schools to find the very best across the country. These top schools were placed into gold, silver, bronze, or honorable mention categories.

The 2010 U.S.News & World Report Americas Best High Schools methodology, developed by School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor's, is based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all its students well, not just those who are collegebound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the top school in U.S. News & World Report's America's Best High Schools rankings, is designed to challenge students. A course load of offerings that include DNA science, neurology, and quantum physics would seem to be more than enough to meet that goal. But students and the faculty felt those classes weren't enough, so they decided to tackle another big question: What are the social responsibilities of educated people? Over the course of the school year, students are exploring social responsibility through projects of their own design, ranging from getting school supplies for students with cerebral palsy in Shanghai to persuading their classmates to use handkerchiefs to reduce paper waste. The One Question project demonstrates the way "TJ," as it's referred to by students and teachers, encourages the wide-ranging interests of its students.

"None of our students have the same passion," says TJ Principal Evan Glazer. "But having a passion is widely accepted and embraced."

Redan High School in DeKalb was honored with a bronze medal! According to the definition, bronze winners, "either do not offer AP or IB or do not achieve a college readiness index of at least 20 but successfully meet the other two key performance indicator criteria."

In Gwinnett County, Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville and Norcross High School were each awarded silver recognition. Central Gwinnett high school is home to 2,761 students, 64.4% of whom are minorities. The school receives no Title 1 funding and over half their AP students pass the AP final exam.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The December 2009 Board Meeting

Much was discussed at last night's very, very long meeting, presented with a really bad sound system. Had the board not tabled several items, they surely would have gone on until the wee hours.

First, during the public comments portion, there were several speakers requesting a reversal on the board's decision to join Gwinnett County in suing the state of Georgia over its formation of the charter school, Ivy Prep Academy. People are thrilled with this middle school for girls and very sad and angered that the local systems are threatening to take it away. Dr. Lewis stated that he had nothing against the school, just the constitutionality of it's existence. I hope Dr. Lewis is considering the requirements for states to earn "Race to the Top" federal money – apparently Obama and Duncan are big proponents of charter schools and allowing them to exist will help open the flow of those dollars to the state.

Several bus drivers addressed the board regarding the cut-backs they have endured. It seems as though these loyal folks have taken the worst hit of anyone. One lady compared her cut in hours - resulting in a 29% pay cut ($1715/month to $1225/month) - to the 2% pay cut and two day furlough the transportation management has had. This really is a travesty. Our bus drivers are some of our lowest paid people in the system, yet are entrusted with our most precious cargo every day. Dr. Lewis promised to meet with the bus drivers and stated that Dr. Alice Thompson would set up that meeting.

Barbara Colman gave us the CIP update, highlighting several projects still currently in progress - Redan HS, Cross Keys HS, Tucker HS, Stone Mountain HS and Mountain Industrial Center. She presented a Powerpoint overview stating that they are currently working on 97 projects, 59 Local School Priority Requests, 51 ADA projects for a total of $351 million currently being managed. She did say that the new managers have visited several projects only to discover that they had been "under-scoped" - meaning all of the scope necessary for the project was not addressed in the plan. The lack of a replacement weight room at Avondale HS was an example. Ms. Colman will be meeting with the Avondale community tonight and the Cross Keys community tomorrow night to discuss their projects. Hopefully, she will be able to help those communities regain trust in the school system.

All in all, it seems that although expensive, the construction managers have really jumped in and taken charge professionally. Pat Pope's ability to make progress had surely been hampered by the fact that she had been living under a microscope for the past year - it must have been nearly impossible for her to get any work done with the District Attorney and the GBI monitoring her every move. Hopefully these new managers will be given the freedom and autonomy they need to get these projects done at long last.

Jamie Wilson presented a new software program by Gallup for evaluating principals and teachers called "Teacher Insight" and "Principal Insight". This software program appears to be capable of predicting teacher and principal success, based on more or less a personality test which determines their skills, talents and passions. This will help place teachers in the most appropriate positions, and may even result in helping to remove teachers who appear to not actually be well-suited for their job. At a cost of $160,000, which is funded by Title II money, the software will be a bargain if it delivers it's promises.

The board voted to table the resolution to limit the size of the board without much discussion. They also voted to table the proposed ethics policy with Walker angrily moving to table saying, "table it so we don't have to listen to it" and that it was simply in reaction to Kevin Levitas' ethics proposal for the board at the state level. He then publicly dressed down state rep Kevin Levitas for having the audacity to propose such a policy in the legislature, while citing his own legislative background as being much more vast and experienced. Walker's comments always speak for themselves, there's no need for us to say any more. To read about it, visit this article at Atlanta Unfiltered.

Additionally, the board voted to change the bylaws requiring that school councils or some other citizen review panel be allowed to interview a new principal for their school. The bylaw has been changed to only include interviews for principals hired from outside the system–the superintendent can place principals from within the system at his pleasure, without input from the public. They have accomplished this by redefining the word "vacancy" by now stating, "A vacancy occurs in the position of principal when the position is to be filled from applications submitted to the district and not from reassignment of existing personnel."

Other than that, Dr. Lewis tabled the plan to use the Elk's Lodge property for transportation since finding out that the property is in a flood plain. And the calendar issue endured much discussion. The start dates and the way the second semester backs right into a very heavy testing period are at issue. These tests determine AYP status, so ensuring that students are prepared and rested is vital to earning a good score. The calendar issue will prove to become very important as we move into national standards and testing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Monday's Board Meeting - Lots of Issues on the Plate

Check out the link containing the agenda for Monday's upcoming board meeting. There are several very interesting items up for discussion and vote - a true smorgasbord of an agenda.

First, the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Status Report will be presented by Barbara Colman. The document is not yet available on the website, however, I am intensely curious as to what she has to say about the plans for Cross Keys (which is still in limbo, having made virtually no progress).

Next, Jamie Wilson will discuss item F2, Improving Teacher and Principal Selection (Gallup Instrument). Hopefully, the board will also choose to evaluate closely what is written in the proposed policy regarding Local School Councils, "A vacancy occurs in the position of principal when the position is to be filled from applications submitted to the district and not from reassignment of existing personnel." Some are saying that this means School Councils will only be consulted for their opinion of a new principal when that principal is being hired from outside the county. If it's an internal hire, there will be no consulting. True? I don't know, we need clarification.

My favorite - Item G1 - Board Resolution Regarding Size of Board - The Board of Education members serve for four (4) year terms. Five (5) seats have terms ending December 31, 2010, and four (4) seats have terms ending December 31, 2012. The resolution proposes that the Board be reduced by two (2) members prior to January 1, 2013, so that all nine (9) Board Members would be potentially impacted by any reduction of members. Please pass this one, guys!

Item G2 takes the cake - a Proposed Ethics Policy for the board, which will also create an Ethics Committee comprised of residents selected by ---- you guessed it - members of the board. Ironically, none of these citizens is allowed to "hold any elected or appointed office and is not a candidate for any office in the governments of the United States, the State of Georgia, DeKalb County, or any municipality in DeKalb County;" - but the same requirement is not demanded of board members themselves or school administrators. I guess they had their new legal representation (Sutherland, etc) draw up something to make it look like they already have it "under control" so that no one needs to vote for Kevin Levitas' bill - which would be actual GA LAW and would prevent board members from serving on conflicting public offices.

As reported in Atlanta Unfiltered, Item J6, entitled, Supplemental Project Management Services for the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), asks for approval to extend the construction management contract of Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering. It reads, "Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Inc. were approved by the Board of Education and awarded the Supplemental Project Management Services Contract on June 8, 2009. The Master Agreement is based on the services being provided from the effective date June 8, 2009 through December 31, 2012. Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Inc. have provided a cost proposal for the remaining 37-month period of December 12, 2009 through December 31, 2012 in the amount of $14,588,797.00 which represents 3.54% of the remaining CIP construction funds. This percentage is in line with the market industry for construction management. Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Inc. will be responsible for providing project management services as needed on the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the District. Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering Inc. will adjust their personnel based on the District’s needs as the CIP projects are started and completed." This stream of steady build-up of construction services reminds me of a good book called, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".

Item J-13 was brought to our attention by one of our regular bloggers - Change Order on Mountain Industrial Center Tenant Build out Project "In April 2008, the Board of Education approved the award of a Design/Build Contract to Nix-Fowler Constructors, Inc. for the completion of the Mountain Industrial Center project. A change order will be issued to Nix - Fowler Constructors, Inc. for $ 568,792 for two (2) new emergency generators and associated transfer switches, controls, panels, conduit, wire and all other required materials and accessories for the additional scope of work to relocate the Administrative Offices." Just curious why no one thought about this before.

There is also a proposal to adopt next year's calendar, requests for approval of a variety of roof replacements along with several other miscellaneous items.

Plan to attend the meeting on Monday, December 7 at 6:00 pm at the District Offices. Or - be "green", avoid the traffic, pour yourself a nice glass of Chardonnay and enjoy the live broadcast from the comfort of your own living room on PDS Comcast Channel 24.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving from the Indians

I take the role of this blog very seriously. I believe it has become an indispensible forum for information sharing about our public system. I am thankful that its founder, Cerebration, took the initiative to launch it and to continue to be the lead contributor and moderator - no small task!

Because Cross Keys HS happens to be in the middle (ok, the beginning still, really!) of its SPLOST III project, it happens to get a lot of attention in our threads. This attention has also brought supporters from outside of our attendance area and I write today to say a heart-felt thank you bloggers and readers on behalf of the CKHS students.

Some of you answered my recent call for donations to help me sponsor CKHS Cross Country runners for the Atlanta 1/2 Marathon this Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to your generosity, the idea conceived by DeKalb County Police Officer Josh Fritz of ICP came to fruition in less than 10 days.

Literally, our runners have never had this kind of opportunity before. I can tell they were over-the-moon excited and that they all finished the race ... a few rather high up in the results. The top 2 boys finished in the top 3% - both reached Turner Field ahead of over 8,000 other runners. Wow! These guys are good!

In short, to those that supported these young people with your dollars, you have contributed to a milestone experience for them - thank you! To those of you who continue to support efforts on behalf of the school, your good will and good words are hard currency for our kids! It has made an enormous difference to the students and the faculty to finally hear their school recognized rather than ostracized.

But I go on too long ... let this pre-race photo tell the story and show our thanks!

-Kim Gokce, CKHS School Council, Cross Keys Foundation, HillsDale Neighborhood Association, Brookhaven Community Connection

P.S. Be sure to tune in to PDS-24 this Monday - the BoE will be recognizing our State Champ, Leonel Ayala. Mr. Ayala finished the 13.1 mi Half Marathon in 1 hr 32 min 59 sec.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Heery/Mitchell Backstory

I'm going to create a thread that only discusses and links items about the Pat Pope, DCSS, Heery/Mitchell construction case. The trial is scheduled to begin in March, so there should be plenty to report in the coming months. We will provide links to stories as they become available in this post. Stay tuned!

This story was first brought to our attention just about one year ago, when Dr. Lewis suddenly decided to ask the DeKalb District Attorney to investigate the office of Pat Pope (COO and head of construction for DeKalb schools). Basically, one day seemingly out of the blue last December, the DeKalb County DA stormed Pope’s office and confiscated her computers along with other work items. Dr. Lewis, who asked for the investigation, said he would reveal results in one week. Months later, we were told that the DA was very busy and the results would not be available until May.

This small story was mentioned two months later in the Community Briefs in the Metro Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009.

The results finally of the allegations of irregularities with DeKalb County School’s construction contracts, in Pat Pope’s office, have finally been forwarded, to the district attorney’s office. The school system forwarded this review to the district attorney’s office and requested that “a few things” to be looked into, to make sure a criminal investigation was not necessary. The school system would not cite specifics because the investigation was still open and ongoing.

A month later, the AJC reported the following,

Probe into school construction contracts continues

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It may be at least May before we learn the results of an internal review into allegations of irregularities with DeKalb County school construction contracts, according to a spokeswoman with the district attorney’s office.

The school system forwarded the review to the D.A., asking that a few things be looked into and whether a criminal investigation was warranted.

An investigator in the district attorney’s office is juggling the schools review along with several other cases, said D.A. spokeswoman Jada Hudspeth, and it may take until May to complete them all.

Hudspeth declined to give specifics about the schools review. It involves the office of Patricia Pope, the school system’s chief operating officer. In December, school system police officers and information systems employees examined records from Pope’s office.

Then all was fairly quiet, until one day in October, when Atlanta Unfiltered published an update on the situation. This was the first time that the public heard the "little investigation" was actually "complex and enormous". We created a discussion thread at the time called "The Pat Pope Debacle".

DA: DeKalb school construction probe ‘complex & enormous’
Atlanta Unfiltered
October 5, 2009
In March, the DA’s office said the investigation might not be completed for a couple months. ...Seven months later … “The case is complex and enormous in scope which is resulting in an extended investigation. We will share our findings when we complete the investigation,” Keyes-Fleming said Friday in a e-mailed statement in response to Atlanta Unfiltered’s questions.

October 14th, Ella reported that the GBI will now assist the DA with the investigation.

Then, on October 22, Kim reported (from a highly reliable source) that Pope had been "relieved of her duties". Everyone assumed that meant fired, but we later discovered that it only meant they were going to hire a team of consultants to replace her while she served out her contract in a barren office at another location.

On November 3, during the school board meeting, Fox 5 News reported on the construction management change. Of course, this was not discussed at the board meeting at all.

Recently, on November 16, Atlanta Unfiltered reported,
DeKalb construction probe complicates multimillion-dollar suit on cost overruns

DeKalb County schools’ multimillion-dollar damage suit over construction cost overruns may be undermined by a criminal probe of school contracts.
The school district has been locked in a court struggle nearing epic proportions since it suspended its construction management firm, Heery/Mitchell, in 2006. What began with the contractor’s claim for roughly $500,000 for unpaid invoices has escalated to the point that DeKalb, in a counterclaim, seeks damages of up to $125 million for mismanagement. The file for the court case is more than five feet thick.

This week, The Champion published a story about Heery/Mitchell requesting copies of the seized documents.

Construction firm wants access to seized school district documents
Written By: Jonathan Cribbs

A years-long lawsuit between the DeKalb County School System and a construction firm became more complicated this month after the company demanded access to documents seized by investigators last month in a separate probe.

Heery/Mitchell, a management firm that formerly worked for DeKalb schools, believes it was removed from the district’s SPLOST II and SPLOST III construction programs in 2006 so the district’s chief operations officer, Pat Pope, could take over the projects. Pope’s office has been the subject of a county investigation into contracting irregularities, and investigators seized documents from a district building in Tucker where she works on Oct. 13. The office of her husband, Anthony Pope, an architect who has designed several county schools, was also searched.

The school system booted Heery/Mitchell, citing cost overruns at several projects, including McNair and Henderson Mill elementary schools, Arabia Mountain and Columbia high schools and the Mountain Industrial Center. When Heery/Mitchell sued, looking for owed payments, the school system filed counterclaims, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.

In court documents filed earlier this month, Heery/Mitchell attorneys said they need to see the documents investigators seized because they contain evidence.

Stay tuned and please add information in the comments as it becomes available.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Tim Redovian Memorial Fund Annual Night at the Theatre and Silent Auction

One of our own board members, Jim Redovian and his wife Sherrill, are again hosting an annual fundraiser in memory of their son Tim and benefitting students of the arts. The Redovians are incredibly generous with the funds they raise and have given numerous scholarships to DeKalb county students who plan to study the arts in college. Below are highlights - please visit Heneghan's Dunwoody blog for more info.

The Tim Redovian Memorial Fund, presents the 8th Annual Night at the Theater, Holiday Boutique and Silent Auction at a special benefit performance of  the "G.I. Holiday Jukebox" performed by the Dunwoody Stage Door Players. Make your reservations soon (678-488-6929) as you don't want to miss this exciting evening! Show time is 8:00 p.m with final bidding on auction items during the intermission. After the performance ends you will take home the items you won, plus wonderful memories of another enjoyable evening at a TRMF fundraiser!

Wednesday, December 9th
Stage Door Players
5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338
Bidding and dinner begin at 6:30 pm
The G.I. Holiday Jukebox starts at 8:00 pm

Tickets are $35.00 and dinner is included
For information and to make reservations: 678-488-6929
or go to for more information.

Seating is limited so please make your reservations early.

The Race to the Top

We have discussed President Obama's education initiative called "The Race to the Top" before. "The Race" is "a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real reform." States must submit proposals for the competition by mid-January. I stumbled upon this recent opinion column in the Wall Street Journal online by Harold E. Ford Jr., Louis V. Gerstner Jr., and Eli Broad. Please click the link to read the whole column, however I will pull out a few key paragraphs that caught my eye and made me wonder how Georgia and DeKalb schools will fare in this competition.

...President Barack Obama has launched "Race to the Top," a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real reform. This program offers us an opportunity to finally move the ball forward.

To that end Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pushing states toward meaningful change. Mr. Duncan has even stumped for reform alongside former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet the administration must continue to hang tough on two critical issues: performance standards and competition. ...

Race to the Top funds will not serve their purpose if they are awarded based on good intentions and promises. Instead, the administration is right to look at results. Has a state embraced rigorous standards? Has it welcomed charter schools? Has it turned around low-performing schools and held teachers accountable? ...

If the administration were to simply spread the funds around, Race to the Top would end up supporting incremental, not transformational, change. The time is right for bold, comprehensive reform—even if only in a handful of states. This is why it is important to consider a state's record. Is the governor a true change agent, someone who is willing to withstand pressure in order to implement difficult reforms? If so, it may be right to award funding to his state. ...

For decades, adult interests have been at the forefront of public education. Reform has been derailed by adults who wanted to protect the status quo and enjoy lifelong benefits. This time the focus will be on learning in the classroom. What's important is that the administration is demanding that every child receive an education that prepares him or her for college or for work. Without that we will continue to be sidetracked by insignificant issues.


For more enlightenment on the "Race to the Top" and the history of educational reforms, please watch this PBS "News Hour" report from Jim Lehrer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kevin Levitas promoting ethics on the school board

With sincere apologies to John Heneghan, Kevin Levitas is my new hero! As reported in this week's edition of The Champion, Kevin, a state house representative from District 82 in DeKalb, has introduced some important legislation that will impact our school board and certainly our schools. Called "The DeKalb School Board Transparency Act", the legislation would subject our board members to an ethics commission designed to prevent conflicts of interest such as the one Gene Walker had this past year which sparked a lawsuit against him and the Authority filed by the Board of Education.

Walker, while serving as the chair of the DeKalb Development Authority, used over $21,000 in campaign contributions from the Sembler Company to win a seat on the DeKalb County Board of Education. Ironically, he did this at a time when the school board was discussing whether or not to endorse a Development Authority planned $51 million tax abatement for the Sembler Company. This action, seen as a huge conflict of interest by many voters, was the pivot point for finally bringing an ethics law for the board to the fore.

Walker vehemently defended his two positions, but eventually resigned from the Development Authority. He is quoted in an earlier interview with The Champion as saying, “It’s a dead issue with me.”

Now, in the recent interview with The Champion (linked at the top of this article) Gene has tried to minimize and brush the proposed legislation aside, calling it "frivolous".

"Walker said he has never spoken to Levitas about the legislation and called the lawmaker’s efforts “frivolous.” Walker has said he resigned from the authority because he and other authority members felt he had become a distraction. Walker said he did nothing illegal or wrong and disclosed contributions he received from Sembler.

“Every contribution I receive I report on a financial disclosure statement, and universally, every place, transparency or full disclosure is the anecdote for the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he said. “There’s much more important things [Levitas] should be working on.”

As has been reported at Atlanta Unfiltered, although Gene Walker did disclose the Sembler $21,000 campaign contribution, he only did so two days after winning his seat on the school board in a runoff. When questioned about the delay in reporting, he is quoted in the article as saying, “I was trying to win. My time was better invested in shaking hands than in filling out forms.” Georgia law requires candidates to report contributions promptly so voters have access to that information before casting their ballots.

Laws such as this one posed by Levitas are vital in order to give power to the people - where it belongs. We simply have to be certain that our representatives are looking out for the needs of the people - especially when our children are concerned.

Kevin has to pre-file this legislation and garner enough support at the State to make it law. Please, contact your local DeKalb legislator and let him or her know that you want this law passed. If you are not certain who your elected officials are, click here and you'll be given all of them, from Obama to your state rep.

Thank you Kevin!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Audacity is Astounding!

As if spending a million dollars on computers for the board and administration in the NEW Mountain Industrial Center offices wasn't enough - now this memo was sent out to DCSS employees -




To: All DeKalb Employees

From: Shannon Williams Assistant Director of Staff and Student Health and Wellness

Through: Mrs. Gloria Talley, Deputy Superintendent, Teaching and Learning

Subject: Wellness Center - Opening

Date: 23 November 2009

DCSS Employee Wellness Center

The Wellness Center is FREE for all employees.

You must present your DCSS employee ID badge upon entering the facility. Please bring a towel and water bottle for your workout.

Opening December 1st

Hours: 3:30 pm - 8:00 pm Monday - Friday

The Wellness Center is equipped with the following:

• 1/2 court basketball

• Weight room

• Cybex select machines

• Free weights

• Cardio room

• 5 treadmills

• 4 elliptical trainers

• 4 stationary bicycles

• Training Equipment

• Medicine balls

• Resistance Bands

• Aerobic steps

• Exercise balls

Although there will be staff member available for basic questions concerning equipment use, we do not have certified trainers to assist with individualized programming at this time.

Free group exercise classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 5:30 and 6:30!

The Wellness Center is located at the following address:

Mountain Industrial Center

1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard

Stone Mountain, GA 30083

(please drive to the back of the building and look for the signs).

If you have any questions, please contact Shannon Williams via First Class

or 6-0142.


We all know who this facility was built for. Not the teachers of DeKalb County. I would really love to know where they got the money for all the equipment (I'll bet there'll be another furlough day coming up). I would love to see a sign in list each month to see who really is using the equipment. This is very - VERY upsetting to those of us who scratch and bite to get any kind of equipment for STUDENTS in our schools and have witnessed the decrepit old crap they have to use at Cross Keys, Lakeside and others. Or how about the athletes at Avondale who are working out in a trailer - or in the grass outside the back door? Excuse me while I go have a good cry.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Graduation for All Act of 2009

Introduced yesterday by House Democrats, the Graduation for All Act of 2009 would create a $2 billion grant program from middle and high school turnarounds. While the details are still vague, the website of the Committee on Education and Labor pushes the idea of school turnarounds by allowing a school district to choose from a "Model of Success" list, ranging from "transformation to restarting the school as a charter."

The rationale begins, "The high school dropout crisis poses one of the greatest threats to our nation’s economic growth and competitiveness. Each day 7,000 U.S. students drop out of high school. More than half of all students who drop out are from the so-called “dropout factories” – the 2,000 high schools with dropout rates above 40 percent. Many of these students come from a struggling middle school. President Obama has challenged Congress and the American people to take action by asking every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or training. This will require addressing our nation’s dropout crisis and dramatically improving graduation rates."

According to the press release, “The dropout rate has reached epic proportions in minority communities,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL). “Only 48% of African American males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school. The social, economic and human costs are horrific. This bill will meaningfully advance efforts to identify and help individual youth at risk for dropping out early on and we know that early identification and intervention significantly reduces the dropout rate and significantly increases the graduation rate.”

The legislation also will help prepare students for college and careers by requiring schools to provide them with their financial aid options and other college-related information. This bill includes $150 million for Early College and dual enrollment programs to allow students to earn up to two years of college credit at no cost to the student, which would help decrease the overall cost of college for these students.

Healthier Food in Our School Cafeterias - It's Not That Hard

As parents and taxpayers, we pay property taxes to fund the school system. Much of the funding goes to high paid administrators at the Central Office, too much. Despite an overly bloated number of well paid administrators, we do not have "best in class" programs in our schools. Superintendent Crawford Lewis decided to make up a new "Executive Director of Corporate Wellness" position at a high salary and assign it to a former principal with no background in public health. That's great for the new executive director, but it does nothing for students. (Not to mention, we already had a very highly qualified Director of Wellness in the same department, who does have advanced degrees in public health).

School lunch and nutrition is an area where DCSS has to improve. School systems across the country have realized that fresh, healthy food makes a difference for student achievement and student behavior. The CDC and the Emory School of Public Health are right here in our own county, yet there is no real relationship between them and the public school system.

Demand change of your Board of Education members, and demand that administrators perform and achieve at a higher level, without always asking for higher budgets. It's time for a change and school lunch and nutrition is one of the places to start!

Better School Food

We are Better School Food and we're asking to you to join us. Consider this:
  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are responsible for two-thirds of deaths in the U.S. The major risk factors for these diseases are often established in childhood.
  • One quarter of children ages 5 to 10 years show early warning signs for heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes can no longer be called "adult onset" because of rising rates in children.
  • Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades. One in seven young people are obese, and one in three are overweight.
  • From 1979 to 1999, annual hospital costs for treating obesity-related illnesses in children rose threefold (from $35 million to $127 million).

But don't just think of statistics. Think of the child you know who represents those numbers. Children's health is a public health issue and we need to act now.

Better school food must be provided to every school-age child. Whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables are necessary to build and sustain healthy bodies and brains, which support strong physical and mental health. Unhealthy ingredients must be permanently removed from our schools and the daily diets of our children in order to reverse the damage already done. The resources spent treating chronic diseases strain on our health care system. We can pay now, or pay later.

Oakland, Calif.-based Revolution Foods thinks it might have a solution. The four-year-old company turns out thousands of made-from-scratch meals -- such as roasted chicken with yams, beans, a locally grown peach and a carton of milk -- that meet all Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. It shuns high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats and includes only hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and meat and all-natural ingredients. The price, between $2.90 and $3 per lunch, is not much higher than the current $2.68 the government pays.

The food "is quite different than before," said Olson, who had tasted Revolution Foods' meals during summer school. "None of the vegetables are frozen, and there's a wider variety of what they get to eat. Before, you could visibly see the grease on the entrees; now you don't."

Founders Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey conceived Revolution Foods when they were students at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. In spring 2006, the pair launched their first pilot program at an Oakland, Calif., school. By year's end, the new company was serving 10 schools. "We heard all the reasons why it couldn't be done: Kids won't eat healthy food. It's too expensive," said Richmond, 34. "But it was clear demand was there."

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking

“The principal, Laura Mastrogiovanni, readily admits that food wasn’t on her radar when she took over in 2005. The cafeteria keeps a separate budget and cooks don’t report to her. But when Mrs. Barlatier arrived in 2007 and started to improve the food, it didn’t take long to see that the children not only ate more of it but seemed happier at lunch.

‘They needed a little flair in their food,” Mrs. Mastrogiovanni said. “It’s good for their brains."


Also on the subject - check out the trailer for the new documentary, "Food, Inc" -