Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kevin Levitas promoting ethics on the school board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Kevin!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Audacity is Astounding!

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




To: All DeKalb Employees

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

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

Subject: Wellness Center - Opening

Date: 23 November 2009

DCSS Employee Wellness Center

The Wellness Center is FREE for all employees.

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

Opening December 1st

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

The Wellness Center is equipped with the following:

• 1/2 court basketball

• Weight room

• Cybex select machines

• Free weights

• Cardio room

• 5 treadmills

• 4 elliptical trainers

• 4 stationary bicycles

• Training Equipment

• Medicine balls

• Resistance Bands

• Aerobic steps

• Exercise balls

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

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

The Wellness Center is located at the following address:

Mountain Industrial Center

1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard

Stone Mountain, GA 30083

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

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

or 6-0142.


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

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Graduation for All Act of 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better School Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking

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

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


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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

But then again, the block can be an enlightened way to educate

Ok, so most of you know that I have been pretty vocal about my distaste of the block schedule. My main issue with the DeKalb system has to do with the fact that students are actually taking 32 credits over four years in high school, when they only need 24 to graduate. I think at some level, the block is offering unnecessary classes and keeping students in class when they should in fact, be working or attending college half-days or volunteering. Also, not all teachers are properly trained in utilizing the block schedule to it's fullest and intended potential. (It is not supposed to serve as a regular class with a short study hall at the end to do homework.)

That said, I was sent an interesting chart by one of our regular contributors that gave me pause. Click on the chart below to see an enlarged version, but basically the chart shows the size of classes in DCSS for the 2009-2010 school year. This is straight from the SACS web site.

The contributor shared the following concerns: "Let's look at 6 - 12 remedial with no para. On the 7 period schedule (5 teaching and 2 planning), one teacher could see max 5 * 20 = 100 students per day. Now let look at the same thing on the block (3 periods teaching and 1 planning): 3 * 20 = 60 students per day. Now, with only 60 students per day, the block teacher could tailor their lesson plans more to the student and could probably catch more problems with the student more than one could teaching 100."

"The workload is out of balance between the systems. Teachers see two more more classes per day on a regular schedule than a 4x4 block schedule. Yet, they are held to the same high standards as a block. Then when you get to PE and Chorus and Band - it appears that those teachers need help with crowd control. But for example, let's look at PE: 3 *42 = 126 (Block) 6 * 42 = 252 (Specials teachers only have 1 prep class per day so see 6 groups of students). They also have many extra duties that core teachers do not have, but they still have the same paper work."

George Cassutto, middle school civics teacher in another state has written some interesting essays about the block schedule, which he very much favors. I would suggest reading his online essays, as he makes some very cogent arguments for the block. I was enlightened by much of what he has written. Below are some excerpts.

When a teacher makes the transition from teaching on the 45-minute period to the extended block, a transformation takes place. The entire atmosphere of the classroom upgrades itself toward one of cooperation, collegiality, and connectedness. The teacher knows that the extended time frame calls for new strategies, and the students usually respond in a positive manner if challenged appropriately. The primary shift involves a transition from teacher-centeredness to student-centered activities. The result of this shift is that students are more involved, more engaged, and they develop a greater stake in their own educational process.....

The block schedule leads the teacher to rely on all the resources at his or her disposal. The teacher will rely on traditional tools such as the textbook, audio-visual resources, and the computer, but a new dimension enters the mix as well. The teacher must set a positive tone for learning. The teacher must enunciate a reasonable rationale to the student for wanting to be engaged. And the teacher must model the desire for acquiring new skills and knowledge that will resonate within the student in the form of higher levels of inquisitiveness and motivation. Most importantly, the increased time in class will allow the teacher to build positive relationships with the students, even behaviorally and academically challenging ones. In fact, it is the at-risk population from which the renewed teacher-student relationship can most benefit.....

The world in which we teach is constantly experiencing accelerated change. The diversity of the population that we teach continues to grow, and teachers must help push the educational establishment along so the needs of that diverse population are being met. With longer class periods, the teacher can put a wider variety of approaches to work, allowing all students to succeed without regard to ethnic background or nationality or handicapping condition. The movement toward inclusion and English as a second language will find itself more at home within a school schedule that allows for greater one-on-one interaction between teachers and students. As my new school starts its service to the population of our county, so will its staff become aware of the value of the block schedule as well as its ancillary methodologies such as cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and technology integration. These teachers are, for the most part, already veterans in their subject areas. It will be a refreshing and fascinating school year as we watch the staff coalesce and make learning a fascinating experience for the young people that will enter their doors.

And finally, the University of Pittsburg shares their succinct explanation for focusing on a new curriculum in the Chemical Engineering school as, “The shift in curriculum is from short, (primarily) disconnected courses with little "integrated" insight until late in the curriculum, to a more thoroughly integrated curriculum involving longer classes which take advantage of Block Scheduling.

So, it seems that the block can be highly effective, with proper teacher training and a deep, integrated curriculum. The block is not meant to offer time to do homework, or as simply a longer version of the same class, it is meant to offer time for teachers to gain more understanding of their (hopefully smaller) groups of students and to discover the best ways they each learn as individuals. With the proper focus, industrious use of time and inspired teaching techniques, the block schedule has the ability to greatly enhance learning.

There are pros and cons to the block and I know that each of our high schools, and specifically Dunwoody at their meeting Monday evening, will go with the system that will best suit their style.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Send in your suggestions!

Here's your chance, people. The DCSS leadership is asking for budget-cutting suggestions from teachers and staff. We think our bloggers can also offer a plethora of suggestions of ways to save. Please send your very best idea to your board rep - send them real, helpful, valid ideas. We've had some great discussions on the subject here so you should be able to do this easily, thoughtfully and respectfully!

SOME FACTS -- From Marcus Turk

Managing a shrinking budget in DeKalb Schools is a challenging task. We have diligently worked to endure the funding shortages and maintain an excellent quality of education for our students. We have not laid-off any classroom teachers and have not increased the millage rate in seven years.

The General Fund makes up the largest portion of the budget and is made up of a mix of state and local funds.

State revenue is actually decreasing. For every $1 DCSS earns in state revenue, the state keeps 33 cents in the forms of the Local Five Mill Share and Austerity Reductions.

Local revenue, or property tax revenue is decreasing in DeKalb also. Foreclosures, fewer home sales, and high rates of unemployment have caused the value of the property tax digest to decrease from last year to this year.

Our student population has risen this year. With an increase in FTE and a decrease in state and local revenue, we have to do more with less.

Readers, DCSS leadership is looking for ways to trim the budget even further in this tough economy. If you would like to share innovative suggestions or ideas you may have regarding the budget, email your suggestions to your board rep - their info can be found at this link.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

iPods coming to DeKalb?

As reported in today's AJC, in an article entitled, Grants launch algebra by iPod, three DeKalb schools are poised to receive handheld devices for use by students in some AP classrooms.

"As envisioned by state officials, these devices would be the primary, everyday learning tool of students in class and at home. Class projects, homework and research reports will all go digital."

"'Do you know the Jetsons? This is George and [Jane’s] world,' said Mindy DiSalvo, assistant director of grants and community programs for the DeKalb County school system. DeKalb is one of 47 systems awarded grants in the first round of funding approved last week by state school board members. The system, which won $193,740, will hand out iPods and netbooks (mini laptops) to about 300 students at three high schools; Cross Keys, Stone Mountain and MLK Jr., next semester.

"The DeKalb students are enrolled in Advanced Placement biology or chemistry classes, where rote textbook lessons and experiments can be expanded and enlivened. “We’re going to say to them, ‘You’ve got the iPods and netbooks. Now find six research institutions across the country doing cell division,” said DiSalvo, who wrote DeKalb’s winning grant proposal. DeKalb will insure the devices against loss or damage, and teachers will be able to monitor how the devices are used."

"State officials expect a second round of grants to be recommended for at least 10 more systems, probably in January. The devices must be given to students no later than March 1, with pilot programs at each school expected to run at least through the 2010-11 school year."

Visit this link at the AJC to read the rest of the article.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dr. Walker's follow-up to the racial comments at the Oct 5 meeting

OTHER\BOARD COMMENTS from the October 12, 2009 Business Meeting

Dr. Eugene Walker, Board Member, District 9, made the following comments:

I ask your indulgence as I offer some response to many of the unflattering comments made at the last Board Meeting.

I am appalled and offended by the provocative, demeaning and degrading words spoken at the last Board Meeting. The speakers’ pseudo egalitarian attempt at being unbiased was unmasked when they wantonly and without provocation used derogatory and inflammatory descriptive terms to defame persons of the past who stood up for equal justice.

Remember, dinosaurs have been extinct and nonexistent for millions of years. However, the fight for equality in America, whether it be for race, sex, religion or creed is and will continue to be an ongoing battle. A color blind society we are not. The mere fact that we have engaged in this dialogue and debate reflects this. At the same time, though, the racial and ethnic insensitivity of those board members who claimed the “race card” was being played is both baffling and void of logic.

Let’s be clear here. It was not an imagined agenda when the Board, without any research or assessment, broke ranks with a practice that had been in place from the Weekes & Candler days as school system attorney and made the unprecedented move to request the proposal for a sole vendor. Historically, Weekes and Candler served as General Counsel to the Board. The Board allowed the firm to hire other law firms to handle matters in various specialty areas of the law. When Ms. Alexander became Co-General Counsel and subsequently General Counsel, this practice of hiring law firms that specialized in certain areas continued. In fact, this practice continued under several different Superintendents – Dr. Freeman, Dr. Hallford, Dr. Brown and Dr. Lewis. Again, in my opinion, when the Board made this arbitrary move to seek a large firm as sole vendor this automatically meant Alexander & Associates could not qualify. When this crystal clear situation occurred I did not have to play the “race card” because the actions of my fellow board members is what made race the central issue. If this was not an act of discrimination I don’t know what is.

I was also accused of questioning the ethics and making scurrilous and irresponsible statements about our new General Counsel. Just a few weeks ago, this Board allowed the majority law firm to submit a bid for all of the legal work of the School District without asking the minority law firm to submit a bid for the same work. This was after the Board officially voted and specifically carved out the areas it wanted Sutherland to negotiate with the Superintendent and the areas Alexander & Associates was to negotiate with the Superintendent. The Board awarded General Counsel Services to Sutherland, and Human Resources, Fair Dismissal Hearings and Workers’ Compensation to Alexander & Associates. The Board then directed each firm to negotiate a flat fee according to the areas allocated to each firm.

Sutherland, without solicitation from the Board submitted two bids, one of which included the work awarded to Alexander & Associates. Alexander & Associates did not get the opportunity to bid on all legal work. Therefore, how could any Board Member say that they wanted to save the School District money, when we don’t know how much money the School District would have saved because Alexander & Associates was not allowed to bid on all of the work. Sutherland’s action was, in my opinion, not only unethical; it was unfair and placed Alexander & Associates at a huge disadvantage.

Fellow Board Members, I am not offended about your rights to say what you said. I am offended about the way you attacked those who feel and speak differently from your thoughts and feelings. I am offended that you espouse a culture of color blindness, yet your rhetoric reveals the deep resentment you have for African American inclusion. I am offended that your accusatory diatribe was aimed specifically at those African-American Board Members who spoke out for a black law firm on the grounds of diversity and inclusion. While at the same time, there were Board Members who fought just as hard and spoke just as forcefully for the white law firm. Equality is a term that does not lend itself to what is convenient or expeditious. It requires balance and fairness.

Nov. 9 board mtg - did anyone go?

I couldn't get to the meeting yesterday, don't know if there was anything worth noting. Did anyone attend? Anything worth noting? was Pope on the agenda of the "called" meeting about personnel?

The top-five reasons to avoid a high school

Reprinted from Great Schools

High schools don't post banners announcing when they are failing. So how are parents supposed to know which ones aren't doing their job?

By GreatSchools Staff

In its first months, the Obama administration declared that it wanted the nation's 1,000 lowest-performing schools to close and reopen under new management each year for the next five years. Many education reformers welcomed the announcement, but some parents were left with a basic question in the meantime: How do we know whether our school is one of the really bad ones?

Evaluating a school is a complex undertaking — perhaps no more so than with a high school, where student performance reflects not just the efficacy of that school but the effectiveness of every other school students have attended. Nevertheless, we've put together a list of the top-five reasons to avoid a high school, even if your son or daughter is begging to be enrolled there:

1. It's not safe. Bored teachers, uncreative lesson plans, a swim team without a pool — there are ways of working with shortcomings like these in a high school. But if the place isn't safe, that's a nonstarter. This isn't just for parents' peace of mind. Study after study has shown children's brains to be incapable of learning when kids are actively concerned about their physical well-being. If your local high school is rife with violence — or even bullying — there's no bigger warning sign. After all, if the principal can't ensure basic safety, it's likely that other priorities are going unmet too.

2. Bad teaching. Nobody sets out to be a bad teacher, but it can happen over time. Some years back, Guy Strickland published the handbook Bad Teachers: The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents. The book had its critics, but many parents found Strickland's breakdown useful. Education magazine came out with a handy summary of bad teachers' characteristics:

  • They lack subject knowledge.
  • They have poor classroom control.
  • They act unprofessionally.
  • They can't diagnose learning problems.
  • They are obsessive about method (particularly about whole language, although Strickland is obsessive about phonics and an avid opponent of Madeline Hunter's work).
  • They focus on the wrong goals.
  • They have no goals at all.

3. The kids aren't graduating. Or at least a lot of them aren't. If the dropout rate is alarmingly high at the school you're considering, ask why. Are the teachers fully engaged? Are the students? Are they allowed to advance to the next grade level without meeting basic reading and math competencies? There are certainly examples of great schools that still struggle with a core of underachieving students (these kids are failing despite the schools’ best efforts, not because of them). But when underachievement is the norm, it can be hard for anyone — kids or teachers — to swim against the current for long.

4. Terrible teacher-to-student ratio. There's evidence suggesting that class size isn't the holy grail it's sometimes billed to be. But there's a caveat to that evidence: within reason. This year represents the first on record that the United States has seen education jobs decline while enrollment rose, according to BusinessWeek. This is a general trend, of course, and individual schools will weather it differently. Nevertheless, it serves to highlight the crisis of overcrowded classes and overworked teachers in some schools. When considering a high school, make sure there's space for your child — figuratively and literally.

5. It's not a good school. In a sense, identifying a bad high school isn't rocket science — as long as you know what the signs of a good one are. Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot outlined those very signs in her book The Good High School. "In good high schools students are treated with fearless and empathetic attention by adults," she writes. "Teachers know individual students well and are knowledgeable about adolescence as a developmental period." Visit the school you're considering. If the teachers don't fit that description, it could be a signal that you should look elsewhere.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hot News! DeKalb delays closing schools

DeKalb officials delay closing schools to get more input

By Kristina Torres
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

5:10 p.m. Friday, November 6, 2009

Plans to close more schools in DeKalb County have been put on hold for a year, as system officials committed Friday to a more open and inclusive decision-making process.

The change gives school officials more time to collect data about student enrollment and confirm or update school building capacities. Over the next two months, they will also create a "planning task force" of community members to help them weigh their options. The 20-member task force is expected to start work in January and end in October. The new time line tentatively puts a re-crafted plan before school board members for action in December 2010.

"What we're trying to do is get more buy-in on the problem before we come up with a solution," said Dan Drake, who the system hired in September to be its planning and forecasting director -- the first DeKalb has had.

Robert Moseley, the system's deputy chief superintendent for school operations, credited Drake for suggesting that the system step back and reexamine its plans.

Officials previously said they would announce a countywide school closure and redistricting plan this month. Work on that plan started over the summer but was partially dependent on a 2006 demographic study. The study, done by an outside consultant, projected enrollment through 2016 and was completed before a previous round of school closures. But due to its timing, it didn't account for the recession and the housing bubble burst. Still, Moseley said officials found the experience so useful that it made them prioritize the hiring of an in-house expert.

That officials are considering closing schools at all stems from their costs at a time when the state continues to cut its financial support and local taxpayers are in no mood to raise their own. DeKalb, with about 98,000 students, supports 153 campuses -- more than Georgia's largest system, Gwinnett, with nearly 160,000 students.

Additionally, a number of DeKalb schools are under-enrolled. DeKalb subsidizes their cost because they do not serve enough students to qualify for full state funding -- such as the 450 students needed for the state to cover an elementary school's full staffing and operations costs.

Last summer, DeKalb closed five elementary schools for that reason. Officials also redrew attendance lines for 18 other schools and moved several school choice programs, including the high-profile Kittredge Magnet School for High Achievers, to different campuses -- for a savings of $4 million annually.

At the time, officials targeted some of the most severely under-enrolled schools, with 300 or fewer students.

The small schools were, in effect, low-hanging fruit. Now officials will probably look higher. Eleven elementary schools currently enroll fewer than 400 students. However, there is no indication so far of which schools are most in danger; a school may serve fewer students but be considered well-used given its space, such as housing a special-needs program.

Drake, a certified planner with a master's degree in civil engineering, came to DeKalb after working as the public works director in Milton. He expects the task force to propose a preferred scenario about school closures, as well as attendance line changes to balance out enrollment, by next summer. That draft will be presented to the public before a final plan is made. Once approved by the board, schools would close in August 2011.

Find this article at:

Atlanta the nation’s “most toxic” city

Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 5:01pm EST
Forbes: Atlanta the ‘most toxic’ U.S. city
Atlanta Business Chronicle

Forbes magazine has ranked Atlanta the nation’s “most toxic” city.

“In Atlanta, Ga., you'll find southern gentility, a world-class music scene--and 21,000 tons of environmental waste,” noted. “In spite of its charms, the city's combination of air pollution, contaminated land and atmospheric chemicals makes it the most toxic city in the country.”

Forbes said it looked at the country's 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas based on data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It then counted the number of facilities that reported releasing toxins into the environment, the total pounds of certain toxic chemicals released into the air, water and earth, the days per year that air pollution was above healthy levels, and the total number of Superfund sites (contaminated areas that the federal government has designated for cleanup efforts) in each city.

According to the data, Atlanta has 58 Superfund sites, 277 facilities releasing toxic chemicals, 41.5 million pounds of released toxic chemicals, and the 28th-worst air quality.

The least toxic was Las Vegas.

Click here to see the complete list of toxic cities.


I reposted this simply because we need to be aware of just how out of control Atlanta is regarding the environment - and fight for a better environment in the future for our children.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

DCSS board special meeting Nov. 9 "personnel matter"

Monday, November 9, 2009:

4:30pm Called Meeting to adjourn to Executive Session to discuss a personnel matter
Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center
Building A, J. David Williamson Board Room
3770 North Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30032

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

CKHS SPLOST III Reno - "It Will Happen"

Back in April, the Cross Keys HS community was told that the SPLOST III and DeKalb School of Technology-North move, site plans and schedule would be presented by DCSS in the June time frame. In July, Patricia Pope told the AJC that the community would see the plans by "mid-August." Last night, November 3, 2009 we got our look-see and our question and answer session in a public meeting in the school's media center (that's the library for oldsters like me).

Let's start off with the goods! Here are the four elevations shared at the meeting:

Building Addition - 4th wing
Art Classrooms - 4th wing

Main Office Enhancements
Corridor Upgrades
The only notable qualification on these images I should make is that the rendered floors leave a mis-impression that the original floors will be modified in some way - they will not.

The turn out was substantial with easily 100+ attendees crammed into the school's small library (literally standing room only this night). Faculty, parents, neighbors, local officials, and DCSS employees accounted for probably 80% of the audience and included friends of Cross Keys from outside our zone such as Ella Smith and Page Olson. The remaining 20% were current students!

The kids at CKHS did it again and took me off guard by their commitment and effort on behalf of their own school. How about that - the children are filling the gap in leadership in our community and school system! They had many great questions.

There were many touching moments during this 1 hour meeting that ran 2 hours. At the end of the meeting, there were still many hands in the air. Ms. Heckman, Area Assistant Superintendent, Region 1, did a great job trying to address the many questions and concerns while staying positive. Ms. Barbara Colman, described as "interim" construction chief, spoke directly, competently, and seemed very attentive to those present and their concerns. She also stayed quite a while afterward to answer individual questions.

While a lot of ground was covered, the majority of it had to do with the long history of neglect of Cross Keys HS. Everyone expressed delight with the planned improvements but it became very clear very early that the attendees felt the project will deliver far from what is hoped for and needed. This, of course, should be no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the overall situation. There was little in the way of revelations or "news."

That said, here are some random items worth noting:
  1. Ms. Colman did indicate that interior ADA requirements would be in scope and I also heard her say the tennis courts would be restored/replaced after the modular classrooms were removed.
  2. In a sidebar, there was agreement that DCSS Facilities could effectively encapsulate some of the fragmented asbestos tile that has been a concern of Jeff Bragg's (longtime CKHS faculty member) for some time without having to wait for the renovation plan to be executed.
  3. "The Long Summer non-Start" - The construction team has been on hold awaiting 12 permits. The only one remaining is the Land Disturbance Permit which they are expecting any day.
  4. Evergreen Construction has apparently done some work for Gwinnet Co. schools with some success and this is their first project for DeKalb Co. - there was much in the way of high expectations for quality and speed set by Ms. Colman and Evergreen.
  5. The team is now talking aggressively again about being finished by next school year if things go well - that was a surprise but, of course, not a commitment.
  6. Steve Donahue was present and immediately responsive to complaints about the conditions in the trailers. He stayed afterward and took down specific trailer numbers for action.
  7. Jeff Bragg made the striking point that much of the items being discussed at the meeting were first discussed when the current CKHS seniors were in the 4th grade.
  8. Don McChesney did a great job of summing up the situation with SPLOST overall and the failures of the past at Cross Keys HS and around the County.

I did not plan to record any of the meeting but once I sensed some very moving things being said, I fired up the mobile phone camera. So, even though they are poor quality, here are what I consider a few interesting excerpts from the Q&A. I will also post an update here with a long, uninterrupted segment of the Q&A later that includes some of the student interactions. I will answer any questions folks have to the best of my recollection if there are any specific ones you have in mind post it in comments.

During the SPLOST III public meeting on the topic of planned renovations at Cross Keys HS, a mother of a member of the girls soccer team expresses concern about the security and condition of the athletic field and whether this will be addressed in the plans. (first half in Spanish so wait for translation and answer in English)

Mr. Albert Martin, a life-long area resident and former substitute teacher and campus coordinator for Cross Keys, asks why Air Quality and Mold corrective action has to wait for the renovation while it has been a known issue for at least 3 years (see still photo at very bottom of this post). The answer is delivered by Ms Beth Heckman, Area Assistant Superintendent - Region 1. Ms. Heckman also asks to recognize the students and parents present.

Don McChesney Addresses Community Concerns (full text below - sound is hard to follow)

Text of Mr. McChesney comments: "Folks, I'm so old I remember when this school was new. And I remember when it was the show-place of DeKalb County. And I would like to get it started on its way again.

And I've heard what people have said; I hear your skepticism. You heard a lots of the problems of the past - the given schedules that haven't occurred. And I understand why you don't believe much of what we say.

The only thing I can say right now is: it's going to happen. It is going to happen. And these folks that ... there are eight other Board members besides me that ask these questions. And we've asked these questions of these folks here. We want to see you get a quality building here. And it is going to happen.

Evergreen has a very good reputation and I know of them in other Counties. What you've done some work in Gwinnett County and so forth and I'm very familiar with that.

To re-hash the past and all the failures will only make us spin our wheels. We can't reclaim that. It is done; it's gone and it wasn't a good story. But we're at a new place now. And I think if you start and look at what's going to happen at this new place, you will be pleased with what happens.

Now to address one other thing and this is what I telling Kim all the time we talk. And Mr. Moseley mentioned this tonight. Everybody wants so much. We have $2 billion dollars worth of needs in the County; $500 million of money to do it.

That means you get 25%. That's what all the schools get. They're going to get 25% ... [obscured by background noise]

Down the line I hope there will be further improvements but I think you're going to like what you get here. It's going to happen soon as soon as the County, not the DeKalb County Schools, but the County building permits people give us permission to go it is going to happen. And you'll actually see mortar, bricks, and dirt and things happen. And when that happens I think it will make it happen.

And if it doesn't happen, there are those of us on the Board that are going to be asking asking these people why it didn't happen. Because remember now, as a politician, I finally I have to answer to you. And you're going to ask well why didn't you get this done. Well, we're going to ask those same questions.

And I know these folks are very dedicated to what needs to be done here. And please please give them the chance now to do this. And try to get past as much as you can because, like I said, it is not going to help where we are now. This is going to happen and I think you are going to like it." -Don McChesney, BoE District 2

Supplemental Photo
Mold of unknown source has been growing in CKHS classrooms for years. This shot is in a room that has not had flooding from rain or condensation but is on a hall that has had sewage backups. There is no known source for moisture in the rooms that may be feeding the mold.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the Board of Education meeting...

RANDOM MINUTES from the MEETING tonight:

Kudos to the playground ladies!!! The board actually finally (after I swear, a couple of years) approved recess!!! What an innovative, novel idea! The new rule is - students in K-5 must have 15 minutes of unstructured play time every day. AND - the time cannot be taken away as a discipline tactic.

And more kudos to the wonderful Sandra Purkett who led the charge to secure $5 million in scholarships for Redan HS students. What a lady.

Willie Pringle tells us that Chapel Hill students are being taught by an over-abundance of subs -- better check that out Gloria - that's not good at all!

Ernest Brown raised concerns during the public comments about the Citizens Advisory Committee changes to the bylaws - and then poof! it was taken off of the agenda. I agree with bloggers here - CAC's just another "smoke and mirrors" attempt to tone down the "background noise"... just like the Blue Ribbon Task Force and the Regional Planning Committee. Lesson here: don't bother to volunteer - you will waste years of your life.

I felt a bit bad for Barbara Colman. She had no answers to any of the questions. She simply read through the contract requests for approval. Talk about a hot seat - but oh well - she's being paid well to sit on it.

Gene Walker tells us - the $644,150 to pay for the construction consultants is not "additional" - hmm - apparently it was already in the budget. I wonder how it got there. Weird. I never did figure out if these 26 people are in addition to the people on staff or if they plan to let staff go (thus - the money is already there.) Dunno.

Q: Are they really CREATING jobs in order to spend Stimulus money? That's what Jamey's report sounded like to me... they have a whole bunch of job openings - new ones - but they are to be paid with Stimulus funds. Hey - free money! Guess we'll spend it!

Interesting - Moseley requested that the board basically declare it "unconstitutional" for the state to approve a charter school. Yikes!

And the HSTW question has been answered! It's a "Framework" not a "Program" (like America's Choice) Ahhh! I get it now.... ;-)

But the winner tonight -- in my opinion -- was the bombshell politely and softly dropped by Kiara Bruce (not sure if that's her correct name) of DESA. If I had to guess, I would guess that Ms. Jackson wrote her speech, which basically informed us that Ms. Jackson has been warned in a letter from the board that they will charge her with criminal trespassing if she tries to set foot in DESA. She said that her children were asked to leave DESA because she went to the mic too often - oh - whoops - no - she lives out of the county (Gwinnett) even though their daddy teaches in DeKalb. But lots of kids at DESA live out of the county and the board knows it -- in fact, she said that even some "board members grandchildren who live out of DeKalb attend DESA"! Really, Kiara? Tell us more!

How many SPLOST pennies does it take to make $644,150?

Tonight the school board is supposed to vote to replace Pat Pope and her team (?) with a team of 26 consultants to the tune of $644,150 through December 11.

The cost will be substantial, however. The school board will be asked tonight to pay a team of 26 Jacobs and Parsons workers $644,150 to oversee projects through Dec. 11. Projected at that rate, the work would cost DeKalb schools more than $5.5 million over 52 weeks.

The top monthly compensation rates under the contract are $24,000 for Colman’s services; $25,115 for program executive W. Bruce Carminati; $27,951 for design manager Carlton Parker; $24,000 for senior project manager George Lentz; and $22,000 for construction manager Chuck Herman.

Excuse me? I know they are "relieving" Pat Pope of her SPLOST operations responsibilities, but doesn't DCSS have a full staff of salaried people who are supposed to be able to do this?

Hopefully, we will learn a little more about that at tonight's meeting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kudos to Joe Reed!

I couldn't be more proud of the new principal at Lakeside, Joe Reed. The man lives in reality and is making a sincere effort to reach out to ALL students and parents at the school. Historically, this has not been done in DeKalb. DCSS administration deals only in black and white. We live in denial of the fact that we have nearly as many Hispanic students in DCSS as we do whites. In fact, DeKalb hosts students from all over the world who mostly reside in central and north areas of the county. Schools in the south end of the county do not have the immigrant/language/cultural issues to deal with that the schools in central and north DeKalb do, as schools in the south are mostly homogeneous African-American. Teachers and principals in these multi-cultural schools are working very hard to close achievement gaps and increase equity for immigrant students.

Allow me to post Joe Reed's letter to the Hispanic community below. I know that other schools are using similar outreach techniques, and sincerely hope that principals with the same highly diverse populations as Lakeside band together and tackle the cultural issues as a team. It's up to the principals to lead this effort, as there doesn't appear to be a serious focus on this issue in the system's administrative leadership.

Dear Parents, Estimádos Padres de Familia,

You are the most important persons in your child's education. We want you to know about Lakeside High School, what we are trying to do and how you can help your child to be successful.

Ustedes son las personas más importantes en la educación de sus hijos. Nosotros en Lakeside High School queremos que sepan de todo lo que estamos haciendo para apoyar las metas educativas de sus hijos.

We invite you to a special meeting on Monday, November 2, at 7:00 p.m. in the cafeteria with your son or daughter to discuss opportunities at Lakeside and to help us plan to better include our Spanish speaking families in the decisions made at Lakeside. At this meeting we will talk about the courses your son or daughter is taking, the tests that he or she must pass and the many choices available after high school. We will also discuss ways that you can be more involved in Lakeside High School.

Les invitamos a ustedes con sus hijos a una reunión el lunes 2 de noviembre 2009 a las 7:00 pm en la cafetería. Esta reunión es para ayudarnos incluir a las familias de habla español en las decisiones que tomamos en Lakeside. Durante esta reunión hablaremos de los cursos que sus hijos están tomando, los varios exámenes que tienen que tomar para graduarse, y las varias opciones que tienen después que acaban la secundaria.

We want you to know that Lakeside is your school. Whether you speak English or not, your participation is important to our success and the success of your child. We hope you will be able to attend what we believe will be an informational and organizational meeting for our Spanish speaking parents.

Lakeside es su escuela. Si habla inglés o no su participación en la educación de sus hijos es critico para que nosotros lleguemos a nuestras metas en educar a sus hijos y para que ellos sean exitosos. Esperamos que ustedes puedan asistir a esta reunión que va a ser muy informativa para ustedes, nuestros padres de habla español.

We need you. Please put mark Monday, November 2, at 7:00 p.m. on your calendar. We want to see you there.

Los necesitamos. Por favor marque su calendario para el lunes 2 de noviembre 2009 a las 7:00. Los esperamos.



Joe Reed


Lakeside High School