Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's Your $20 Million, Too

Below is an editorial I am circulating to my Brookhaven neighbors but one I think is relevant to all DeKalb tax payers. Readers of this blog have been very supportive of my efforts to speak for CKHS. I hope some of you will attend this critical briefing where your presence, observations or questions will have a significant impact ...

"Tuesday, November 3, beginning at 6:00pm, the team from the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) responsible for spending $20 million of your money renovating Cross Keys High School (CKHS) will be hosting a public briefing on the school campus at 1626 North Druid Hills Road. This may be your only chance to express your opinion about DCSS' plans or to ask questions about how your money is being invested.

I have spent many hours getting to know my local high school and to help reconnect it to its Brookhaven neighbors. Like others that have taken the time to learn about the school I have been impressed by 2 things: 1) the high quality of the young people there, and 2) the dilapidated condition of the current physical environment. It is an embarrassment that our young people spend their school days in such poor conditions just one mile from the heart of Brookhaven.

After reviewing the plan, I am of the opinion that the $20 million being spent at Cross Keys this year provides far from what is necessary to restore the physical plant to one that is worthy of its students or of Brookhaven. I also believe a key reason why relatively little is being invested in our local public high school is because many have become indifferent to the fate of this 52 year old Brookhaven institution.

It's time to wake up. Most of Brookhaven's children may have been taken out of Cross Keys over the years but Cross Keys is still in Brookhaven. If we don't watch over Brookhaven's local public high school, who will? I hope to see you this Tuesday night. After all, it's your $20 million.

-Kim Gokce, Member, CKHS - School Council, Director, Brookhaven Community Connection, President, HillsDale Neighborhood Association, Sponsor, CommunityRadar.com"


Anonymous said...

Kim, you are a true hero for all you've done to advocate for Cross Keys, the school which the DCSS administration and Board of Ed. ignored for years. We'll be there at the meeting, and don't ever get discouraged by the bureaucracy. What you're doing is invaluable.

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Cross Keys will eventually be treated equally to other DCSS high schools. It is unconscionable for Lewis and the BOE to spend over $60 million on a new Tucker High School and tens of millions on Arabia Mt. High, while Cross Keys deteriorates into the worst high school facility in the metro area.

It may not be until we get a new superintendent until that happens, but Cross Keys will never be the step child of DCSS again. Hang in there Kim!!

Cerebration said...

Nice rendering! Bloggers - I hope you will come out to this meeting en masse! Cross Keys is like the canary in the coal mine -- what happens to them, is an indication of what can happen to other area schools if left unattended much longer. The community must demand action - as Kim says - these are our tax dollars too. Without pressure from the community, I fear the system will continue to let our schools crumble. The community activism has made the difference so far and is needed to carry the torch to completion.

Anonymous said...

I get the impression that local school board members really do not care about Cross Keys. They do what is necessary for their image. However, behind close doors they suggest that local Brookhaven residence not make donations to benifit the children of Cross Keys because the school is closing.

I hear one thing from the school board members from the Cross Key's area, but I see their actions and words behind close doors to be different.

Anonymous said...

Parents form other schools...especially Chamblee and Lakeside.....
Where do you think over 900 children(current population of CK) will end up if they close Cross Keys?
Over 900 Economically Disadvantaged (ED), Hispanic and English Language Learners (ELL) children.
Enough children to create AYP subgroups in other schools. AYP subgroups they don't already have.
Cross Keys is 83% ED and 36% ELL..the 2 groups most likely to struggle with the state tests.
Just some things to think about.
PS: I am in on way speaking ill of these children. They are wonderful..but NCLB testing punishes schools and teachers who serve these kids.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:30, If DCSS educated ALL of it's children effectively and used the latest teaching techniques, held ALL students to high standards and required students to learn depth and not breath, than we wouldn't have to worry about any of our children passing the state tests.

Having taught using standards in other states, I never had to teach to the test, as I gave my students a quality education and they learned the standards deeply, so the tests were not a problem. I have never taught in a non economically disadvantaged school and have had my students make at least a year's progress on their tests, and usually their progress was over a year and a half progress.

Teachers are not able to be good teachers or have high standards. Good teachers aren't moved up and used to help the district improve. DCSS wouldn't know quality if it bit them in the butt.

andi said...

Does anyone know if CK has asbestos?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the old blame the teacher for the kids performance routine. "If they only had good teachers they would do as well as the children of Emory professors!"


Despite the endless research that shows parent income and education levels are the factors most highly correlated to student success on standardized tests...this teacher blame game still has traction?

Remember, the AYP testing does not measure growth. Only where you are the moment you take the test.

Here are three studies to get you started.



Note: These 2 were studies done by ETS…yep, the SAT people themselves.


Summary: Out of school factors are at least as important in determining test scores as in school factors (and sometimes more!)

Next Fact: Students who do not speak English...whose parents are not literate in their native language much less English...do not do as well on tests as the children of English speaking, well educated parents, no matter how good the teacher is. (Do we need to provide research for this?)

Stop blaming the teachers and lets support and encourage and assist those who work so hard with our systems most at risk kids!

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that asbestos at CK is an established fact.
Asbestos abatement was in the renovation proposals.

Cerebration said...

I've heard that as well. There is asbestos in the building, as there is in most older buildings. The concern is - can it be safely contained? The answer at Tucker and Open Campus was "no"... thus the tear-down/closure.

Kim Gokce said...

@andi: "Does anyone know if CK has asbestos?"

Yes. There are line items in the planning documents for "abatement" which is clearly for handling existing asbestos. I do not think this is a secret within DCSS. The only controversy I am aware of is over how it is going to be managed during the renovation.

Kim Gokce said...

Cerebration said: "The answer at Tucker and Open Campus was "no"... thus the tear-down/closure."

What has escaped me so far is exactly what was the bar for "safe handling" and why it is possible at CKHS and not the other 2 cases. Perhaps the scope of demolition envisioned???

Anonymous said...

Anon10:09, I am a teacher and we are not able to use best teaching practices that have been proven to work best. If we were, I would have fourth grade students who knew their basic math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I would not have to move on to division when 3/4 of my class doesn't have a strong grasp of the double digit multiplication.

I am not blaming teachers at all, but the county and the counties stupid ways. Teachers teach to the benchmark tests in elementary school, so that they can show student growth as that is what is valued and not the children getting a strong understanding or grasp of the material presented to them.

There is a reason why most parents in my neighborhood do not send their children to the DCSS local school and choose private schools or homeschooling and this lack of depth in learning is a key factor. I can't blame them, as I am not teaching, I am glossing over material and pray that my students get it. Students who have dyslexia, something that I myself have, are not helped in the way that research shows will help them to over come this.

I fight for my kids and for their education, but DCSS does not value quality teaching or in depth learning. If teachers were able to teach well and teach children skills that they need to reach the standards, than our scores for all children would go up.

I have taught ESOL students in the inner city of Chicago and those students were held to the same standards as a regular English speaking child once they were in ESOL after 3 years. These kids succeeded. It can be done!

The county can't even get RTI together-most states have been doing RTI for at least 5 years if not more. No one at my school can tell me what the county will and will not accept as showing that the kids need more help. I used to go around the country helping schools and teachers with RTI and improving quality instruction, what I did for schools in other states wasn't good enough last year as data collection for one of my students who desperately needed other resources. I couldn't understand it because it was exactly what I had used in states who have a better education system than Georgia.

I am sorry, but if teachers were able to give their students the best education possible and weren't tied down to benchmark tests that don't really demonstrate a child's true understanding. There is a reason why, good teachers like myself, will leave the county or have given up and just do what the county wants them to do even though they know it's not the right thing to do.

All children can learn when they are given effective instruction. DCSS doesn't often give or promote effective instruction, as the administration in charge doesn't know quality instruction or quality teaching practices that work best. The classes that I have had to take to keep my certification in my home state have shown me this all summer and fall long.

Kim Gokce said...

@Anon 5:09 ...

I know of one specific case where a business person put aside $5k in their budget for CKHS but sat on it due to this rumor/inference about the school "not being there for long" ... whether intentional or not, the leadership is harming CKHS with luke warm support.

Even if there were a plan to close the school (I do not believe there is), I would rather have our BoE representatives sing the praises of the school and actively support everyone's involvement right up to the minute they shuttered the doors of a school. Doing anything less is undermining the school's ability to operate and that is unacceptable.

I welcome any information you may have about such incidents so I can put out any fires like that - it is very damaging. Send in confidence to kim AT community radar DOT com. No one is more discreet and I simply want to contact anyone holding back support due to this mis-conception spreading. Thank you!

you said:
"I hear one thing from the school board members from the Cross Key's area, but I see their actions and words behind close doors to be different."

Anonymous said...

Kim, one of the reasons that Tucker was a demolition (in portions) and re-build is due to polluted soil beneath a key portion of the school. Apparently, this portion of the school had experienced foundation problems, maybe even odd smells. When the engineers did the core drilling they found contaminated soil below the building. Sometimes this can be due to collapsed sewer lines or even buried industrial waste from many years ago. The building had to be demolished and the contaminated soil removed.

Kim Gokce said...

Well, we had sewage back up under CKHS this year after the vagrants threw so much debris and clothing into the open manhole cover by the athletic field ... can I have a new school now, too? :)

Anonymous said...

There's an open manhole cover? WTF does the Sam Moss staff ever do?

Kim Gokce said...

Even though I know that is a rhetorical question, I have to be fair and say that the sewerage cover is down in the woods from the athletic field on the County sewer right of way.

CKHS Sewer Cover

Now, this is still school property but sort of no-mans land in terms of maintenance. Still, no doubt who owns the property - it's you and me and DCSS.

Cerebration said...

Anon 10:50 PM - thank you for sharing your insight. I couldn't agree with you more, from the perspective of a parent of a child with a learning disability. When people ask me about ES in DeKalb, I tell them that I learned (the hard way) that as a parent, you darn well better be teaching your child basic math facts and basic reading skills, because they skip right by these essentials at DCSS and jump right into first grade algebra... (that's tongue in cheek, but not too far from the truth).

The way we learned back in the dark ages - reading, math facts, etc is not the way it is done today whatsoever -- so dismiss those preconceived notions and get a good handle on what is actually being taught day by day in the classroom. You will have to get this info from the teacher, as DeKalb does not publish the details of their curriculum anywhere publicly (as almost every other district in the country does).

If I'm wrong, or this has changed, please post a link to the DCSS in-depth curriculum. I'd love to see it! (I have a feeling they are much too busy answering and filing lawsuits to bother with details such as curriculum communication.)

Cerebration said...

Kim is not kidding guys - this is an actual photo from our public school, Cross Keys.... disgusting, eh?

Dekalbparent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


This is DCSS property, and Sam Moss staff should have addressed it. Facilities Management 101 is making sure your grounds are being inspected regularly, every inch of your grounds.

Sam Moss staff has stop inspecting the grounds of the old Heritgae School off Briarcliff. Graffitti and trash in the back. Teenagers hanging out their nightly.

Sam Moss staff and their administrators just don't give a sh$%.

Dekalbparent said...

The DHHS student newspaper had a feature on the students there who were refugees. Each student told his/her own story in his/her own words, and it was quite moving. The also interviewed the ESOL teacher (herself a refugee from eastern Europe when you could get shot for trying to leave), and she told the stories from her own perspective. So many refugee and immigrant kids come here with little or no formal schooling, and yet they are expected to just jump in - and for the most part, they do. The common thread was how grateful the students were to be here, and how hard they are working. The dedication was something I could only wish for in our native-born kids.

When I compare the percentage of refugee/immigrant students at DHHS to the number at CKHS, I can begin to appreciate the job the teachers and staff there are dong, as well as how hard the students work. The only personal comparison I can make is my kid who works twice as hard as everyone else because she has severe dyslexia. But she is a native speaker of English, so she does not have to struggle the way ESOL students do to just understand what is said...

There is an article in today's AJC about college recruiting efforts for Hispanic students. It is a good read.

Anonymous said...

The same hall at Cross Keys which had the sewage overflow from the bathrooms into the hallway also has mold growing in several classroom. Come check out the multiple black spots all over the floors. Interestingly, the teachers in these rooms are suffering with sinus and respiratory issues. Does this mean we could qualify for a new building?

Cerebration said...

Ew. Take your board reps (Don and Gene) for a tour - and MAKE them use the restrooms.

Anonymous said...

Kim is it true that Crawford Lewis has spent 14,000,000 in legal fees for a case against a construction company? Teacher cant get step increase but he can blow our taxpayer dollars away in this matter! 14,000,000 taxpayer dollars. I heard there was a recall petiton to have him removed? Where is it ? I so want to be a part of it.

Anonymous said...

Cross keys cantget any money cause the attorneys are getting it all. If DCSS was so dirty they would not have so many legal issues. I am an African American who works within the school system, so I feel I can call a spade a spade. DCSS was not this bad until its upper management became prodominately black. No racism just a true fact.

Cerebration said...

Even though there has been considerable waste in SPLOST spending - and the apparent need to spend millions upon millions on lawyers and investigations, SPLOST money is still a penny sales tax, strictly earmarked for construction. I really don't know what fund the money for the lawyers comes out of - if it's SPLOST money, then it's causing schools to suffer by not getting projects done. If it's regular funds - then yes, teachers are most likely taking the hit. The money for all this legal work has to come from somewhere - either the kids or the teachers are usually the ones to suffer. Ask your board rep where the money comes from to pay King & Spalding for the Heery/Mitchell lawsuit. Ask them how much has been spent to date. I wonder if they even know.

Word is though, that the mismanagement of SPLOST 1 & 2 construction projects and their totally out of control change orders cost the taxpayers much, much, MUCH more than even these attorneys. Say what you will about Pat Pope - and they can "investigate" her to kingdom come - but she didn't let the construction budgets get out of control - she didn't cost us tens of millions - maybe even 100 million. I think the blame is being laid at her feet - but I truly don't think she's the core of the problem.

Anonymous said...

They haven't spent 14 million but the problem is that Heery is sueing DCSS as well.

Both sides strongly believe that they can win in court and so at the beginning of this thing, there was a general reluctance to settle. I suspect that perhaps both sides are sorry that they didn't settle earlier.

I think Heery might win because Pritchett et all were so incompetent.

Anonymous said...

What are the grounds of the suit? Under whose administration was it filed? I am going to my BOE representative to find out how much they have spent and where that money came from. this is public information. Wouldnt Marcus Turk's office have this information.

Anonymous said...

It was reported in the news that it was 14,000,000. I have been trying to find the information. DCSS is a public entity. This should be in public finacial records.

Cerebration said...

On another note, while Johnny Brown was superintendent, DCSS successfully sued the state of Georgia for $100 million. I wonder if they've collected that money.


Anonymous said...

Wow, wow and more wow. How come this is never mentioned by the BOE and C Lew??? $100 million? Where is it?

DeKalb County School Board Awarded More Than $110 Million in Suit Against State of Georgia.

ATLANTA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 25, 2002

Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane, of the Superior Court of Fulton County (Georgia), awarded the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) more than $110 million in damages, in the DCSD's suit against Linda Schrenko, State School.

Superintendent (DeKalb County School District, et al. v. Linda Schrenko, et al. Civil Action File No. 2001CV3545).

At issue in the case was the definition of O.C.G.A. 20-2-188, which statutorily requires the state to pay certain student transportation costs associated with busing students to schools outside of their regular districts in order to remedy segregated schools under Georgia's Quality Basic Education Act. DCSD's Majority to Minority and magnet school programs were designed to do just that.

Georgia law requires the State to calculate transportation funding based on the distance between a student's home and the school "to which [the student is] assigned." The State argued that the school to which the statute refers is the neighborhood or zone school regardless of whether the student actually attends that school. This interpretation results in less transportation funding for school districts such as DCSD, which bus a significant number of students to attend schools other than their zone schools. For over two decades then, based on their interpretation of the law, the State withheld funds from DCSD and failed to pay the proper costs associated with DCSD's busing program.

The Court found, however, based on both a common sense reading of the statute as well as legal theories of statutory interpretation, that the school "to which [the student is] assigned" for purposes of transportation funding is the school that the child actually attends.

Because the State had violated state law by funding transportation on the basis of its erroneous interpretation of the statute, the Court ordered the State to pay the DeKalb County School District $68,070,433 in transportation funds wrongfully withheld from DeKalb since 1978 plus interest in the amount of $42,315,501 through September 16, the date of the judgment. Thereafter, interest will be payable on the principal at the post-judgment rate under Georgia law of 12% per annum (approx. $22,000 a day) until the judgment is paid.

Dr. Johnny E. Brown, Superintendent of the DeKalb School System said, "We couldn't be happier. When provided, these funds will mean added resources for instruction of our students in important areas such as reading and math. The children of DeKalb are the true winners in this case."

"We're obviously very pleased with Judge Tipton Lane's decision and this is an incredibly significant victory for DeKalb," said Al Lindseth, a partner in the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, and lead lawyer for the DCSD. "The State's refusal to pay for what the law clearly said they should pay for has for too long deflected needed funds from the DCSD. For example, from the interest earned in just two days alone (more than $44,000), DeKalb could pay one new teacher's salary for an entire year," he added.

The judge further ordered the state to "calculate and pay the state transportation allotment" for the DCSD for 2002 and beyond.

fedupindcss said...

I have a vague recollection that it was thrown out on appeal. It was weird, though, something along the lines of DCSS being correct but they didn't deserve the money. I don't really remember. I do remember at the time that the school board was mentally (or actually) pre-spending the money, and then they didn't get it.

Dekalbparent said...

@fedup -

That's ringing a bell with me, too. I'll try to check it out (if somebody doesn't beat me to it - we have ace cyber-investigators on this blog!)

One Fed Up Insider said...

Please remember, this lawsuit against Heery is old lawsuit that has not gone to court.

DeKalb has spent $14 million on a $500,000 bill that was change orders made during the first or second SPLOST.

Has it made any sense to spend $14 million on a $500,000 bill?

Go back and check it is there. WSB did a report many moon ago on this.

Anonymous said...

The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the trial court, thus throwing out DeKalb County's $105 million award. Schrenko v. DeKalb School Dist., 276 Ga. 786 (2003).

Cerebration said...

Actually, FedUp, I think the suit's about a pattern of mismanagement by Heery/Mitchell that cost the school system millions in unnecessary or over-priced change orders. Heery and DCSS don't seem to agree on who was in charge of what. DCSS seems to think that Heery was in charge of everything - and Pritchett was just there to sign forms.... The only reason Pat Pope is involved is because she was the one to point out the runaway change orders and put a stop to it (mainly because she's a construction professional - not an educator) - in SPLOST 2, DCSS basically acknowledged that no one in the system had a clue about construction so they hired HM to oversee it all - to serve as their guardian angel - be their eyes and ears - and report all changes and oddities. HM of course, bungled several tasks - and weren't watching things like DCSS was assuming they were and the contractors ran off with pots of gold (or at least pennies - from which the taxes came). In the end, Pritchett ditched DCSS and got a real nice job over at Morris Brown. And who is paying the price for the bungled construction now? Pat Pope - they're trying to make it look like it's all her doing - all her fault - that conniving woman and her master plan. How strange.

Cerebration said...

Was that why Schrenko was found out to have stolen money for a face lift and stuff? Jury trials are always so full of interesting surprises dug up by attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what is going on at Sam Moss since Pope was 'reassigned'?

Concerned Taxpayer said...

That's right Cerebration! Now they (Crawford Lewis) has placed former principals in charge again and they are already making a mess of things. Pope is paying the price for Pritchett. Now since Crawford was intimidated by Pope - he lobbyed to get her removed.

Cerebration said...

We'll certainly know on Tuesday - if someone shows up for the long-awaited community meeting at Cross Keys with the promise of showing the construction plans to the community. Who will represent the county at that meeting I wonder? Will they simply chicken out and "postpone" it yet again?

6 PM people - Tuesday - show up for this one!

Anonymous said...


Isn't Pope the 'key' witness in the Heery lawsuit?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I work there and they are trying to prepare for the Community meeting. They will have a rep there, but she won't have any answers. Then Donahue will try to keep the peace - still no answers.

Cerebration said...

This is incredibly sad for Cross Keys. How on earth did this all get so incredibly messed up? I couldn't be more disgusted.

Kim Gokce said...

I have been very concerned for months about how the SPLOST III project will progress at CKHS - the current personnel problems only intensify these concerns.

I believe the work will progress as specified but what is left undone will be shocking. My concern is that at the end of all this effort, money and time CKHS will still be woefully lacking in its plant and way behind its peers in future prioritization.

By all means show up at CKHS Tuesday a 6:00pm but also tune into PDS-TV Monday where CKHS and this project will be the topic of my public comments (Slot #1) at the Board's Work Session at Dunwoody HS. Don't be late!

Anonymous said...

Kim, Did the DeKalb County commission approve the rezoning of the Buford Highway corridor to a much higher density? I think this was to allow the building of the high density Symphony Park development immediately below Cross Keys HS.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much DCSS spent on attorneys for that $105 million lawsuit with the state that they ended up getting nothing from.

Will we ever really know how much of our tax money they spend on attorneys? It's criminal for sure.

Kim Gokce said...

@Anon 10:02 re: Buford/Symphony Park ... those are still in progress. The general Buford Hwy land use and zoning question has been tied loosely by Comm. Rader to the specific project in Symphony Park planning process by Cortland Partners.

The Cortland applications are going through the County's planning cycle as we speak and are on the agenda of the Planning Commission meeting this coming Tuesday (can't be in 2 places so I'm missing that one).

Redovian and Drake plan to be at that meeting and I will get the details from the meeting one way or the other (wish an attendee would post up notes at Community Radar for all of us!).

In any case, if the Cortland Partners project next to CKHS and Woodward gets approved, it is still an open question of when will they get financing to start - not positive in the short- to med-term. So, my guess is that we are at least 6-12 months away from anything like a finalized land use plan for the lower Buford Hwy section in question (NDH -> Briarwood Rd) and the same for any possible start to Symphony Park.

I do know a former resident of one of the appmts in question for this project and he indicated a couple of months ago that the management had already let folks know their days were numbered. So, I think there may be folks moving out of some of the 4 properties in scope of Symphony Park even though the application hasn't been approved.

fedupindcss said...

Anon 10:26--
Can't tell you how much they paid, but I can give you the list of attorneys who represented DCSS; you can then form your own conclusion:
Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, Alfred A. Lindseth, Rocco E. Testani, Melanie W. Crowe, Weekes & Candler, Gary H. Sams.

Chip Franzoni always complained about the retainers and the fact that they still had to hire outside counsel all the time. I would expect a school system this large to have a lot of legal issues, but we seem to have more than our share.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know anything about Ms. Barbara Colman? She is listed as Interim CIP Operations Officer on the BOE agenda for Monday night?

Experience? Skill set?

Anonymous said...

Kim, I asked about Symphony Park because I have been trying to figure out the basis for the large increase in projected HS enrollment for Ck (and Dunwoody). I didn't know if it was based on a large elementary population that will be in HS in six years or if it is anticipating a lot of high density housing.

Kim Gokce said...

@Anon 7:36 ... good questions but I do not know what fundamental assumptions are being used by DCSS. I would assume until we find out otherwise that is "all of the above" along with demographic shifts. Many of the neighborhoods built up around our schools (CKHS, DHS, LHS, CCHS, etc.) in the 50s and 60s are going through generational turnover from retirees to 1st-time home buyers and young families. For example, in the next four houses on my street there are already 4 kids under 5 years old and 4 of their moms are pregnant.

So, I think there are many threads that support the expected increase in enrollment.

Cerebration said...

I didn't see this so much as a projected growth in enrollment as a reduction in capacity numbers. Cross Keys has been listed for years as having the capacity for about 1300 students. Now, these new figures show the capacity at just over 1000. I wonder if that means they are just going to close one of the buildings?... Or maybe it has to do with re-configuring class size using ESOL standards? I'm not sure. There is growth projected, but there is also a reduction in capacity.

Kim Gokce said...

Cere: I think the reduction in capacity could certainly be due to ELL class size mandates finally being recognized in the numbers. Another thought that occurred to me is whether this is simply a recognition of the loss of classrooms from the 4th wing being converted into use for the Tech School. Is DCSS including the planned capacity and their enrollment in their capacity number??? Perhaps I can get an answer at the Tuesday evening SPLOST III project's public meeting at the school.