Friday, December 31, 2010

Hasta Lavista 2010!

Take a look at the end of 2010 animation from Jib-Jab.  I think we are all pretty glad to see the end of 2010.  Here's to hoping 2011 creates a better world - and a better school system!

Study Questions Seniority-based Teacher Layoffs

At last month’s DCSS Board Meeting the Professional Personnel Layoff policy was changed to incorporate performance, rather than length of service, as the primary criteria for implementing a Reduction In Force. For those of us who plan to hold Ms. Tyson to her promise to rid DCSS of bad teachers and administrators, the following article, highlighting a study from the University of Washington, is of particular interest. This study concludes that deciding teacher layoffs based on seniority has a significant impact on student’s abilities to learn. If you notice, in bullet #2, I have highlighted the word “Improvement”. For those that worry about using test scores alone to evaluate teachers, the word “improvement” should have a significant meaning here.

Here are some highlights from the study:

  • A study of Washington state teachers has found that deciding layoffs based solely on which teachers have the least seniority has a significant impact on students' ability to learn, adding to a growing chorus calling for schools to take a hard look at union contracts dictating who gets to keep their jobs.
  • Actual layoff notice list with a list of teachers who would have been laid off using a measurement of effectiveness known as "value-added," in which teachers are judged by the improvement of their students on standardized tests.
  • Using teachers' past performance, the researchers predicted the performance of two hypothetical school systems: one in which the teachers receiving notices had actually lost their jobs, and one in which more than 1,300 of the lowest-performing teachers had been fired instead.
  • Dan Goldhaber, lead author of the study and the center's director, projected that student achievement after seniority-based layoffs would drop by an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning per student, when compared to laying off the least when compared to laying off the least effective teachers. If your bottom line is student achievement, then this is not the best system," Goldhaber said.
  • The research found that using a strict seniority system for layoffs has a variety of other consequences, including:
    • — School districts lay off more teachers to meet their budget goals because junior teachers are paid less.
    • — Some districts lay off teachers in high-demand and hard-to-fill areas such as special education.
    • — Seniority-based layoffs disproportionately hit schools where the most needy kids are and the least senior teachers usually work.

Sound familiar?

Read more: University of Washington Study Questions Seniority-Based Teacher Layoffs

Sent by Dunwoody Mom

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Talk about timing. In the midst of what promises to be a very tumultuous period, with redistricting, school closings, outsourcing, superintendent search, and probable budget cuts all going to occur, our Board of Education has seen fit to decide that now is the time to reduce the number of slots for the public to address the Board. Because I am basically speechless, I present the redlined policy for your review. (Redlined is the old policy, blue underlined is the new proposed policy.) This policy is going to the Board of Ed at Monday's meeting to be put on the table for 30 days before adoption.

This policy proposes to go from 20 speakers to 10 with a maximum of 30 minutes for public comment. Regardless of whether this would be a good policy change long term, I question the timing of this change. There are other more subtle changes embedded in this policy change, so read it carefully and let your board members know what you think.

Redlined Policy

Board Policy

Public Participation in Board Meetings Descriptor Code: BCBI

The DeKalb County Board of Education encourages citizensthe public to be involved in public education. To facilitate this involvement, the Board will listen to citizen comments immediately following the call to order and prior to the adoption of the agenda for its regularly scheduled work sessions.sets aside time for public comments at each regular monthly Work Session or combined Work Session and Business Meeting. The public comment period is intended to allow speakers to address issues before the Board or other subjects pertinent to the Board or the DeKalb County School District.

The following guidelines will be observed for receiving and hearing comments from citizens duringIn order to assure that persons who wish to appear before the Board may be heard and, at the same time, allow the Board to conduct its meetings in an orderly and efficient manner, the Board adopts the following guidelines for the public comment portion of the work sessions:its meetings:

1. The opportunity to provide public comment is limited to District parents, students, residents, employees, businesses, and organizations.

2. 1. The Board encourages individuals to contact the Superintendent, his administrative staff and/or local school administrators in an effort to secureBefore addressing the Board, individuals are urged to seek a satisfactory solution to any concerns prior to referral to the Board of Educationtheir concerns by following the proper staff and administrative channels.

2. All persons wishing to address the Board during the citizen comment portion of the work sessions will be given a copy of this policy.

3. To be eligible thoseIndividuals wishing to speak mustmay submit a request in writing to the board officeBoard Office via letter, fax, or e-mail a request to speak which must be received no later than 12:00 noon on the day of the Board Work Session or combined Work Session and Business Meeting. Such requestsrequest shall include information regarding the individual’s name, address, topic to be addressed and, previous steps taken to resolve the concern prior to making the request to speak. In addition, speakers may complete their own Request to Comment card in person between 4:45 and 5:45 p.m. on the day of the work session. Cards must be completely filled out. Speakers will be heard in the order they submit their requests. Each speaker addressing the Board shall have a maximum of three (3) minutes to speak., and the group (if any) that the individual is representing. If an individual is unable to attend the meeting after signing up in advance, he/she may appoint a substitute speaker by calling the Board Office by noon of the meeting day.

4. The public comment portion of the meeting will be a maximum of one (1) hour or 20 speakers.In addition, speakers may complete a Request to Comment card in person between 4:45 and 5:45 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Cards must be completely filled out, providing the information listed in the preceding paragraph.

5. It shall be out of order for any citizen to verbally and/or physically attack an employee of the school system in a public meeting.An organization may sign up to speak by designating a duly authorized spokesperson and one alternate, who may speak only if the primary spokesperson is unable to attend. By signing up and addressing the Board on behalf of an organization, the speaker is representing that he or she has been duly authorized by that organization to make the comments presented.

6. Speakers will be heard in the order in which they submit their requests. However, if more than ten speakers sign up, the Board may give priority to individuals who will be speaking about a specific agenda item.

7. Speakers shall have a maximum of three (3) minutes each and must stop speaking promptly when their time is up.

8. To allow time for the Board's other business, the public comment period will end after thirty (30) minutes, or when all speakers signing up to speak have been heard, whichever occurs first. At the Board’s discretion, the comment period may be extended for a specified amount of time or a specific number of additional speakers.

9. Speakers should begin their comments by stating their name, address, connection with the District, and the organization (if any) on whose behalf they are authorized to speak.

10. To allow the Board to receive input from as many stakeholders as possible, individuals who speak during the Public Comment period one month may only speak at the next month’s meeting if there are spaces remaining after all non-repeating speakers have signed up.

11. Speakers should be courteous and professional. Speakers may offer objective criticisms of school operations and programs, but the Board will not hear complaints about specific personnel or individuals connected with the District in a public session. Other channels provide a more appropriate forum for consideration and resolution of legitimate complaints involving individuals.

12. 6. TheIndividuals will not be denied the opportunity to address the Board on the basis of their viewpoint. However, the Board will not allow abusive language, threats, comments, jeers, applause, or shouts from the floor. Disruptive persons will be asked to leave the meeting room. The presiding officer may terminate public comments that are profane, vulgar, defamatory, or disruptive.

13. Speakers may not address confidential student or personnel matters, but may submit such concerns to the Superintendent in writing.

14. Speakers are encouraged to provide the Board with a written copy of their comments and other appropriate supporting documentation.

15. The Public Comment period is designed to gain input from the public and not for immediate responses by the Board. While the Board cannot assure each speaker of a specific or individualized response, the Board will consider the public comments and any supporting materials provided by speakers.

They Just Don't Get It

DeKalb school workers could lose jobs to outsourcing

Our Central Office proves once again they do not "get it". We've talked at length on this blog about outsourcing, especially for DCSS MIS/Information Technology (which DCSS spends an obscene amount on money on with poor customer service and little return on investment) and landscaping (which the Sam Moss Center has never done well). Many local and county governments, and school systems, outsource info. technology and landscaping in some form or another. Heck, DCSS MIS still spends millions a year with Dell for the tough IT work, even though there are over 200 MIS employees in DCSS.

But we all know taxpayer dollars are wasted the most from having waaayyyy too many Central Office administrators and support staff, even as the system's enrollment has actually slightly decreased over the past few years. So we have fewer students, but more bureaucrats, support staff, assistant principals, etc.
The Office of School Improvement needs to be completely ELIMINATED with those staff members put back in the classroom. And as an additional benefit, morale would improve as teachers won't miss being harassed about not having pretty enough bulletin boards!
It would save the system millions and show that this Board of Education and our well compensated Interim Superintendent are serious about focusing on the school house, not the Mountain Industrial Palace with its $2,000 chairs. Not only do we spend approx. $15 mil per year on the Office of School Improvement, they are directly responsible for making some of the largest purchases by the school system, like America's Choice. And their training and travel budget is obscene (why do they need to have trainings at Callaway Gardens??$$$). I'd love for one of the new BOE members to ask some questions of Dr. Audria Berry regarding all of the training and travel by her and her staff, and also demand she show how the OSI provides return on investment to the system.


But the DeKalb County School System has decided to use stimulus money to attend a four-day conference sponsored by America's Choice, which a schools spokesman calls "a great thing." The organization's Web site describes it as a "solution provider," that offers "comprehensive, proven solutions to the complex problems educators face in an era of accountability." The Web site also says America's Choice has "an unparalleled history as a national thought leader." School spokesman Dale Davis told Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher that 184 principals, instructional coaches, district staff and teachers are scheduled to attend the conference in Hollywood. We found that the primary conference hotel is the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa. Davis said the school system will spend $91,500 for conference registrations and another $291,400 for hotels, flights, meals and incidentals. That's a total of $382,900 in federal tax money. In an email, Davis wrote, "I am happy that you are expressing interesting in this training opportunity for our employees. We are focused on student improvement. America's Choice is in partnership with the district to help improve the academic success in 40 of our lowest performing schools."

Well, the big news today is that the Central Office is going after custodians. We've discussed here before about outsourcing some custodial duties, as there are many very good local companies like Jani-King who could perform some of those services overnight and take off some staff off of payroll and pension.

Many schools, especially elementary and middle, really do need one custodian present during the school day, definitely for the lunch room—but for deep cleaning restrooms, mopping hallways and classrooms, vacuuming, etc.—contracting with a company like Jan-King to do these tasks overnight makes sense. This plan should provide cost savings and in some cases improve the cleanliness of schools. School custodians should be supervised by Sam Moss staff, and not principals. Some principals hold custodians to high standards, and some do not. It's hit or miss across the system with good, mediocre or poor custodial service.

My best buddy Jeff Dickerson is still on DCSS payroll, as we get this from the AJC (article linked above):

“The objective is not to eliminate employees, but to save taxpayer dollars,” DeKalb schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

School officials said the outsourcing is still a proposal and the amount of potential savings was not available this week.

However, the proposal could mean layoffs. Dickerson said about 700 jobs would be impacted. Board chairman Tom Bowen said the proposal impacts 900 jobs – 600 custodians and 350 at the school service center.

Dickerson said the district “strongly encourages vendors to give preference to existing employees,” and it is too early to determine who would retain employment.

I applaud Tyson, Bowen and crew for exploring outsourcing, but again, the Central Office always looks for the lowest paid staffs (who do a lot of the grunt work) for budget cuts, and NEVER looks at itself:

"Earlier this year, DeKalb cut about 250 jobs as part of budget cuts, including nine custodians and 19 maintenance workers. DeKalb schools have already outsourced its communications department to Dickerson and Cohn & Wolfe."
When the Central Office outsourced communications to Cohn & Wolfe, while apparently also paying Jeff Dickerson, it retained one current employee, Philandria Guillory, daughter of former BOE member Frances Edwards, even though Philandria had no prior experience in anything communications/tv/broadcast-related. She now runs the DCSS tv station with a $114,000+ salary.
The Central Office and BOE deserve praise for looking at cost-cutting, but it needs to look at itself first.
Release the 2004 Ernst & Young salary audit. That audit estimated that six years ago we overpaid administrators and non-teaching staff by $15 million annually, and it's certainly even more now.
Look closely at DCSS MIS. It's the area where you hear the most amount of complaints from teachers. It may be the system's worst performing department (DCSS Transportation is a close second). This department is screaming for a forensic/personnel/performance audit. This is the department (when headed by Tyson) hired former board member Frances Edwards' son (Philandrea's brother) Jamal, who mostly avoided reporting for work for over 6 months.  He is still on the IT payroll, having earned $57,977.11 last year.
Look closely at the DCSS School Police Dept., with its two chiefs, four administrative assistants and nine detectives. High schools and middle schools need School Resource Officers. But what do they do in the summer and winter breaks? Can retired county police officers be used at middle and elementary schools on contract, so they are not on the pension plan? And why is there so much computer theft (Henderson Middle!) at schools, many thought to be "inside jobs", when we have such a large school police dept. with 9 detectives?
Look closely at school-based Parent Resources Centers, a favorite place for hiring friends and family of BOE members and administrators. How is their performance measured? Why in the heck do PRC staff members (of which Zepora's daughter is one) make more than veteran teachers? Which schools really need them? What do they do during summer and winter break? Can they be part-time employees? Can they be staffed by retired teachers or social workers paid a decent wage on an hourly basis/no benefits? Schools have counselors and PRC that redundant?
DCSS must reduce cost. But the Central Office, Supt. Tyson, Tom Bowen and the BOE still fail to focus on the school house, as there are more administrators and staff than there are teachers. No one wants to "outsource" librarians, cafeteria workers, or school office admin assistants. We want the non-school bloat addressed.
The focus needs to be put back on the school house. Pay principals more than Central Office bureaucrats. Look at MIS, landscaping, school police, and parent resource centers for cost savings and improved productivity and performance.
Look at yourselves, DCSS Central Office. We remember you proposing to spend hundreds of thousands to replace the Palace's parking lot (which is fine by the way) and fancy lights for BOE meetings. Tom Bowen and the BOE always seem to find money for the Palace and Central Office's every want and desire. Properly funding teacher's retirement and STEP increases? Not so much.
Let me be clear: A bloated, overstaffed Central Office will no longer be tolerated by the public. The first department to completely eliminate is an easy one: The Office of School Improvement.
I hope that Donna Edler and Nancy Jester will help lead the charge to downsize the bureaucracy. And we will support them vociferously to do so!

Maureen Downey is also discussing this at her AJC blog Get Schooled.

Consolidation - Thinking Smarter not Harder

Consolidation. It's a good idea to save millions and recover pupil funding we should be getting from the state if schools operated at full capacity by state standards. The current focus is on regular elementary schools, but what about our magnet programs? We've done some math on the subject.

$767,386 in administrative costs could be eliminated if DSA's 322 students combined with, for example, Lakeside HS to create a "North Springs-like" magnet (Fulton). The redundancy in DSA's administrative and support positions of Principal, Assistant Principal, Counselor, Bookkeeper, Cafeteria Manager, Media Specialist, CTSS, Campus Security, Custodian, Paraprofessional, and Secretary cost DCSS $767,386 in annual salary and benefits.

The entire teaching staff (including all drama, dance, art, etc.) and small class sizes at DSA could be left TOTALLY intact while DCSS could reclaim the money to furnish Lakeside with 14 more Content Area (math, science, social studies, and language arts) teachers with Masters degrees and 5 years of teaching experience.

$1,157,546 in administrative and support costs could be eliminated if the Wadsworth High Achievers magnet program was housed in an existing elementary school while still leaving this educational magnet program TOTALLY intact.

Wadsworth has 153 students (state FTE figures) with 9 homeroom teachers, 2 Spanish teachers, and a Fine Arts Enrichment teacher. The redundancy in Wadsworth’s administrative and support positions of Principal, Assistant Principal, Counselor, Bookkeeper, Cafeteria Manager, Media Specialist, CTSS, 3 Custodians, Music teacher, Band teacher, Orchestra teacher, PE teacher, Administrative Assistant, 6 Food Services Workers, a Nurse, and a Media Specialist cost $1,157,546 annually.

Wadsworth has 153 students with a staff of 36, only 9 of who teach math, reading, social studies and language arts. The personnel cost alone are over $14,000 per pupil a year, mainly due to redundancy in admin and support personnel.

Chamblee Middle School, Chamblee High School, Southwest DeKalb High School and  DeKalb HS of Technology North all share administrative and support personnel between the magnet and regular education students without any degradation of service for either group. On the contrary, the magnet students in these schools have access to facilities that can only come with larger schools. The rationale for consolidation is compelling, and could take much of the resentment for magnet programs out of the picture as cost per pupil would be more closely aligned with the regular education program. Many posters have said they have nothing against "choice" as long as the per pupil cost is brought in line with the regular education programs.

Thinking out of the DCSS box is critical if we are to preserve programs that meet the needs of talented students, provide parents with educational choices, and ensure content equity for students that stay in the regular education program. These financial efficiencies would grow exponentially if DSA, Wadsworth, Kittredge, DECA, Destiny, Dekalb HS of Technology South, Clifton, etc. were all housed within an existing school/facility and shared administrative and support personnel. Reduced facilities maintenance and utility costs would also add substantially to the cost savings.

It's odd that DCSS is so quick to increase class sizes and anxious to close neighborhood schools and redraw district lines all the while leaving millions on the table by ignoring cost efficiencies that should be put into place for these special programs. Although small schools will and must be closed and lines redrawn, it will be a bitter pill for those parents to swallow if DCSS's administration and BOE refuse to decrease the costs of these special programs and keep increasing class sizes for students.

Sources: DSA, Wadsworth and Lakeside website, 2010 state Salary and Travel audit, and DCSS salary schedule

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Outsourcing coming to DCSS?

The week before winter break I heard from two different teachers that custodians at their schools were required to give representatives from private maintenance companies tours of the schools and show them what their job encompasses.

According to an article on the online version of the AJC, DeKalb County School System is considering privatizing custodian and maintenance jobs.

From the article:

More than 700 DeKalb County school workers could lose their jobs to outsourcing.

The school system is considering privatizing custodians and maintenance jobs, including grounds-keeping, painting, window glazing, heating and air-conditioning, equipment repair and pest control.

“The objective is not to eliminate employees, but to save taxpayer dollars,” DeKalb schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

School officials said the outsourcing is still a proposal and the amount of potential savings was not available this week.

However, the proposal could mean layoffs. Dickerson said about 700 jobs would be impacted. Board chairman Tom Bowen said the proposal impacts 900 jobs – 600 custodians and 350 at the school service center.

Read the entire article here:

I have several concerns with this proposal.

First, have any of you ever been to a football game at a DeKalb stadium with lots of fans in attendance? If so, have you seen how poorly the concession stands are both stocked and operated? If this system can’t successfully outsource and then manage such a small project as stadium concession stands, how well can they manage outsourcing such a large part of the day to day operation of a school and school system? Despite many complaints, the school system has refused to replace the contractor.

Second, call me a cynic, but this will be a large contract and I don’t have much confidence that the bid process will be free of issues. There doesn’t appear to have been an RFP posted, but we have reports that vendors were in the schools already. Have vendors been preselected, is the bid process going to be open and transparent, etc. I think I would like to have a new superintendent hired before we undertake such an endeavor.

Finally, from friends across the country, I get negative reports on outsourcing custodian services in the schools. One friend reports a nearly constant turnover in staff as the positions went from salaried, benefited jobs to hourly jobs with no benefits. Without knowing the vendors that are interested in this contract, it is impossible to know if this will be an issue in DeKalb or not.

Your thoughts?

Monday, December 27, 2010

New FTE data from the state

I downloaded the new FTE numbers from the October, 2010 count published by the state online here. There, I found some interesting additional reports showing the numbers of students enrolled in the various compensatory and selected programs by county. I made a couple of comparative charts for us to review. What kinds of inferences can we make from this data? (Click them to view larger and/or print.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Power of This Blog and Jeff Dickerson's Non-Response Response

Well, here it is:

And please forgive me if this seems petty and whiny. I actually enjoy watching The Georgia Gang. But the situation with Jeff Dickerson has far-reaching consequences in terms of shaping public opinion on the performance of the DeKalb Board of Education and the DCSS Central Office administration.

The non-response response by Dickerson regarding my post last week on his failure to disclose that, while he frequently comments on the show about the DeKalb and Atlanta school systems, almost always in support, he is/was actually paid tens of thousands of dollars by those school systems.

This is what fired me up originally:

Making comments that support both of their embattled administrations while he has contracts with them is not the behavior of a practicing journalist, and when The Georgia Gang presents Dickerson each week, it is as "Jeff Dickerson, The Atlanta Tribune". Despite that the AJC often has quotes in news stories regarding DCSS listing him as a Jeff Dickerson, DCSS spokesperson", not "Jeff Dickerson, Media Consultant". His profile on the show's website has not been updated since June 2009, and has no mention of his fat DCSS consulting fee (the profile does mention his Atlanta school system work).

The Georgia Gang is THE premier tv show in the state on politics. That they took the time to address this issue shows that this blog has arrived as one of the most important blogs in the metro Atlanta region. Cere, you rock!!


Dick Williams is a longtime DeKalb County resident, a top high school basketball referees in the metro area, and is the editor of The Crier, which does a fine coverage of covering Dunwoody, with a little Doraville, Chamblee and DeKalb news too. Although some would say the great Cathy Cobbs is the brains behind The Crier ;) !!

Dick addressed the Dickerson issue head on. He didn't press much, and of course the highly compensated Dickerson shifted the subject to "The Demand", Ramona Tyson's push for a $240k salary even after she's no longer Supt., plus an insane $2,000 in personal expenses and a $500 stipend per month for "transportation". But big prop's to Dick for being upfront to the show's viewership. Respect is earned, and Dick earned it.

Jeff Dickerson is a master spinmeister, and instead of addressing the ethical issue of whether he should make comments on the show supporting Beverly Hall, Ramona Tyson, the DCSS BOE, etc. when he has been paid tens of thousands of dollars by them, he switched the topic to Tyson's compensation. H evene threw in the very disingenous figure of $240,000k, even though Tyson is now being compensated $270,000 (salary, expenses, transportation stipend) through 2012.

Dick, and then Phil Kent, the show's resident conservative Republican, quickly brought up repurcussions of "The Demand", that it may cost taxpayers an EXTRA million dollars over the courseof her retirement package. Kent even questioned whether she deserved the huge raise in the first place. Kent was adamant, his view was one looking out for the taxpayer. He even said the word "taxpayer" a few times.

Kent can be overly idealogical; he rarely acknowledges anything positive orginating from any local or state Georgia Democrat in elected office, or from any heavy Democrat-voting city or county like DeKalb, Clayton, Decatur, etc. But he does seem to look out for Joe Taxpayer (accept when Sonny Perdue is fleecing us via Oaky Woods). Thanks much Phil for pressing hard on what had to be an uncomfortable situation on set!

Jeff Dickerson seemed ready for it, and brought up some nonsense that a bonus would be illegal. Even though other supt.'s in Georgia has received similar benefit awards.

Alexis Scott, the show's resident liberal Democrat does what she always does: parroting Dickerson's every comment and always supporting anything Atlanta and DeKalb political leadership/school system-related. More money for Tyson? Of course. Is Beverly Hall the bee's knees despite the cheating scandal? In Alexis' world, of course she is. A big property tax increase and huge bump in our water bills? Hey if the DeKalb's Democratic CEO and County Commison want it, then of course it should be passed with no tough questions asked by a journalist, or the public. She's not one for deep thought.

Anyway, Dickerson never addressed the original topic. He has been paid tens of thousands of dollars by the DeKalb and Atlanta school systems for spinmeistering, uh, "media consulting" and "crisis management", but hasn't disclosed it this calendar year on the show, even while he has made a number of comments supporting Beverly Hall, Ramona Tyson, the embarassing DeKalb Board of Education, etc.

Heck, Jeff Dickerson was/is a major supporter of Vernon Jones despite the too numerous to mention scandals by Jones personally and professionally, and Jeff still throws in comments on how well DeKalb Countywas managed under the morally/ethically corrupt, and just plain creepy Jones.

Dickerson and Alexis Hall earlier this year wee both were praising and defending Crawford Lewis during the initial scandal mess, but even they eventually backed down with their support when the District Attorney's RICO indictment went public and gave an overwhelming picture of a lack of control and leadership by Lewis, along with trips to resorts with women not his wife on DCSS p-card, even a Bahamas trip with a current high ranking Central Office administrator. Yep, Dickerson and Scott had Lewis' back for a while after the DA's indictment, but moved on whe it was clear the public was justifiably outraged.

Am I being too hard of Jeff Dickerson, who seems to be a very likeable guy? Heck no.

Taxpayers pays hundreds of millions to DCSS, whether by property tax, SPLOST penny sales tax, federal taxes, etc. The number of mistakes, poor decisions and scandals by the Central Office and Board of Education were and are unacceptable.

Jeff Dickerson is in an extremely unique and powerful position to sway public opinion in favor of the DeKalb Board of Ed. and DCSS Central Office.

His failure to disclose his paid relationship with the DCSS Central Office and BOE (and the Atlanta school system) was a professional ethics failure on his part.

One has to ask, did the DCSS Central Office and Board of Ed., along with their Atlanta counterparts, seek out Dickerson specifically because of his perch on The Georgia Gang? He is paid by our tax dollars, so it's a valid question.

Thanks much to Dick Williams and Phil Kent.

To Jeff Dickerson: You expertly deflected the issue at hand. Not much has changed after today's show, and your credibility on any comments you make on The Georgia Gang related to the DCSS Supt. and Central Office, the DeKalb BOE, DeKalb property taxes (and the Atlanta school system) will still be in question.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bring Back Vo-Tech!

Don Sabbarese, director of the Kennesaw State University Econometric Center, said electrical, welding and plumbing jobs pay well. "Some of these guys make $27 an hour -- they should have people falling over each other trying to get into these programs," he said. "The state should be putting more money into vocational school programs. There is a real need for plumbers and electricians and carpenters. Why wouldn't we want to train people in these areas where they can make a decent living?"

The DCSS Central Office, whether under Crawford Lewis or Ramona Tyson, loves to focus on one thing more than anything else: Itself. And the Board of Education has enabled them to do so. "Hey if you have millions to spend, might as well spend it on ourselves seems" to be the Central Office Palace's motto.

Many of those who've posted on this site have called for a back to basics approach. Instead of spending well over ten million dollars per year on Audria Berry's Office of School Improvement and her army of staff, who like to tell veteran teachers such valuable info. like how to decorate a bulletin board, and who have no quantifiable return on investment (ask any teacher...America's Choice simply...stinks), or the MIS Dept. spending millions on ineffective software such as eSiS, etc., Vo-Tech education is a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

State Sen. Fran Millar, one of DeKalb's own, has been the leading elected official in Georgia pushing for better vo-tech in schools (

Go Get 'em Fran (click here):
These numbers are courtesy of Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), who in cooperation with House Speaker Glenn Richardson has introduced HB 905, also known as Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy, or BRIDGE. If enacted, the bill would implement a “market-demand skills program” in grades 10-12 in Georgia’s high schools. In short form, Millar says the proposed law would provide a separate track for kids who are not college material and give them the skills to compete in the job market while in high school.

If sheer enthusiasm could pass legislation, BRIDGE would be a law as we speak. Millar passionately believes in the effort. “We spend more than $10 billion annually in Georgia on education,” he says, “and for too long we have focused on every child going to college. Too many are not even finishing high school. Our legislation would give all students a choice of focused programs of study starting in the ninth grade, including programs for students who would otherwise drop out.”

In this economy, there are still many blue collars jobs that need to be filled. See today's AJC article:
Program exposes unemployed to blue-collar world
Georgia Trade-Up is partnering with the Atlanta-North Georgia Building & Construction Trades Council, a consortium of unions -- masons, plumbers, electricians, insulators, sheet-metal workers, heavy-equipment operators and laborers -- to introduce the blue-collar crafts. In the six-week course, students do introductory work in several crafts.

Then, once they find a craft they think they could do well, they can apply for a union apprentice program they will work as apprentices while going through the training school, usually over a three-year period. So far about 18 have been placed in apprenticeships and 40 more trainees are expected to complete the Georgia Trade-Up training in January.

"I go to these high schools, and the teacher will ask all the students who got a college scholarship to raise their hands. I always wonder, what about the kids who aren't college material? Who is looking out for them?"

Don Sabbarese, director of the Kennesaw State University Econometric Center, said electrical, welding and plumbing jobs pay well.

"Some of these guys make $27 an hour -- they should have people falling over each other trying to get into these programs," he said. "The state should be putting more money into vocational school programs. There is a real need for plumbers and electricians and carpenters. Why wouldn't we want to train people in these areas where they can make a decent living?"

Thomas said the local union apprentice programs are buying into both Georgia Trade-Up and Youthbuild, a program that seeks to channel young people from poor neighborhoods into blue-collar trades.

More info. here:

Youthbuild in particular focuses on low-income communities, and we sure need all the help we can get in DeKalb:

YouthBuild is a youth and community development program that simultaneously addresses core issues facing low-income communities: housing, education, employment, crime prevention, and leadership development. In YouthBuild programs, low-income young people ages 16-24 work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, learn job skills and serve their communities by building affordable housing, and transform their own lives and roles in society.

There are opportunities aplenty, but DCSS before under Gloria Talley, and now Audria Berry and Morcease Beasely, tends to focus on spending massive amounts on money adding more and more non-teaching staff, or on the educational fad of the day, or fancy, expensive consultants, or no ROI programs such as America's Choice, etc. Here's a call for parents and taxpayers to support vo-tech. And even though DeKalb votes primarily Democratic, we have our own Republican state senator in a Republican-controlled Gold Dome to help pave the way for vo-tech funding.

Let's hear your thoughts and comments!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Yeah Dunwoody Methodist Church Choir!

Yet another random act of culture - right here in DeKalb at Perimeter mall... Any high school choirs or bands care to take on the Knight Arts "Random Acts of Culture" challenge?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It’s time now to bring parent revolution here

Check out the editorial with this heading at the AJC written by Glenn Delk, an Atlanta attorney. Say what you will about the dangers and ills of charter schools, I have to believe that we have come to the point where a charter school simply cannot be nearly as corrupt and wasteful as some of our current billion dollar school systems. School systems have been found to be nothing more that money troughs for those who are big enough and powerful enough to barrel their way over smaller, weaker beings to gorge.

Enough. We have to try something else. Give the power to the people. Some may do a better job, some worse. But at least we wouldn't feel so hamstrung and ripped off.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Delk's column -

...But if the Atlanta cheating scandal has shown us anything, it’s that the wrong people control public education and that real accountability in the traditional public school system does not exist.

Neither the parents of students attending the 58 schools, nor Atlanta’s taxpayers footing the bill, have any real alternative to the status quo.

But what would happen if we changed the current system of governance and offered parents and taxpayers the chance to assert control over public education in Georgia by convincing local school districts and the General Assembly to pass Georgia’s version of the Parent and Taxpayers Trigger? ...

The problems facing Atlanta’s parents and taxpayers are certainly not unique to Atlanta.

Whether it’s the soaring costs of public education, abysmal test scores and graduation results, loss of accreditation by Clayton County, or alleged corruption in DeKalb County’s schools, the simple fact is that we have a system of public education in Georgia and throughout the country in which the people who pay for the services (taxpayers) and the people who use the service (parents) have little or no real power.

It’s time for a coalition of parents, taxpayers, business and political leaders to join forces to bring the parent revolution to Georgia by implementing Georgia’s Parents and Taxpayers’ Trigger that will provide:

  • 51 percent of the parents whose children attend any public school in Georgia can, with a petition, trigger one of three options — charter conversion, closing the school, or use of tuition tax credit scholarships to enable students to attend a private school;
  • Fifty-one percent of the taxpayers of a county or city can, at a specially-called referendum, vote to trigger one of the three options for all schools in its jurisdiction;
  • the trigger applies to all public schools, not just failing schools;
  • charter school funding will equal that of traditional public schools;
  • parents and taxpayers can elect to close the schools and give parents a tuition tax credit-funded scholarship. Georgia currently has a $50 million annual cap on the scholarships; the cap should be lifted.

Some people will argue that such a mechanism will cause chaos in our public schools, or that the approach is too radical. My response is that perhaps the chaos resulting from a parent and taxpayer revolution is necessary to bring about real change, since I believe AJC columnist Maureen Downey was right when she wrote: “cheating on the CRCT did not help the children of APS, many of whom have poverty and family chaos already working against them.”


For more on the subject, read this post about Arnold Schwarzenegger's article on the subject in the Washington Post.

For more conversation on the topic of education reform, check out these two grass-roots blogs I recently discovered.  We are certainly not alone.

Knitting With Pencils - A Failure of Imagination

Dr Kwame M. Brown: Move Theory - Child Development Specialist, Thought Leader, Change Agent

10 Resolutions That Show Your Kids You Care

From the Partnership for a Drug Free America

For the coming New Year, resolve to talk more often with your family about healthy decisions and choices. Our research shows that kids who learn a lot about the dangers of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use than those who do not get those important messages at home.

The Partnership at celebrates the positive influence of parents in the lives of their kids. Together, we can help you start the New Year with "10 Resolutions That Show Your Kids You Care."

  1. Teach your children to trust you by seeing you as a role model.
  2. Be patient, not just tolerant. Apologize when you make a mistake or do something you regret.
  3. Ask teens what they need from you - and do whatever you can to meet those needs.
  4. Listen to your teens, a lot. Avoid interrupting.
  5. Teach your children about ethics, values and principles they can apply in choices and decision making.
  6. Help them discover the feeling of gratitude, not just to say thank you.
  7. Keep the promises you make. If you do not keep your word, acknowledge that. Help your teen understand the circumstances or choices that precipitated the change in your plans.
  8. Answer your teen's questions and be consistent. When you notice behavioral changes in them, make yourself available and encourage them to talk about what is going on in their life.
  9. Be understanding when they have a difficult time and let them know you will love them no matter what.
  10. Be diligent. Have ongoing conversations with your kids about the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Best Wishes for a safe, happy and healthy New Year,
-- Your friends at The Partnership at

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ramona's Demand: The Fix Is In?

Jeff Dickerson
"The Demand" by DCSS Interim Supt. Ramona Tyson for a 44% raise that extends to 2012 is a hot topic. Some parents/taxpayers are appalled, some are supportive, but this is definitely one of the most talked about news stories in DeKalb and the metro area right now, receiving much local TV coverage, in addition to the AJC. A superintendent demanding a 44% increase when the school system may be facing a $50 million budget hole (after it faced a $100 million budget hole last year) deserves the attention and scrutiny.

There is only one metro area popular politics-theme on local TV: The Georgia Gang. It's an important show, watched by most elected officials, bloggers, the behind the scenes crowd, etc., and it clearly shapes political debate locally and throughout the state.

On today's show, after discussing DeKalb's MAJOR increase in water & sewer rates, and CEO Burrell Ellis proposing a substantial property tax increase, of course moderator and DeKalb resident Dick Williams brought up the Ramona Tyson pay increase (aka "The Demand").

As I stated earlier, The Georgia Gang is extremely influential. Panelist Jeff Dickerson is now a highly paid spokesperson for the DeKalb County School System. For some reason, when his name and title is shown on the show, it has "Jeff Dickerson, Atlanta Tribune", even though he is nowhere to be found on the Atlanta Tribune site.

He is now the opposite of a journalist. He is a PR flack who purposedly tries to shape news coverage. In this tough economy, he gets paid handsomely to do so (from taxpayer dollars).

Whenever The Georgia Gang discusses the county school system, property taxes (which the school system receives 70% of), etc., Dickerson OF COURSE has an ethical duty, and a duty to the show's viewers, to disclose that he is a (highly) paid school system employee.

Instead...on today's show, he defends and justifies Tyson's demand for 44% pay increase and a 300% increase in her monthly expenses...WITHOUT DISCLOSING THAT HE WORKS FOR RAMONA TYSON???!!! She figuratively signs his paycheck!!
It's been a loooong time since I sat in my college ethics class, but any DCSS high school student can easily identify that Jeff Dickerson acted in an incredibly unethical manner, professionally and personally.

It's mind boggling that a pretty darn solid television news affiliate allowed Jeff Dickerson to intentionally shape the controversial debate regarding the Tyson contract demands without any disclosure. Fox 5 Atlanta is better than that. They really do a nice job without local news coverage and with their I-Team investigations.

Dickerson is at least pretty upfront on The Georgia Gang website that he is now a flack, not a practicing journalist:
Jeff Dickerson e-mail: is president of Dickerson Communications, a public affairs firm that provides public relations, issues-management and media consulting services to private- and public-sector clients.
Dickerson Communications was launched in 2000 and specializes in crisis communications. The firm has helped some of Atlanta’s most prominent organizations manage public crises, including Coca Cola, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, MARTA, Delta Air Lines, AT&T, several state agencies, the Morehouse School of Medicine, the Atlanta Public Schools, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Grady Memorial Hospital and many others.

It is very telling that he does not list that he is currently well compensated as the DCSS' lead spokesperson.

So anyone unfamilar to Jeff Dickerson watches today's show and says, hmmm, this guy must be a respected journalist to be on the top politics TV show in Georgia, and he supports the Ramona Tyson Demand, so it must be legit, right?
But how do you think that same viewer would react to hearing Dickerson's strong defense of "The Demand" with the disclosure that Dickerson makes over $2,000 a week and Ramona Tyson is his boss???

I am spellbound by the complete lack of any disclosure, and the lack of professional and personal ethics displayed by Dickerson. Yep, I freely admit that I am so jaded by the last few years of scandal and fiscal management by DCSS that I'm hardly a fair judge. Am I wrong to be dismayed? Was Jeff Dickerson purposedly hired by the Central Office and BOE after they fired the respected Julie Rhame and three other DCSS public relations staff (of course only keeping Philandra Guillory, the daughter of former but still powerful BOE member Frances Edwards) because Dickerson can shape the debate via his valuable TV perch on The Georgia Gang?

Let's hear your take, DCSW readers? Jeff Dickerson: To Disclose or Not Disclose?

Watch the video clip from the Georgia Gang here -

Calif. parents reclaim a failing school - and make history

By Arnold Schwarzenegger (Published in the Washington Post)
Thursday, December 16, 2010

History is usually made by a small group of passionate people. On Dec. 7, history was made by a small group of parents in Compton, Calif.

Their children attend McKinley Elementary School - a school that has been defined as failing for the past 10 years. Using a new power known as the "parent trigger," which I fought for and state legislators approved last year, these Compton parents banded together to demand change. The legislation allows parents of students at troubled schools to demand such significant reforms as closing a school, replacing a school's management or most of its staff, or reorganizing a school into a charter, if 51 percent of parents sign a petition.

McKinley Elementary is being reorganized and will soon be transformed into a charter school run by Celerity Educational Group, which is successfully operating three other schools in California.

Some have called this action "the shot heard across the country" - and they're not overstating the case.

How AMAZING! Parents have been given true power in California!

Without the power of the trigger legislation, parents whose children are in what the documentary and others call "dropout factories" have only one avenue to save their children. They must win a lottery to get them into a highly performing charter school.

Across the country, millions of families' prayers go unanswered. These parents are left to face the bleak reality that their child will be forever stuck in a failing school and a failing system. The exit doors may as well be chained.

For millions of low-income families, this means that their child is doomed to a life of unrealized potential.

For millions of California families, this is the shattering of the American dream.

Now, however, for the first time in California history, these historically underserved parents have new power and new choice.

The package of reforms I signed in January gives parents significant options for changing their child's school as well as the freedom to leave failing schools or send their child to a new school or even a new district. Schools are eligible for the 51 percent trigger if they have been judged under state standards to have shown no progress for three consecutive years.

This sort of majority-demanded restructuring is exactly what just happened at McKinley Elementary School. More than 60 percent of McKinley parents signed a petition and chose to convert to a charter school.

Throughout history, all great movements have started at the grass-roots level, with ordinary citizens and communities rising up to demand change.

In California, like in many other states, our public education system is not based on merit or holding the adults in whose care we have placed our children accountable. Some students get a good education, but others do not, and report after report reaches the same conclusion: No matter how much money we throw at the problem, unless the school is fundamentally fixed, we will not get the results in student performance we all deserve.

Giving parents the power to hold their schools accountable is a giant step forward, and I believe that what happened in Compton is the beginning of a movement that will sweep the nation.

Yeah Arnold!! I hope our new governor has half the muscle and moxie you do!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Educational Adequacy Reports

The School by School Education Adequacy reports are now available on line. A huge amount of kudos to Dan Drake, Director of Planning and Forecasting, for putting all this out there for us to see. As we go through the reports, DCSS faces some tough questions. Of the 134 facilities evaluated in the report, only 42 scored 80 or above in adequacy. Most of those were newer or have been extensively renovated and/or had additions. Contrast that number to the fact that 50 facilities scored poor or unsatisfactory! And there are a lot of schools that ranked fair that are actually just a point or two points better than poor!


This is the guidelines that were used to evaluate each of the criteria.

I recommend that you start with the summary report here to get a sense of the range of scores.

You can find the school by school information here:

Scroll down to the bottom for the school by school report. The school reports are fairly self explanatory. If a school is scored less than good on a criteria, then the report explains the deficiency at the bottom.

Here is what the scores mean:

Having read through some of the reports, but certainly not all, there are a few things that really stand out to me.

  • Several of the newer schools have classrooms that don’t meet DCSS’ own size requirements. What is up with this?
  • There are some easy fixes out there for some of the issues. Lack of sprinkler systems, adequate fencing, etc cost money but can be corrected.
  • There are some very complicated challenges out there as well. Many schools have spaces that are smaller, sometimes far smaller, than they need to be.
  • The gyms that were added in SPLOST II to most elementary school are smaller than DCSS standards.

Once we have the engineering reports to combine with the adequacy reports, it is necessary to begin to develop a process to decide what we can live with and what we can’t. If every kindergarten classroom in a school is 50 square feet too small, what should we do? If the library is too small by 1500 square feet, what should happen? What problems are ones that we can live with and which demand solutions?

And now a brief word about the technology readiness reports. Again, these reports are straightforward, clear and concise. What is missing from the reports is an acknowledgment that most of those older elementary schools with high scores are there because the parents have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy and money modernizing their community schools and bringing in technology. Vanderlyn doesn’t have Smart Boards in every classroom because the system provided them; they have them because parents did! I think this should be indicated so both the board members and the general public understand how and why this has occurred.