Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Tale of Two School Systems “Why Bigger is Not Always Better”

The candidates for DeKalb County school superintendent have been announced, and the blogs are buzzing. Now that the names of the candidates have been made public, many comments have been critical of each candidate’s lack of experience as superintendent of a large school system.

To see the strengths a superintendent of a smaller school system can bring to the table, look no further than the success story of DCSS’s neighbor Rockdale County Schools. The superintendent of Rockdale County Schools Dr. Sam King runs a relatively small Atlanta metro school system of 15,000+ students with enviable student achievement. Rockdale is a well-managed system by many measures, and most of these measures are applicable to a larger school system like DeKalb.

Rockdale County is one of the very few metro systems that Made AYP this year. The superintendent deserves much of the credit. Look at some academic numbers below to see the similarities and differences in Rockdale Schools and DeKalb Schools.

I. Title 1 schools:

89% of Rockdale Schools are Title 1 (low income)
67% of DeKalb Schools are Title 1 (low income)

II. Made AYP status:

A. 100% of the Rockdale Title 1 schools made adequate yearly progress in 2009-2010 – the same as the year before 2008-2009. BEFORE and AFTER strict test monitoring 100% of Rockdale Title 1 schools made adequate yearly progress.

B. DeKalb Schools saw their Title 1 schools made adequate yearly progress rate plummet from 80+% making AYP (2008-09) to 50+% making AYP (2009-10) AFTER strict test monitoring of testing.
III. Salaries and Certified Personnel

Look at the salaries (benefits not included) of the CERTIFIED (i.e. personnel who hold valid teaching certificates) admin, support and teaching personnel in Rockdale, a system with 15,526 students:

79 Administrators (Fulltime 79)
Average annual salary: $63,873
221 days worked
Average daily salary: $285

124 Support Personnel (Fulltime 122)
Average annual salary: $60,376
192 days worked
Average daily salary: $315

1,107 Teachers (Fulltime 1,094)
Average annual salary: $53,855
190 days worked
Average daily salary: $283

Look at the salaries (benefits not included) of the CERTIFIED (i.e. they have teaching certificates) of admin, support and teaching personnel in DeKalb, a system with 96,678 students:

523 Administrators (Fulltime 518)
Average annual salary: $90,900

225 days worked
Average daily salary: $404

974 Support Personnel (Fulltime 911)
Average annual salary: $64,890
198 days worked
Average daily salary: $328

6,738 Teachers (Fulltime 6,374)
Average annual salary: $54,413
191 days worked
Average daily salary: $285

These statistics show a direct relationship in the fiscal and ethical responsibility that this small school system superintendent has put in place and increased student achievement. He has invested in the members of the classroom, and it shows. Is anyone surprised to hear that Dr. King worked his way up from the classroom holding the positions of Teacher, Assistant Principal and Principal before becoming Superintendent?

DeKalb Schools needs a superintendent with a record of integrity, fiscal responsibility, and increased student achievement. Taxpayers need to be looking at the records of the candidates with these components in mind. Skills are transferable. The size of the school system the candidates have led is less important than hiring a superintendent who has achieved the vision of student success we want for our students.

Click on Personnel and Fiscal
Click on Personnel and Fiscal

Reposted in part from an AJC Get Schooled Blog Post


Anonymous said...

Doesn't mean the Rockdale sup could succeed in Dekalb.

You need experience in the larger systems to understand them. It is also a case of managing a massive organization where you can't succeed by doing it all yourself. You don't need to have run a big system, but there can be vast differences if you have never experienced one.

Now there are advantages to having experience in a smaller system. You get to see how things work at lower levels and get invovled in more things. I would really worry about someone only with experience in a big system moving to take over a very small system.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 7:32

What superintendent of a really big system got hired by another big system and has experienced great success? These superintendents of large school systems seem to be way out of touch with the classroom. We were better off when superintendents were not considered "CEOs" and paid so many times more than teachers.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Cox interview:

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone from a smaller system would be able to accomplish something during the "honeymoon" period; before being tainted by the politics of a big system. If the cronyism is not there, then some of the tough decisions can be made and maybe we can get more resources back in the classroom where it belongs.

Plus, I would think the BOE might have to walk on eggshells -- at least for a while. They are still under close scrutiny from SACS as well as the public.

Anonymous said...

Superintendents of small school systems are definitely more used to meeting with and asking teachers about what they need in their classrooms. Big city superintendents have had so many layers of bureaucracy between them and the classroom (teachers and students) that they have lost touch with what the school system is all about.

Cerebration said...

You all might be interested in this "Return on Educational Investment" report from the Center for American Progress a reader sent to the blog a while back. Here's a quote that jumped right out:

"The nation’s least-productive districts spend more on administration. The most inefficient districts in the country devote an extra 3 percentage points of their budgets on average to administration, operations, and other noninstructional expenditures."


Anonymous said...

An effective superintendent would have experience at managing a large organization as well as experience and involvement at the local school level. Sensitivity and an understanding of needs and challenges at the local level are important. Decades of experience that is confined to Education does not necessarily and automatically mean a person can run a school system.It will take business sense as well as a sensitivity to team building and really valuing people and their skills. Having successfully led any system is a positive sign, however, it's time for the culture that bred rampant nepotism, cronyism and dictatorships to end. It's going to be quite a challenge for anyone to turn around.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:20

That sounds logical, but education is not necessarily logical. Just name one great leader of a big city system. That's the great myth - you need someone experienced in a large system to manage a large system.

You need someone who has substantial years in the classroom and understand educational theory that also has a business and managerial background. These qualities are rare but are not mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who noticed that Rockdale County has admin and support personnel who make close to the daily average of teachers? I might be wrong, but hasn't the superintendents always said DCSS needs to pay the admin and support personnel really high to get quality personnel? Yet we're the ones with low scores and they are the ones with high scores.

In addition, they have many more low income students than DCSS. Why is Ms. Tyson not looking at the pay in this very successful neighboring county when setting pay for non-teaching employees?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:51 "I might be wrong, but hasn't the superintendents always said DCSS needs to pay the admin and support personnel really high to get quality personnel?"

Beyond question, we are getting the highest quality personnel in the form of the friends and family members. Every one of them is highly qualified and could be making much more working in the private sector. Yet, they have chosen to devote their lives to public service in the form of lower paying jobs at the DCSS in which they diligently and selflessly work. We all should be grateful

Anonymous said...

@ 12:30

Let's let them go to the private sector and get their rightful pay. Then maybe we can hire employees on merit and pay them what other metro systems pay. If we paid on results, none of them would have a job.

Anonymous said...

Your comparison is evidence of nothing. Rockdale and DeKalb are apples and oranges with regard to Title I. In DeKalb all the Title I schools have higher distributions of Title I students. In Rockdale they are spread out more evenly through the county. Moreover, Rockdale has a smaller percentage of Title I students in the system. Yhey average 60% of their students on free and reduce lunch, we average 69%. However our Title I school run from 80% to 99% free and reduced lunch while their run 60% to 80%. They have more Title I school in percentage because they are spread out. We have concentrations of non Title I like Vanderlyn, Austin, Oak Grove, and Fernback that are all under 10% Title I.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, that makes us vastly different!

Anonymous said...

I just wonder if our free/reduced lunch counts are factual. Having seen teachers and principals school parents in on how to fill out the forms, so that they get as many free/reduced lunch kids as possible, I question the figures from DCSS.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:30 I hope that you are being sarcastic.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that Rockdale has less percent of their students classified Economically Disadvantaged students than DCSS, Clayton Co. has a greater percentage of students classifed as Economically Disadvantaged than DCSS.

80+% of Clayton County Title 1 schools met AYP BEFORE and AFTER strict test monitoring.

DCSS had 80+% meeting AYP BEFORE strict test monitoring but only 50+% meeting AYP AFTER strict test monitoring. This is almost EXACTLY the scores in Atlanta Public Title 1 schools. A dramatic drop when the schools are monitored.

Please note that the DCSS non-Title 1 schools made AYP at the same rate BEFORE and AFTER strict test monitoring, so this problem must be due to practices the Office of School Improvement has put into place.

What did the Office of School Improvement do to cause Title 1 schools to decline in making AYP so precipitously, especially given that the non-Title 1 schools stayed the same?

It is clear that the Title 1 office was claiming credit for improvement in scores that was not happening (Can we say Beverly Hall and Michelle Rhee?). Title 1 and federal funds have become such a large portion of DCSS's budget (14% last year) that this money MUST be spent in a more efficacious manner. Funding the same non-teaching personnel and ineffective programs year after year has driven our Title 1 schools into the ground.

Hopefully, the new superintendent will get new leadership for Title 1 and the Office of School Improvement. They must be made responsible for the hundreds of millions in wasted Title 1 funds.

Posters, please look at the sources for yourself:
DCSS Title 1 and non-Title 1 made AYP percentages:


Anonymous said...

Although they all look like good people it does not look as if any of the three are capable of running a billion dollar organization. In fact, they seem very far from it.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to research the candidates, aside from the video from Hickory TV, but what we NEED is someone who will take names and kick butt. Someone who is not afraid to be the mean guy. Other arguments aside for the moment, this is something I liked about Michelle Rhee and (I forget his name) the NYC super.

You have to be able to get along, but the super is the BOSS and they have to take the heat if they are going to fix things.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if either Clayton County or Rockdale have 3% of their students who are homeless?

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if either Clayton County or Rockdale have 3% of their students who are homeless? "

Stop making excuses for the Office of School Improvement. No one is pleased with this department which has made decisions that were detrimental to Title 1 students. I just wonder how long Audria Berry the head of the Office of School Improvement keeps her job. Title 1 schools will be lower than ever this year, and yet no seems to care about these students and the mismanagement of Title 1 funds.

Anonymous said...

You are confusing what the the Office of School Improvement does with your dislike for one person. You do not have the slightest clue what Title I does. You may disagree with the leader but the people in the trenches need your support for a very challenging task. Maybe you should ask to come volunteer in the office and you would have a more blanced viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those hundreds of Title 1 employees should volunteer to spend time in the classrooms directly supporting the efforts of hard-working teachers and they would have a more balanced viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:32
"You are confusing what the the Office of School Improvement does with your dislike for one person. You do not have the slightest clue what Title I does. "

I don't even know Ms. Berry so how could I dislike her. What I do know is very few dollars of the hundreds of millions of dollars of Title 1 and other federal funds go to direct instruction of students, the only way these students will master content.

Instructional Coaches as conceived by and overseen by Ms. Berry is NOT working in DCSS. Rather than helping teachers and students, the Instructional Coaches are often not respected and considered an annoyance by the teachers, the only employees that can improve student achievement and the only ones that are being held responsible for student achievement.

Teachers who directly instruct students are buying equipment and supplies out of their own pockets and staying after school to tutor children while Title 1 dollars are primarily funding non-teaching personnel (Instructional, Literacy and Graduation coaches, parent center specialists, instructional coordinators) at rates higher than other metro systems and taking $400,000 trips to California.

Of course, the most egregious shortcoming is that DCSS has more Title 1 schools that fail to make AYP than ANY other metro system (even APS). While DCSS Title 1 students may have seen some improvement in some areas, they have seen LESS improvement in most areas than any other metro system. That's what progress is all about. Our students are competing with other students who are progressing more rapidly.

I have been "in the trenches" in Title 1 schools in DCSS. I know what students are NOT getting from DCSS Title 1 funding and you should know this as well.

Anonymous said...

You did know that Sam King was a DCSS employee until he became the superintendent of Rockdale. I guess it was our loss and Rockdale's gain.

Anonymous said...

"What I do know is very few dollars of the hundreds of millions of dollars of Title 1 and other federal funds go to direct instruction of students, the only way these students will master content. "

I'd like to know how you know. Title 1 is a Federal program that includes mandates regarding how the dollars are to be used along with a requirement for an annual audit. You fail the audit, you lose the dollars. Can you share information that DeKalb is not using Title 1 dollars as mandated by law?

Anonymous said...

"Can you share information that DeKalb is not using Title 1 dollars as mandated by law? "

What I can share is that Title 1 schools in DCSS lag behind ALL of the other metro areas in making adequate yearly progress. That's no secret. It's posted on the DOE website. You can go to any DCSS Title 1 school's website, and you will see Instructional Coaches and Parent Specialsits that are funded by Title 1, but where are the full time Title 1 Math and Title 1 Reading teachers who directly instruct students?

If you don't know what Direct Instruction is...
Direct Instruction is a teacher directly instructing students - i.e. a teacher physically in a room interacting with and teaching students, and being responsible for their content mastery.

Instructional Coaches and Coordinators or Parent Specialists do not directly instruct students. Therefore they are not involved in Direct Instruction.

Title 1 schools need MORE direct instruction - i.e. more bodies in the classroom directly instructing small groups of learners that are having difficulty mastering the content of math and reading.

A teacher cannot be as effective in giving personalized instruction to 6 struggling learners in a classroom of 30+ students as he can be giving personalized instruction to 6 struggling learners in a classroom of 6 students.

Title 1 and the Office of School Improvement has moved away from Direct Instruction of students to an indirect training and support model of Coaches and Coordinators and Specialists. If this was working, more Title 1 schools would be making Adequate Yearly Progress - not less. Either you can move students forward or you can't.

There is a lot of leeway in "how" Title 1 and federal dollars are spent. Obviously, DCSS has decided to spend their Title 1 dollars in a way that may be options for Title 1, but it is NOT working for DCSS students.

When students are falling further and further behind their peers, continuing to do the same things over and over is called mismanagement in any organization.

Do you think no one notices when 80+% of Title 1 schools make AYP BEFORE strict test monitoring and then only 50+% make AYP AFTER strict test monitoring? This is scandalous for the Office of School Improvement because it clearly shows that while this department was claiming the way it was spending hundreds of millions of dollars was ensuring more Title 1 schools were making adequate yearly progress, this was not true.

The Office of School Improvement and Title 1 are responsible if students do not make AYP - no one else. If you are making the decisions on spending/investing the money, you MUST be accountable for a Return on Investment.

2008-2009 DCSS Title 1 Schools (see
Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status):

DCSS Title 1 Schools (see
Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status):

Cerebration said...

Actually, check out Gwinnett's Title 1 school websites. They not only list the in-school Title 1 teachers and staff by name, they have Title 1 parent groups who have input as to how their school spends it's Title 1 money!

Cerebration said...

Here's the link -
Gwinnett County Schools Office of Federal and Special Programs/Title I

Download the parent handbook on this page.

Here's the description of Gwinnett's Title 1:

The Office of Federal and Special Programs coordinates several compensatory education programs mandated by federal and state law. Title I is a federally funded, supplemental program designed to assist K-12 learners who are educationally disadvantaged. The purpose is to enable eligible students to achieve mastery of state and county content standards as measured by results from criterion referenced competency tests. This is accomplished by ensuring high standards for all; increasing quality instructional time; improving instruction through staff development; enhancing parent participation in the educational process; expanding educational resources; and strengthening accountability. The Office also coordinates the state funded Early Intervention Program (EIP), designed to serve K-5 students at risk of not achieving on grade level. This program provides additional instructional resources to help targeted students obtain the necessary academic skills to reach grade level performance in the shortest possible time.

Title I Program

Title I is a federal program that provides funds to schools and districts based upon the percentage of students qualifying to receive free or reduced price (school) meals. The purpose is to ensure that all children have access to quality instruction and resources that will enable them to meet state academic standards.

here are 47 schools operating Title I Programs in Gwinnett County Public Schools. Of these, 33 are elementary schools, 8 are middle schools, and 6 are high schools. Each Title I School has an on-site Parent Center, facilitated by a certified teacher, known as the Parent Instructional Support Coordinator (PISC). Many schools also have a Parent Outreach Liaison, who is bi-lingual (English-Spanish).

Each Title I School is required to host a minimum of 15 workshops/trainings for parents that focus upon the academic needs of the students. While many of these workshops/trainings occur during daytime hours, others are held in the evenings. Additionally, these workshops/trainings are repeated, based upon attendance and parent requests. Interpreters (for Spanish speaking parents) and childcare are often available.

There is quite a lot of information available for Gwinnett parents on Title 1. Conversely, DeKalb has very little public information on their Title 1 page. Basically, a short description, a list of Title 1 and Needs Improvement Schools, a list of tutors and a list of transfer schools available.

DeKalb's Title 1 web page

So, rather than criticize us for "not knowing what we are talking about", why not actually share information with the public as to how our Title 1 dollars are spent? Educate us! Don't criticize us!

FWIW - Every school in Gwinnett has a Title 1 Committee and each district has a Title 1 Parent Advisory Committee. Does DeKalb?

Cerebration said...

Gwinnett lists 14 people as Title 1 admin staff:
Gwinnett's Title 1 Staff

DeKalb lists 26 people as Title 1 admin staff:

DeKalb's Title 1 Staff

Supplemental educational services (SES) is additional academic assistance designed to increase the academic achievement of students attending a Title I school that has been designated by the state to be in need of improvement for more than one year. These services include academic assistance such as tutoring and is provided to students in subjects such as reading and math. SES must be provided outside of the regular school day.

Only students from low-income families are eligible for supplemental services. If the funds available are not sufficient to provide SES to each eligible student, DeKalb County Schools must serve the lowest-achieving eligible students first. The school will continue to provide high-quality academic help to students who are not eligible for SES.

DeKalb County Schools is allowed to pay for only SES providers approved by the Georgia Department of Education. Parents may not ask for both school choice and supplemental educational services. Instead they must choose between transferring their child to a higher-performing school or leaving the child at the current school and requesting supplemental educational services/tutoring.

FWIW - Gwinnett, with much larger schools, has 47 Title 1 schools, DeKalb has a total of 93 Title I schools, including six new schools, five target assistance (TA) schools, and eighty-eight schoolwide program (SWP) schools.

Anonymous said...

@ Cerebration
That's only what is listed on the website. All the coaches (113 in 2010 up from 80 in 2009 and growing by 15 to 20 very soon - listed as Staff Development Specialists on the state audit) and coordinators and Parent Center specialists are under Title I yet you will not see them listed as Title I.

Gwinnett has Title I employees as well that are not listed as Title I on the website so you can't really go by the websites.

The problem is the lack of student progress for DCSS Title I schools as compared to other systems (including Gwinnett, APS, Cobb, Forsyth, Marietta, Decatur, Rockdale, Clayton, and Fulton).

If Title I funds in DCSS were resulting in more Title 1 schools making adequate yearly progress, there would be no question of the efficacy of Title I funds distribution in DCSS. Unfortunately, this is not the case. DCSS has the lowest percentage of Title I schools making adequate yearly progress in the entire metro area. This is very serious as it has caused overcrowding in the few schools that made AYP, and most importantly it has cheated our neediest students out of the educational help they need. These hundreds of millions of dollars have not been spent efficiently. That's the real shame.

Anonymous said...

All coaches, parent center workers, and others being paid with Title 1 funds, but not working with children directly need to work with the children-at teacher salary or lower (depending on experience and qualifications) or need to go all together.

These positions and the money used to pay for them are being wasted, when these resources (money and man power) would be better spent working with small groups of children on skills that they desperately need.

I tutor students at the school where I used to work and I have seen significant progress with children who were virtually non-readers at the beginning of the year become children who are enjoying reading and have simply blossomed. Do they have all of the skills that they have missed, no, but they have more than they would have if I didn't take my time to come and work with them each week. A half hour a few times a week can make a huge difference in a child's life.

I would love to see honest stats for the parent center and it's use. Can the funds spent on it be justified by the use it receives? If not, close them down, or open them for shorter hours, requiring fewer employees and possibly not even full time employees.

We cannot afford to waste a single dollar, whether it's a frivolous law suit or an unnecessary title one position.

Anonymous said...

I love the way Gwinnett handles Title I -- it's so much better and more honest than how DCSS handles it. I think DCSS rips off and robs the children. Really. I loved the way Dr. Cox answered the high school drop out question last night. One part of her answer dove-tailed into this: if a child hasn't learned how to read by the end of 2nd grade, and is then passed on, there is no one there to teach the child to read. By middle school (and high school) the teachers don't know how to teach the child to read. A light bulb went off in my head -- we hear about kids hitting high school reading at a 3rd grade level. They are passed on from year to year after this critical early elementary juncture from teacher to teacher at a point when the teachers no longer are "able" to teach reading skills. It is imperative that our title one program fill this void and that this void get filled -- yesterday. Not today or tomorrow but yesterday. The kids, in 21st century America, in a system spending billions of dollars a year are entitled to actually to be taught to read (and to do math) so that when they leave school (be it at 16 or at graduation) they are literate and can understand a checking account and credit card. Come on!

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 9:31
"I tutor students at the school where I used to work and I have seen significant progress with children who were virtually non-readers at the beginning of the year become children who are enjoying reading and have simply blossomed..."

Direct Instruction of students is how students learn. This is "hardwired" into our genes. Only teachers directly instructing students will improve student achievement.

Anonymous said...

The Office of School Improvement that administers Title I funds (which is what brings in the hundreds of millions a year in federal funding - earned by the students who exist in poverty situations) have never been held accountable for student achievement.

Crawford Lewis and Audria Berry used Title I as a personal "piggy bank" for personal trips and a way to establish a "power center".

Anonymous said...

@ 9:46

I seriously hope that you're kidding.