Monday, March 30, 2009

Will Sembler still buy the property on North Druid Hills from the DeKalb County School System?

I see the school property on North Druid Hills as nice as many of the schools in the central and the north side of DeKalb County. Is the county commissioners and school system planning to condemn these school structures on North Druid Hills Road?

However, there is not doubt that the school property itself, along with Adams Stadium, is irreplaceable to the school system and the residents of Central DeKalb. Would this campus not be a better place for the military high school than the small Heritage facility? According to my sources, the Heritage facility only holds 396 ELEMENTARY students. The military facility is supposed to serve 600 high school students in the future.

At least one school board member and many commissioners got political donations to their campaign by Sembler. Of course, this cooperation wants something in return. Could it be the property on North Druid Hills and will our new school board allow this to happen? I hope they will not! Nevertheless, it is my understanding that only two school board members out of nine are fighting to keep the property on North Druid Hills from being condemned if these buildings could be remodeled. What do you think? Will the citizens of Central DeKalb allow this to happen? Do we really want the property sold on North Druid Hill's road to Sembler or any other company as this property will never be able to be replaced at the price it would be sold.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Georgia PTA’s weekly update on legislative activity

The General Assembly has completed 37 of the 40 days that it will meet in 2009. There are only three days left this session so bills will be moving fast and furiously next week. We are seeing language from bills thought dead amended to bills that are moving so anything can happen in the next few days. The Senate still has not passed a budget for next year so this final week promises to be a very interesting one. The revenue numbers remain grim so there’s talk that a special session may be needed. In this time of declining revenue it’s of note that the legislature has passed several bills that provide tax credits or exemptions that directly affect the government’s available funds.

Update: School Nurse Funding

We still don’t know about the funding for school nurses. The House put it back in, the Senate has had no public hearings so no one knows what is in their version of the 2010 budget.
• Call your Senator and let him know funding for school nurses is critical!
• If it makes it out of the legislature intact, the Governor can still line item veto the funding so contact him and let him know the funding for nurses is important to you.

Voucher Legislation:

Just when many thought SB 90 was done for this session, some of the language from it was amended to HB 251, the bill that allows intra-district school transfers. While the private school language was not added, the language allowing transfers between school districts was. PTA supports school choice but the issue here is how to pay for the student who transfers from one district to another. The student doesn’t reside in the new district so no property tax revenue is generated to fund his education. Currently districts can charge tuition for non-district students. In this bill the state and local funds from the sending school district would go to the new school district. The decision about how much money follows the child rests not with the local district but with the state. Local systems do not calculate how much is spent per pupil. To take the total dollars spent and divide by the number of students is too simplistic. Buses need to run whether there are 20 students or 40 students riding them, lights and heat have to be on in the school buildings and buildings must be cleaned. This bill takes the decision making about how local dollars are spent out of the control of the taxing authority that raised the dollars which many argue is unconstitutional. Some people argue that their dollars should follow their child but the reality is that it is not just their dollars; it is every tax payer’s dollars that are being spent to educate that child.

Legislation that Passed both Chambers:

HB 149: Move on When Ready: Students in 11th and 12th grades may enroll in Georgia public colleges and take Department of Education approved courses that will meet both high school graduation requirements and earn them college credit. Hours earned will not count against HOPE. What this means to you: If a student is ready to attend college and only has a few high school credits remaining to fulfill the high school diploma requirements, (s)he can earn those credits while attending college..

HB 300: Parents to be informed about meningococcal meningitis and other vaccines.

HB 484: Children of military personnel on active duty stationed in GA can qualify for HOPE.

SB 69: Any person who allows, permits, encourages or requires that a child engage in prostitution or sexually explicit conduct may be found guilty of sexual exploitation. (Currently only child’s parents of caregiver could be so charged).

HB 280: Provides differentiated pay for math and science teachers effective July 1, 2010.

HB 233: OPPOSE Two year freeze on any appreciation on the value of a property, even if it changes hands.

SB 84: Requires local school boards to have at most seven members (unless grandfathered) and abide by an ethics policy. The bill gives the Governor the power to remove board members if a school system is placed on probation by an accrediting agency and board members can remove fellow board members by a 2/3 vote. House amends: Board members cannot serve on a board of a private elem. or secondary school at the same time as on a local BOE. Prohibits gifts over $100.

Legislation to Watch: A comprehensive list of potential bills is on the website

HB 120: 2009 sales tax holiday would be from July 30 to August 2. Passed House and S. Finance

HB 23: Drivers under age 18 cannot use a cell phone nor text message while driving. Exceptions are made for driver emergencies, reporting an accident or criminal activity, or using while parked. Any driver involved in an accident while using a wireless device will face higher penalties. Passed House, passed Senate Public Safety

HB 193: Permits the required 180 day school year to be defined in hours, thus providing local school boards with flexibility in setting the school calendar. Passed House, passed Sen. Ed.

HB 243: Eliminates bonus for Nat’l Board Certified teachers. Grandfathers those currently receiving the bonus and those who began the certification process prior to Mar. 1, 2009. Eliminates from funding those teachers leaving teaching and going into administration or some other area effective July 1, 2009. Passed: Housed. Passed Sen. Ed.

HB 400: BRIDGE, Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy Act. Department of Education is to develop programs so a student can get courses at the home school, a technical college, a two or four year college, a work site as an apprentice, and other approved settings. Middle grades advisement shall provide counseling, advisement, career awareness, career interest inventories to evaluate each student’s academic skills and career interests. In grade 8, students shall select a preferred focused program and study and develop an individual graduation plan, IGP, with parents. High school students shall have annual reviews of the IGP which are to include academic core subjects and course work in math and science OR humanities, fine arts, and foreign language, OR sequenced career pathway courses; include IEP components if applicable. Passed House, to be held and will likely not pass this session

SB 5: SUPPORT Requires seatbelts be worn in all pickup trucks with an exception for those over 18 who are doing agricultural work.. Passed Senate. SB 23 also requires seatbelt use in pickup trucks but was voted down.

SB 8: Allows elementary and middle school students to carry and self administer epi-pens. Passed Senate, passed House Health/Human Services

SB 94: Removes the requirement that a dependent child up to the age 25 be a full-time student to be insured medically under the parent’s health plan. Passed Senate

SB 114: Provides special provisions for children of military personnel who transfer into GA public schools including waivers to some GA graduation requirements and additional allowable absences. Passed Senate, passed House Ed.

SB 206: Requires tax expenditure review, detailing for each item the amount of tax revenue foregone for at least a three year period, the intended objective of the expenditure, an analysis of whether or not it is achieving the objective. Taxes included in this report shall cover all state taxes collected by the Department of Revenue. Passed: Senate

SB 239: Requires parents to enroll a child within 10 days of moving into a district. Failure to do so would result in a fine between $50-500, 1-10 days incarceration or some combination thereof. Passed Senate, passed House Ed.

Key: HR- House Resolution, HB– House Bill, SR– Senate Resolution, SB– Senate Bill

Daily Reports with additional details on all the bills being tracked by GA PTA can be found on the Capitol Watch website under News

Karen Hallacy
Legislative Chair

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

AJC - Probe into school construction contracts continues

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.


What is going on here? Is this Crawford Lewis' way to keep Pat Pope in check? Is it payback for Pope not taking one for the team when it came to Crawford's $20,000+ DCSS owned vehicle being sold to him for $5,000?

Hmmmm..., "school system forwarded the review to the D.A". Translation: Crawford Lewis forwarded it to the District Attorney.

Can someone please make sense of this mess?

Friday, March 20, 2009

DCSS Central Office - Let's Keep the Heat On!

One of the major themes of this fantastic blog Cere started has been the massive bloat and waste of the ever growing DCSS bureaucracy. Bureaucracies tend to propagate themselves, ever growing and ever hungry...sort of like Pac-Man (for you children of the '80s).

School enrollment is down, but a large bureaucracy makes up busy work and projects just to make it seem vital and irreplaceable (even though it's not). Taxpayers of tired of it. Parents are tired of it. I know DCSS teachers are tired of it. The huge staff of the Central Office eats up resources that should be directed inside the schools.

All those administrators have big phat salaries. They have a large number of support staff, blackberries, laptops, etc., etc. They all have pensions and sweet benefits. Too many administrators have take home cars.

And none of it improves actual student achievement (or test scores).

Being a DCSS administrator is such a sweet gig that many teachers and asst. principals become politcial animals. doing anything within their means to score an admin gig. In the better school systems (Ohio!), teachers go back and get a Master's degree in their subject matter, and get paid accordingly. In DCSS, its about playing political games at any cost to secure a desk job.

Taxpayers, parents and teachers are frustrated, and clearly want a DCSS Central Office that is lean and mean. Gwinnett's and Fulton's are much leaner and meaner than DeKalb's, and both of those counties are much more populated than DeKalb.

The bigger the bloated bureaucracy grows, the less nimble and responsive it is. It becomes less aware of the needs in the schools and more concerned with its own internal needs. Example: The superintendent's take home vehicle was less than two years old, and was allowed to purchased by the superintendent for a fraction of its blue book value. Where in America does a vehicle that cost over $20,000 become a $5,000 vehicle in a year and a half? Especially in this economy? Again, how does any piece of property over $20,000 become $5,000 is 18 months?
How many DCSS administrators have take home cars who actually need take home cars?

The Board of Education has been out to lunch over the past decade and a half, allowing the Central Office to explode, even as the student population is shrinking. And the student population should be even smaller than it actually is, but our Central Office has the worst checks and balances system of any school system in the state when it comes to residency. Talk to DCSS teachers and they'll estimate between 1500 to 3500 non-county resident children attending DCSS schools. Yeah, it sure helps with Title 1 and FRL, but it kills taxpayers in the long run, meaning more facilities needed, more facility needs, more staff needed, more pensions and benefits to pay, etc.

I've said it before, Crawford Lewis and Marcus Turk want all the Title 1 and FRL money they can get, and do not want a tough checks and balance system for student residency.

Some of the BOE members are sharp and seem to push for change. There are still some holdovers that want the status quo. And there's one who's more concerned about serving on the DeKalb Development Authority than focusing on academics and cutting the waste and bloat.

DCSS does not contract out services it could and should. We could get a higher quality of service and save money at the same time by contracting out much custodial, HVAC, grounds maintenance, athletic field maintenance, roofing, and much of informational technology support. The DCSS IT Dept. is one of its weakest and most underperforming. Administrative transfers under Crawford Lewis are out of control, with Lakeside being the chief example. What does it say about a system when its superintendent approves so many admin transfers, instead of advocating for students and families to stay at their neighborhood schools; why not be a leader and motivate parents to get involved and active with the school in their own backyards?

I've talked about DCSS with hundreds of people. Everyone supports our teachers and in school staff who interact daily with schoolchildren, such as the school nurses, school front desk staff, cafeteria staff, counselors and school resource officers. We know their value. Give them decent pay, benefits and even pensions for in school staff.

But when it comes to the administrators and their massive support staff (which includs IT and Sam Moss), things are out of control. There are way too many administrators. There are way too many middle managers. No one blinks an eye when the head of Internal Affairs is out of the office for over two months of the year as a state senator, because he has a big staff to cover for him.

All these administrators do not need the sweet pensions they are receiving. They should have 403b's (401k's for educators). They don't need such a huge support staff, dont need so many middle managers, don't need four staff members only assigned to HVAC but who still can't keep mold and mildew out of school HVAC systems, etc. Only a very small number of administrators and middle managers need take home vehicles. Not every administrator needs a laptop and Blackberry. Not every admin. ast. of a administrator needs a Blackberry. Heck, there is a number of surplus DCSS buildings, unused or leased out for sweetheart $1 a year give away leases. The more you look closely, the more waste & bloat you discover.

It's time to have a DCSS Central office that is lean and mean. That focuses on academics and the needs in the schools. That takes student residency seriously. That puts much more specific budget information online, so we know about change orders, so we know how many take home vehicles there are, so we know how every penny is spent. That works closely with DeKalb County to share facilities and programs, to make sure county planning & zoning is working hand in hand when locating schools, to even sharing some contracts to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands, like sharing the contract for supplying gas for county and DCSS vehicles.

Change is not going to come from within, especially when the current superintendent has been ingrained in the system and Central Office for way over thirty years, and until just recently, enabled and allowed 80 plus retired Central Office administrators to stay on as well paid "consultants" (yes 80+) while they received sweet pensions and bene's.

Since change will not come from within, keep the heat on your BOE members. Demand accountability. Demand transparency. Demand change. Talk about this to fellow parents. Tell them about this blog. Tell teachers about the blog, and for them to post suggestions for needed change. We can have a better school system, with better academics, with LEED certified, healthier school buildings, and we can have it paying lower school property taxes than we do now. But this can only happen with a lean and mean DCSS Central Office.

The time has come. Please keep the heat on.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Child Left Behind -- Is It Out Of Control?

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the central federal law in pre-collegiate education. This act has the very admirable goal of improving the education of disadvantaged students. The act aims to hold states and schools more accountable for student progress. Some of the changes that cause discomfort to many educators, and joy to many parents of disadvantaged students include: Annual testing, which mandates schools to test annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and at least once in science in elementary, middle and high school. A sample of 4th and 8th graders in each state must also take the National Assessment in reading and math every other year to provide a point of comparison for states. States must bring all students to the “proficient” level by the 2013-2014 school year. To that end, schools must meet state “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) targets. This is based on a formula spelled out in the law and must be met not only by the population at large, but by certain demographic subgroups. If a school receiving federal Title 1 funding (for low income areas) fails to meet the target two years in a row, it must be provided technical assistance and its students must be offered a choice of other public schools to attend. If the school fails three years in a row, they must be offered supplemental educational services such as private tutoring. Beyond that, a school could find themselves under outside correction by the state.

In addition to the testing requirements, the Act requires that teachers must be “highly qualified”, or certified and proficient, in each subject he or she teaches. All new teachers hired with Title 1 money must have at least an associate’s degree or higher and have passed an exam in their subject. The act also create a new grant program called Reading First to help state set up “scientific, research-based” reading programs in K-3. Priority is always given to high-poverty areas and includes a reading program for disadvantaged preschoolers.

These are fantastic initiatives in my opinion. If we are to continue to advance as a nation, we must capture all available talent. Many opportunities for societal contributions lie dormant in disadvantaged children in our cities and rural areas. Be it a medical genius or a really good, intelligent and reliable worker, we must uncover talent wherever it resides. Everyone will need to function as a contributing member of the United States economy if we want to maintain our economic status in the world. We are kidding ourselves if we do not recognize the critical importance of our inter-dependence.

However, there have been controversies around NCLB, as well as problems implementing the act in our county (Dekalb). I see these as growing pains that need major tweaking. Don’t throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” The spirit of the law is respectable – especially so if you are the parent of a low-income minority, non-English speaker or special education student. The NCLB testing has peeled back the onion layer of overall passing school performance to reveal the fact that we are not equally educating sub-groups. As much as many of us have wearied of testing, the statistics are undeniable. Over and over, the white, bi-racial and Asian populations pass the threshold. Blacks, Hispanics and special education students do not. The 2008 testing data shows in black and red that in Dekalb, white and Asian students fair much better than blacks, Hispanics and special education students. And once again, DeKalb county as a system, failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

Why then, is the solution to offer transfers to the entire population of a school that failed to make AYP in a sub-category? What is now happening is that the highest achievers at “failing” schools with proactive parents are leaving their schools in droves. Many of these students were not members of the sub-category that did not meet AYP. This “brain-drain” virtually ensures that these schools will never make AYP. Add to that, the incredible emergency this creates on a receiving school – one middle school had to make room for over 250 new students after school started - the transfer solution is not the best first answer. What does seem like a good idea to me is to offer intense tutoring, class size reduction and mentoring to students in those failing groups. If that doesn’t cause improvement after a year, then offering a transfer might seem less reactionary. The law desperately needs some flexibility in application.

There are those who think that NCLB has an agenda to frustrate schools into a general dismantling of public education. I can’t see that as being reality, although, there are places such as Detroit where student populations are decreasing enormously with no reasons given. Still, there are many of us who believe in sticking in there and fighting the good fight to improve public education for everyone. Sadly, though, DeKalb does not seem to be making progress in our high schools. We continue to see a vast majority of our high schools unable to make AYP and the response by our administration has been to simply offer transfers to the few schools that do make AYP. But no one tracks these students after their transfer, so we really have no way of knowing if this solution is working. I would wage a guess that it's not, simply judging by the reduction in NCLB students in the freshman class at receiving schools vs the number of NCLB students who make it through to graduation at their school of choice. If it's not working, then we need to find a better method.

As a country, we need to be very thankful for Bill & Melinda Gates. They have hit the nail on the head in that we have an absolute crisis in many of our high schools. We have to drastically change the conventional pathway and pace to a high school diploma by recognizing that one size does not fit all. Vocational and technical schools have declined in favor of a cookie-cutter college prep diploma. At the same time drop out rates have soared. The Gates Foundation discovered that many drop-outs simply feel disconnected and bored at school. However, vocational schools seem to be able to capture many of these students' attention. I chatted with an auto mechanics teacher in Gwinnett County who told me that he had his students enthusiastically doing trigonometry, although they didn’t regard it as such – in their minds, they were problem-solving how to fix an engine.

Everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness in this country. Offering an equal educational environment in which more people can land a job with a living wage and health care benefits for their family is part and parcel to the principles our country was founded on. It increases the quality of life for everyone. So let’s get on board and tweak the NCLB act until it can fully serve the purpose for which it was created – ensuring that even the most vulnerable in our country have an opportunity to succeed.

PLAN TO ATTEND the No Child Left Behind Public School Choice Meeting and voice your opinions and concerns.

The meeting for Regions 1 & 2 schools - Dunwoody, Chamblee, Cross Keys, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Avondale and Tucker will be held on Monday - MARCH 23 at 6:30 PM at Peachtree Middle School, 4664 North Peachtree Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338.

Additional meetings include: TUESDAY MARCH 24, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at RONALD McNAIR, SR. HIGH SCHOOL and
TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at REDAN HIGH SCHOOL.

I would suggest attending the Peachtree meeting AND one of the others in order to see how the same information is presented to very different groups as well as report back here as to the Q&A. FYI, within these regions (1, 2, 4 and 6) Chamblee, Cross Keys, Lakeside, Druid Hills, Stephenson Southwest DeKalb and Tucker DID make AYP in 2008. Dunwoody, Avondale, McNair, Cedar Grove, Redan and Stone Mountain DID NOT make AYP in 08.

Monday, March 16, 2009

We're Lucky, This is a Must Read

Tide turns against schools as foreclosures rise--

By Greg Toppo and Jack Gillum, USA TODAY
FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Way back when times were good — last April — builders showed up one day at Forest Grove Middle School and gutted a little-used classroom off the gym.
Four months and a half-million dollars later, they had transformed the space into a gleaming, bubbling mini marine biology laboratory, with five huge, blue plastic tanks for local marine life and a refrigerated tank that replicates the cold-water ecosystem off Maine.
For the first time, teacher Kevin Stinnette thought, his students could do hands-on lessons with cold-water species such as frilled anemones and Acadia hermit crabs.
Then the mortgage meltdown hit central Florida, and the crabs and anemones weren't the only ones hit with cold water. Here as elsewhere across the USA, hard times have forced schools to trim budgets, freeze hiring and, in a few cases, make substantial job cuts, raising doubts about the future of a range of programs, including the new marine lab.
Already, St. Lucie schools have lost $22 million in tax revenue from lower property values, and the district is staring at a 25% budget cut in the fall. It has frozen salaries and put central office employees on a four-day workweek. Enrollment is down only slightly but if things get much worse, schools here may cut athletics, after-school activities and summer school to the bone — or even consider a four-day week for students.

Read More: Its Bad

Sunday, March 15, 2009

USMC Academy - A Good Idea but Perhaps in the Wrong Place

Our Cross Keys thread has been leading a double life. We began a discussion there about the chosen location at Heritage Center for a new US Marine Academy that has generated so much discussion that it now requires its own thread. Heritage Center is a small elementary school off Briarcliff Road between Clairmont and Shallowford, within walking distance of Lakeside HS.

Here are some of the statements that have been received via email or posted on the subject thus far -

I'm all for the new Marine Academy High School, however, I think the chosen location is poor. The Heritage Center is currently a special needs school and was originally built as an elementary school. I'm unsure if it even has lockers or a gymnasium. Beyond that - the school is only a half mile from Lakeside, (not exactly near North Druid Hills as described by Dr. Lewis) down a quiet neighborhood side street.

Since the Marine school is a high school, slated to serve 650 students and 50-75 staff at full capacity, it will cause a huge traffic stress on Briarcliff Rd as well as Heritage Street- since everyone will have to either drive or ride a school "hub" bus or MARTA. There's already lots of school congestion due to student drivers, busses and carpools to Lakeside - the roads cannot handle another 100+ cars in the morning.

A better idea is -- use the soon to be empty Open Campus for the Marines and sell the Heritage property to the county - it's next door to a small (school system owned) park that is currently very highly used with little parking space. The county has the money in the bank to buy up land for parks - and so far - there's been virtually none purchased in our district. Then use the proceeds to renovate the Open Campus for the Marines.

There was $490,000 allocated to the Heritage school in the Nov 06 CIP, but I don't see what it's for or if it's been completed. This money could be returned to the general fund along with profit from the sale of the property.

Or - how about the Willam Bradley Bryant Center (WBBC) for the military academy? Aren't they moving the offices from there to the Mt. Industrial Center? WBBC is easily accessible - right off I-285 at Lawrenceville HWY. Plus - they have lots of parking and a large field.

I believe it's time to take a serious inventory of all of the buildings and properties the school system (taxpayers) owns. By assessing realistically, the conditions of buildings vs the market value of the land we could make better plans for the future as far as re-purposing and redistricting goes. It would certainly help the brainstorming process.

Anonymous said... The old Chamblee MS campus was originally an elementary school and "renovated" to temporarily house a middle school. That facility could in no way accomodate a high school. There is not even enough parking spots to handle the number of school buses that are parked there each day.

Anonymous said... Not to hijack this thread, but it is important for the citizens of DeKalb to understand the following about this Institute:

It is being placed in an area with difficult access. North Druid Hill traffic is horrific and transportation will be horrible. The Board needs a public discussion of why this school is being placed into another school as an academy.
The question all taxpayers (remember the Pentagon is picking up the tab for a big part of this program) should be asking is will the most interested students be able to get there.

The principal's position has now been posted. This school will have no more than 200 students yet the principal's salary will be in the same range of every other DCSS principal. Keep in mind, that at this school, there will be a Commandant who handles everything but instruction. We should all watch to see how many assistant principals this school will have.

Ella Smith said... I see the property on North Druid Hills by Adams as a better place for the Military Academy. There will be plenty of room to grow and also the old gym which is now the Jim Cherry Center could be turned back into a gymnasium.

Any other ideas or options for a location for the military school?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thinkfinity (A New Tool For Almost Everyone Involved in the Field Of Education)

Everyone who visits this website cares about educating our students in the DeKalb County School System, and is always interested and ready to find ways to make learning more exciting, and effective. The Verizon Foundation has found a way to help, by involving many partners to work together to provide almost everyone who is involved in education as a parent, student, educator, after-school program, or parent who is home-schooling through the creation of a new website which is called, Thinkfinity. Thinkfinity is a reliable and free leading-edge website to provide assistance to educators, students, parents, after-school programs, and parents who are home-schooling their children a wealth of free top-quality, exciting and engaging educational resources that support the skills that are needed for success in the 21st century.

Thinkfinity has so many partners involved that it definitely ensures this website has something for everyone. Thinkfinity, can help educators and parents who are home-schooling their children find engaging, standards-based lessons on every topic, information specific to grade levels and learning styles and new teaching strategies to use inside and outside the classroom. Students can find fascinating facts about everything from art to zoology, interacting games and tools, and the material a student may want right at their fingertips. Parents can find resources to strengthen problem solving, creativity and critical thinking skills, homework help and interactive games and activities that make learning fun. After-School Volunteers and managers will find resources for all types of learner, effective program strategies and assessment tools and opportunities for professional development.

Currently Thinkfinity, is based on National Standards in Education, but the Georgia State Department of Education is now involved with the Verizon Foundation to link the activities to the state standards also. Please visit the website ( and tell us what you think. Will this be a helpful tool to parents, teachers, students, after-school managers and home-schooling parents?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Middle Schools & DCSS

Middle School is so, so important for a student's academic success in high school and college. It's the make or break time to reach a student. Also, discipline can be tough with this age group. Yet many DCSS Middle Schools are packed beyond capacity and filled with trailers (horrible learning environments). Sequoyah Middle is way overdue for a renovation or tear down. The school grounds and track at Shamrock are embarassing.

Hoping some DCSS administrators and principals will be attending these upcoming conferences:

A Symposium on Excellence in Middle Level Teacher Preparation
Excellent middle grades teacher preparation is critical to the success of education. Whether you are just starting a program for middle grades educators or are involved in an established program, this symposium will meet your needs.

Middle Level Essentials Conference and Ninth Grade Academy Conference
Participants will take part in an intensive two-day academy for high school educators who desire to help ninth grade students flourish in a unique and supportive environment. The Academy sessions will feature experts from across the country, ready to inspire and answer your questions.

We have some very good elementary schools and high schools in DeKalb, but are middle schools the weak link? Would like to hear from DCSW posters about their thoughts on DCSS middle school, academics, facilities, overcrowding, discipline, etc.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lakeside-Chamblee Champs Can Be TV Game--Please vote

The Lakeside vs Chamblee boys soccer game is currently on the or poll for game of the week. Voting ends Friday at 6pm---so spread the word. Highlights and post game interviews of the winning game will be seen on Friday?s FOX5 News Edge at 11pm, with extended coverage on High 5 Sports Saturday----SUNDAY at 5pm (special time and date).

Will THE HAND visit your game?

Good Luck!

Chip Zeller
FOX5 Sports

Cross Keys Article

Cross Keys as a facility is a complete and utter embarassment. But big, big kudo's to its principal, faculty and students for high student achievement despite being one of the worst school facilities in the metro area. If you haven't seen it yourself, please try. As a taxpayer and/or DCSS parent, you won't be happy.

To read the full article, click:

"Cross Keys decays while waiting for renovations"

The DCSS HPE Curriculum is not exactly a bright spot

Gloria Talley and her (well paid) curriculum staff have never paid much attention to the Health & Physical Education curriculum for DCSS. We have some solid HPE teachers in the system, but there are WAY TOO MANY DCSS HPE teachers who just throw the ball out and stand by and watch while jabbing on their cell phones. A good veteran HPE teacher goes back to school for a master's in kinesiology (minutes away, Georgia State has a good Department of Kinesiology and Health) , HPE administration, Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology, etc. A slack veteran HPE teacher does not go back to school.

Good school systems throughout the U.S. integrate the HPE curriculum from K through 12th; we need that here in DeKalb. And there are many grants available if you have the giddyup and go to reach out hard to get them, Gloria:

And maybe one day county Parks & Rec. and DCSS will actually work together in unison.
The PE4life Approach to Physical Education:
"Extend beyond the walls of the gymnasium to form community and business partnerships"

It's been clear and proven by reserach for decades that a good HPE program impacts academics and lowers discipline problems.
PE4life, and physical education in general, are positively impacting academic performance, reducing disciplinary problems and improving health and fitness.

C'mon, Crawford, Gloria Talley and staff: You can do HPE better.

Fitness Assessment
By: Michael Popke
January 2008

Since we aren't allowed to republish printed news material verbatim on the blog, I would encourage you to visit the link above to read about how one teacher, Tim McCord transformed the P.E. program at Titusville (Pa.) Middle School — where classes used to revolve around a traditional curriculum of football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball and track and field in the spring — to one incorporating high-tech fitness equipment and detailed health-risk assessments into everyday P.E. classes. The district was awarded $342,000 from the federal government in the form of a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant, which funded repairs and upgrades to existing equipment, added climbing or traversing walls at every school in the district, and expanded overall P.E. programming. Physical education at Titusville (Pa.) Middle School transitioned from a sports-oriented program to a well-rounded fitness and wellness curriculum that includes exergaming and outdoor winter activities.

The pictures alone are worth clicking over to the link.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"League of Women Voters of Georgia Take Stand Against Senate Bill 90 (Regarding School Vouchers)"

The letter below was sent out to all League of Women Voters in Georgia.

Dear Concerned Citizen,

Under the guise of a "helpful" bill, Senate Bill 90 is anything but. Under the pretense of providing parental choice, this voucher legislation provides false hope for parents, and at the same time cloaks our tax dollars in unaccountable secrecy.SB 90 would allow the state to provide a voucher for any enrolled public school student to a public or private school which will accept the student. Parents must provide transportation. The state requires no accountability of any school accepting voucher students. Here are other problems with such legislation:

NO FISCAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Private schools do not have to account for how your tax dollars are spent.

NO ACADEMIC ACCOUNTABILITY. Private schools would not be accountable for the caliber of education a child receives.

PROMOTES DISCRIMINATION. The receiving school has the choice as to whether or not to accept a child. Private schools exclude applicants they do not choose to serve.

COULD BANKRUPT SCHOOLS IN RURAL AREAS. If even one sixteenth of parents in a school system chose to use tax dollars to send their children to private schools, the loss of state and federal dollars to school systems with smaller tax bases would be devastating.

VOUCHERS DON'T WORK. Scientific research has indicated NO DIFFERENCES in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students-despite the fact that private schools can choose which students can attend.Please call Senators now and ask them to oppose SB 90.Thank you for making your opinion count.

Polly McKinney
Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Georgia

Events & Deadlines

All parents are invited to attend an open meeting of the Parent Advisory Council on Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. It will be held at the William Bradley Bryant Center on Lawrenceville Hwy.

This will be a very exciting meeting - Ms. Ramona Tyson will present a sneak preview of the new eSIS Parent Portal System. She will give the parents a corporate overview of what's to come next year! The new parent portal will have your student's complete school portfolio that not only includes transcripts, but also will incorporate extra-curricular activities as well. You all will be the first group of parents to preview.

Also on the agenda will be Senator Ronald B. Ramsey, Sr. from District 43. Senator Ramsey will give parents a legislative update on what transpired under the Gold Dome. Joining the Senator will be Ms. Nicole Knighten, DCSS Interim Director, Governmental Relations/Special Projects. (The 2009 legislative session is tentatively scheduled to end the last week of March, and will reconvene the first week of June.)

The deadlines for Arabia Mountain Magnet are as follows:
(updated deadlines due to inclement weather)
Open Enrollment - March 2 –20, 2009
ITBS Testing Session - March 21, 2009 and March 28, 2009
Student Essay Writing Sessions - March 23 –26, 2009
Student Interviews - March 30 –April 3, 2009
Magnet and Career Technology Lotteries - April 21, 2009.

Applications for Arabia are available online. The lottery will be held April 3rd.

For Charter Programs, Coralwood/Hawthorne Partnership, International Baccalaureate Magnet,McNair Discovery Learning Academy and Montessori Programs --
Open Enrollment is March 16, 2009 - April 3, 2009.

To access the new online registration portal, and to find out more about theme schools and lotteries, click here.


If you are aware of more events or deadlines or generally helpful information, please post it in the comments section.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Positive Signs of Change On the School Board

I am excited about the new school board. I was excited to watch the school board tonight work together as a team. It is such a nice change.

I am excited with the attitudes of many of the current school board members, regarding working together for what is best for the entire county school system, instead of needs of each school board member's district.

I do believe that this school board will work together much better than the school board that DeKalb County School System had in 2006-2008.

What do you think? Will they work together for the benifit for all the students in Dekalb County?
What did you think about the school board meeting tonight?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

John Heneghan - My Hero!

When it comes to helping children - Dunwoody City Councilman John Heneghan puts his money where his --- hair is! John will be having his head shaved this Friday at Fado Irish Pub to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer.

In his words --

Shaving my head this upcoming Friday afternoon may seem as an unusual fund-raiser, but it is undertaken in solidarity with children with cancer, who often lose their hair during treatment.

St. Baldrick's is the world's largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. Thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer, while requesting donations of support from friends and family. Since 2005, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has funded 23 Fellows and 12 Scholars, helping launch brilliant new careers in childhood cancer research, and awarded over $28 million to support research at more than 230 institutions.

To sponsor John's shaving - visit this link.

You go John!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Do You Agree or Disagree With the Views of PAGE Regarding Vouchers?

Do you agree or disagree with the views of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) on vouchers? We have talked several times about the lack of ability or ability for teachers in public education to defend themselves regarding public issues regarding their jobs and the issues which affect them. Some individuals appear to think that teachers cannot lobby for themselves. This is an example of the network teachers have to lobby their representatives. Teachers have representation under the gold dome daily. Do you think that teachers around the state will have an impact on the decision made regarding vouchers? Do you feel teachers do lobby successfully regarding educational issues?

I am shocked that teachers who work for the Dekalb County School System have a difficult time under the recent stipulations of the county school administration, to speak directly to the school board, either at school board meetings, or in any other form of communication. Any citizen of Dekalb should be able to speak at school board meeting regardless if they are a teacher or not. The decisions the school board makes directly affects the teachers, the parents, and every citizen in Dekalb County. Why should teachers be given different guidelines to speak at the school board meeting? I see this as being discriminatory toward teachers who live in Dekalb County. They are not given the same opportunity as other Dekalb County citizens. How do you feel about this topic? You are welcome to disgree with me. It is important to look at all sides of the issues to get a broader perspective. Read the article below and please tell us how you feel.

Report from the Capitol – Voucher Alert
By Margaret Ciccarelli on March 5, 2009

SB 90, legislation which would allow every Georgia public school student to attend private school using a voucher, recently passed the Senate Education and Youth Committee. The bill is in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting placement on the Senate voting calendar. Immediate action is needed to stop this harmful legislation.

PAGE is unalterably opposed to vouchers as extremely harmful to public education and likely harmful to private education as well. We fail to see how taking students and resources away from public schools will lead to their improvement. Given the economic crisis public schools are facing it is unconscionable to seriously consider a voucher proposal such as this. PAGE remains opposed to use of public funds for private education, which this legislation calls for. We would prefer that the state return to its efforts on improving public education, which affects more than 1.6 million students, rather than focusing on funding programs that at most will only affect a relatively few students. While this legislation may be a sincere effort to help those students who are not succeeding in public schools, we believe that the solution lies in improving the schools rather than abandoning them. For schools that are not succeeding there are a series of increasingly severe interventions which include changes in staffing, changes in leadership and takeover by the state. These sanctions are serious and when warranted are, in our view, a solution that addressed the root problem. We prefer to look for solutions within the framework of public education. One thing we all need to agree on is that no scholarship or voucher program should result in a loss of funds to public schools.

Please contact your state Senator today and ask your Senator to vote against SB 90. Please note that you should not email your Senator from your school email address or email your Senator during school hours.

To find the contact information for your state Senator, visit the State Senate website of the Georgia General Assembly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Report from the Capitol - Day 26 by Margaret Ciccarelli on 3/4/2009

The Senate passed SB 178 today. The legislation changes the calculation of capitol outlay funds for local school systems. SB 178 now moves to the House for consideration.

The House met in general session for an extended time and passed an important piece of education legislation. HB 280, which PAGE opposes, is a differentiated pay proposal purporting to attract more math and science teachers to Georgia’s public schools. The legislation would allow high school and middle school teachers who are certified or who become certified in math or science to move up the state salary schedule and be paid as if they had five years of creditable service.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers who receive endorsements in math and science would receive a stipend of $1,000 per endorsement for each year each such endorsement is in effect, for a maximum of five years. Math and science endorsements must be post-baccalaureate nondegree programs, independent of an initial preparation program in early childhood education, and the endorsements must consist of a minimum of three courses, of which two courses shall be focused on the advancement of content knowledge and one course, or any additional course, must be focused on content-specific pedagogy and proven strategies for teaching math or science to children in grades k-5.

The Senate Education and Youth Committee passed the following legislation today. The proposals now move to the Senate Rules Committee for placement on the Senate voting calendar:

SB 160 would require public schools to close on November 11 in honor of Veterans Day. Some education advocates spoke with concerns regarding SB 160, indicating that students could better understand the significance of Veteran’s Day if students attended school instead of staying home and schools were allowed to create curriculum teaching students about the importance of Veterans Day.

SB 210 would allow home school students to be eligible to participate in the Governor’s Honors Program.

SB 239 was amended by the committee. It seeks to require parents who move students from one school to another to enroll those students in a timely fashion.

SR 464 urges the Board of Regents and University System of Georgia and Georgia's private colleges and universities to increase teacher production to meet the state's need for K-12 teachers; and for other purposes.

SR 465 Recognizes the value of partnerships between school systems and postsecondary institutions and urges the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Georgia's private colleges and universities, the DOE and the PSC to foster such partnerships.

SR 466 would establish the Performance Based Principal Certificate Renewal Design Team.

HB 229 would require local school systems to conduct an annual fitness assessment and to comply with state physical education instruction requirements.

HB 251 would allow students to attend the school of their choosing within their school system as space is available. The legislation was debated, but no action was taken.

Micro-Markets Matter: Northlake Real Estate Stable

Northlake area property prices either never “bubbled” or the bubble hasn't burst yet. Data for the Lakeside High School zone from 2006 through the end of 2008 indicate that housing prices in Northlake have not suffered Metro Atlanta's property value losses. The average resale prices in the entire Lakeside High School zone increased by .24% from 2006. Northlake's resale price changes differ from inside to outside the Perimeter, as home values tend to do. Northlake ITP values, almost all in the Lakeside zone, have actually increased during the "down-turn" while Lakeside's OTP resales lost a mere 3.2% for traditional “first suburb” housing stock (single-family homes built before 1980)... More? link to

The author Tom Doolittle, is a 15-year Northlake area resident, was a Charter Trustee for Northlake Community Alliance, Inc. (NCA), founded, facilitated the Northlake Business Forum (NBF), wrote "Northlake Romance" for the Community Review newspaper and contributes to and local websites.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Report From The Capitol-Day 24 & 25 by Margaret Ciccarelli on 3/3/2009

Update on National Board Certification
Today the House Education Subcommittee on Academic Support passed a substitute to HB 243. HB 243 is sponsored on behalf of Gov. Perdue and seeks to repeal the portion of Georgia law which grants 10% salary supplements to teachers with National Board Certification. The substitute version of the bill which now moves to the full House Education Committee for consideration leaves the current law regarding National Board Certification on the books for teachers who already hold the certification or who are in the pipeline but makes funding of the 10% salary supplement subject to annual legislative appropriation.

Bill Allowing Extension of Contract Deadlines
The subcommittee on Academic Support also passed HB 455, which allows school systems to delay until May 15 the tender of contracts, instead of the normal April 15th deadline. HB 455 seeks to delay the deadline for contracts extended for the 2009-2010 school year only. The legislation will move to the full House Education Committee for consideration.

On Day 24, the House passed its version of the 2009 Supplement Budget, which now moves to the Senate for consideration. Work continues on 2010 Budget.

The Senate passed HB 233 which caps property tax assessments for the next two years. The House and Senate must agree on the same version of the legislation before it moves to Governor Perdue for his signature.

The House Education Committee passed the following legislation on Day 24:

HB 278 allows a temporary waiver of expenditure controls on direct instructional costs, media centers, staff and professional development costs, and additional days of instruction.

HB 400, Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy Act, mandates development of career and technical education programs to improve graduation rates and to improve the preparedness of students for postsecondary education and careers.

The Senate Education and Youth Committee passed the following bills on Day 24:

SB 114 provides for the transfer and placement of students who are military dependents into a local school system.

SB 178 recalculates Capital Outlay funds under QBE and embeds and extends a sunset date of June 30, 2011.

SB 137 would create the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

Teachers in the State of Georgia May Get a Temporary Layoff from Work or in Other Words, They May Get Five Days of Furlough

According to my principal at our teachers’ meeting, this morning, the governor is considering laying off teachers for five days. There is the possibility that Governor Purdue will attempt to cut educational costs by cutting back the school year to required 185 days verses 190 days. This would allow the school systems in the state of Georgia to cut all their teachers’ salaries. In fact there is a possibility that all school employees in the state will be furloughed on top of the already cut in days of attendance for many 12 month employees.

What do you think? Is this a sensible solution to our state and school systems financial crisis?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Are we toasting our marshmallows over smoldering embers - while Rome burns?

Teachers organizations are closely monitoring the retraction of the 10% pay boost for National Board Certification proposed by the Governor and HB 280, the differentiated pay proposal for math and science teachers. Others are lobbying to keep our school nurses. Still others are fighting the inequities of the QBE funding formula, which granted $30 million to Gwinnett and $0 to DeKalb. Even worse, those pesky austerity cuts hammer us year after year, forcing our schools to make due with less and less support from the state.

However, while everyone is fixated on watching these random piles of legislation smolder, Rome could be burning. New bills are currently being debated in the Georgia Legislature that could forever change the way education is delivered in this state, and quite possibly rendering the aforementioned conflicts nearly irrelevant. First we have HB 193, which has been tabled for the moment. This legislation would allow local school systems to schedule classes for the hourly equivalent of 180 days, which would enable local systems to decide to move to a four-day school week, if they so chose. Additionally, the Georgia Legislature is proposing in SB 84, to to better define the roles of school board members, mandate a code of ethics for local boards, limit the size of a school board to seven members and allow for removal of board members. If this passes, we may have to revisit the 2008 election where we voted in four new school board members to our panel of nine, a number which would become illegal.

But the two molotov cocktails about to be tossed are HB 251, allowing public school students to transfer to any school they choose within their county or district and SB 90, allowing for private school vouchers to be given using public school funding.

HB 251 has received ample endorsement and its chances of becoming the law look very favorable. This bill will function like Administrative Transfers on steroids in DeKalb. If it passes into law, DeKalb will have to work very hard to put strict guidelines on the requests or places like Lakeside will become trailer parks.

But SB 90 will be the Big Daddy of Change if it passes into law. This bill allows the transfer of tax dollars to other public schools - even between districts - as well as directly to a private school of ones choosing. The student has to have spent the last year in public school in order to qualify for the funding to transfer to private. Interestingly, hoards of private school parents are currently considering sending their children back into public schools due to the economy. So, what exactly will happen when public schools spend resources to accommodate the resulting swell in enrollments, and then have to suffer the mass exodus of these students as they return to private school when the economy recovers, taking their allotted funding with them? Private schools are feeling that pinch this year - but after vouchers become law, the tide will turn. Are we prepared? Or more to the point, are we toasting our marshmallows over the biggest fire?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

But “they’re not going to go out and change it just because DeKalb doesn’t like it.”

Interesting stuff. Does DCSS pay for a lobbyist? Does the BOE and Superintendent meet a few times a year with the DeKalb Delegation? But the bigger point is, the number of students in Dekalb is slightly decreasing, but Crawford Lewis, Marcus Turk and the BOE never, ever consider downsizing, especially when it comes to the incredibly bloated DCSS Central Office. Don't depend on the state for handouts. Downsize accordingly, eliminate redundancy, contract out services like custodial, grounds maintenance, HVAC, athletic field maintenance, etc., partner more with the county to share facilities and programs, partner with Emory, the CDC Georgia Perimeter, Georgia State (which has a solid School of Education), and follow Atlanta's lead and bring in foundation and grant money, like the millions Atlanta has gotten from Microsoft.
If this superintendent, who's been a DCSS insider for decades, can't do that stuff, find one who can, preferably from far away (no more insiders).

Eyebrows raised as Gwinnett gets big school grant
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, March 01, 2009

Poorer, mostly rural school systems across Georgia have long benefited from an “equalization” grant program that gives them extra money to help make up for a smaller tax base. But the system getting the biggest grant this year isn’t predominantly poor or rural: It’s suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County.

And that has a neighboring county crying foul.

DeKalb officials, who in June will lay off 127 employees, are concerned enough that they requested a review this year by lawmakers. They want the pool of eligible systems — which includes 135 of the state’s 180 school systems — to be expanded to include them.

“We’re putting money in and getting nothing back,” DeKalb school board member Jim Redovian said.
The grant program measures the ability of systems to raise local money, taking into consideration both the total value of a system’s taxable property and its enrollment.

The state uses that information in a formula that draws this line: Systems in the top 25 percent are considered to have the greatest “wealth per child” and get nothing; those below get varied sums depending on how they stack up. Gwinnett, the state’s largest school district with 157,000 students, will receive $31.7 million from the program this year — a nearly 400 percent increase over the $6.3 million it earned through the program last year. Gwinnett is the only major metro Atlanta school system that qualifies for grants in the state-funded program, although smaller systems such as Clayton, Paulding and Rockdale counties get money, too.

The idea behind the program is that the quality of a child’s education and the ability of local systems to pay for it should not be dependent on where the child happens to live, said Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

How did Gwinnett secure so many dollars? It educates nearly 10 percent of the state’s public school students. This year over last, it grew by 1,600 students.

At the same time, Garrett said, “over the last several years, the growth in Gwinnett County’s tax digest has slowed dramatically.” The system’s 19.25 property tax millage rate (excluding debt service) is also near enough to the state’s 20-mill tax rate limit to be an advantage, since the program is weighted to reward systems that first try to tax themselves.

Hence, a big payday.

“Even though we have a large digest, we have at least 50 percent more students that the digest has to fund,” said Rick Cost, the Gwinnett system’s chief financial officer. “Our wealth per student is much less than our metro counterparts [and] continues to decline in relationship to other systems because our student population continues to grow at a rate faster than our tax base.”

Still, neighboring Fulton County over the same time grew by 2,000 students to reach 88,299 — and qualifies for nothing based on the formula. Other core metro systems, such as Cobb County, DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta, saw slight decreases in enrollment but are also feeling the pinch of the recession. They don’t qualify for any money, either. DeKalb officials have asked their local lawmakers to get the ball rolling.

State Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), vice chairman of the House Education Committee, sounded cautious about the system’s chances, but he also said he expected to see some kind of bill proposed. “They earn monies and we don’t,” Millar said. But “they’re not going to go out and change it just because DeKalb doesn’t like it.”