Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ask the Teachers? Apparently, they already are...

One very interesting thing about speaking during the Public Comments portion of a BOE meeting is the letter one receives a few weeks later from the office of the Superintendent. At the May working BOE meeting, a parent begged the BOE to "Ask the Teachers" before making their decisions. That parent received the customary "we heard you" type letter. That letter contained the following paragraph:

"During your comments, you suggested that the leadership use teachers as consultants as a cost-saving measure and before making any major decisions. You may in interested in knowing that our Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Committee serves to provide a systemic process for problem solving for staff and leadership. Using teacher input is one of the action areas within our Strategic Planning initiative, as well."

So, the question(s) is: Teachers, have you ever heard of the "Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Committee"? Have you ever been a member of that committee? How long has the Superintendent had this committee in place? How often do the members change? How are the members selected? Who selects the members? How often does the committee meet? Where does it meet? Is the meeting open to the public? Where are the meeting dates posted? Who are the current members of the committee? At which schools do they teach? What grades do they teach? What subjects do they teach? Are the meetings of the STAC like the "Parents' Advisory Committee" at which the parents are never actually asked for advice? Which staff member is responsible for STAC and what does this staff member(s) do with the "advice" the teachers provide?

I searched the DCSS website: "Your search for "teacher advisory committee" returned 0 results."

Does "Using teacher input is one of the action areas within our Strategic Planning initiative, as well" mean more surveys stacked with questions that only lead to favorable outcomes?

Teachers? Help us out ... been on this committee? Know anyone who has?


DCSS Teacher said...

Yes, I know a lot about the TAC: I'm on it, and its role is to provide feedback to Administration about anything we consider important. We are extremely frank and are encouraged to speak our minds. We are, however, one of several stakeholder groups. Our viewpoint is always treated with respect, and it's a very good forum.

M G said...

Dr. Brown started the TAC. The representative from each school was chosen by the school. Last year, Dr. Lewis decided that the Teacher of the Year at each school would serve on the TAC.

The minutes of the meetings are distributed to teachers AFTER they are approved by the Supt. Interestingly, the Teacher Forum icon is no longer in First Class, so I can no longer access the minutes.

As a teacher, every concern I have ever addressed to the rep from my school has been met with "Somebody said that" but I have never had the feeling that anyone was actually listening or ADDRESSING concerns.

To me, Teacher's Advisory is just a meaningless meeting so the administration can appear to be listening to teachers.

There is a similar forum for Classified Personnel, I'm not sure how those representatives are selected.

Anonymous said...

Never heard of it, but would love to be on it.

Anonymous said...

The TAC is apparently made up of the TOTY from each school or one school representative from each of the schools. There is little time to speak to the group as a whole, but the teachers do get the opportunity to have their voices heard in the small breakout groups.

The bigger problem with a group like this is that speaking out in DCSS is what puts you on the chopping block. You're seen as a complainer rather than someone who sees the problems and wants to help be a part of the solutions. My hope is that with Ms. Tyson, unlike CLew, transparency and frank discussions might actually start to happen.

It's not much, but it would be a good place to start with voicing some hard opinions. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

At my school, the principal picked the person. I don't know how many meetings he's attended over the past two years. We hear nothing. One time this year, he said he had some minutes to send us, but the principal would never get around to giving him the "okay" to email them to us. (I work for a micro-managing principal.) My impression is that some of the representatives might give an honest opinion that is representative of the majority of the teachers in the school, but not many. I haven't seen any evidence of "concerns" being addressed and/or acted upon. Although, numerous times our faculty has been told that we are "blessed" to have a job. That seems to be the response to any and all concerns, "Why are you complaining? You should just be happy to have a job." In 30 years of teaching, I've never had one of these representatives ask the faculty for input and/or suggestions. I'd love to see a printed copy of the meeting minutes with representatives' questions/concerns followed by the school system's response. Again, all talk but no action. This might explain why nothing came up when you did a search on the DCSS website.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, wow. Ok.
I don't know. Perhaps there is another teacher advisory group.
But the one I have gone to in the past was a "sit and get" type thing. We would sit and get told what ever was the current position on "things" according building A and or B. There would be time at the end for questions. Many of us would have dutifully taken questions from our home schools. No matter the question or complaint, the answer was always some form of "we will look into it", or "if you really understood you would like it" then no change, no action.
The committee used to be an elected position (at my school, the faculty would draw straws, short straw went). Now it is the duty of the teacher of the year to attend. It is my understanding that it is still just window dressing. Anyone actually giving voice to an opinion different form the county position had better not want a long career in the county.
But, maybe DCSS Teacher (9:42 pm) is a member of a different group?

Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, our TAC is comprised of two teachers whom the staff elects. I'm not sure if this election is limited to teaching staff, or if it is open to everyone in the building. With the exception of the six-period teaching day, I've never known of the TAC asking for input from teachers. In this case, they were working to prevent this not requesting input for the superintendent. Nevertheless, I've always understood that we teachers can ask these individuals to address any concerns we have.

Other than the survey published on our website, I don't recall being asked for any input. Sadly, this survey limited options so that it would appear that those of us suggesting the elimination of central office positions or the reduction of these salaries were also suggesting that we teachers receive these same eliminations or pay reductions. This is similar to the superintendent's figures for the county's salaries and benefits budget fails to make a distinction among the teaching staff, the nebulous "school-based staff," and the central office staff. Because we never receive any feedback about our surveys (i.e. school calendar), I fear that most teachers don't take any of the superintendent's surveys or requests seriously.

Anonymous said...

"...Using teacher input is one of the action areas within our Strategic Planning initiative, as well."

Just wondering if they consider teacher input "background noise," too.

Anonymous said...

10:17 You are right on, when you said that when you speak up, you're seen as a complainer instead of seeing a problem and wanting to be part of the solution.

I have spoken up at my school about things that my principal or DCSS wants us to do which aren't sound educational practices, and I have been told that I am a trouble maker, a problem finder and not a person who comes up with solutions. Sometimes, I don't know what the solution is, but I am willing to read and do research to make things better. Then there is the time that I complained about the math curriculum to the math coordinators and had a curt email from the coordinators and one from my AP wanting to speak to me about my comments.

I went into teaching to give my students the quality of education that I want for my own child. I taught this way, long before I had a child. The interactions that I have had this year, lead me to resign, as I felt that I could not be the teacher I would want my son to have and this was not the quality of education he was going to receive even though we live in the county.

DCSS does not care what teachers have to say. They only care about filling the pockets of friends and family. Our children will suffer, but this looks like the way education is headed right now in our country and it scares the day lights out of me.

No Duh said...

DCSS Teacher, are the minutes published anywhere? Are the dates and times of the meetings published? Are they open to the public?

The Parent Advisory Committee also has assigned reps from all the schools, but so few of the reps attend the meetings that Pam Talmadge encourages the schools to publicize the meetings to everyone in the school -- all come. I have been told (this is a blog comment on my part, not verified) that principals hear about it later from DCSS if the parent reps they chose don't show up to the meetings.

Anonymous said...

When I taught I used to read the minutes. The rep from our school told us that teachers did ask questions but the agenda was set by the super's office and it was more a one-way flow of information.

Also, and I don't know if this still exists, but one of my students was on the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council. I would talk to him about the meetings, and he said there was a fair amount of conversation, but he wasn't sure how much his voice was really heard. I never saw the minutes published for those meetings.

Anonymous said...

The TAC was not started under Dr. Brown. I was my TAC member from my school about seven or eight years ago. The notes were typed and put out on e-mail. About two years ago the process was changed so the the TOTY was the person that attended the meeting. Our former representative always asked us for questions and then provided input. This year our TOTY is a good person, but tends to be quiet. There is also an auxiliary committee composed of classifed staff members. The TAC committee can be a good forum, but you also get teachers that want to attend and try and complain about personal issues. Even with teachers sometimes the focus is not instruction and the best needs of the students. As a teacher, this is very disappointing to me. I love teaching. I teach in a middle school. I sometimes hate going into the lounge, because all I hear are teachers sitting in their 'bad mouthing' everything.

teachercreature said...

No Duh - You always seem to have teacher's backs on this blog, and it is very appreciated by this educator! I was at the board meeting mentioned here, and enjoyed chiming in with "ASK THE TEACHERS!" As far as the letter that the speaker received, I believe that her request was for the board to "ask the teachers" before making major decisions. That is quite different from the TAC's purpose. If the board would be proactive by soliciting input on specific issues from those of us in the trenches and actually act on our advice, they wouldn't be facing such ridicule and derision. Of course, I still believe in the tooth fairy, too.

No Duh said...

I'm with you teachercreature. Honestly, I'm having a hard time figuring out what "provide a systemic process for problem solving for staff and leadership" actually means. It's classic BS in my opinion...

How can there be a "systemic process" for problem solving? Wouldn't each "problem" inherently present different elements and approaches? And doesn't the definition of "leadership" imply a degree of problem-solving ability?

Cerebration said...

Here's how Wiki defines a Systemic Process -

a systemic process involves the definition of a problem, the searching of alternative solutions in general through model, and the selection of the best alternative that will eventually decide the course of action.

Tossing around big words is dangerous. If someone bothers to define what you are actually stating, you can end up looking foolish ala Dr. Lewis' claim that "urban inertia" was an original term he coined in defense of his choice to install a Marine Academy in DCSS -

In DeKalb, we find ourselves wrestling with the complexities of an original phrase I shall use - urban inertia. As you are aware inertia is a physics term that refers to force. We as educators must work against the forces that attempt to rob our student population from graduating and subsequently moving on to becoming contributing citizens. We battle poverty, absentee parents and lack of proper role models. The proposed DeKalb Marine Corps Institute is a creative means to offer an already successful model for supporting our youth. We currently house JROTC in 19 or 22 of our high schools. The Institute is a mirror of what we have been operating in the DeKalb County School System for decades.

Dr. Lewis commented that the board is fighting "urban inertia" - my observation is that the board itself is inert. Inertia is not a force - it's the tendency to stay motionless or resist change - requiring an outside for to make the inert object move.

So - I guess it's up to us to make ourselves that necessary "outside force"!

teachercreature said...

Hey,Cere - I haven't been able to pull up the comment section to thread about sharing who has lost jobs. Do you know if there's a problem with it?

Cerebration said...

No problem with it - try clicking this link -

So, please share what you know about who had been let go...

To get to the end of the comments, click where it says "Newest" at the top of the comments.

Anonymous said...

Not only is there a TAC but also an Auxillary Advisory Committee. Like the former, this group of classified employees (para's, administrative staff, and other non-certified staff)is supposed to serve as a mechanism to provide input to the superintendent and vice-versa. I was elected by the staff at my school to serve as the building representative.
Not knowing anything about the group I attended my first meetings with an openess and belief that we could be an effective voice. But boy was I in for a shock.
The leadership of the group, if you could call it that, was ineffective in communicating the groups mission as well as identifying REAL issues impacting this group of very important but often overlooked employees. They appeared to be the "Crawford Lewis Is God" committee and did not want to tackle anything that could be seen as confrontational.
As I attended more meetings it became obvious to me that this group had no intention in truly representing classified staff. They wanted to plan picnics and luncheons and see who could say the most flattering things to the "emperor." Several individuals attempted to address some of the committees shortcomings but met resistance from the small and vocal group that had controlled the process since its inception.
Even the "executive committee" seemed to cower in the presence of several of the supt.'s flunkies who exerted control and influence over the group even though they had no official role.
My desire to participate waned as the year went on because of this and i truthfully reported my findings and feelings to my building staff. Classified employees play a tremendously important role in the operation of our schools. The tendency to under-estimate our role and devalue our contributions only serve to inflate the egos of many of the under-qualified and overpaid classroom "educators" we work with. As a matter of fact many of the para's I know are better educated (and have more common sense) than a lot of the teachers and administrators we work with.
While we're at it... Take a look at the system's failed attempt to attract classified staff to the so-called Math/Science Teacher Tranisition (MSTT) program. Originally presented as an opportunity that would allow classified staff to obtain certification in these two subjects the program appears to be falling apart due to the lack of planning and coordination between DCSS and GA State as well as the outdated methods of student teaching that requires an individual to quit their jobs, with no guarantees of employment, for up to three months. Wonder why there hasn't been much talk about that?

Anonymous said...

State as well as the outdated methods of student teaching that requires an individual to quit their jobs, with no guarantees of employment, for up to three months. Wonder why there hasn't been much talk about that?

The student teaching requirement is a state one not a DCSS requirement. The MSTT program is an experiment to see if barriers to classified staff that have some college work can become math or science teachers. The program was initially written with Paras in mind but expanded to include any classifies staff with some college work. Once a Para completed the program and became a teacher their yearly salary would increase by over $1000 per month. The problem would be that even though their yearly income would increase they would have to go through the student teaching portion without pay because it is illegal in Georgia to pay student teachers. GSU also work with staff in the program to get college loans that would equal any lost salary. Once student teaching is completed and the classified person becomes a certified math or science teacher the loans may be forgiven if they teach in a Title I school for a period of years. In addition some student teaching is possible in the summer reducing the time a 10 month employee would go without a job. HR needs to be more creative and customer service orientated for instance, the classified employee could request a leave of absence to do student teaching and not have to quit their job. If leadership will tell HR to be more cooperative then they will be. Problem is right now, leadership is interim and facing some other problems.

Anonymous said...

If DCSS wants classified staff to particpate in the MSTT program and become math or science teachers they should give them priority for hiring in any math or science teaching vacancies.

Anonymous said...

TAC has been in existence for more than a decade. Schools used to elect a TAC representative and we usually tried to elect someone who was interested and willing to speak up for us. I have submitted questions and really didn't see any positive response. In my opinion, this is not complaining. We are making administrators aware o problems and seeking solutions.

I attended once for my TOTY. It was a sit and listen meeting with a few minutes for teachers to ask questions. Not especially effective. I took notes and wrote up the information from the meeting to share with our teachers. However, the only other minutes I've seen recently came from a teacher in another school.

The most effective meeting that I know of was the meeting that was held after teachers shared their frustration with student portfolios. My rep said that lots of teachers spoke. When they got done, the individual who was overseeing the portfolio process said that she had no idea that it was taking so much time and effort. This is a good example of an administrator making a decision and then not following up to see how things are going in the schools.

Anonymous said...

As a folow-up to my previous comments regarding the advisory committees and a response about student teaching being a state requirement:
I spoke with someone at Ga Prof Standards about the practicum and was informed that it is at the discretion of local school systems as to handling student teaching. I called them after a DCSS administrator told me that it was a state mandate. As usual these reponses lacked clarity and appear to be a continuing "passing-of-the-buck."
The importance of student teaching can never be understated but, like many things in these modern times, there should be an acknowledgement of the shifting economy and priorities in education (kind of like the length of the school year determined by agricultural concerns) that have seen the role of paraprofessionals change.
We are no longer stay at home moms looking to help out at the local school. Many of us are college educated with a wide range of skills and abilities that are completely different than stereotypes. Many of us are single parents and/or males supporting more than one mouth.
I have seen classroom teachers that can barely put together a sentence, use technology, or develop effective classroom activities. On top of that DCSS lacks any type of formal staff development targeting this group or even a para's handbook. This is not uncommon in many states or school systems. If you want examples just visit the website of the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (
As for taking a leave of absence, I remind you that many of us have responsibilities that extend beyond the red bricks. For instance it has been suggested that a leave of absence, combined with access to COBRA, should provide for student teaching candidates. Well, COBRA isn't free. With a family, that cost could extend to over $3000 per month and then there are those other little expenses like living costs. All of this while going unpaid for three months. That is hardly a benefit I can afford.
There are several options that could be examined to help mitigate some of these factors including (GASP) getting our elected officials to change this outdated systems. The primary beneficiaries of the system as it is now are the post-secondary institutions that will be able to continue to milk hapless students.
As a ODE member I am disappointed that the group has not become more pro-active on this and other topics. They articulate quickly and with some clarity when the issue concerns certified staff but they are strangely quiet when it comes to support for the para's, bus drivers, custodians and others who comprise a considerable percentage of dues paying members.
BTW, how much did DCSS and GSU receive for the MSTT program and how is it being spent?

Cerebration said...

From the Feb 8 Board minutes -

Dr. Sonja Alexander, Director, Department of Professional Learning, recommended that the Board of Education enter into a subcontract agreement with Georgia State University for expenditures incurred from the Mathematics\Science Transition to Teaching Program (MSTT) Project for the performance period of October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2014, the total amount reimbursed to Georgia State University shall not exceed $150,000 per year.

Dr. Walker asked if this program is replacing another program or a new program. Dr. Alexander answered that it is a federal funded grant recently awarded to the District to assist with the retention of highly qualified math and science teachers.

Mr. McChesney asked for clarification regarding the financial impact. Dr. Alexander responded that funds will be reimbursed to the District with no impact to the general budget.

Dr. Lewis added that the grant is for a five-year period, in the total amount of $1,947,200 and anticipates that it will strongly support teachers in the math and science areas.

On a motion by Ms. Roberts, seconded by Dr. Speaks, and with a unanimous vote, the motion passed.

Anonymous said...

Cere, thanks for the budget numbers. Do you have any info on the programs budget/spennding?

Anonymous said...

TAC has been around for a number of years; I believe it was started under Halford under the name Teacher Forum. As the former Teacher of the Year, I served on this committee this year. What a waste of time! We would sit a LISTEN to DCSS leaders (CLewis, Turk, Talley, Wilson, Mosley,etc. It time permited, some questions and comments would be taken from the teachers. Mitchell would carry the microphone around to a these teachers. Responses were usually always the same, "We will look into that." A lady from Fernbank took notes, but she would have to get them approved by CLewis. It would take two months for them to be finally posted to First Class, usually right befor the next meeting.

Cerebration said...

That was Lewis' modus operandi. He would always have his assistants take notes, or pick up questions on 3x5 cards, promising to publish answers on the web.

Crickets - always crickets.

Anon - I don't have info on how the MSTT program is going. Perhaps you should email Dr. Sonja Alexander (the person in charge of the program) - and ask her.

Let us know what she says.

Anonymous said...

As a folow-up to my previous comments regarding the advisory committees and a response about student teaching being a state requirement:
I spoke with someone at Ga Prof Standards about the practicum and was informed that it is at the discretion of local school systems as to handling student teaching. I called them after a DCSS administrator told me that it was a state mandate. As usual these reponses lacked clarity and appear to be a continuing "passing-of-the-buck."

DCSS does not require student teaching prior to certification. The Georgia Standards Commission web site says in routes to certification

Enroll in a state-approved college program for the degree and certificate field you desire. Complete all program requirements, earn degree and obtain recommendation form from the college. Appropriate content assessment must be completed prior to receiving a certificate.”

All Georgia Colleges require student teaching as part of the route to a teaching degree and certification. The college programs must all be approved by the Georgia Standards Commission. So who ever told you that it was up to the school system did not understand your question. If GSU wanted to have a program without student teaching or a practicum then they would have to ask GSC for approval.

Ella Smith said...

There are alternative routes to certification which is what some of these individuals are doing.

This is some disagreement in this area. One of the problems in a need for more teachers. However, there is a need for student teaching in many professionals minds. Even after student teaching a new teacher is a new teacher with much to learn.

There is much interest in this area regarding highly qualified teachers and if this group of teachers who go through alternative certification means are as highly qualified as regular teachers who get certified in normal means of certification. The one indicator is that much support and inservice is needed for an alternative certification teacher to become a highly qualified teacher. With the right support and inservice an altertive certified teacher can becoma a highly qualified teacher.

Anonymous said...

I was trying to decide how to respond to this topic, but Anon 7:35 did it perfectly. I, too, attended these TAC meetings and left frustrated everytime. I knew I was in trouble after the first one when Dr. Mitchell introduced CLew as "our visionary leader"; it was downhill from there. I never felt for a second that they cared what we had to say. Each teacher's question/comment was met with a response that felt like a pat on the head. We were told how wonderful and dedicated we were, what a fine job we were doing, yada, yada...I'm not exactly sure what the steering committee (which meets the week before the TAC meeting) does, but the agendas never had anything that involved the day to day issues teachers have to deal with. All in all, I would say that the experience did not give me confidence that problems in our county will be effectively dealt with.

No Duh said...

Except for DCSS Teacher (May 19, 9:42), the TAC experience sounds almost identical to the Parent Advisory Committee experience.

A lot of back slapping and head patting. Not an open dialogue at all.

The key is getting teachers involved BEFORE decisions are made and purchases are completed! Teachers really do want to provide solutions to what they perceive as problems -- they aren't just whining (okay, just like the general populace, some of the teachers are just whining, but it's usually pretty clear which ones are trying to pursue solutions and which ones are negative Nellies).

Parents and teachers need to figure out a way to work together to move from "background noise" to fully vested decision makers and influencers (and not just about personnel issues). You would think the PTAs could help in this regard, but the local units just don't seem to be able to affect true change. Though many teachers pay their $5, they don't become involved in the PTA activities.

The sole purpose of PTA is to ADVOCATE for children. At the legislative level, they do a great job. What can be we do empower the DeKalb Council of PTAs to the point that it gets a real seat at the table? How can the DeKalb Council help serve as a clearinghouse for teacher concerns and an advocate for these concerns? Perhaps even turning these concerns into official pleas for help at the local levels?

Anonymous said...

Many teachers do not participate actively in PTA, because they know that if they voice their concerns they are thought of as loud mouths and will get labeled, so it's best to disagree quietly than to speak up, if you wish to keep your job without extra aggravation.

Also, many teachers have their own children that they need to focus on. Teachers need to attend their child's PTA meetings and school events as well as the school events at their school.

Expect to see even less teacher participation with the decrease in pay.

Anonymous said...

Here's one teachers take on some things I'd like to see improve;

There is not an orderly environment in this school system. Teachers see no evidence of long term planning at the school level.

The list of “do’s” and “don’t” has gotten so long that they have been rendered irrelevant.

Order is a function of self-discipline and that is in short supply, particularly from our leadership.

There is not a sense of trust among teachers in the system. The perception is that most administrators assume the teacher has only their self-interest at heart and so they are not to be trusted to do the right thing.

The school system does not ask teachers what improvements are needed to achieve quality in the schools. The administrator who asks what improvements are needed is usually only making small talk; Improvements come from the top, just like appointments.

The system does not use surveys to assess teacher opinions about the system’s policies and practices. The only opinion that the system asks for is a questionnaire about your administrators. The problem is that once the bureaucrats got finished with it they asked 65 questions that no one wants to answer.

The system has not established improvement teams who come together to solve quality-related problems. One can only assume that in a system this size the only people who are asked to produce a solution to a problem are administrators who have a skewered view of teachers and of how to teach children.

The climate in this school system is not conducive to quality instruction. As a classroom teacher, if I followed and implemented every mandate that comes down from central office via the administrators then I would have little time to engage in student learning.

Teachers in this school system are not satisfied with the quality of the instruction they provide their students. Teachers may be by nature difficult to please but they are just as hard on themselves as any one else could ever be. The difference is that teachers do not have the luxury of criticizing without suggesting because when they criticize themselves, there is no one to turn too who can do better for them. They must solve the puzzle on their own.

Dekalbparent said...

I have no idea where to post this, because it is a WAY COOL IDEA for elementary teachers, not a criticism of DCSS:

I read about this project in EdWeek. I don't know what it would take to pull off, and maybe teachers in DCSS are already participating:

teachercreature said...

Thanks, DeKalb Parent! That is a great article. I have done some teleconferencing with my middle schoolers, but this takes it to a whole new level. Great share!

Dekalbparent said...

@teachercreature (love the name!)

Is there any way to disseminate this information to DCSS teachers? I suspect it could be adapted to other grade levels, and the MS and HS special ed kids could get into it, too.

Selfishly, I want the info to be shared with all the TEACHERS, not go through some Central Office filter - could it go direct?