Friday, December 30, 2011

Well now, hmmm.

Panel recommends special grand jury investigation into DeKalb schools

Read the article at the above link. The AJC is reporting that the Grand Jury has recommended convening a Special Grand Jury to investigate the school board. Well, now, hmmm. That is interesting.

Here's a snippet:

After their November-December presentments, the DeKalb County Superior Court grand jury has recommended a special grand jury look into the county school board, because, “It is clear that the school system remains top-heavy and suffers from a perception of conflicts of interest and waste.”

Among the more damaging allegations, the grand jury blamed the board for taking nearly two years to find a permanent replacement for former superintendent Crawford Lewis, who is now under indictment for fraud.


The panel also noted that:

  • The school board had too much influence in the hiring and retention of personnel, which created a culture where “friends and family” are benefiting.
  • Several school officials connected with DeKalb County bands were engaged in outside activities that might have had an impact on their duties at work. Band activity at all schools has been suspended in the wake of the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major, who had graduated from Southwest DeKalb High. Investigators are looking at connections between the college and high school.
  • The school system might have improperly campaigned taxpayers to approve the renewal of a penny sales tax. By law, systems are only allowed to provide information about the so-called SPLOST, but not lobby for or against it. In November, voters gave DeKalb County schools, where former superintendent Lewis is facing fraud charges related to previous SPLOST money, $475 million for school construction, including $144 million to replace seven elementary schools.
UPDATE: Click here to download the grand jury presentment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are DeKalb Schools really that bad? Are we magnifying the wrong things?

by Mpaza S. Kapembwa

It is heartbreaking to see all the negative news surrounding the DeKalb County School system over the past year. We shouldn’t end the year on a negative note. There is a lot of good in our schools beneath everything that we hear. I can’t speak for every school or student, but I will speak of my experience at one school that has changed my life. I know other students have had similar experiences at their respective schools too.

I am a 2011 Cross Keys High School Alumni. I currently attend Williams College in Massachusetts. I know what most of you are thinking. “Williams? Never heard of it.” That’s okay because I didn’t either until senior year of high school. Williams is a liberal arts college. It has been ranked the number one college in America for the past two years by Forbes magazine and its alumni, 10-19 years out, make the most money out of any college in America.

Almost everyone at Williams who comes from Atlanta attended private school. When I met other students from a DeKalb public school, I was thrilled. One Friday night, I was in the student center and two other DeKalb students joined me. We talked about the schools we came from and one of the students said she was proud of me because I came from the worst school in the county. She went on to say Cross Keys might as well not be considered a DeKalb school because it is “different.”

I have heard this many times but it never bothers me. I wanted to be mad at her but I couldn’t. I live by a simple saying; I won’t let other people’s ignorance define who I am. I know that person is not alone in thinking that Cross Keys is the worst school in DeKalb. Some parents may think that if they send their kids to Cross Keys or any of its feeder schools, they are doing them a disservice. Others have the perception that Cross Keys is run by gangs and they won’t have their kids sit next to “those kids.” I don’t have resentment to anyone who thinks like that because they don’t know the real Cross Keys.

It’s no secret, parental involvement at Cross Keys is very low. My mother works two jobs, and I barely see her and that’s the case with many of the parents. Unlike many schools, we don’t have a strong Parent Teacher Association or a Booster Club for any of our sports teams and YES, we don’t have a lot of things that your school or child’s school may have. We know those who don’t know about us think very low of us. I saw it at one of the nation’s elite colleges, I saw it when our school was featured on WSB TV and called “disgusting,” and I see it when we are wait-listed for critical renovations.

Please don’t get me wrong. Despite all this, I have never felt like a victim. I went to school with some of the most courageous people I have ever known. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” We rarely get all the resources we want, we have a hard time raising money to pay for our robotics team to compete or get the new track we want, but we never stop fighting. After fighting for years, we finally saw some of the renovations we needed; that was a rare victory. Our football team is the laughingstock of DeKalb football. I was part of the football team for two years. We wore our green and gold uniforms with pride and went to take on powerhouses like Buford. We knew we had already been licked but we fought till the last whistle. 70-0. Coaches of the opposing teams would tell us how much heart we had, and we played for that every Friday night. In two years I won two games, but I wouldn’t trade that for a state championship.

I used to get upset when people confused my college with the College of William & Mary. I would try to straighten them out and tell them to go look up Williams College because it was the best school in America and it was absurd that they didn’t know about it. My admission officer put me out of my misery. “Mpaza, those who matter know about Williams.” It didn’t take me long to figure that out. Every major Wall Street firm shows up on campus weekly to try to snatch up seniors and get everyone else to know that they will be coming for them.

We at Cross Keys might be looked down upon by most of DeKalb County but those who matter, know the real Cross Keys. Williams College, Pomona College, Stanford University and the University College London, some of the best institutes of higher learning on the planet, all know about Cross Keys. The Gates Millennium Scholarship, arguably the most prestigious scholarship a high-schooler can be awarded, knows about us, the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation, the most competitive high school scholarship in the country, the Dell Scholars Program, The Buick Achievement Program, Questbridge Scholars Program, The Bank of America Student Leaders Program, 100 Black Men of Atlanta, the Comcast Scholars Program, the Atlanta National Football Foundation and many more all know about Cross Keys. Those who think Cross Keys is a place for gangs and “those kids” are focusing on the wrong thing. What we focus on, we magnify. When your child comes to Cross Keys, chances are he or she will be sitting next to a future scholar and not a gang member as other may have you believe. These types of achievements are also found at just about every high school in the county.

I am proud to be a Cross Keys Indian, and I represent that everywhere I go. At the Coca Cola Scholarship Banquet in April, I was the only student from Atlanta being honored; therefore I had the privilege to sit with Mayor Kasim Reed, the First Lady of Georgia Mrs. Sandra Deal, and The Coca-Cola Company CEO Mr. Muhtar Kent. I talked to Mr. Kent and he told me he was from an immigrant family, like most of us at Cross Keys, and that he started out as a truck driver in Coca-Cola in 1978 and now, he is heading the company worldwide. I was amazed.

When I hear people saying Cross Keys only produces students who attend technical schools, I just smile because I know some of the world’s great leaders started out from humble beginnings. It’s funny how quickly we condemn young people to failure. The First Lady asked me why I had decided to go to Massachusetts instead of attend school in Georgia, I hesitated in answering that question. A minute later, I went back to her and told her I didn’t want to enter the Georgia University System because of how unfairly the state colleges treat certain students, mainly Hispanics.

When I got to the mayor, I just dared him to run for senator after his term was up. Everywhere I go I look to represent my school. I know that night the people at the table not only looked at me as a great student but knew I had to be coming from a great place. I was. Later that summer I was in D.C representing the Cross Keys Indians as I met Congressmen Hank Johnson and John Lewis.

I consider myself very blessed for the three years I spent at Cross Keys. I helped captain the soccer team to its first ever final four appearance, and I am very hopeful the team will go further this year. I was there to witness Leonel Ayala, a good friend, win back to back Cross Country State Championships, and to watch our track team compete in the state championships every year. I am very fortunate to have been on the football team that broke a 40 game losing streak and went on to win two in a row and was honored as FOX 5 Team of the week and to have played for a soccer coach who garnered 50 wins in four years.

I do realize that a lot of problems exist in DeKalb and within individual schools, but the negativity of the past year has not been very constructive. It is almost self-destructive. As I continue to embark on a remarkable journey at Williams, I will keep fighting for Cross Keys. Not by offending anyone or by extortion but by representing it in my actions. I hope hearing from a Cross Keys alum will change the way you look at Cross Keys and start looking deeper in other schools that you might be disparaging. What you focus on, you will magnify.

Mpaza S. Kapembwa, a student at Williams College, is a 2011 Cross Keys graduate, Gates Millennium Scholar, Coca Cola Scholar, Dell Scholar and Bank of America Student Leader.

New Birth Christian Academy to Close

According to Fox 5 Atlanta, New Birth Christian Academy is to close. This is a big concern to us at DeKalb School Watch, as we have predicted this from the day the school board approved a public charter to be housed at New Birth, with a signed rental agreement of $10,000 a month to use the facilities. At the same time, New Birth already had a private Christian Academy housed in the same building, blurring the line for co-mingling of public funds. The stated reason is massive debt and declining enrollment, causing us to wonder if students have simply been transferring to the DeKalb Leadership Academy - in the same facility - at no charge.

Click here to read more on the subject at Fox 5.

Click here to read an article on the subject at the AJC.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness. 
To an opponent, tolerance.  
To a friend, your heart.  
To a customer, service.  
To all, charity.  
To every child, a good example.  
To yourself, respect.

-- Oren Arnold

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Help Josh Butler

From Ambush Boarding Company

How many of you can say you have seen your life flash before your eyes? Hopefully, not many.

In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, November 27th, Ambush Boarding Co. friend and team rider, Josh Butler, and a group of friends were hanging out on the front porch of a buddy’s apartment. By all accounts, it was a normal house party. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But, while everyone at the party was chilling out and having a good time, three criminals were casing the joint. They passed by a few times and looked in the direction of the apartment. At one point, one of the villains asked for marijuana.

Josh and crew were disengaged and uninterested in the three thugs. They were doing what normal people do at parties: having fun. Josh had no idea that his life would permanently change in a matter of seconds. In an instant the nonchalant passers by became armed robbers. Two of the men pointed guns and demanded money and cell phones. One of the guns was aimed directly at Josh’s face. Instinctually Josh pushed the gun towards the ground. In the process the criminal fired the gun into Josh’s abdomen. The bullet tore through his stomach before exiting his colon.

Andrew Edge, Trey “Catnip” Abad, Zach Newman, and Ben Hayes picked up their wounded friend and stabalized him until the ambulance arrived. Andrew put pressure on the bullet hole in an effort to supress the bleeding while Catnip, Zach, and Ben comforted Josh and motivated him to fight.

Josh was rushed into surgery at Grady Hospital. The surgeons repaired the gunshot wound and immediately began work on Josh’s bladder, stomach, and intestines. During surgery, Catnip assumed the unimagineably diffcult responsibility of calling Josh’s mom.

The ER waiting room swelled with friend’s, family, and those whose lives Josh has touched. The support, along with Josh’s strength and mental toughness, helped him pull through the surgery. Josh is going to survive, but the next six months are going to be a challenge.

The road to recovery starts now. Although Josh is still hospitalized, he is improving rapidly. He is eating solid food and walking unassisted for several yards at a time. Josh is learning to manage the pain and live with with the knowledge that he will be unable to skate for at least six months. The healing process will take a long time, but with your help the comforting can begin immediately.

Josh’s medical bills are already astronomical. On top of that, add six months of nurses visits, physical therapy, another scheduled surgery, antibiotics, pain meds, and on and on. It’s a staggering sum that could financially destroy Josh and his family. So we are appealing to you for help. Please donate any and all you can to help Josh recover from this unconscionable act of violence.

Those of you who know Josh understand that he is one of the most fun-loving, inspirational, and tough guys around. He can disarm you with his kindness and small town charm. He can motivate you through his actions both on and off a skateboard. And, most of all, he can befriend you with his loyalty. It is tough to see something as senseless as this happen to a person of his character. Show Josh that violence and brutality will never win and that caring and generosity will help overcome all odds. Donate to the Josh Butler Medical Fund.

The Josh Butler Medical Fund has been set up through SunTrust Bank. To donate online by credit card, please click here.

To donate by cash or check, please visit any Atlanta area SunTrust Bank and ask to contribute to the Josh Butler Medical Fund.

Thank you!

On another note...

Despite recent reports of bad behavior, we also receive a lot of good news about the wonderful things so many of our DeKalb kids are up to. The Tucker Tigers are the latest example. These state football champions not only bring pride to DeKalb in the sports world, they bring pride in the realm of human compassion. Below is a thank you note to their coach holding them up as examples of the kind of young people we can be very proud of.

This is the thank you to Coach Stephens.

Winning the state Football Championship is awesome but today at Midvale we saw true champions when we were visited by members of the Tucker Tiger football team. We have had five of your seniors, Gabe, Justin, Terrell, Robert and Brenden coming to the school each Thursday morning to mentor some of our little boys. The impact on the little boys will make a difference for the rest of their lives.
This afternoon, those players brought the other players, some cheerleaders, and Tuc, the Tiger to Midvale. They came with a play in mind. Four of the little boys are members of the same family and the family is one that has some real needs. The players brought gifts that they knew the little boys would love. We could tell this when the players were helping them put the toys together. There were tears in our little boys' mother's eyes as she watched.
A parent, Ms. Rivers, accompanied by the following: Ms. Landry, Ms. Brown, Ms. LaCroix, Ms. Campbell, Ms. Jones, Ms. Brewer and Mr. Griggs and
some others, brought the young men and women. We saw one of the reasons that these young men are so giving. Today is the birthday of the boys' mom. A comment was made as people were talking and it was discovered that Mom did not have a coat. Ms. Landry went out to her car and brought Mom a very nice coat and scarf. What a blessing!
Midvale is so appreciative of the example that you provide and the expectations that you have for your players. As you lead, they will follow and it appears that you are leading in the way they need to go.
Again Coach, thank you so much for all you do!

Susan Wilson, Kia Billingsley, API, and Adrienne Griffin, Counselor


Please add your own positive stories about the kids, teachers and staff in your area schools. We know there are many good things happening all around the county.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twitter and Social Media 101

The above is a very interesting video from "Vitamin T", the online Webby Awards training service. Beginning at about 2:38, our host, David Michel-Davies, Executive Director, The Webby Awards begins a discussion on how we have moved into socializing 'from home' (or in the case of Arabia, from school).

The 'incident' at Arabia (or whatever it was) for better or for worse, has enlightened, or hopefully enlightened DCSS staff, administration and security as well as parents as to the power of Twitter and social media. I can't emphasize enough - for young people, using social media is no different than using a telephone for older folks. It's nothing special - it's just how they gather and communicate. The fact that this 'incident' can be followed via the tweets of the students as they experienced it live and in the hours just after is a new phenomena. Gone are the days of passing notes or gathering in the bathroom to make plans for a mini-meltdown. Nowadays, we literally live in a soup of social media - a variety of ways to gather and experience all kinds of events with like-minded people. People like to connect. It's a basic human instinct to belong. If our schools are unable to provide that sense of social belonging and instill a desire to be fully a part of a school environment, then students will certainly (and easily) create social networks of their own.

I personally think there was some kind of message in this mayhem. I think students desire a better sense of belonging. Of trust. Of support. Of hope.

Don't fight technology. Find a way to create school environments that wrap their arms around the students they serve. All of them.


If you enjoyed that training, you might also like this one, called "The Culture of (Dis)Satisfaction", which focuses on how consumers express dissatisfaction with brands via social media. Schools can effectively be considered 'brands' so this one is relevant too, IMO. The interesting part is where he explains how brands should best respond. At about 13:30 he talks about "Random Acts of Kindness" as a way to gain warm fuzzies as a brand.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

edu180atl: Ever posted there? You should!

The mission of the edu180atl project is to nurture and encourage the spirits of those who love to learn, to connect learners across disciplines and settings, and to deepen the national conversation about education by enabling parents, students, and educators to share stories of what they are learning every day.

In April 2011, the edu180atl team launched edu180atlbeta in order to test the feasibility of a such a collaborative project. The April version of edu180atl was a huge success, and the edu180atl launched the year-long project on August 1, 2011 launch. If you consider yourself a learner and are interested in sharing your voice, we hope you will consider applying to write for this year’s edu180atl project. To apply to write one 250 word post on a specific day of the 2011-12 school year, click here.

The edu180atl project wrapped up the semester with an essay by Clarkston High senior and all-around great student, Darnelle Eversley. Click here to read her essay about a science lab and then consider entering an essay of your own! Teachers, this is a great way to encourage students to write -- or write something yourself - it's fun!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What's up at Arabia?

We're trying to piece together an incident originally reported below:

Updated with photos taken by students:

Anonymous said...


Anybody heard about the riots/events at Arabia Mountain High School today? 2 food fights, 8 fights, 1 bathroom fire, 1 flooded bathroom, a dozen county police cars, EMT's, swat teams, etc. Kids were tasered, handcuffed and arrested.

I just got a calling post call from the principal and she somewhat minimized the incidents. I am concerned for my son's safety tomorrow.

Reported by a parent of an Arabia student:

Today it all started at C Lunch with a food fight. Then it elevated to the next lunch with a food fight. From there a trash can was set on fire, and then a bathroom was flooded. Then numerous fights between students. Then at the end of the day, a near riot occured outside where students were met with a large number of DCPD officers as seen in this picture:


This lead to a student being tazored.

As far as the finals, we missed a final today due to a lockdown. So tomorrow we will resume with final exams, in four classes.


In addition, below is a sampling of tweets that can be found when you search for "TurnUpThursday" as one of our bloggers did:

_KnOw_DhaT : My name is Sienna and I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain

_fuckfakehoes : my name is amari, and I survived #turnupthursday at arabia mountain high school.

le_seul : lmao“@_nocapsnospaces: My name is Tia and I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)”

CoolSince95 : RT @_msmaryMACK: My name is Tyana & I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)

_VistosoElla : My name is Chasity, and i Survived #TurnUpThursday At Arabia >.<

MyKissesArePink : My name is Brianna & I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)

MissLola_Dior : RT @_msmaryMACK: My name is Tyana & I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)

_msmaryMACK : My name is Tyana & I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)

_VainOverdose : My name is Kaelah Smith & I survived #TurnUpThursday at Arabia Mountain High. :)

prettyass_taee : RT @FreeBandz_DreB: #TurnUpThursday

FreeBandz_DreB : #TurnUpThursday


In other DCSS News:

A mother in DeKalb County wants answers after her 11-year-old told her another parent came into his classroom and headbutted him.

What is going on?

UPDATE: We just learned that a Lithonia Middle School student was beaten up today. Click here for the story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interesting response to possible band director misconduct

Seeing as how we never quite know what is in store around the corner for our blog discussions, we share this tidbit with a bit of head-shaking.  We never could have seen this one coming.

According to today's AJC:

Marching bands suspended in DeKalb over FAMU ties

In the aftermath of allegations of hazing in the death of a drum major at Florida A&M, the name of one Atlanta-area high school kept popping up.

Robert Champion, who died Nov. 19, was a Southwest DeKalb High School graduate. FAMU clarinetist Bria Hunter, injured in an earlier alleged hazing incident, was also a Southwest DeKalb graduate, as were two of the three bandmates who were charged with punching her hard enough to break her leg. (The third defendant is a Druid Hills High School graduate.) 

Worried by the connection, DeKalb County School System officials began questioning band directors and other school personnel throughout the system, and what they found was troubling. 

"We have documented evidence of inappropriate activity that took place over the summer," system spokesman Walter Woods told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, announcing Wednesday afternoon that the school system was indefinitely suspending marching band activities at county high schools. 

The school system's investigation unearthed some troubling "activity" beyond Southwest DeKalb, Woods said. He was not willing to disclose the nature of the incidents and said the investigation could take two months. 

All marching, except in special cases such as an upcoming Martin Luther King Day parade performance, will be suspended pending the outcome of the probe. 

"Our concern is that student safety needs to be assured," Woods said. "And we have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or any other inappropriate behavior."

(Click the link above to read the rest.)

So what do you say? Fair response? Is it acceptable for certain bands to be allowed to play at the MLK parade, yet all other bands are punished for misconduct for a few?

For a wildly different perspective, take a look at this video where a former FAMU band member actually blames the victims of hazing:

Kudos to Oak Grove and Vanderlyn

DeKalb County's Oak Grove and Vanderlyn Elementary Schools are among 13 schools in Georgia named among the Top 10 percent in achievement.

Each school will receive a $1,000 check from Georgia Natural Gas to use as the school wishes.

"These schools are showing that excellence can be achieved when they focus on providing a world-class education for their students," State School Superintendent John Barge said in a statement.

United Healthcare is also a sponsor for the 2011 Schools of Excellence program. 

Schools are chosen from each Congressional District in the following categories:

  • Schools that are in the top 10 percent in Georgia as measured by assessments in reading and mathematics.
  • Schools that demonstrated greatest continuous gains in student achievement for the past three years as measured by assessments in reading and mathematics.

 1. Oglethorpe Point Elementary, Glynn County
 2. Westside Elementary, Lowndes County
 3. Peeples Elementary, Fayette County
 4. Oak Grove Elementary, DeKalb County
 5. Morningside Elementary, Atlanta Public Schools
 6. Vanderlyn Elementary, DeKalb County
 7. Shiloh Point Elementary, Forsyth County
 8. Alexander II Magnet, Bibb County
 9. Vickery Creek Elementary, Forsyth County
10. Stevens Creek Elementary, Columbia County
11. Jones Elementary, Bremen City 
12 Savannah Arts Academy, Savannah-Chatham County
13. Holly Springs Elementary, Douglas County

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter Break Camp for Kids Hosted by DeKalb County

From the Druid Hills Patch

DeKalb County Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs will hold a Winter Break Day Camp, Dec. 19-23 and 27-30, 7am to 6:30pm. Each recreation center is required to have a minimum of five kids registered in order for the camp to be held. The deadline to register for the camp is Dec. 16.

Winter Break Day Camp is a camp for ages 5-12 and will be held Monday through Friday at a charge of $30 per week. Participants must provide their own lunch and snack. Please make all payments payable by cashier’s check or money order to the recreation center of your choice.

For more information, contact LaShanda Davis, county public education specialist, at 404-371-3643.

Monday, December 12, 2011

New People, New Assignments, Some Exits

One of the bloggers suggested we start a thread to keep track of the new hires, transfers, new assignments, demotions and firings implemented by Dr. Atkinson. We applaud her swift efforts to institute a new team and pray that they are able to turn around the low student achievement which has resulted from the poor leadership and distractions of the past.

Below is a list of the new people instituted so far. Please add more in the comments as they occur.

First, Dr. Atkinson is hiring her own (mostly outside of GA) team of high level administrators. So far this includes:

  • Kathleen S. Howell as Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. 
  • Kendra D. March as Deputy Superintendent for School Leadership and Operational Support. 
  • Gary Brantley as Chief Information Officer. 
  • Walter Woods as Executive Director of Communications. 
  • Ralph Taylor, the executive director of alternative education and safe schools at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, N.C., will become DeKalb's associate superintendent for support services. As a result of Monday's board decision, Taylor will replace Felicia Mayfield, who is retiring Dec. 31. 

We have been told that

  • Mr. Moseley has been moved from Associate Superintendent to Area Superintendent. 
  • Dr. Pringle has been moved from Area Superintendent to Principal at Towers HS.
  • Dr. Beaseley has been moved from Interim Dep Super for Teaching & Learning to a position in Race To The Top (RTTT- new NCLB funds won by GA).
  • Audria Berry (head of the Office of School Improvement - aka Title 1) and her assistant, A. Davis were fired a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Harvard Study on What Makes Good Schools

This is interesting and surprising. From Business Insider online.

Two Harvard professors published a study this week that is likely to cause controversy among educators.

Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer studied 35 New York charter schools to see whether the traditional models of assessing a school's effectiveness, like class size, were really meaningful. Surprisingly enough, they weren't:

We show that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not positively correlated with school effectiveness.

Here are the factors that were meaningful:

In stark contrast, an index of five policies suggested by forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement – explains almost half of the variation in school effectiveness. Moreover, we show that these variables continue to be statistically important after accounting for alternative models of schooling, and a host of other explanatory variables, and are predictive in a different sample of schools.

The study, published through the National Bureau of Economic Research, collected data including interviews with charter school principals and teachers, student surveys, lesson plans, and video observations. Dobbie and Fryer recommend implementing the five strategies named above in local public schools.
You can download the entire paper for $5 here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5, 2011 Board Meeting 6PM

Before I say anything, I would like to ask everyone who reads this blog to send a vote to the Clorox company for Peachtree Middle School. Clorox is offering a $50,000 grant that if they win, PMS can put towards refurbishing their old, ruddy, cracked, dangerous track.  Click here to vote online or text clorox8514 to 44144 to enter PMS in the competition. Vote every day through Dec 9, the final day of the competition. What happened to the old track? It was severely damaged by the construction equipment that was stored on it during the building of the new school. It was during the Pat Pope era and none of the suppliers would own up to the damage, Pope or the board did nothing to correct it, and it sits in a dangerous mess still today.

UPDATE:  Good news! No need to text Clorox! The board actually approved funds for a new track at Peachtree MS as well as Columbia MS, Henderson MS and McNair MS. Click here for the agenda item as passed. Read about it in the Dunwoody Crier here.

Onward to the board meeting. Click here to download the agenda. Attend in person at the DCSS headquarters, watch it live on Comcast 24 or streamed online at this link. Add your input and reporting in the comments.  See you at 6 PM.




1- protesting cell towers at Margaret Harris (cited 3 board policies they are breaking)2- Redan HS (teacher? parent?) thanking the board... 3- 251 signatures on a petition against Margaret Harris cell tower (a group in red shirts stood in support) said her health is at risk - accused the board of making a deal4- Attorney - MH resident - against the cell tower (to maintain safe and healthy learning environments that support education) Cited Section 27-779 DeKalb zoning. Threatened to sue the board if they don't desist. 5- Spanish interpreter for Pleasantdale spoke for a Hispanic mother. Loves Pleasantdale ES. Good discipline. 6- Cedar Grove HS parent. Great job the principal is doing. Personal stories of her good experiences. Good discipline in the halls. 7- represents over 200 people - No Cell Tower at Briarlake. not happy to be there. Tired of telling the board over and over that the community does not want the tower. But the board insists the decision was already made and can't be changed. The money they are offering is an insult. 8- Another Margaret Harris resident against cell towers. Health issues - for children and the elderly. Sarah Copelin Wood spoke to him directly (but it was unintelligible). Are my taxes not enough to keep the schools going? Cell towers have nothing to do with education. Why would you vote to put a cell tower near my property? 9- Lived in DeKalb for 38 years. Just built a house near where a cell tower will be built. Read Dr Atkinson's words "committed to accountability at all levels) 10- South DeKalb initiative to provide space for 6th grade at Champion Middle Theme school (400 turned away each year). Theme environment is effective. This kind of education is not available at the home schools.  Want similar to charter schools.  11- Briarlake resident anti-cell tower. Outraged at the way the board operates in the face of opposition.  Citizens are seeking a meeting. Demand to know how you came to your decision. Health issues are a concern.  Briarlake is host to hearing impaired. Cell tower radiation can cause interference. How can you disregard this? Demands transparency. Says they have been stonewalled. Demand to see the contract and any and all documentation. Yelled Shame on You! 12- Parent of three. One a freshman at Clarkston HS. Nurturing environment. Teachers spend extra time. International community (doesn't like the word refugee). Even complimented the janitors. Wants SPLOST IV money to 'trickle down to Clarkston'Called Ms Woods a 'pillar'13- Briarlake ES parent. PTA raised $250,000 for Promethean boards, playground equipment, etc. Cell phone radiation interferes with cochlear implants. Causes a buzzing noise according to the manufacturer. Also, the tower renders a large amount of space off limits in the future. 100 cell towers are already sited nearby. 14- Champion PTA president. Cited accomplishments including exceeding northern magnet schools. Need support and resources. Need technology. Wireless laptops. Need 14 more Promethean (only have 10) Need renovations. Other MSs got $2 million for renovations - Champion got zero. 15- (lost my feed) Something positive about Parent Centers (this is a parent) 16- Business community volunteer at McNair. Loves the parent centers. 17 - Proud parent at McNair18 - Allgood ES - made AYP for 9 years. Loves Allgood. 19-Jolly - they don't like cell towers either.  DESA has wonderful things going on. Wants DESA to go k-8 and then DSA 9-12. In fact, all schools should be set up that way.


1.  Budget, Audit, Finance & Facilities Committee

2.  Business, Community & Government Relations Committee

3.  Instruction and Board Policy Committee




1.  Approval of Minutes

2.  Personnel Recommendation - Atkinson: Dr Ralph Taylor to Assoc Super. (Click here for AJC article) 

3.  Financial Monthly Report - Turk: Prop tax collections up $5+ million. Jester noted: legal expenses were below budget. 

4.  Human Resources Monthly Board Report for December 2011 - Wilson: 4 vacancies. new hires. long term sub assignments. (in the report)

5.  Internal Auditor Monthly Report - Babst: completed 7 more school audits (39 to date) 5 more to do. Ethics line has generated 6 reports in total. 

6.  Master Agreement for Services with University Instructors, Inc.

7.  Wellsys Corporation Contracted Services - Howe: McChesney - presented differently from last year - more clear - good job. Wood: What are they responsible for? A: Special ed, certification, help with recruiting, training and teacher placement. Full eval with feedback. 

8.  2012 Legislative Agenda -Knighton: Approve legislative agenda for 2012 session. Wood: Not sure if this is what we are providing the legislators to provide next year? A: Yes. Session starts in Jan. This is the board's platform on legislative items. McChesney: Asked for something that was incomplete. Knighton corrected a typo. Edler encouraged board to talk with communities about funding - discontinue austerity cuts. Ask state to fully fund new mandates. Bowen said they should hold a public meeting to explain the positions. Jester: email conversation only - agreed a meeting would be helpful. Wood also agreed.  

9.  International Community School Lease of Medlock Elementary School - Knighton: asked for lease. Passed unanimously. 

10.  Capital Improvement Plan Budget Reallocation (421) - Carlton Parker: transfer money into arch engineering. Correct a cost code. Expenses beyond what was budgeted originally. Edler: Wants to see current budget vs previous. Wants a full picture.  $1.75 million down to $1.6. (?) Moving money from construction to arch to engineering. Woods: We've gotten in trouble before for being 'almost' correct. May not be prudent to vote on it unless it's exactly right. It may come back to haunt us. Parker: This is in order to make it correct. WBBC - not adding money, just rearranging cost codes. (SCW did not vote for this)  

11.  Approval to Sell 0.33 acre located on the old Chamblee Middle School Property : Sale of .33 acres to county - quit claim deed for $10. Speaks: why? For benefit of county? Specifically Dunwoody? What do we gain from this? Parker: no answer. Bowen: just granting an easement? Parker: I think it's for the sale of the property. A pumping station will be built on it. Bowen: I was wrong, it's for the county's water system. Jester: Have neighbors been notified that they are getting this station built? Do we have an obligation to notify? Lawyer: It's our property, it's just going from us to the county. I'm not aware of any notifications. Jester: Does watershed have notification? Allegra: Don't know - I'll get back to you. It's the Dept of Watershed's obligation, we're just selling it. Someone from county spoke and said it's away from residential area to reduce noise. Jester: Landscaping to beautify? A: Yes. We are doing this for safety. Currently it's at an intersection and requires a barricade to work on it. Walker: It appears to be an upgrade for all citizens - specifically Dunwoody. Opportunity to cooperate. (Board members seemed to not understand what was going to happen here - and they were asking for clarification.) 

12.  Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Addition A/E Design Firm Approval Parker: $625,000 for design services for MLK HS addition. 

13.  Capital Improvement Plan Budget Reallocation (421) Parker: Didn't say which project, but asked to move funds into proper cost codes. SCW: When Cedar Grove is brought to the surface, I hear there's no money. Why are we moving money from CG and they have no auditorium. Parker: It's the opposite - we're allocating $1.4 million to Cedar Grove. In order to do the work we did a walk through with you (speaking to SCW) SCW then thanked everyone for walking CG. Edler: Difference between external and internal? External comes from program contingency. Internal comes from project itself.  

I. OTHER\BOARD COMMENTS (2 minutes each)
Speaks: Tucker Tigers have made it to state finals - playing Lovejoy this Friday at the GA Dome.Cunningham: Merry Xmas and HNYWalker: Reminds us again about Tucker's fantastic team - Grayson in Gwinnett also playing on SatEdler: PILOT program - Poetry Cafe Nov 13 6-9 PM (I think she meant DEC) Comm hours. Tupak Shakur institute is a great place to support. Artistic natured people needed like set designers, etcSCW: Express grateful to be there. Mr. Parks: New job, not easy, appreciate your indulgence. We're just trying to get info, nothing personal. Visit Cedar Grove. Viewed the track with Tyson (it's all fixed - happy about that). New administrators - we get info from you because we need to make prudent and wise decisions - bear with us, we're not experts like you.  (Time expired - asked for more time and kept going without being given more time.) MLK Day Parade on Jan 16 at Stone Mt. 



Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Fun

In this TED presentation, Philip Zimbardo explains how the time paradox influences every decision you make.  Are you a past, present or future thinker?  This is a very good talk to share with high school students.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More residents fighting cell towers

It seems the community surrounding Margaret Harris school (a countywide school for 79 Pre-K-12 students with moderate to profound disabilities) has been informed that our school board plans to allow T-Mobile to build a cell tower on the school property. And the neighborhood is not happy. Once again, we have a neighborhood saying that they were not properly informed.  Once again, to most, it was a complete surprise to learn of the plans for a cell tower in their back yards. Once again there is talk of a lawsuit.

For more, read these articles:

DeKalb residents meet to fight cell tower

Margaret Harris School-Area Residents Fight Cell Tower Proposal

For those who claim there are no health risks, read this article:

by Karen J. Rogers

This is what it looks like at the bottom

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SACS Update

DeKalb's accrediation stays on ‘advisement'
  From the AJC

"DeKalb County Schools has made progress in the last eight months, but not enough to put its accreditation back in good standing, the state's top accrediting agency ruled Tuesday.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) decided to keep the district on ‘advisement' status following a review of the school district's procedures. In March, the district was placed on the downgraded status and ordered to make improvements in eight areas after former superintendent Crawford Lewis, former chief operating officer Patricia Reid and two others were indicted in on charges they ran a criminal enterprise in the school system.

“With continued work and a focus on sustaining the efforts made to date, the school system will continue to repair its reputation and restore trust with its stakeholders.” said Mark Elgart, President and CEO, AdvancED, the parent company of SACS.

The district will have to submit a follow-up report by February documenting steps it has taken to address the two remaining requirements."

The school system's press release can be found here.

The actual SACS report can be found here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

much ado about nothing

How many games and how much trickery will the public tolerate? How long will we remain so gullible? What will it take for us to reclaim our tax dollars and our school system?

The SPLOST pushers made a big issue out of the 'fact' that due to the passage and (unclear) wording of SB 79, voting "Yes" on SPLOST was the only way to flip the entire board! Well, that was oh so two weeks ago my friends. The smoke has cleared and things have changed.

Mary Margaret Oliver (one of my favorite legislators)... is introducing a bill that attempts to clarify the election process for the DeKalb school board. Certainly, this is something the DeKalb Delegation supports, right? Or maybe they're just chuckling over in the corner as they watch legislators wriggle out of the mess they've created. (The Delegation did not approve or participate in the original bills.) Here's the reading right out of the gate:

First Reader Summary A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend an Act establishing in DeKalb County districts from which members of the county board of education shall be elected, approved April 12, 1963 (Ga. L. 1963, p. 3424), as amended, particularly by an Act approved April 2, 2002 (Ga. L. 2002, p. 4536), so as to provide for a reduction in the members of the board of education from nine to seven; to provide for education districts for such members; to provide for the manner of election and terms of office; to provide for the continuation in office of certain members; to provide for related matters; to provide for submission of this Act under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended; to provide for effective dates; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Read the entire bill here.

To us, it says odd seat numbers stay, even ones are at risk or gone. This has us keeping Cunningham, Walker, Edler, Woods and Jester--and puts McChesney, Speaks, Bowen, and Womack out unless they run for one of the new districts after they're redrawn (which is done every 10 years according to the U.S. Census). Jay and Gene would both keep their seat--but since they're practically neighbors, it would be pretty easy for the district to be drawn in such a way that they both can't represent it. Oddly, Gene holds a 'super district' seat, one of two that we were told would disappear in Mike Jacobs original bill, but here it looks like he's secure. Pam holds the other super district, but doesn't live near anyone else, so she might wind up competing for one of the new districts. Bottom line--all seven board seats will not be replaced in 2012 as promoted to pass SPLOST. We are going to have to get out of this either in baby election steps, or bold administrative gambits on Atkinson's part--which depends on Atkinson's character and priorities.

Add to this the fact that barely 24 hours after the passage of SPLOST, the head of construction, Barbara Colman, submitted her retirement papers. She's done. We now have to find a new construction manager for SPLOST through 2017. Wonder who that will be? I would suggest hiring an owner's rep as the staff liason and then contracting the construction management. Except, that is what we did in SPLOST II and it got us involved in a $100 million lawsuit (always say that with at upturned pinkie at the corner of your mouth) - costing us over $15 million in legal fees and committing us to another $20 million (and mounting) in legal fees to be paid after the 'trial'... all paid from the general operations budget, the budget slated for school operations. The budget from which we pay our teachers. The budget that ironically - needed major cuts in school staff in order to remain in balance (gee, I wonder why!)

So, here we are. Threat #1 for not supporting SPLOST is about to be taken off the table. How long until Threat #2 (the one where the board will have to raise property taxes if you vote "No") will also be a broken unspoken promise of the past? Gene Walker has been chomping at the bit to raise property taxes since he set foot on the board. How long until they announce "We can't use SPLOST for general operations, so we'll need to raise your property taxes or we'll have to start cutting teachers." Mark my words. Gare - own - tee. The county just raised their portion of the property taxes due to steep declines in values in some parts of DeKalb. And county taxes are only 40% of your tax bill - just how much more will you have to pay when the next promise is broken?

Time to clean house.

I noticed the #1 word of the Merriam Webster's People's Choice Favorites is "Defenestration". It's appropriate here.

Defenestration: a throwing of a person or a thing out of a window; or a usually swift expulsion or dismissal

Get going Atkinson. You are really going to have to hang tough in order to truly run this school system and not become a puppet of this very controlling board as our last two supers. Time's a Wastin'!


UPDATE:  Below is a map we received a while ago showing the 'proposed' (not final) new board districts, evenly divided according to population numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census.  The proposed legislation above recommends keeping the people in the 5 seats in green and the remaining two 2 seats (totaling 7) will be up for election in November, 2012. However, as you can see from the map, the 'saved' board members overlap in their new districts and we have a gaping hole in the middle with 3 open districts and 1 in the SE but only 2 seats available on the board. (The pink area is Decatur City Schools I believe.)  Additionally, Tom Bowen lives in the new district 5 so if reelected, he could take up one of the two available seats, and Pam lives in new district 2 possibly taking the second available seat, while Don and Paul could each win the seat in their home district. Now you have 4 board members competing for only 2 available seats. How do you do that? They each legally live in one of the new districts and are up for reelection - is it fair to place someone from outside their district in that seat?

One option is to assign the board reps from the south end to these new districts (negating the rule that you must live in your district), or create strangely shaped, wobbly semi-vertical districts.  However, this still creates for unfair competition, these 5 will never have the political challenges the others will have to fight for a seat. Additionally, going this route leaves us with electing 5 board reps every other election and only 2 the others, rather than a more balanced 4 and then 3.