Friday, August 21, 2009

What’s Killing DeKalb Schools?

by Paul Womack

(This posting is taken from a public letter written by board member Paul Womack and published at Go Dekalb by "Lefty", on November 18, 2008.)

Parents with children in DeKalb County Schools are worried about the future of the system and the quality of the education their children are getting. They’re doing anything they can to get their children into good school, and many are abandoning their neighborhood school. We have overcrowded schools in one area and nearly vacant schools in another, while transportation costs skyrocket. The problem is eerily similar to the situation in the late 1980’s, when I served on the school board before.

In response to court-ordered desegregation, DeKalb schools created a program called “Majority-to-Minority” (or M-to-M) transfers, where any student in a majority population at one school could transfer to any school in the County where they would be a minority. In other words, any black student could transfer out of a majority black school to a majority white school –and the County would provide the transportation.

DeKalb Schools were integrated –but there was an unintended consequence. Black parents didn’t like having to send their children across the County for a quality education. They wanted quality schools in their neighborhoods too. They were right. 16 years later, they’re still right.

The M-to-M program allowed the DeKalb Schools to duck a serious problem –making educational excellence available in every neighborhood, every school and every classroom. Until every school offers a quality education, parents will abandon the ones that don’t and pack their children into the ones that do.

No school should have more students than its design capacity, and preferably, not a single student more than its educational capacity. Parents in the neighborhoods should be able to readily assess which students should be attending their schools. Transfers between school attendance zones should ONLY be permitted when a student has a specific academic need that their assigned school can not meet. The long-term solution is to make every school in our DeKalb System excellent, which will eliminate the need (or excuse) for student transfers. In the short term, we must enforce a strict policy of attendance in schools only by those students legally entitled to be there.

I am not satisfied with current DCSS Board policy on administrative transfers, nor on residency verification procedures by the school system. More important than that, however, is an appalling secrecy about how parents can verify, for themselves, that their schools are following any policy at all. Does your child come home and tell you about 15 new students in his or her class after the school year has started? If so, how can you find out who these students are, where they came from and why they’re there? Most parents can’t, and that creates rumor, suspicion and resentment that can destroy a school and weaken a school system.

If we won’t fix problem schools, we should at least follow the law. State law limits the number of students in classrooms–if a school is over design capacity then no more students should be enrolled from anywhere. Any school administrator who enrolls in a school more students than that school has capacity for should be reprimanded, including possible termination.

The bottom line is this: If you created excellence and ample opportunities for academic success in every school in DeKalb, you wouldn't have parents trying to break down the doors of the "best" schools. For instance, Lakeside High School has capacity for 1320 students. The last report from the principal showed 1702 students enrolled - more than they had when school year started! Where did these students come from? Is there a good reason they are there (ie, an academic reason, and not just an "administrative" transfer or a favor pulled for a big-shot or a complaining parent?)

When I served on the School Board, parents wanted their children to get an excellent education then, and they still do. We need a system that puts excellence everywhere.


Paula Caldarella said...

Any school administrator who enrolls in a school more students than that school has capacity for should be reprimanded, including possible termination.

I would ask Mr. Womack if he realizes the requirements of NCLB? School systems, schools, etc., are not allowed to use lack of capacity to deny NCLB enrollment.

Anonymous said...

"I am not satisfied with current DCSS Board policy on administrative transfers, nor on residency verification procedures by the school system"

Now you're on the school board, Mr. Womack, we're waiting for you to help end administrative transfers and stop the ridiculous number of non-resident students in our school system!!!

fedupindcss said...

When I first read this, I found myself agreeing. But on second reading, I take exception to his catagorization of M to M. Yes, it did create a perception problem down the road. But what was DCSS supposed to do? Suddenly build a bunch of new high schools? They were under the gun to do something yesterday, and that was the solution used across the country.

Perhaps if Mr. Womack and his fellow Board members back in the late 80s hadn't fought the lawsuit for so long, they could have formulated a better plan.

OTOH, I agree with the lack of enforcement of attendance zones. It wastes money on additions that may not be needed.

Anonymous said...

Also question the characterization of M to M. Agree 100% with enforcing residency requirements, but asking a volunteer on registration day to look at a GA Power bill is not enforcement. The administrtation needs to put some teeth into the rules.

To answer Womack's question however, I think you have to spend time in some of the S DeKalb schools to see why those parents do not feel that their students are getting the same education as the northside schools.

I know my co-workers feel that the southside schools do not enforce discipline. I feel that the Board is trying to improve discipline so it will be interesting to see how parents feel around mid year.

Cerebration said...

NCLB (AYP) transfers cannot be denied if a school is deemed a "receiving" school. Lakeside has always been a receiving school until this year - due to planned construction (which has now been pushed back to Feb/Mar 2010). The AYPs have numbered a couple of hundred to maybe 300. However, there are probably twice that many "transfers" in the building. Most of them are either special permission or are just saying that they live with someone in the district. It's tough to weed them out - and I agree with Womack - the only option is to ensure that people are satisfied with the quality of education at their neighborhood schools.

Anonymous said...

OK, I think if Womack thinks he can be a force for change and bring excellence across the board, go for it. Maybe its a windmill...maybe not. I'll give him credit for putting kids first, but I heard a lot of talk like that from district admins when I was teaching, but the actions always said otherwise.

He is very correct about design and academic capacity - exceed those and you will have a decrease in quality. Cut waste, raise taxes if you have to, improve teacher training, teacher quality, and teacher pay, and you might make a dent.

SWD had students coming off MARTA from APS. We all knew it - wink, wink, nudge nudge, your aunt lives around the corner? OK, you're in. We had a lot of issues, and dealing with that wasn't a priority.

Columbia had the same...but the principal went out to the MARTA stop and investigated. That's what needs to be done. There are good strong leaders who will do it.

Here's an issue, wonder if it still happens.... we had a student, brand new in October, discipline problem from the get go. We go through all the procedures, the admins do exactly what they are supposed to do, and it looks like he's headed where he needs to go - alternative school. But he never gets there - apparently it gets full by October.

Shayna Steinfeld said...

The alternative school allegedly works extraordinarily well and may even have a waiting list (just like the Kittredge program works so well). I think we need a 2nd alternative school for disclipline problems (who need to be enticed to use the program). We also need to take some of their administrators and staff out (just like KMS) and circulate them into schools that can use their "expertise" and circulate others in who need that "training" (just like KMS) and use it as an incubator of sorts to replicate what is actually working. There should be no parents complaining and moving mountains to move students because of a lack of discipline in their home school -- the principals and their staff should be absolutely able to control that issue such that the kids who want to learn can learn (perhaps I'm just naive).

Ella Smith said...

Shayna, you are correct.

Of course we both know it is not as simple as just taking the education to the students. The students must be motivated to learn. Parents must care enough to motivate students to learn. You can bring a horse to water but you cannot make him/her drink. It takes more than teachers. It takes a community effort to make a difference in the educational process.

Ella Smith said...

Mr. Womack is correct. Shayna is correct but I still think it take more of a community effort also to turn a school around.

Anonymous said...

Tucker Mom - You have teachers trying to do their very best in the classrooms and you have students who have no guidance at home. You have some students who get no parental support at home and yet if there child is disciplined they will be calling teachers "liars." It's frustrating to see students who still can't read, can't phonetically sound things out but you can see something in them.

Attendance - Dekalb needs to do what I think it was Henry county - start taking them to court for lying about where they live. Affadavits are a joke!

Anonymous said...

The answer to the question is in the question. DCSS is a failure. This no chilrens left behind is absurd.

Each city should manage their own schools. The fact that the public school closest to me looks like Guatamala Elementary is shocking.
I live in a nice city?

There are too many pockets to navigate. Public schools should be localized learning institutions, they aren't in this neck of the woods. This problem could be solved in two years time. Let the villages educate their own children!

Imagine if the inner-city imposed a 5% surtax on rolling papers, 40's and Kool menthols. It would generate enough dough-ray-me for marble floored classrooms filled with individual tutors.

Cerebration said...

Well said - I couldn't agree with you more, anon! I have been advocating for breaking up the system into smaller systems for a long time.

It's the only way. This enormous system is out of control and money is flying out the cracks -- literally in some of our horrible, old schools, while they wildly overspend on other schools... it's ridiculous.