Friday, June 26, 2009

Is It Time to Retire?

Is five years enough?

Is it time for Dr. Lewis to "move on" with his life?

A cursory look at the past five years shows ITBS scores across the board not discernibly different. No significant gain, nor loss. CRCT scores in Reading and Language Arts have increased impressively, with major decreases in Science, Math and Social Studies (most certainly attributable to major curriculum changes.)

Nearly 1,600 more students are taking AP tests, however the percentage of those students scoring a 3 or more has decreased nearly 6% and have plummeted in some high schools. Most puzzling is the extremely poor performance at high schools that have screamed for more and more AP classes -- for instance, Avondale 2.1% 3+ with 144 test takers, McNair Sr. 1.3% 3+ with 156 test takers. As a comparison, Lakeside had 45.1% 3+ with 811 test takers. Is the quality of the AP teaching staff equitable? Why aren't these students getting more out of the AP opportunity? Why add more AP classes until scores improve?

Dr. Lewis did have the courage to consolidate some schools and move some attendance lines. But, he also promised at the time that he wouldn't touch the lines again for at least eight years (answer to a question posed to him at a town meeting during first round of changes). And, here he comes again. With all the money spent of demographics, why couldn't all the consolidations have happened at the same time?

He oversaw the building of a state-of-the-art high school at Arabia Mountain. The verdict is still out, but so far the parents have not flocked to it as predicted by DCSS. Yet, he has also been on board for the Tucker project and others. Despite a very bizarre harrassing of his top construction manager, he seems to let her do her job and, thankfully, has not felt the urge to fire her.

Ethically, he has been questioned on expenses and car payments. The public still have no conclusions and he has not made any public explanation on why he should even be in this predicament.

Personally, he is a very warm and caring person. He is not a racist, and he truly does not like the north/south politics that the Board Members perpetrate. In many cases, he wants to do the right thing (end magnet busing), but does not seem to have the political muscle to get the Board to go along. He wants the best for DCSS, but does not seem capable of delivering it.

He and his staff have made some remarkably bad PR mistakes, most recently the publishing of the love fest memo. In this regard, his administration has truly "jumped the shark."

Dr. Lewis has more than 30 years with DCSS, his children are out of college, he has attained the highest office he can in DCSS. The assumption is that he should not struggle financially on the retirement payments he will receive.

A huge, warm, friendly retirement party is his for the taking. Is now the time for him to take it?


Ella Smith said...

From what I understand the current school board members are very happy with Dr. Lewis. They did just renew his contract.

This is a very good post. I do believe that when Dr. Lewis does decide to retire it would be nice to do a national search and look for new blood to bring into the school system. I really saw a great deal of potential in Dr. Brown but he did not fit in with the GOOD OLD BOYS/GOOD OLD GIRLS NETWORK and he was not micromanaged by each school board member so they got rid of him.

I am not saying I agreed with every decision that Dr. Brown made but I did take the time to make an appointment and meet with him and discuss his vision of the school system and he really wanted to make drastic changes and I believe the county office would have become much more lean and mean if he had remained school super.

fedupindcss said...

I don't know that I would say five years, or even any particular time frame is "enough." You either do the job well or you don't. You might crap out in two years, or you might be so fantastic that you can keep performing for ten or fifteen years. I think that Dr. Lewis has too many personal relationships with people in the system, and it clouds his judgment at times. He is also a little thin-skinned, and you need a hide of steel in that job.

I think that DCSS is too much of a mess for any one person to fix, though. It may need to get taken over by the state, have the administration and board tossed out, and rearranged in little, tiny pieces. At some point it will mess up enough for SACS to come in and try to pull certification, and the state won't let that happen in a system as large as Dekalb (that has so many state employees living in it). They will take it over and then, well, we can let the state mess it up (see: math curriculum).

Cerebration said...

Current Budget Reality -- It's gone up - while enrollment's gone down --

􀁻 General operations budget FY2007 ($820M)
􀁻 General operations budget FY2009 ($890M)
􀁻 91% of Budget for Salaries & Benefits

To recap --- under Dr. Lewis' leadership, along with the complicit BOE, the DCSS budget increased by $70 million in two years (2007-2009) - even though the system lost almost 3,000 students. On top of the raw number, there's the little shocker that 91% is spent on administration!!!

None of this includes construction. The SPLOST budget is a completely separate gig.

pscexb said...

Great post No Duh! Interesting question when you really think about it. What measures should one use to determine when it is time to retire?

Dr. Lewis has only worked for DCSS, I believe over 32 years. Assuming he started coming out of college, that puts him in his mid 50's. Some say that would be the 'new 40'. :) I think he still has 'fire in his belly' and is also willing to tackle issues that have been taboo in DCSS for too many years, such as addressing choice transportation, school consolidation/closures, and redrawing lines. He took a big hit on those when he introduced this initiatives but was able to survive. The state of the economy has forced him to revisit those issues again. I understand the school consolidation effort could be more far reaching that before.

Regarding AP tests, that was an initiative begun under Dr. Brown, to bring greater equity with the offering of AP classes. The premise behind this was to offer more rigorous classes to more students. True, the outcomes on the AP exams have not been what we would like to see however the argument is that exposure to AP classes is a factor in eventual college success. Unfortunately that is something we do not measure. I agree with the premise that if after 6 weeks, the student and/teacher feel that some of 'over their head', there should be a means of transferring to a like non AP class. Logistically, this may be challenging but you must think about the students.

I'm a Pat Pope fan and believe she is one on the best things to happen on behalf of the tax payers in the county. She is his hire so he gets props on that. He has had a few missteps with hiring (Personnel Director with criminal record comes to mind) and perhaps allows his loyalty and/or personal relationships cloud his professional judgment at times. His is not above making mistakes which is unlike anyone else. Also, he inherited Arabia Mountain as a structure as it was a SPLOST 2 project. He will have to answer for how the school is filled, given the designation as a 'choice' school. Again, I heard some 'rumblings' that 'may' have been more a board decision that his.

While I agree with the general premise of NCLB (look at detail data rather than aggregate), I do believe some of its expectations and penalties are too harsh. I thank Cere for pointing out the schoolmatters blog as it has interesting information and links regarding this program around the country. Why do I mention this? I believe unless we simultaneously address some of our societal issues while properly funding NCLB, it will fail. This is a challenge most 'urban' superintendents are facing and Dr. Lewis is in that category. I believe given the 'history' this district has had with educating children along with the current economic conditions, there is something to be said about having a 'home grown' super at this time. I do believe that when it is time to select a new super, a national search should be done.

pscexb said...

Cere, I saw an interesting discussion about your point on the AJC blog (my second favorite after this one, of course :) ). Earlier this month, Fulton County increase their budget by $67M over last year, an 8% increase during tough economic times. When you consider $70M over 2 years that includes step increases for teachers, that does not look as bad. Heck, if you gave employees on average a 3% salary increase, that would have a significant impact on the budget.

Cerebration said...

Your first comment here should be its own post, psc. Very well said points on all fronts. I may not agree with exactly all of them, but you brought some important issues to light along with your great understanding of how this large, wily school system works.

Cerebration said...

My point about the budget increase is that we had about a 3% reduction in students - so even with a 3% raise, the fewer teachers we should have (due to fewer students) should cancel out increases in the budget for raises. I don't think much cutting has been done in response to our decreasing enrollment.

I think the time right now is critical for new, fresh, experienced leadership - from outside Georgia - or even better - outside the south. Dr Lewis may be past his time for benefiting the system. We are in a new age - a time when we have to let go of long=term relationships and inside politics stemming from years of "knowing" each other.

Let's start thinking about the future and jumping into it with forward-thinking leadership. Someone who can make the tough decisions and treat this billion dollar system more as a business - the business of educating children. Nothing more.

Cerebration said...

ps - according to theAJC

"Gwinnett County’s enrollment, for instance, rose from 110,000 in 2000 to 157,000 last fall. Cherokee County’s school enrollment increased 43 percent during that period. Forsyth County’s enrollment nearly doubled.

School districts like Fulton, Gwinnett, Cherokee, Henry and Forsyth continued to grow last fall, just not as quickly as in the past. Others saw declines.

Dale Davis, a spokesman for the DeKalb County School System, said his district has been in the 100,000-student range for several years with little change.

Enrollment spiked a little after Hurricane Katrina bashed Louisiana and Mississippi and brought refugees to the area. But Davis said, “As things got back to normal, about 99 percent of them went home.”

He described DeKalb as a “mature community” where not a lot of growth in enrollment is expected."

quill said...

Regardless of whether Dr. Lewis retires, is fired, or is replaced by new blood from outside of Dekalb, our school system is destined to a legacy of repetitive mediocrity as long as the citizens of Dekalb accept this trend and fight against any substantive change. Those who voice their opinions in this blog (approx. 12 people at last count)are merely a small portion of what should be thousands of parents who want better education for their children and do more than just hope that change will come.

Cerebration said...

one more thing - Dr Lewis did hire Pat Pope to serve as CEO and head of construction - a very good choice - but then, last December, he had her investigated, bringing the full press of the DK County DAs office who came to Popes office and took her computers and work materials. He said he would comment in a week. Then it became - the investigation would be completed in May - and now it's July - and he is still allowing her to flounder under a cloud of suspicion. (Which she handles gracefully, IMO.)

That's not the way to treat your top managers. What is happening with this? Mum's the word.

Cerebration said...

That's right, quill - and we're so glad to have you join the discussion (do you make 13?). Interestingly, our recent visitor numbers also show us that our first time visitors have jumped exponentially - we had over 340 new visitors on Wednesday and 350 on Thursday. So we have a lot more 'readers' than commenters. I think that's a good thing!

pscexb said...

Welcome aboard Quill! And to others, don't be a lurker, be a poster. We've seen an increase with Anon posting traffic with a LOT of good points. This blog is getting attention by many in leadership positions around the county. Hopefully that is partially due to the good points raised and discussed.

DCSS is by no means a 'perfect' system. There is room for improvement throughout. I believe it is providing great educational opportunities and services to many in the community. Some are taking full advantage of everything and going off to become contributing citizens. Unfortunately there are some may may not realize the opportunities they had until after they leave school.

Ironically I was at the barbershop the other day and the discussion turned to job opportunities. I kid you not, one young man who was in his early twenties spoke with some regret that he did not pay greater attention in class and listen to his counselors when they gave him recommendations. He is the kind of person that could probably easily 'connect' with some of our HS students today about taking full advantage of opportunities.

pscexb said...

Something I forgot to mention with respect to offering AP classes and exams in Title 1 schools. It should not surprise many that there is federal money set aside for Title 1 schools and AP classes/exams.

I happened to meet the Val from Cedar Grove earlier this school year and she mentioned frustration with the fact of limited AP classes at her school. Unfortunately, it became an issue of 'supply and demand' with respect to how to staff the school. Would a principal use a 'point' on an AP instructor if they know there is greater need for remediation? A tough decision principals are faced with. Yes, there are options using distance learning technology but nothing beats 'face to face' instruction.

My point? With Cedar Grove being a Title 1 school, it does have additional financial resources where perhaps that can add an AP instructor even if there is not sufficient demand. That teacher may have to teach 'at level' students also but we should be able to provide 'rigor' is all schools.

No Duh said...

Great point PSC.

What I don't get is, if DCSS wants more students exposed to AP classes, and principals can't "afford" the points -- which is certainly understandable -- why make the principal choose? Why not just assign AP teachers to schools with few AP classes? Call them "free points" or something. And, as you say, until demand increases, maybe the teachers could help out by teaching regular curriculum. But, at least the Cedar Grove Val and her peers would have equitable opportunity -- without having to beg for a transfer to LHS, Chamblee, etc.

As a tax payer, I would much rather pay for additional AP teachers than for busing, distance learning or quelle horror -- lawsuits!

No Duh said...

But, back to the topic at hand...

Is it time for Dr. Lewis to retire, or would that upheaval/disruption be the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of disfunction?

Can any new Super -- from inside or out -- lead the system in its current state i.e. populated with incompetent administrators who failed in the classroom, old teachers who have run out of steam, young teachers who are questioning their career choice because they have to work with steamless teachers, cronyism that borders on incest, etc.?

Is Dr. Lewis still the person for the job?

Anonymous said...

His crazy letter to staff about supporting Berry and Alexander isn't going away. There are tons of people who normally don't pay attention to school system stuff who are outraged by it. The BOE is going to have to reprimand him.

If they don't, then they are making a statement that Lewis' letter was acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I have thought long and hard on this. I've had students in DCSS for 10 years now. My parents were in public education. I am in business.

I think Lewis has good intentions, but I think a previous poster hit the nail on the head when he said Lewis has been part of the system for too long. The DCSS is not a "family" - it is a huge business and enterprise run with public money.

Lewis has such a paternalistic attitude that he cannot bring himself to eliminate the dead weight employees in administration. He will not terminate teachers and administrators who need to go. He does not back principals when students need to be suspended. He will not stand up to board members, parents and employees who plead for an administrative transfer.

The superintendent of schools should not be a "nice guy." It is a very tough job. With the added economic problems, the job should be held by someone who can make tough decisions.

I also question whether Marcus Turk is up to the job of handling the financials. I'd like to see a financial professional from the business world in senior administration. We need people with vision and innovation.

Gene Walker also needs to go to while we are housecleaning.

One Fed Up Insider said...

I know for I sent out a notice at the beginning of the week to my neighborhood "mom's club".

Hopefully if more people who read this blog would send it out to their neighborhood civic associations or mom's group, we can educate more about the problems and praises in the DCSS.

Just a thought.

Ella Smith said...

These are all very good posts. I enjoyed reading them.

Regardless of what we may think, this decision is left up to the school board so you should voice your opinions to your local school board members who represent you with their votes.

I do think Dr. Lewis has a very hard job and it would be a very hard job for anyone because of the way this school system has been run in the past. There is too many admnistrators at the county office but because of this big family no one will allow any of them to go> Many of them could retire but they will not. On the other hand there also are many hard working administrators at the county office that this school system would not want to do without.

Cerebration said...

Thanks, Fed Up. I hope that your "Mom friends" as well as anyone else out there who has an interest in or works in the system will feel welcome and participate in this blog.

Dekalbparent said...

I am not defending nor vilifying Crawford Lewis - merely ruminating on our current situation: It occurred to me that the "we are family" feeling may be in large part BECAUSE Lewis has been with the system so long. He started as a teacher in a much smaller DeKalb.

In the individual schools there IS (usually) a "family" attitude - which is as it should be be since the jobs of the teachers, staff and administrators is to take care of the children in their charge and to help one another keep going every day. How many other jobs are there where you are not in control of when you go to the bathroom, when you get coffee or water, or even when you get e little break? Teachers need to be "on" all the time, and they need each other.

Dr. Lewis felt this attitude, more or less grew up with it in his time as a teacher, AP and principal. As he rose higher, he was still working in a small enough environment that the "family" thing was still legit.

At some point, running DCSS turned into a tough business, requiring tough decisions (and a "decider" in charge). This point was probably a significant number of years ago. Can he make the change?

Ella Smith said...

I do believe the majority of the school board members have faith in him to do this.

I do not expect any changes.

Kim Gokce said...

On Dr. Lewis, the next 2 months will be decisive in my opinion on the subject of the super. I don't have the years many of this blog's readers do watching DCSS, in general, and Lewis, in particular. While much of the criticism seems to hold water, I like to form my own opinions.

He does have a renewed contract, he does have a new Board to work with and I kind of like the fact that he is at the pinnacle of his career. That last fact may put him in a position to make the kind of courageous decisions someone looking for a long series of contract renewals may shrink from making. Maybe ...

Having listened to his very strident words at DCPC's last meeting of 2009 school year, I am withholding judgment until after he does, or does not, follow through on his tough talk about tough decisions, closings and attendance lines.

Of course, my parochial interest is in the handling of Cross Keys HS. On the plus side, DCSS has taken immediate action on the issue of vagrancy, truancy, and abusive use of school property there. On the minus side, the promised public briefing on the SPLOST III project and the Tech North school move has not happened as committed to at Ashford Park ES this spring.

To my knowledge, there are 2 charter schools up for approval in July with the BOE (Preparatory Academy and the Museum School). Private schools in my part of the county are either expanding or planning expansion. It really is a "moment of truth" for DCSS and public education in DeKalb. May our BOE and Dr. Lewis be up to the challenge ...

Ella Smith said...

Kim, I agree. We need to see what is going to happen.

I believe we will see some major redistricting and I also believe we may see some positive steps by Ms. Pope and Dr. Lewis to correct some wrong decisions. I will leave it at that.

I do think the board is pushing Dr. Lewis hard to make positive changes and I do think we will see them in the next few months.

We will see school closings. We will see redistricting of schools which is a decision of members of the school board and not Dr. Lewis. We will probable see school closings. We will see some very hard decisions being made by this board that need to be made for the future of our school district.

Some of the decisions that will be made are purely political but they will be made as promised.