Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Kind of Superintendent Do We Need?

So the AJC is reporting that the School Board, at today's called meeting, has decided to try and have a new superintendent in place by next summer. The bolding for emphasis is mine as are the comments in italics!

DeKalb looks to speed up superintendent search
By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
3:11 p.m. Wednesday, June 30, 2010

DeKalb County schools could have a new superintendent within the next 10 months, if not sooner.

The school board launched the search Wednesday following complaints that it was stalling on finding a permanent leader for the troubled system. However, members still have not decided when they will hire a search firm.

The board initially said it planned to take 18 to 24 months to find a replacement for Superintendent Crawford Lewis, who was terminated in April. He has since been indicted on charges of running a criminal enterprise at the school system.

“The real problem with the system right now is leadership, a flaw in leadership. It was not the system that was indicted, but a couple of individuals,” board member Eugene Walker said. “A lot of people said we had a reign of terror in our system. We need the kind of leadership that will ensure the board, the public and everybody else that we make decisions that are data-driven, sound and transparent.”

The board reviewed a tentative timeline for the search that calls for hiring a search firm in August, interviewing candidates in February and voting on a selection in April. However, some board members said that timeline is still too long.

“We need to speed this up. I think we have been without a superintendent long enough,” said Zepora Roberts, the board’s vice chair. That is right, let's rush this search. So we can find another person you can make sure will protect your family and friends?

Board chairman Tom Bowen said the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits DeKalb schools, advised the board to take its time.

“It was very important we identify the right candidate, as opposed to hiring the first candidate,” Bowen said.

Board member Don McChesney said the 10-month timeline will allow the board to have someone in place before the end of the school year and give the newcomer time to adjust before starting in July 2011.

“We really need to get the right person. I don’t know we can do that in three months,” he said. Barring some unforeseen miracle, McChesney is correct.

Roberts, one of five board members up for re-election in November, said she hopes the board doesn’t delay until those seats are filled. She said some board members have floated names of possible candidates and she is worried that could drive the election.

DeKalb, Roberts said, is also competing with other large systems -- Bibb County and possibly Cobb -- that are currently looking for new superintendents now.

“If we prolong this too long, we will have to get what is left from what is picked by the top,” Roberts said.

Mark A. Elgart, SACS’ president and chief executive officer, said the indictments should not have any major impact on the district’s search. But the system’s size – it is the 27th largest in the nation – could limit the number of qualified candidates.

SACS also advised that DeKalb must be willing to pay a salary similar to other large districts, between $275,000-$300,000, Elgart said. Lewis made $255,000.

After complaints from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the board agreed to discuss the search in public. It previously met behind closed doors to talk about the timeline and candidate qualities.

Board members agreed Wednesday they would like candidates with experience running a large system or organization, and preferably have classroom experience.

However, board member Jim Redovian said a teaching background is not necessary and he would prefer someone who has experience running an organization with 14,000 employees and a $1 billion budget, like DeKalb.

“I think the number one issue that this system needs is a culture change. We need a superintendent that has absolutely no experience with DeKalb County,” Redovian said. A truer statement has never been said.

Board members also agreed they would like a search firm that seeks out candidates with experience and not just people who are looking for a job.

Bowen said he also wanted to see a candidate who can come in and evaluate the system to make positive changes.

“Someone who can make recommendations to keep the good things we do, but there are a lot of things we do that don’t make sense,” he said. “I want someone who has put in a corrective plan before and actually done it.” Please make this a top priority.

What are your priorities for the type of person you would like to see? If we make a list of qualities, like, say honesty, I will type them up and send them to the Board Members.

School Board Policy and New State Rules Weak on Board Member’s Sales

One of our regular contributors has done a little research and come to a conclusion that is not surprising — our school board ethics policies are very weak on all fronts.  Below is the text from the actual policy regarding conflicts of interest.


In order to avoid conflict of interest, the following guidelines for Board members shall apply:

  1. No Board member shall sell supplies or equipment to the Board.
  2. The Board may not employ one of its members for any position in the school system.
  3. The Board shall not do business with a partnership or corporation partially owned by a Board member.
  4. A Board member shall not sell insurance to the Board.
  5. School book publishers and their agents are precluded from Board membership.
  6. No Board member may have a financial interest in school buses, bus equipment or supplies, provide services for buses owned by the Board, or sell gasoline to the Board from a corporation in which the Board member is a shareholder.
  7. No Board member shall serve on the governing body of private educational institutions.
  8. No Board member shall hold another county public office.
  9. No Board member may be employed by the State Department of Education or serve concurrently as a member of the State Board of Education.
  10. The Board may not do business with a bank or financial institution where a Board member is an employee, stock holder, director or officer when such member owns 30 percent or more stock in that institution.

To elaborate on item #1 - Here's the state code: (Which prohibits selling equipment or supplies not necessarily selling pizza or uniforms, etc. It still seems a bit vague.)

(a) No member of any county board of education in this state shall sell to any county board any supplies or equipment used, consumed, or necessary in the operation of any public school in this state.
(b) Any member of any county board violating subsection (a) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

For more Georgia code click here.

New School Board Policies approved April 12 by DCSS BOE—Ethics and Conflict of Interest Policies
--There were no changes to the Ethics Policy or Conflict of Interest Policy pertaining to similar sales to nonprofit organizations, schools, classes or teachers. The policy stands as stating that board members basically cannot do business with the board (interpreted to mean "schools").  However, there is no mention of booster clubs, PTAs, etc and no mention of other employees doing business with those groups.

Applicable items SB 84—Passed This Year

(3) No local board of education member shall solicit or accept or knowingly allow his or her immediate family member or a business organization in which he or she has an interest to solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing that board member in the discharge of his or her official duties.
(8) No member of a local board of education may also be an officer of any organization that sells goods or services to that local school system, except as provided in Code Section 20-2-505 and excluding nonprofit membership organizations.

Proposed Levitas Bill (not pursued by the DeKalb Delegation)

Pertinent prohibitions sronger, but relatively weak:

(1) Engage in any business or transaction with or have a financial or other personal interest, direct or indirect, in the affairs of the DeKalb County School System which would result in a financial benefit, except for a financial benefit of a nominal or incidental amount, to the official, appointed officer, employee, or relative of such person or which would tend to impair the independence of judgment or action in the performance of official duties;

Advertise business and professional services to the school system or its employees for personal gain;


So, as you can see, the fox may be guarding the henhouse. We need to pressure our school board candidates to create and enforce a strong ethics policy. In fact, they need to rework and revamp all of their policies, which I believe the new legal counsel is already working on.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer school or an increased investment in public libraries?

(from the "Schools Matter" blog)
Sent to the Washington Post, June 28, 2010.

Jay Mathews notes that that academic achievement declines for low-income students over the summer and concludes that "Summer school is a great tool, if only more students would use it" (June 28 Washington Post). The decline in reading achievement over the summer, however, is actually an argument for increased funding for public libraries, not summer school.

Some of the research reports on the summer slump, including Barbara Heyns' original study of summer learning published in 1975 and Jimmy Kim's more recent research, strongly suggest that scores go down during the summer because low-income children have less access to public libraries and other sources of books and don't do as much pleasure reading.

The implication: More funding for public libraries in low-income areas, and a more cautious approach to increasing time dedicated to traditional instruction. Too much traditional instruction could limit time for wide, self-selected voluntary reading, the single most important factor in improving reading achievement.

Stephen Krashen

Heyns, Barbara. 1975. Summer Learning and the Effect of School. New York: Academic Press.
Kim, Jimmy. 2003. “Summer reading and the ethnic achievement gap,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk 9, no. 2:169-188.
Jay Mathews: Summer school is a great tool, if only more students would use it


What do you say, bloggers?  I personally spent many, many hours at my hometown library as a child (it was 2 blocks from my house).  I have fond memories of story hour, reading clubs and summer reading charts with gold stars.  DeKalb County has some wonderful libraries with lots of activities for children.  Would our struggling students be better off spending time in our libraries enjoying the simple love of reading for pleasure?

DCSS's website currently hosts a press release encouraging students to take part in the programs available in our libraries this summer.  Check it out!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Common Core State Standards - what kind of effect will they have on education in Georgia?

Below is a letter written to the public by Wanda Barrs, chair of the Georgia Board of Education, describing the new "Common Core State Standards", published in the Get Schooled blog at the AJC.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, co-chaired by Gov. Sonny Perdue, recently issued a common set of English language arts and mathematics standards that states can adopt.

Through these Common Core State Standards, students, teachers, parents, colleges and employers throughout Georgia, and indeed much of the United States, will have a first-class guide to what our children must know and be able to do to succeed in college, the 21st-century workplace and as contributing citizens in our democracy.

Will implementing the Common Core State Standards in Georgia reverse or shut down the implementation of our Georgia Performance Standards? Is this is a federal mandate to “take over” education? The answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

The Common Core State Standards is a state-led initiative — not a federal mandate. Georgia teachers and other experts in standards setting have been at the table since the process began.

When the expert development groups — that the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association pulled together — began to write the standards in mathematics and English language arts, they built off of the rigorous college- and career-ready standards that some states had already developed.
Georgia was one of these select states.

When reading the new core standards, one can see elements of the Georgia Performance Standards throughout. Therefore, while adopting the Common Core State Standards in Georgia will be a step forward – and give our teachers more refined tools to better prepare our young people for work and college – it will not be a drastic change for either our teachers or our students.

Some of the standards are introduced at different grade levels, but teachers have, essentially, been implementing the Common Core State Standards while they’ve been teaching the Georgia Performance Standards.

Without question, there has been much conversation about the integrated approach of our Georgia Performance Standards for mathematics. While all of us want our students to succeed, unfortunately, for too long, Georgia has lagged behind the nation and other countries in mathematics achievement.

An integrated approach to math is one way that states can help students master the skills and knowledge outlined within the Common Core State Standards.We look forward to continuing a conversation with parents, teachers and the community on how to help our students excel.

Once our mathematics curriculum is fully implemented, I have every confidence that our students will be the winners.Our state’s mathematics standards, supported by the Common Core State Standards, will help Georgia’s students rise above the rest. In the simplest terms, standards set the goal for what students should know and be able to do by the time they complete a grade level and then ultimately graduate high school. Curriculum, on the other hand, guides how a teacher teaches the standards.

Since 2004, we have been overhauling our state’s curriculum.

The new curriculum is the product of a lot of hard work by classroom teachers, parents, businesses and curriculum experts. Our award-winning curriculum is nearing full implementation with great results.So, if our curriculum is already good, why join this initiative?

While our standards give our teachers an excellent tool to prepare our young people, we are always looking for opportunities to improve. The Common Core State Standards integrate much of the Georgia Performance Standards, but benefit from the best and latest research allowing them to advance the groundwork we have laid.

The Common Core State Standards will allow for a meaningful comparison of our students’ achievement with students in other states. Currently, states operate with different standards, making it impossible to accurately compare data nationally or internationally.

Our students will be competing for jobs with students from all over the world. We must be able to compare ourselves to the rest of the U.S. and other countries to ensure that we are providing students with the tools they need to be globally competitive.And the initiative will allow for better purchasing power.

Since 48 participating states will have a consistent educational framework, textbook and instructional resource companies will be able to develop and target resources to one set of standards. This will help to reduce prices and ensure that funds are spent wisely. In these difficult economic times and beyond, it is essential that we maximize resources and invest wisely.

I am proud of the work done by teachers, parents, administrators and others to improve education in Georgia over the last few years, and we are excited to share and leverage our efforts with other states. By collaborating on the Common Core State Standards, working together we can take the next step to move Georgia’s schools from great to world-class.


For an opposing opinion on the subject, read a letter posted at "Get Schooled", by Cindy Lutenbacher, a teacher and DeKalb public school parent.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Pizza Pie in the Eye

I would love to hear from District 5 parents who are involved in booster clubs and PTAs about whether you felt pressured to purchase products from Zo's pizza. When Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn's business sold athletic wear to a middle school, I believe that the parents and sponsor felt pressured to purchase from her. Whether that was real or perceived because of Ms. Anderson-Littlejohn's role, I can't say. Her child was a student at the school and may have been involved in the activity.

I would also like to know if the booster clubs and PTAs comparison shop and if Cunningham's restaurant offers the best prices. Our school uses a local Italian restaurant to cater events occasionally. The PTA chair is expected to shop around and get the best price. Flat Rock Elementary is huge, nearly 1000 students, so the total bill doesn’t surprise me. I share Tom Bowen's concerns about the increase in sales from pre-board to now.

Table appears set for conflict

AJC investigation: Board member's business caters to county schools

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
7:59 a.m. Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Tim Eberly

Before Jay Cunningham won election to the DeKalb school board, his restaurants catered the occasional school pizza party.

But in the three years since taking office in January 2007, his food sales to DeKalb schools have increased substantially, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an Open Records Act request.

Cunningham owns Zo’s Pizza, formerly named daVido’s Pizza, on Panola Road in Lithonia. Zo’s was previously on Mall Parkway, also in Lithonia. At one time, he operated restaurants at both locations.

Documents show that Cunningham’s restaurants collected $3,077 from schools in the five years before he joined the school board, compared to at least $22,655 in the three and a half years after. The purchases mostly came in the form of large orders of pizza, chicken wings or both for teacher gatherings, yearbook parties and other events.

The rest of the article can be found here:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Time to re-examine how business is conducted in DeKalb County Schools

It is clear it is time to re-examine how business is conducted in DeKalb County Schools. I acknowledge how difficult a school board member‘s job is, especially so these past few months. I fear this stems from a misunderstanding in the role and I think it is appropriate now to convey some truths that have been crying out to be shared.

First, the job of a school board member is that of a “public servant.” A board member is a steward of public funds for the benefit of children, who absolutely depend upon the school system for his or her future well being (that is, the ability to earn a living in the future). But some on the DeKalb Board see their election as life-long employment. They network with system employees to find work for family members and push for high pay. Educating children does not appear to be their top priority.

Secondly, the taxpayer is forced to pay the taxes to the county through property taxes, to the state through state income taxes and to the federal government through federal taxes. These taxes create the pool to fund DeKalb County School System’s billion-plus-dollar budget. Unlike the ill-fated investors of Bernie Madoff, who understood, at least at some level, there was risk when they chose to invest, the taxpayer has no choice. The taxpayer must pay or risk 1) criminal prosecution for tax evasion and/or 2) foreclosure of his/her property. The taxpayer, in turn, has a reasonable expectation that elected stewards will use these monies for the purposes for which they are legally tasked. In the case of DCSS, those funds are obligated for use to educate children.

It is obvious to those of us “on the outside” that there have not been appropriate “checks and balances” in place on the use of our taxpayer money within DCSS. To wit:
  • Former principals oversee the Transportation Department – not leaders from UPS or Federal Express who understand efficient delivery of goods (students) from point A to point B;
  • A former principal has headed a Health and Wellness program, selected over a candidate with a PhD in this very field. (An aside: the program wasn’t needed in the first place.)

Further evidence is the “Friends and Family” plan in DCSS. It is clear to us “on the outside” that in its recent downsizing, DCSS retained employees who are related to current and former Board of Education members and higher echelon members of the administration, rather than those employees critical to educating children in the schoolhouse. One wonders if this is the standard SACS requires the school system to follow.

It is past time the DeKalb Board of Education initiate work to begin to restore the trust and confidence of the community it serves. It clearly failed to monitor, supervise and question issues related to the massive construction program, which makes members essentially complicit in the activity that triggered the indictments against the former superintendent and his deputy. Several years ago, former board member Cassandra Anderson-Littlejohn attempted to question this very activity. Her fellow board members refused to support her demand for greater transparency. Now, the community must compel the board to implement changes immediately:

  1. Post all financial transactions (P-card, checks, statements, etc.) online. It is the taxpayer’s money and the public is entitled to this information.
  2. Implement Dr. Johnny Brown’s compensation audit to reduce salaries for all top- level officials. Any position that was not needed during his tenure five years ago should not be needed now.
  3. Follow the example of the DeKalb Board of Commissioners and work with our local universities. Ask Emory’s Business School to take on DCSS as a case study to discern how to restore integrity in all areas of DeKalb Schools. Ask Georgia State to conduct another audit/compensation study.
  4. Implement an Ethics Policy that is unequivocal and clear. Clarity would end ongoing conflicts of interests and bickering over minor issues like dollar limits for dinners.
  5. Engage external auditors and publish their findings. There does not appear to be a functional internal auditing department that reports directly to the Board. For example: when the principal and bookkeeper departed from Lakeside High School in 2008, an audit was allegedly conducted. Parents and PTA members were aware that items were purchased for the school that never arrived at the building. The audit, which parents were told was “in the works,” was never released nor the discrepancies resolved. The same thing happened more recently at Chamblee High and apparently at Cross Keys High School as well. External auditors could determine if this is happening all over the district.
  6. Signatures – how many signatures are needed for which purchases and checks? Do purchases and checks over a certain amount (say $1000 or $1500) require two signatures?

While Bernie Madoff’s investors have a trustee to unravel his financial misdeeds, the taxpayers must rely on the Board of Education to elucidate what has happened in DeKalb Schools. There is no trustee or receiver to untangle the money trail, although many taxpayers are appealing to SACS to investigate these issues. But at present, it is up to the elected Board of Education to rise to the challenge. Its Members have a fiduciary obligation to the students and taxpayers of DeKalb County. It is past time that this duty be followed and observed.

Last month’s news has made the national headlines and may well be used in Board training rooms throughout the country as examples of irresponsibility and what not to do. The DeKalb Board can choose to handle this crisis by exercising integrity and taking bold steps, selecting a strong new, outside, Interim Superintendant who is unaffiliated with the current mess to start the restructuring that needs to occur. In this way, the Interim Superintendant can prepare DCSS for a permanent hire that can restore our broken system.

The time is now, Board Members. Our children deserve it and the taxpayers – and voters – demand it.

Shayna Steinfeld

*Note: Shayna Steinfeld, former president of the Atlanta Bar Association, ran for the DeKalb School Board in 2008.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Well, this is not good...the board has not even begun the search for a new superintendent

According to today's AJC, "The DeKalb County school board fired its superintendent two months ago, but the troubled district has taken few steps to find a new leader."

The article goes on to inform us that little has been done to even begin a search for a new superintendent. Since the search for a superintendent takes 12-18 months, it looks like Ms. Tyson will end up serving as interim for quite some time. This interim leader is in addition to our newly appointed interim of curriculum (teaching and learning) and our interim COO and head of construction.

One reason the board has not begun the search is that the board can't really tell if they are allowed to meet behind closed doors on the subject.

Board attorney Joshua Mayes, of Sutherland firm in Atlanta, said the Georgia Open Meetings law allows the board to discuss “employment and personnel issues” in closed session.

But the Georgia First Amendment Foundation maintains the board should be meeting publicly to discuss the search process. Once the board has candidates, it can meet behind closed doors, said Hollie Manheimer, the foundation’s executive director.

“The personnel exemption is very narrow and allows the public to be barred only in very limited instances,” she said.

Now SACS has announced that they will be watching the process very carefully.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits DeKalb and most schools in the Southeast, will also be watching the superintendent search.

Mark A. Elgart, SACS’ president and executive director, said DeKalb will have a tough time finding a qualified candidate because of its size.

“There are a very limited number of superintendents who have the background and skills to run a system that size,” Elgart told the AJC. “It will take a long search because larger systems are more complex. It will be a challenge because of the size of the district and the dynamics.”

SACS is conducting a preliminary probe following the indictments. In the next six weeks, SACS officials will send the DeKalb school board a list of questions to answer in response to the indictments and other recent incidents.

“Based on their responses, we will determine our next steps,” Elgart said. “We’re looking at all of the information we’ve gathered over the past year. A full-scale investigation is within the realm of possibilities.”

Oh boy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

DeKalb has fallen down for special education students

According to information sent to the blog, it appears that DeKalb County school system is not doing a good job of providing the legally required "adequate" education for special education students. This is extremely important because much of this funding comes from the federal government and special education services are protected by the IDEA Act.

Special Education services in DCSS cost approximately $90,000,000 a year, nearly 10% of the entire budget. DCSS employs 1,369 Special Education teachers (almost 20% of our total teachers versus 87 Gifted teachers). Per Ms. Tyson’s cost per teacher of $65,000, this would equal $88,985,000 in salaries and benefits spent for Special Education teachers alone.

The state of Georgia has put DCSS under Focused Monitoring with respect to mathematics for our students receiving Special Education Services.

According to a Georgia Department of Education (DOE) study conducted at the end of 2008, DeKalb County services for Special Education students with respect to mathematics are not in compliance in a number of areas, and we may be subject to sanctions from the DOE if we do not show the necessary improvement.

Much of the findings have to do with Assistive Technology. Does the DCSS Information Systems group have a plan to provide these students with the assistive technology they need? DCSS taxpayers spend $19,000,000 in annual personnel costs for our MIS group, millions more for Dell to install and maintain the computers and Activboards, and even millions more for eSis and SchoolNet, integrated systems that are supposed to give teachers the information that will allow them to individualize instruction.

Another area of concern was the Student Support Team process. Educators involved in SST didn’t seem to understand the process.

Individualization for Special Education students was found lacking. For example, flexible grouping and materials organized in advance for students with special needs were weak areas.

Finally, training was seen as a weak area. 35% of all professionals were not familiar with the Special Education manual and 60.8% of paraprofessionals said that they need more training to assist them with accommodations/instructional adaptations.

How can we spend so much while our Special Education students receive so little?

"Summary of On-Site Findings:
The monitoring team found noncompliance in the following area(s):

  • Some students with disabilities are not receiving a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Some student referrals are not preceded by evidenced based academic and/or behavioral interventions.
  • Some students with disabilities do not have appropriate Transition Services in place to facilitate the student's movement from school to post-secondary services

Required Evidence of Improvement:
The system's 2011 assessment data must meet the annual measurable objective of 75.70% proficiency in mathematics by making AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup. Systems that fail to meet the target and fail to meet compliance criteria within one year may be subject to sanctions from the GaDOE
A review of the data shows that when DeKalb County School System is compared with the 12 other systems in the same size group, the percent of students with disabilities meeting standards in mathematics is below State Target. A review of previous years’ data also shows that the percentage of students with disabilities meeting standards in mathematics was below State Target.”


Many thanks to "DeKalb Parent" for this blog post.


For more info:

Direct link to the GA DOE report;

Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of IDEA.

The Office of Special Education Programs offers an informative parent and teacher tool kit on teaching and assessing students with disabilities. Click here for the link.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An open letter to DeKalb parents, from the county's school board chairman

By Tom Bowen
9:14 p.m. Tuesday, June 15, 2010

DeKalb County parents and taxpayers have a growing number of probing and legitimate questions following the racketeering and corruption indictments handed down by a DeKalb County grand jury against former Superintendent Crawford Lewis and three others, and they deserve answers.

First of all, the DeKalb Board of Education does not condone unlawful behavior; neither do we allow indicted employees to remain on the job until a reporter starts “asking questions” as the AJC reported recently (“Indicted school officials cost DeKalb taxpayers,” News, May 28).

School board members started asking questions about the continued employment of the district’s former chief operating officer, Patricia Reid (then Patricia Pope), more than six months ago.

The board decided that the best course of action was to remove Reid from any decision-making over the construction program and reassign her to another position until her contract expired.

The board then decided not to renew her contract. The board considered this the best way to address concerns about the construction program.

Parents are again rightly asking why she remains in our employ until her contract expires June 30.

The answer: To take further action could trigger a fair dismissal hearing, which, according to DeKalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming, could jeopardize testimony in upcoming criminal proceedings.

There have also been questions about why the board was unaware of the activities alleged in the indictment.

But District Attorney Fleming has been very clear on this point. “The indictment alleges that Board of Education members were intentionally misled,” she said at a news conference announcing the charges, adding that no board members were implicated in any way.

Ultimately, however, the final responsibility rests with the board. We accept that responsibility and will review our public bidding procedures and strengthen our ethics policies.

When internal reviews reveal irregularities in bidding and other procedures, we will report those to the proper authorities, as the school system did in this instance.

Whenever the focus of our board and administration, parents and supporters is shifted away from education, we face a challenge far greater than the controversy that distracted us.

We ask, therefore, for our community’s support in staying focused on the work of educating nearly 100,000 students who will return to classrooms in less than eight weeks.

We will continue to cooperate with legal authorities. We’ll continue to adhere to employment law and to respect the rights of the accused.

In the meantime, we need for our community of parents and public school supporters to pull together for a tough time ahead.

Especially during a time of public controversy and severe budget cuts, we need to do all we can to stay focused on educating our kids.

Tom Bowen is chairman of the DeKalb Board of Education.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Huh? Somebody 'splain this to me, please.

Ok, today's AJC has a very strange report. In it, we're told that Pat Pope's attorney, Manny Arora has been knocking on the doors of the homes of members of the grand jury. He says he can legally do this. Chief Assistant District Attorney Don Geary says that he can't—that jurors are sworn to secrecy and speaking with Arora would violate that oath. Judge Cynthia Becker issued a temporary protective order barring the lawyer for an indicted school administrator from contacting members of the grand jury. We also learn that Pat Pope is still on the payroll until the end of the month and that there will be a hearing on July 12.

That's not the odd part. The odd part is the last part. Can anyone explain this:

In addition to the criminal investigation into bid tampering, bribery and theft, the grand jury is now conducting a civil investigation into school board operations, Geary said.

The civil investigation cannot result in charges.

So, are they going to investigate school board operations? If so, to what end, if it cannot result in charges?

Update: Bloggers have shared some interesting input. First, we were directed to an informative article at titled, "Lawyers in Ga. School Racketeering Case Reflect High Stakes" that explains the key lawyers, their experience and who they are representing. Another article explains the Differences between Civil and Criminal Law in the USA.

The Friends and Family Plan

Ok - we've had so doggone many comments posted about the "Friends and Family" plan that we have decided to create a permanent page to collect all we can as to "who's related to whom" and what their job is - how they got it - if they are qualified - and how much they are paid.

Add your knowledge to the comments below.


UPDATE: This thread has been reopened with the following request.

Just post the facts - use a simple format that looks like the below....

Person, title, relative/friend (description of who that person is), salary (if known)

Philandra Guillory, Oversees DCSS 24 (title) Mother is Frances Edwards (former DCSS Board Member), $100K+
Please add in parentheses who the relative or friend is.."


ANOTHER UPDATE: Check out our post entitled, Important new nepotism legislation could cause problems for Zepora Roberts to find out about the nepotism clause inserted into HB 251 and recently passed into law. This new law could actually prevent Zepora from seeking reelection due to the fact that one of her daughters currently employed by DCSS was promoted to Assistant Principal in 2009.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Michelle Obama's Wise Words

Our first lady recently gave the commencement speech to students at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Below are a few excerpts I found inspiring. I hope we can all take a minute to internalize her message, have faith in our teachers, our students and each other and move forward in our healing.

I know this has been a long journey to get here, full of warm memories, your friendships and teachers, and maybe not-so-warm memories with rules and papers and tests. And I know for some of you, there may have been times when you weren’t quite sure you’d make it.
But you are here. So I want you all to soak it up. Just soak it up. You’re here! You made it to this day. I want you all graduates to pat yourselves on the back. Do a little patting. I want you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished to get here today, because I know your families are proud of you. Your teachers are proud of you. And I am so proud of you all. I really am.
And looking out at all of you, I’m reminded that many of you have overcome a lot to be here, much like the community of Anacostia itself. Founded back in the 1800s for folks who worked at the Navy Yard across the river, Anacostia eventually became a place where people worked hard as clerks and civil servants, and as teachers and tradesmen, where families looked out for one another, where strong churches were the heart and soul of the community.
And yet, we also know that this community has had its share of struggles. And for a long time, Anacostia was segregated. In its early years, it was even illegal for African Americans to own land in parts of this community. And even after those barriers were torn down, others emerged. Poverty. Violence. Inequality.
But, despite these challenges, Anacostia continues to push forward. And that’s what I admire about this community and what I admire about all of you all. See, in the face of incredible struggles, you refuse to be defined by the hardships or the adversities. . . .

As all of you know, I’m talking about Frederick Douglass. (Applause.) We remember him today as one of America’s most eloquent and beloved leaders. But I want you all to just think for a moment about what it took for Frederick Douglass to become that kind of leader. Just think about it. I want you to think about the odds he faced when he was your age. This is a man who was born into slavery. His mom died when he was a boy. He never knew his father. Because it was illegal to educate slaves, he taught himself how to read and write.
And when he was just a couple of years older than you all are today, he escaped from slavery, traveled all the way to England, and made friends in Britain who eventually bought his freedom.
After he returned to America, Frederick Douglass became a leading abolitionist, an advisor to President Lincoln, and an inspiration to people of every creed and color, fighting for equality not just for African Americans, but for women and others, until his final days.
So I tell you this story because it is one of the best examples in our history of the American spirit. It’s an example of someone picking themselves up in the face of adversity, persevering through thick and thin, and proving to the world that nothing can stop a person from pursuing their dream. And that’s the same perseverance, the same character and the spirit that I know we have in so many of you.
I imagine that for some of you all, getting this far hasn’t been easy. Perhaps there were those who wanted to write you off, maybe because of assumptions they made about you or your school or your community. But every day you’re proving them wrong. You're proving that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you or what you can achieve. The only thing that matters, rather, is what you think about yourself and what you’re willing to do to achieve your goals. That's all that matters. (Applause.) How hard are you willing to work, how big are you willing to dream? . . .

Maybe you feel like no one has your back, like you’ve been let down by people so many times that you’ve stopped believing in yourself. Maybe you feel like your destiny was written the day you were born and you ought to just rein in your hopes and scale back your dreams.
But if any of you are thinking that way, I’m here to tell you, stop it. Don't do that. Don’t ever scale back your dreams. And don’t ever set limits on what you can achieve. And don’t think for one single moment that your destiny is out of your hands, because no one’s in control of your destiny but you. And it is never too late. You can do anything you put your minds to –- and I mean absolutely anything. It’s important for you all to know this. (Applause.)
But what is true is that building a purposeful life for yourself is never easy. No one achieves success overnight. You know life doesn’t work that way. Anything worth having takes time and perseverance. You’re going to have to push yourselves beyond your limits. You’re going to have to step outside of those comfort zones. You’re going to have to ask for help when you need it.
More importantly, part of being a mature and functioning adult in this society is realizing that life is a series of tradeoffs. If you want a career that pays a good salary, then you have to work hard. You’ve got to be on time; you’ve got to finish what you start; you have to always keep your word. If you want a life free from drama, then you can’t hang out with people who thrive on drama. (Applause.) You have to pick your friends wisely, pick your friends -- surround yourself with people who share your values and your goals. . . .

So today, to all the family members, this is your day, too. So we got to give the family members a round of applause. (Applause.)
And if you’re anything like my parents were when I graduated from high school, I can imagine how you must be feeling today. I know you’re proud. I know you’re a little relieved. (Laughter.)
But I suspect that some of you may also be feeling a little nervous. Maybe you’re worried about the tough job market, and how your child will find a job in this economy. Maybe you’re anxious about how you’re going to pay tuition. Maybe you’re hesitant about having your child move away from home to attend college. Or, if your kids are the first in your family to go to college, you may be wondering how you’re supposed to help them navigate experiences you’ve never had.
I understand those worries, because my parents had similar worries. See, my parents didn’t have the money to cover college tuition for me and my brother. Neither of my parents went to college or had any idea how to support us.
But, family members, know this: You don’t have to have lived the kind of life you want your kids to live to help them excel. Your kids don’t need you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your kids don’t need you to be rich and famous. What they need from you is your wisdom. What they need from you is your support. What they need from you is love, that unconditional love -- (applause) -- the kind of love that lets them know that you will be there for them, no matter what. That’s all your kids need.

Visit the link below to read Michelle's entire speech:

Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release June 11, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Show Us, Please Show Us!!

"My record speaks for itself," said Zepora Roberts. Well, let's turn up the volume.

One another thread, a blogger asked residents from Roberts', Copelin-Wood's; and Walker's districts to help us all understand exactly what these BOE members are doing to better the educational opportunities for the children of DeKalb County. Please let us know, with all their years on the BOE (Walker in public service), why they need to stay (or go) as representatives in their districts. Everyone likes to point out the obvious negatives, but we need to be fair and hear about the strategic advantages of having Zepora, Sarah and Gene continue on.

Below is a link to an excellent article by Maureen Downey written before the 2008 elections. She offers many good thoughts on what to look for in a BOE candidate. In particular, she cautions against candidates that hope to use their BOE position as their sole source of income.

“How to pick school board members: look for involvement, ideas, cooperation.” [Editorial Opinion]. October 10, 2008. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A12. This article can be helpful as you are evaluating candidates for the board of education races."

Also, check out the wealth of information at Adelle Frank's blog, Where to research political candidates for elections in DeKalb County, Georgia Adelle Frank

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Racketeering: The Crime that Keeps on Giving ...

We have often complained loudly about and marveled at the amount of money DCSS spends in legal cases. Now that the indictments are in (will there be more?), at least we taxpayers can rest easy that our tax dollars will be safe from lawyer fees defending Lewis and Pope/Reid, right? Not so fast ...

Unfortunately, even though the criminal charges do leave the targets of the indictments to fend for themselves in terms of paying for defense fees, the prosecution itself doesn't come free! I am afraid we need to brace ourselves for a very expensive and drawn out case. And who will pay? Why the same taxpayers that were paying to protect the suspects during the investigation.

To add to the drama of this case, how is this for a turn-your-stomach twist: after suspects grab millions in tax dollars for themselves, and after the tax payers pay bags of money to defend the offenders, and after paying even bigger bags of money prosecuting the offenders, there is an acquittal.

I'm not predicting this outcome I'm just sharing my worst nightmare as a taxpayer inspired by this reading on today:

Lawyers in GA School Racketeering Case Reflect High Stakes

Talk about delayed gratification, not only may we have to wait a long, long time to have a chance at justice. We have to spend a lot of money through the DA's office to get this case brought to closure.

If this drags out as long as it very likely could, how will this affect the current interim administration and the recruitment efforts for a new superintendent? Oh! If only we could see swift justice this time around. I'm planning on the opposite and you should, too. The cloud of this thing is going to hang around for awhile ...

Going forward, how  much am I willing to pay for prevention of future such schemes? Looking at the downside risk we're seeing now, there are a whole lot of zeros behind the number I would support for proper oversight, control, and audit of DCSS.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

DeKalb Schools Forfeit Millions in State Money

This warrants a posting unto itself. I am simply floored. Flabbergasted. Outraged. How on earth can we have such pitiful "leadership" endorsed and continually rubber-stamped by our board of education? How can anyone expect a student to turn in an essay on time - when our school leaders cannot seem to make a 5 year deadline with millions of dollars hanging in the balance?

I just have no words.

From WSB today:

Lynn Jackson, Associate Superintendent for Business Operations for Georgia’s Department of Education told Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer the district repeatedly missed deadlines to submit paperwork and failed to follow state guidelines to qualify for the reimbursements.

“I was perplexed by this. Truly, I could not understand why DeKalb County could not comply," said Jackson.

When the DeKalb County School District built McNair High School, the state was planning to contribute $297,010. However, the district missed the deadline to turn in paperwork, thereby forfeiting the money for that project. The same 18-month deadline was also missed for projects at Stone Mountain Middle and Peachtree Middle. 

. . .

Fleischer approached DeKalb County School Board Budget Chairman, Paul Womack, about the forfeited funds for at least nine schools.

"It makes me sick, as it will the rest of the board I'm quite sure," Womack said He said he planned to raise the issue in Executive Session at Monday night’s School Board meeting.

He’s been working to steer the school system through a major budget crunch, during which parents have criticized financial waste and priorities. "I think they would be outraged and rightly so," Womack said.

According to Fleischer, he’s wondering how many more millions of dollars the alleged construction scheme and mismanagement will end up costing.

"I can't comment on whether it's criminal or incompetence, but I'm going to take the latter and say maybe it was a willful disregard," added Womack.

. . .

You said it, Paul. Personally, I think it's criminal - at least to the extent that Pope and Lewis were fearful of the state looking closely at their shenanigans.

For a full listing of the forfeited funds, click here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday June 7 Board Meeting

Oh no!  Ok - I missed it - what happened? Let's have a collaborative report...

UPDATE -- Lynn Deutsch, an active DCSS parent shared her 3 minute speech she gave to the board at last night's meeting.  I think her speech accurately reflects how most of us feel.  Read on --


Good Evening.  I am Lynn Deutsch, a DeKalb County parent and taxpayer.  Like so many others, I am beyond frustrated with the current situation in DeKalb.  

As Board Members, whether or not you believe you created this mess, you are responsible for turning this around.  Right now, among both interested observers and the general public, the DeKalb County School System has no credibility.

First, you must order a forensic audit.  Hopefully, this thorough examination of the system’s contracts, expenses, purchases, and much more will uncover nothing more than routine day to day operational expenditures.  However, as many of you have stated to the media, major changes occurred without your knowledge.  This Forensic Audit will give you a much clearer picture of how a billion dollars a year is being spent and afford you the opportunity to offer a transparent view of the finances of this school system to the taxpayers.  In addition, having this done before a new superintendent is in place, offers that person some protections because any wrong doings or errors will be corrected before they assume their new job.

Second, you need to act like the indictments are a big deal.  They are.  Regardless of the outcome of the case, this is a real black eye to our school system and a reflection of, if nothing else, pure sloppiness in how things were getting done.  This matters.  It will impact the school system for months, and perhaps years to come.  From the seriousness of possibly having accreditation impacted to the loss of potential donations from foundations, this is a mess that will linger.  Get this system in order and get it in order now.

Third, you need to adopt a new P Card policy.  At most governmental institutions, misusing a P card once may be grounds for firing, even if the misuse is accidental.  Misusing multiple times, would certainly be grounds for dismissal. It is my understanding that the current policy in DeKalb is to remove the P card from the user for a set period of time.  Enough said.

Fourth, I am greatly concerned that we remain a top heavy, inefficient bureaucratic organization.  Concerned, but not surprised.  It is time for you to change the Reduction in Force Policy.   It seems to me, after sitting in budget hearings where there were many concerns expressed about cutting low hanging fruit, this is exactly what happened.  In a few months when all the dust settles and school begins, I expect that there will be a continually growing outrage.    Do you think you should have kept the core subject coordinators’ positions in math, science, reading and social studies?  Have you looked at test scores in this system recently?  

Fifth, speaking of test scores, our next superintendent should be someone with a proven track record of improving student achievement.  We need an outsider who can come in and put a sharp eye to the challenges and barriers to student achievement in DeKalb and then come up with a plan to address them.   From AYP status to SAT and AP test scores, DeKalb’s data shows there is a problem.   Find the very best person to lead this system and help DeKalb students achieve more. 

Do not let the children of DeKalb down.  Their futures are in your very hands.  Shape this system up now by shaking it up.  Do what is necessary to make sure that we head back in the right direction.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What happened to the "PeaPoD"?

Wow! DeKalb Parent has shared with us a fantastic new award-winning design for temporary portable classrooms created by Perkins+Will Architects. This environmentally healthy "green" design was created for Druid Hills High School as an entry in this international design competition and was deemed the Winner of Modular Category for: 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. The "PeaPoD" was also named Best Re-Locatable Classroom Design in the Open Architecture Challenge".

We must investigate the feasibility of building these modulars in lieu of the multi-million dollar annual contract for renting old-fashioned, tired, environmentally unfriendly trailers. Please, encourage your board member to insist on implementing this award-winning green initiative.

Below is a description from the website:

The PeaPoD portable classroom implements cost-conscious building materials to create a learning environment which can be adapted to any environment. With generous daylighting, operable windows, and natural ventilation, the PeaPoD can operate with significantly lower utility costs while at the same time providing a wonderful and refreshing educational experience to the students and teachers. Numerous design features such as sun shades, integrated rainwater collection, photovoltaic roof panels, and sustainable materials including FSC certified wood, high-reflective roofing and bio-based insulation and flooring, make the PeaPoD an excellent example of passive and active green building strategies. Creative thinking behind classroom standards such as marker boards, group work tables, and computer stations are evident in the PeaPoD’s interiors. The interiors are comprised of walls which slide to reveal breakout learning space, storage, glazing, or teaching surfaces. Each side of the PeaPoD serves a different purpose, whether it is a wet wall with bathroom facilities, a glass wall which opens to provide access to an exterior classroom space, or a deep wall that provides ample storage.

It is no secret that every student learns differently; similarly every teacher teaches differently. Classroom environments which are adaptive and can meet all of these needs are proven to be the most successful. The goal of any classroom is to have inspired teachers and engaged students. If these are in place there is no limit to the success of everyone involved. This type of adaptive learning environment can happen, and it can happen anywhere: Portable Educationally Adaptive Product of Design, the PeaPoD.


For detailed files to download, visit the main website:
Open Architecture Network

Friday, June 4, 2010

Should we really reduce professional development requirements for teachers?

In an article titled, Budget woes could mean less training for DeKalb teachers, the AJC reports that the state is allowing DCSS to cut mandatory training hours for teachers in half because of the district’s budget problems.

The school system currently requires teachers to have 20 hours of professional development a year. On Wednesday, the board’s instruction committee discussed cutting training time to 10 hours a year.

Last month, the board approved a budget for next school year with $104 million in cuts, including seven furlough days for teachers. A proposal calls for three of those furlough days to be designated teacher professional development days, said Gloria Talley, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning.

To make up for that lost time, administrators are proposing teachers see to their professional development during the school day and in between instruction time.

Teacher Magazine, in an article titled, "Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher," reported that Ron Walker, executive director of the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, publishers of "Standards for Schools Educating Boys of Color" has this to say about professional development:

How important is professional development for teachers? Is good professional development key to undergoing some of the reforms suggested in the report?

Absolutely. Good, solid PD is the lifeblood of creative and successful schools because they are on the razor's edge. It keeps teachers sharp. Good, well-developed, thoughtful PD that takes into account where people are across the continuum of their learning styles and experiences validates and affirms. It keeps people fresh. It gives people a chance to create and contribute to their own development.

I would contend professional development needs the people who live in that school to be the stakeholders. They need to play an active role in developing it which is why having learning communities that are really functioning entities makes sense.

So, what are we to think? This is yet another example of how the "emergency" budget cuts will effect students in the classroom, continuing our school system's slide down a very slippery slope. As I understand Gloria Talley's budget-cutting proposal, teachers will be expected to "see to their professional development during the school day and in between instruction time." When exactly, is that?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

DeKalb schools cut lower paid workers

For those of you who have been asking and asking for a list of the jobs that were eliminated in the central office, you can now thank Megan Matteucci at the AJC for digging up that information by filing an Open Records Request.

In her report in today's AJC, Megan tells us -

When the DeKalb County school board voted last month to eliminate 289 jobs to help meet an estimated $88-million shortfall in next year’s budget, at least 150 of those jobs were supposed to be in the district’s central office, which parents thought included mostly administrators and other high-paid staff.

But records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that more than half of the employees laid off by DeKalb schools make less than $40,000 a year. They include nine custodians, 11 school resource officers, 12 secretaries and 19 maintenance workers.

An Open Records Act request of the 289 jobs included in the layoffs lists only 253 names. And only 12 percent of those employees make more than $100,000.

Visit the article at the AJC for the full story.