Friday, April 29, 2011

Cell Phone Towers

DeKalb County School System will hold community meetings to inform county citizens of the proposal to install cell phone towers in various areas of DeKalb County to improve the communication service in DeKalb.  The presentation will be made by representatives of T-Mobile.  Meeting dates and locations are listed below.  

All meetings will begin at 6:00 pm.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
  • Briarlake Elementary School
  • Lakeside High School
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. High School

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
  • Brockett Elementary School
  • Flat Rock Elementary School
  • Jolly Elementary School

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

  • Margaret Harris Center
  • Princeton Elementary School
  • Smoke Rise Elementary School

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
  • Narvie J. Harris Elementary School
  • Meadowview Elementary School
  • Medlock Elementary School
As I understand it, T-Mobile is interested in placing cell phone towers on the properties of the schools listed above. If this is your community, you may want to plan on attending.

Be aware that at some schools, they may be looking at putting two towers on the site.

Who Do You Trust?

It all began when shop-worn WSB reporter Richard Belcher was unable to recognize the REAL story. Belcher’s MO is to unquestioningly swallow whatever his DCSS “sources” feed him. That foolishness was amplified this time by Maureen Downey and the AJC – although Downey usually exhibits better sense and certainly has a better nose for news.

The REAL story is that someone – most likely a DeKalb County School System Board of Education member – for personal agenda reasons, knowingly broke BOE policy and state law by revealing confidential contract negotiations with the frontrunner candidate for school superintendent who had been approved by the majority of the BOE. This gutless jackboot that Belcher, Downey, WSB and the AJC insist on protecting under the face-saving guise of “source confidentiality” was not a whistleblower reporting illegal, harmful or questionable activities -- just a cowardly person with a personal agenda determined to prevail over a majority vote and a democratic process at any and all costs.

As a result, the question put to Maureen Downey – and subsequently handed off by her to Shawn McIntosh, the AJC’s public editor, was this:

How is protecting the confidentiality of a jackboot source with a personal agenda more sacrosanct than protecting the legally sanctioned confidentiality of personnel/contract negotiations (per §O.C.G.A 50-14-3 and DCSS BOE board policy)?”

Stay tuned for the AJC’s answer ...

Meanwhile, to bring you up to date, in case you have not been following this thread:

During the DCSS BOE’s negotiations with Dr. Lillie Cox, frontrunner for the DCSS superintendent job, WSB, owned by Cox Communications [no relation to Dr. Cox], broadcast “leaked” information about the confidential negotiations – information known only to someone who was involved with the negotiations. The AJC, also owned by Cox Communications, published the same story. Dr. Cox, the majority choice for superintendent, came face-to-face with the treachery, double-dealing and dishonesty of the DCSS BOE. Dr. Cox withdrew her candidacy.

When people objected to the publication of confidential information that led to Dr. Cox’s withdrawal, Maureen Downey of the AJC’s “Get Schooled” blog jumped into the fray with both feet and smugly said, “But here’s my position: If I know something important, you are going to know it, too. The newspaper is not paying me to collect information and then hide it from readers. If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it.”(Maureen Downey, Sunday, April 24, 2011)

Two days later, in the face of continuing criticism, Downey said, “I can assure you that unnamed sources are not used lightly and have to be approved by top editors at the AJC.”(Maureen Downey, Tuesday, April 26, 2011)

So, now we know that top editors at the AJC know the source of the leak and have approved withholding the source’s name. It is likely that Downey knows the source’s name, also. Responding to Downey’s statement, “If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it.” (Maureen Downey, Sunday, April 24, 2011), I wrote:

Knowing the name of the person who leaked confidential negotiations:

(1) is relevant (this person has virtually assured that no worthwhile or viable candidate for superintendent will have any interest in working for a back-stabbing BOE who thinks nothing of breaking BOE policies to satisfy a personal agenda.)

(2) is newsworthy (in a state and a county with abysmal education results, this person has consigned DeKalb's public school students to an inferior public education for the foreseeable future.

(3) involves tax dollars (this person has cost DCSS hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars; restitution must be made)

“The person who leaked this confidential information must be held accountable -- morally, fiscally and legally. This person must be fired for cause or told to resign, must reimburse DCSS for all taxpayer dollars spent during the superintendent candidate search, and must be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law.

“Maureen, you and/or upper management at Cox/WSB/AJC “know something important.” You know the name of the person who leaked the DCSS superintendent negotiation information.
Report what you know or resign. Your credibility is shot if you don't follow your own statement [of beliefs].”

Following that, Downey offered to have a telephone conversation with me, but frankly, I prefer to have her comments in writing and I said so. Complete clarity and transparency. No misunderstandings!

The AJC Answer:

Here’s the answer I received in writing – not from Downey, but from Shawn McIntosh, public editor for the AJC:

You obviously feel that the AJC should not have entered a source arrangement in this case, and I respect your point of view. As further email exchange is unlikely to change the newspaper's position or yours, neither I nor Maureen have further response to your question.”

So, leaker/BOE member/whoever you are – the one who leaked legally sanctioned, confidential information – the one who single-handedly derailed the DCSS superintendent search – you have been given a “Get Out Of Jail Free” pass. You have successfully figured out how to override a majority vote to get your way and to benefit your personal agenda. Carry on! The AJC and WSB have your back.

Crawford Lewis probably wishes he had been savvy enough and/or smart enough to simply tell the AJC or Richard Belcher at WSB about his “activities” – and perhaps leak some inflammatory tidbits (true or not) about his enemies. He might still be sitting in his $5,000 chair and using his private shower in the Palace. Oh, well – live and learn.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Which Is It, Maureen?

The following e-mail was just sent to Maureen Downey, AJC Get Schooled blog. It has been confirmed as delivered.

Many of the DeKalb School Watch readers received a copy of this e-mail. If you did not, but wish to be put on the mailing list for this kind of e-mail, please send your name, your phone number (so your interest can be confirmed) and your e-mail address. This information will not be used for any other reason.

Good morning, Maureen

Please respond to the apparent inconsistencies in your position about reporting the news. (See article below, as published in Get Schooled blog and DeKalb School Watch blog.)

Is your real position that you report what you know only when it is comfortable and non-threatening to you and the AJC -- regardless of whether it is relevant, newsworthy and involves tax dollars?

That is certainly your right, Maureen. But, those of us who have admired your writing and thought you were a fearless straight-shooter need to know. Life is too busy to spend time reading a reporter/blogger who may be in the pocket of special interests.

Just so you know, I am copying others on this e-mail and on your response -- or lack of. You may just want to select "Reply All."

Sandy Spruill

Wow! Maureen -- what a cop out!

Wow! Maureen -- what a cop out!

"I can assure you that unnamed sources are not used lightly and have to be approved by top editors at the AJC." (Maureen Downey, Tuesday, April 26, 2011)

"But here’s my position: If I know something important, you are going to know it, too. The newspaper is not paying me to collect information and then hide it from readers. If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it." (Maureen Downey, Sunday, April 24, 2011)

Here's my position, Maureen, and I am sure it is similar to that of other AJC readers and subscribers:

The REAL story is that a DeKalb County School System Board of Education member, for personal agenda reasons, knowingly broke BOE policy and revealed confidential contract negotiations with a candidate for superintendent who had been approved by the majority of the BOE.

It now appears very likely that the person who leaked the information may have been BOE Chair Tom Bowen.

In your holier-than-thou post on April 24, 2011 (appropriately Easter Sunday) aimed at people like me who objected to the AJC and WSB running this particular story, you said, "If I know something important, you are going to know it, too. If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it."

Well, Maureen ... knowing the name of the person who leaked confidential negotiations:
(1) is relevant (this person has virtually assured that no worthwhile or viable candidate for superintendent will have any interest in working for a back-stabbing BOE who thinks nothing of breaking BOE policies to satisfy a personal agenda.)
(2) is newsworthy (in a state and a county with abysmal education results, this person has consigned DeKalb's public school students to an inferior public education for the foreseeable future.
(3) involves tax dollars (this person has cost DCSS hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars; restitution must be made)

The person who leaked this confidential information must be held accountable -- morally, fiscally and legally. This person must be fired for cause or told to resign, must reimburse DCSS for all taxpayer dollars spent during the superintendent candidate search, and must be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law.

As you said, it is your job and the job of the newspaper to report what you know.

So, Maureen, you and/or upper management at Cox/WSB/AJC know the name of the person who leaked the negotiation information.

Report what you know or resign. Your credibility is shot if you don't follow your own statement:

"If it is relevant, if it is newsworthy, if it involves tax dollars, then my job and the job of this newspaper is to report it." (Maureen Downey, Sunday, April 24, 2011)

Who Was "The Leak"? Please Answer the Question, BOE Chair Thomas Bowen!

We're still waiting, Mr. Bowen. You've been very chatty with the media lately. But your incredibly nonchalant response to "The Leak" brings up so many questions, especially considering you were one of the three BOE members who voted against Dr. Cox.

Leaders step up. Leaders resolve problems. Leaders take responsibility for blunders.

Show that you have a modicum of respect for the tax-paying publlic.

Answer the question, please.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Plan to Attend: Budget Hearing Tomorrow Eve - April 27 @ 6pm

Attention bloggers:

This is critical. We need to demand accountability from the budget committee. This is the most vague, opaque, difficult to navigate area of the school system - and they are fiddling with over a BILLION dollars of your tax money! They need to KNOW that we are watching!

Sign up to speak and attend the BUDGET HEARING tomorrow evening -

4/27/2011 - 6:00 PM -

DeKalb Board of Education Public Budget Hearing Board Meeting

J. David Williamson Board Room, Administrative & Instructional Complex
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083

Ask one of the following questions or write up your own:

How exactly is FTE funding calculated?

What is the difference between the old system and the new "STAR" system of points allocation?

How closely are you tracking gifted points? Are students who EARN the gifted points receiving the appropriate services?

How much more do our "special" or "magnet" programs really cost?

Why are we unable to claim all that is due us from the state - as Gwinnett does?

Why is our budget so difficult to comprehend? Why can't it be simplified and published online?

Which pot of money pays for attorney's fees? We are told that EVERY BUDGET has legal fees embedded (buried) in it. THAT IS WRONG! As taxpayers, we have a right to know exactly how much is being spent on attorneys and why.  And, can we please calculate exactly how much we are spending to maintain TWO separate in-house counsels?

When can we expect to have the Check Register published online as is the current trend with all fiscally transparent and unafraid school systems?

Add your own in the comments and bring them to the meeting - but even if you don't plan to speak, please try to attend. Take notes. Share what you learn on the blog on Thursday. We need everyone possible to pay attention to these budget hearings.

We told you it was a dumb idea to put Arabia's AYP transfers in a "satellite" location at their home school

Dumb. We called it out as dumb the minute the board did it last August. The elitists at Arabia do not want to take on AYP transfers (read that: students whose parents are not in the right social cliques and who did not apply to Arabia).  So they convinced the board to store the 150+ students who requested the federal transfer to Arabia in TRAILERS at Lithonia High School!  Dumb.  They started to try it with the Chamblee transfers, but then quickly found space for them at Chamblee High.  They have NEVER attempted this with Lakeside in the years it served as a receiving school.  In fact, Lakeside was allowed to burgeon to over 1,800 students in a building with a capacity for just over 1,300.  No problem there. But Arabia - hell no - they can't go.

Now look at what's happened due to the fact that our board allows for such callous treatment of our students. Due to the fact that our school system is too busy with the "business" of running a system like looking to replace their criminally indicted superintendent, redistricting and answering lawsuits that it takes it's eye - once again - off of the students.  The students.  The SOLE REASON anyone has a job in DeKalb schools or a seat on the DeKalb school board.

Pay attention to the students people.

Tension Between DeKalb Students Causes Near Riot

A fight, a near riot and vandalized trailers are why DeKalb County school officials moved 155 students from one campus to another Monday. School officials told Channel 2's Tom Jones that they want to re-evaluate an arrangement that has two high schools on the same campus. The set-up has caused considerable tension between the two schools.

"That's why my granddaughter is not coming back on Lithonia's grounds," Julia Baker said. Baker said putting the Arabia Mountain Annex in trailers on Lithonia High School's campus was a bad idea. "It's definitely a recipe for danger," she said. Baker's granddaughter goes to Arabia Mountain's Annex. School officials said four Lithonia High students jumped on the ninth-grader last Friday on Lithonia's campus. "I had like a bruise on the side of my head ... like maybe three or four knots," the teen, who had to be taken the hospital, said.

Danielle Jackson and Khadija Asien face simple battery charges in connection with the incident. The victim said she was attacked in part because of the tension between the two schools. "They just be like, 'Y’all think y’all better than us because y’all wear uniforms,'" the victim said.

A student recorded a near riot at lunchtime between the two schools hours after the fight. He posted it on Facebook. The victim said her classmates were angry over what happened to her and that’s what prompted the altercation in the cafeteria. Then someone spray-painted graffiti all over the Arabia Mountain Annex trailers over the weekend. That was enough for the victim's grandmother. "I want them to get these kids out from over here and put them on the main campus," Baker said.

That's exactly what the school system did. It moved all 155 Arabia Mountain Annex students back to Arabia Mountain's main campus. The school system said it realized the arrangement was causing too much tension. The beating victim said all the students should be able to get along. "I want craziness to stop between the schools and just people to stop being immature," she said.

DeKalb County Schools spokesman Walter Woods said the annex was moved to Lithonia High after Lithonia didn't make Adequate Yearly Progress and students made the choice to move to Arabia Mountain. That caused Arabia Mountain to be overcrowded. Woods said the trailers weren't moved to Arabia Mountain because Lithonia was a better fit for them. Now after all the chaos, the school system is looking into whether there is sufficient space at Arabia Mountain to keep the 155 students there.

Important to note - according to the October 2010 official FTE count sent to the state, Arabia has 1,473 students on a campus with a published capacity of 1,600 and early news reports during the construction of the school stating that it could be enlarged to 2,100. This campus is FAR larger and FAR nicer than Lakeside, which had an official October count of 1,804 and capacity for just over 1,300.

Note to Board: Stop Pushing Tyson

Tom Bowen is dreaming. In public interviews, he keeps secretly pushing for Ramona Tyson to stay in place and become the permanent superintendent.  In my humble opinion, Tom wants this because Tom is busy. He holds several other jobs and sits on several other boards and this superintendent search is taking up way too much of his time. He is manipulating this process by dropping "hints" to the press of his desire to get Ramona back in the race just the same as he attempted to manipulate SB 79, the legislation that would reduce the board, by writing a strong letter of opposition and then affixing all of the board member's signatures electronically and having it hand-delivered to the entire DeKalb delegation by a system staff person - even though none of the other board members were aware of the letter!

I am certain that Tyson has been sincere all along as she has continued to state that she is not interested in the job permanently. She has done a very good job of steering this rudderless ship the last year and a half, but she really only expected to hold that rudder for a couple of months. Her arms are tired! I applaud her ability to take the high road in all conversations - she certainly has done the best job ever as the PR rep for DCSS. She has worked very hard and she has been paid very well for her service. But she has been "interim" in every sense of the word, and has in fact, gone above and beyond what is generally required of an interim. She has saved face for our board and our system over and over again. That has defined her tenure.

That said, although Tyson is the easy, comfortable, familiar choice, she is not the best choice moving forward. We need to go back to the drawing board and revisit some viable candidates – people who have a deep understanding of how to educate children well. We were told that over 50 qualified people applied and the board was able to narrow them to 6 at one point, then to 3. Our new superintendent is out there, our board just needs to focus on the task at hand and choose the best one. I have to wonder though if this group is capable of being serious, focused and trustworthy. Some on our board seem to have personal agendas that trump their ability to do what's best for our children every single time. We need to replace some of our board members ASAP - we need board members who do not have "relatives in the fight" or a desire to control personal fiefdoms. Several of our current board members have shown themselves to be too individually rapacious to work together for a greater good. However, this is the group that holds the future of our school system in their hands and I hope the few calm heads on the board will prevail.

Hear this Tom! The public wants a highly qualified outsider as our new leader. Keep looking. And keep your mouth shut. That goes for all of you!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Cox is Out, Tom Bowen Fails Again, And Ramona May be a Contender

It's All On You, Tom.
"It was very early," Bowen said. "Having the premature negotiations exposed influenced her decision to withdraw."
Bowen did not say why the exposure of the negotiation details led Cox to withdraw.
School board member Jesse "Jay" Cunningham said the board agreed to meet Monday morning to discuss the next steps, but he would not comment about Cox's decision.
There's been speculation that Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson now wants the job permanently. But Bowen said the board hasn't approached her about applying, and that she has not asked the board to be reconsidered.
Bowen said, however, that there is a possibility Tyson could become a candidate now that Cox has withdrawn.
Why? Most likely because the negotiations were leaked:
Channel 2's Richard Belcher has exclusively learned that school board members have settled on a candidate, but contract negotiations are tense -- and may be stalled -- because of the would-be superintendent's "platinum-plated" demands, according to a source. Belcher has been talking with his sources for nearly three weeks about the new developments, and now can now confirm that Dr. Lillie Cox, of Hickory, N.C., is the school board's choice, but the deal is not done. According to one of Belcher’s sources, the nine-member school board arrived at its decision very quickly after a public meeting on March 31. But the decision on Cox was not unanimous. Belcher was told there were six votes for her and three against. But now, sources told Belcher that negotiations are in trouble because Cox's demands are extraordinarily high. Another source told Belcher that Cox wants an ironclad contract, and that her demands may be eroding her support on the board.
How did you allow the negotiations to go public. Obviously a BOE member or DCSS administrator leaked the negotiations to WSB's Richard Belcher. So Cox pulled out when her trust was breached. Why work for a system that cannot be trusted before she even starts to work for it?
Tom, you have no control of anything, as you clearly demonstrated as the Chair of a Board of Education so out of touch that it's then superintendent and Chief Operating Officer were so out of control that they were indicted for criminal enterprise under the RICO Act, which is so unprecedented it's still mind-numbing.
Lillian Cox is out because of the leak. And you are the person in charge, Mr. Tom Bowen. The BOE members who did not like Cox of course ran to the media because you cannot keep them in line and the least bit professional.
This is the same Tom Bowen who has relatives working for the school system which he conveniently failed to disclose to voters during his past BOE campaigns. The same Tom Bowen who appointed a builder who bids on DCSS school construction projects to chair the citizens committee that helped oversee school construction projects.
-- --
Remember this from a year ago:
The most obvious scandal is the criminal corruption indictment of former school superintendent Crawford Lewis, former school construction manager Pat Pope and her architect husband. But the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is also concerned about nepotism, school employees selling books to the system and other ethics issues. Friday the DeKalb County School Board publicly discussed a letter from SACS that gives them 45 days to answer how it is dealing with those issues. Board Chairman Tom Bowen insists they are not worried about losing their accreditation as Clayton Couunty schools did a couple of years ago. "We're taking a hard look at what we do right, but we're also taking a hard look at those things that we don't do right and we're making those changes to policies and practices," Bowen said. He admits to ethical lapses within the DeKalb County School System over the past years, but says the board is rewriting several policies and making sure all county employees now about them.
-- --
"Not worried"??? What has really changed since the Lewis/Pope indictments? Nepotism stopped? Promotions to employees because of their friend, sorority, fraternity, New Birth connections? Promotions to employees with advanced degrees from diploma mills like "Sarasota University"? Incredible administrative bloat in the Office of School Improvement, MIS, school police, etc.? Money flowing freely to everywhere except the classroom?
This unbelievable leak was the last straw Tom Bowen. Thanks to the new legislation from the Gold Dome, the BOE will shrink from 9 to 7. There is NO WAY you are re-elected. The list of your failures is long. The list of your achievements? Not so big.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Will Dr. Lillie Cox be the next superintendent of DCSS?

Can we afford her?

The AJC is reporting that the DCSS Board of Ed is in negotiations with Dr. Cox to become superintendent of the school system.

According to the source, the board voted 6-3 to pursue a contract with Cox, who is currently superintendent of the 4,440-student Hickory Public Schools. Negotiations are hinging on Cox’s request for 15 months severance and a due process hearing before she could be terminated.

"I absolutely can’t confirm," DeKalb school board Chairman Tom Bowen said. "Anything related to that would have been in executive session."

Cox, who has been superintendent in Hickory since July 2009, is asking for a $275,000 salary and a three-year standing contract, which means after she completes one year, another year is added.

She also wants 25 days vacation, $28,000 for moving expenses and $2,000 a month for six months for living expenses during her relocation, the source said. Cox also is asking for permission to be an adjunct professor.

But the sticking point, the source said, is the severance package and the due process. Cox did not immediately return calls for comment.

As someone who remembers how painful it was to pay off Dr. Brown's contract, I have a real issue with the 15 months severance and the automatic extension of the contract. In addition, given the issues we are having with system employees working multiple jobs or projects, I have concerns with her wanting to be an adjunct professor. I am not sure that sends the message we want sent right now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ray and Associates – Did they really do the job we paid for?

When Ray and Associates was selling itself to the DCSS Board of Education, one of the things that they indicated was that they would do a nationwide search and bring in candidates from far and wide. Unlike other firms, they assured us, they would go deeper than their existing pool of candidates.

Ok – BUT…..

Pretty quickly, after the announcement of the final 3 candidates, I realized that Gloria Davis had been placed in each of her superintendent jobs by Ray and Associates. I think she even said this during the public forum. She mentioned that Ray and Associates asked her to apply for the job. I learned recently that Arthur Culver got the job as the superintendent of the Champaign, Illinois school system through a search led by Ray and Associates.

So much for them finding new blood – at least from the consultant’s point of view. It doesn't appear that their search really started from scratch. In fairness, we don’t really know what role the consultant firm played in the board narrowing down the candidates. It just feels funny to me, that two of the top three would have a long established relationship with Ray and Associates.

Very disturbing to me is the fact that DCSS had a salary range and two of the three top candidates are already making close to that salary. Why are they even in the pool? Would they be willing to make a lateral move, salary wise, or will DCSS simply be forced to pay more because the systems in Illinois, even those with fewer than 10,000 students, pay such high salaries? (See the posted job position here: )

A couple of weeks ago, the AJC ran an opinion piece by a teacher, Janusz Maciuba, at DeKalb Technical College. Unfortunately, it ran during spring break and I think a lot of parents missed it. Maciuba has interesting comments about the candidates’ current salaries and much more. Here is an excerpt, but take the time to read the whole thing.

The winning candidate will have to deal with scandal, lawsuits, a chance of losing accreditation, a county that is divided racially and socio-economically, inept principals leading failing schools, to name just the most obvious. The north end of DeKalb has parents who will hold their breaths until their neighborhood schools are saved and a south end that has become resegregated and has schools where the T’s outnumber the P’s in PTA.

It would take years just to find the closets holding the skeletons. It would take years to alter the downward course of education in this county, to stem the outflow of good teachers, to recognize effective administrators and to return the useless ones to classrooms, not put them back at the Board of Education working on “special projects” at full salaries. A new superintendent has to sweep in with dynamite and a crowbar to dislodge the bloat in having more than 500 administrators, including principals, at an annual average salary of $90,900 each.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

DeKalb's Public Schools this Summer: Up or Over the Hill?

As the end of the 2011 academic year comes to a close, DeKalb is poised to spring up the hill to revitalization or to roll over the last hump on the way down to final devolution. The  next few months will see the arrival of a new superintendent, the presentation of the "2020 Vision," and the possible reapportionment of the Board of Education districts and number of seats.

I think most of us are looking for the new superintendent to be the system's "savior" during this period of deep change. Who ever ends up on the throne at what has pejoratively become known as "The Palace," they will need to make the most of the momentum they'll have this year. Even if we end up with an extraordinary leader, I wonder if our communities are going to be part of the positive change or part of the regressive problem.

As we enter into this most critical four months for our public system, and on the eve of the announcement of a new superintendent, I would like to share with the community the following blog entry that was shared with me by the principal of Seqouyah MS, Ms. Brittany Cunningham.

I think it captures some very cogent points for us all to keep in mind as we engage in our efforts to help the new superintendent and Board of Education position our system for a brighter future. I encourage everyone to question every assumption about the past and every convention that we have clung to and consider them anew. If we do not do this, we are risking being part of the problem rather than the solutions we'll need.

Reprinted article from:

Four things to stop in order to fuel momentum

By Dan Rockwell

Photo by: Greg Newington

Stalling and stagnation are normal; persistent progress and forward momentum exceptional. Stop pretending, complaining, avoiding, and limiting in order to fuel progress.

Stop Pretending
Stop pretending you want change when in reality you want comfort. Usually comfort and change run contrary to each other. Backward facing leadership takes less effort, less courage, and less creativity.
General Shinseki wisely observed, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
Your best option is growing comfortable with constant change.

Stop Complaining
Complaining is comfortable self-confirmation. In the short-term it’s fun and provides the façade of power. Complaining is joyfully easy. Change is deceptively difficult; easy to talk but hard to do.
Creating is courageous disruption and dangerous self-expression. Occasionally, complaining may instigate change but it won’t sustain it.

Stop Avoiding
Forward facing leaders always encounter conflict, resistance, arm chair quarterbacks, disagreement, fear of failure, and more. These are powerful reasons that some use to avoid pressing into the future.
In addition, forward movement and uncomfortable conversations go hand in hand. You cannot and should not avoid them.
Conflict, resistance, and the rest can’t validate or justify your direction. However, they are evidence of movement. Face, embrace, and learn from them.

Stop Limiting
Complex problems have more than one solution.
Perfecting solutions is a fault-finding process. You bombard an option with imagined scenarios and anticipated problems looking for faults. There’s value in the process but it won’t create a perfect response to high-potential opportunities. There’s more than one.
Analyze, investigate, evaluate; then pick one solution and perfect it as you go. Searching for one perfect solution before pulling the trigger slows progress and drains momentum.
Momentum requires courage, focus and fuel or it cools. Which of these things can you stop today in order to keep moving forward?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Superintendent news

Two articles in the AJC focused on our superintendent search today.

First there's this, Gloria Davis withdraws from DeKalb superintendent consideration

Gloria Davis is no longer in the running to be DeKalb's next school superintendent.

Davis, currently the superintendent of Decatur Public Schools in Illinois, announced Friday she was removing herself from consideration.

DeKalb school board chairman Tom Bowen said he learned of the news Friday. The board met Friday to get an update on negotiations with the two remaining finalists: Arthur R. Culver of Champaign Community Unit School District No. 4 in Illinois, and Lillie M. Cox of Hickory Public Schools in North Carolina. A decision is expected any day.

And then a rather obvious commentary -

Public trust key issue for next DeKalb superintendent

DeKalb County's next school superintendent will be selected partly on his or her ability to build public trust, so successes in their current jobs might offer clues about what stakeholders can expect here.

School board Chairman Tom Bowen said the finalists were asked specifically how they would address credibility issues in the district, which over the past year has been distracted by accreditation scares, leadership scandals and squabbling between board members.

"That was clearly an area we were paying a lot of attention to," Bowen said. "If you look at the things that impact the district, a lot of the issues we have today are tied to rebuilding a level of trust and credibility as a result of things that go back many years.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SB 79 passes

From the AJC today:

Bill giving governor power to remove Atlanta board passes

The General Assembly gave final approval late Thursday night to a bill giving the governor the power to remove all members of the troubled Atlanta school board and cutting the DeKalb County school board from nine to seven members.

Click here to read SB 79 in it's entirety

The versions can be accessed at the bottom of the web page.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The latest sources of transparency from DCSS

Good news! I have found several new sources of solid, interesting and relevant information coming from DCSS. First, kudos to Ramona Tyson and her staff for posting so much information about the search for the new superintendent. Go to the home page of the school system's website and click on the Superintendent Search at the top. You will find a whole host of information, along with the original questions, the original video of the forum and citizen commentary after the public interviews.

Additionally, Nancy Jester's new website is fast becoming a nice repository of important information. As Nancy shares in her newsletter, she has posted details about the new staffing formula (STAR). I will post a picture of that chart below, but to access Nancy's website, click here. The files are located in her blog.

Click to enlarge

Nancy also has new documents posted about the Chamblee HS construction project. You can access this info by clicking here.

One item of importance mentioned in Nancy's newsletter is this statement,

"As you know, the Georgia Legislature has considered various pieces of legislation that impact the DeKalb BOE. As the legislative session proceeded, a letter was sent to the DeKalb delegation that opposed the various bills that were under consideration. I have received numerous inquiries about this letter and my position. I did not approve, review or sign this letter. My signature is a digital image that is used on proclamations, etc. I have expressed my concern about this letter to the Board Chair."

(FWIW, Nancy then gives her own, very cogent reasons why she personally does not agree with the legislation.)

I'm very glad to know that Nancy did not participate in sending 'the letter', but I am greatly distressed that our board chair thinks it's perfectly acceptable to compose and create a letter with a strong opinion on a controversial topic, and then electronically paste in each member's signature and send it to the head of the DeKalb delegation – implying solidarity on the issue. (Click here to read the original post on the letter.) This is the same board chair who last year, assured Sarah Copelin-Wood that her comments against the Citizen's Planning Task Force and attempted strong-arming in their decisions would be swept under the rug.

Below are two emails from the exchange between Tom Bowen (chair) and Sarah Copelin-Wood, discussing her meddling in the hard work of the Citizen's Planning Task Force last year. (Click here for details in the original post.)  Although it seems like old news, these emails are hard proof that our board chair is far more concerned about public perception than about the truth. Oddly, Tom and others cited the Task Force's inconsistent opinions as a reason to dismiss their findings – even as they were aware that the inconsistency was due to a board member's strong pressure.


----- Original Message -----

From: bowent7522@... Tuesday, May 04, 2010 4:58:28 PM

Subject: Re: Your Reference To Me In Article In AJC


I was asked the status and I said the board had not had any time to discuss it given all we had going on with the budget and other things.

My preference is to not take it on at all and let it go away. It will be a bunch of he said, she said. Only thing we could do is add to the policy on citizen committees but that would just attract more attention.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


- Original Message ----

From: bowent7522@... Tuesday, May 04, 2010 5:32:27 PM

Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: Your Reference To Me In Article In AJC


No investigation and nor do I want one. Especially now that we changed the plan with the four schools and we aren't going to use the findings anyway.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


Add to this his recent decision to send a personal letter with all nine electronic signatures on a subject important to his own political aspirations, and we have a chair who thinks he can manipulate perception. That is just plain wrong.

Stop Waiting for a Savior

The New York Times has a very good op-ed piece laying out the case for a classroom-focused educational system. The article focuses on Cathleen P. Black, the former publishing executive who was removed last week after just three months as New York City’s schools chancellor, however, the lessons learned should be heeded by all.

Basically, the message is the title: Stop Waiting for a Savior

Here are some key points we should pay attention to:

The real issue is not the superintendent’s or chancellor’s background, but the excessive emphasis that politicians, educators and parents place on the notion of leadership rather than on empirical evidence about what improves education.

Even as the specific fixes advocated for schools have changed, the role of school-district leaders has gotten greater attention — and the selection process has become more political.

It doesn’t always take actual success to be lauded and promoted, nor does an education background guarantee anything.

The record shows, however, that serial superintendents tend to do worse — at least in public perception — in their later jobs, which would seem to argue against the importance of experience in the field of education.

Until the headlines and our attention focus on what the research shows can directly improve school performance — additional money, used wisely; longer school days; better-paid and better-prepared teachers; year-round schooling — instead of the latest savior/soon-to-be-failure, we are missing the point.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Open Records Request

Below is the content of another Open Records Act request sent today to Mrs. Ramona Tyson, Interim Superintendent of the DeKalb County School System. A copy of this request was also sent to Mr. Tom Bowen, Chairperson of the DCSS Board of Education.

This request is based on items identified as the result of an extensive study of the Ernst & Young Compensation and Classification Chronology -- a 220+ page binder of mostly useless documents presented by Mrs. Ramona Tyson, DCSS Interim Superintendent, March 2011. But, among the chaff there were a few kernels of interesting information.

Also found was an unintentional, hide-in-plain sight "Easter egg" (look it up!) -- appropriate for this time of year, don't you think?

The question remains, though: What is DCSS hiding?

Open Records Request to Ramona Tyson

April 10, 2011

Mrs. Ramona Tyson

Interim Superintendent

DeKalb County School System

Copy to: Mr. Tom Bowen


DeKalb County School System Board of Education

RE: Open Records Act Request

Good morning, Mrs. Tyson,

Thank you for providing the Ernst & Young Compensation and Classification Study Chronology. Based on the information and referenced deliverables contained in that chronology, I am requesting the following under Georgia’s Open Records Act, O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70 through 50-18-76 :

(1) A copy of the signed contract between the DeKalb County School System/DCSS BOE and Ernst & Young, containing specified deliverables, as approved at the September 8, 2003 Board of Education meeting, to include:

  • Comprehensive compensation survey completed for surrounding and comparable school systems, as required in detailed RFP. [Part I, Item 8, page 3]

  • Estimated implemented costs and projected annual fiscal impact to DCSS Department of Human Resources. [Part I, Item 8, page 3]

(2) The following items, listed and described in the Compensation and Classification Summary of Services provided to the DeKalb County School System by Ernst & Young, LLP; [summary] prepared by Reanee N. Ivey, Ph.D., January 14, 2005:

  • Written compensation philosophy (draft) based on input from the Board of Education, then-Superintendent [Johnny Brown], PGT members and input obtained during focus group meetings with employees.

  • A draft of the management plan for salaries that exceed the market (developed and proposed by Carl Beck, Rick Cost, Vivian Davis, Reanee Ivey and Vicki Correls) requested by then-superintendent Johnny Brown.

(3) The spreadsheet presented to DCSS/DCSS BOE on or about April 18, 2005 by Steve Sullivan of Ernst & Young.

(4) The RFP that led to Deloitte Consulting LLP’s selection to prepare Developing the DCSS Compensation and Classification Program (originally one of the Ernst & Young contracted deliverables [September 8, 2003] for which Ernst & Young was paid a total of $341,000 for all deliverables.)

(5) The signed contract between the DeKalb County School System and Deloitte Consulting LLP, containing specified deliverables.

(6) Official record of a request from DCSS to Ernst & Young to return payments for deliverables not satisfactorily completed and the official record of funding returned by Ernst & Young to DCSS. [See #4, above.]

(7) From the September 6, 2005 BOE meeting:

  • The complete executive summary report on the Position Compensation and Classification Study as presented to the DCSS BOE on September 6, 2005 by Jim Landry of Deloitte. (A copy of the complete report is noted as being part of the official file of the September 6, 2005 BOE meeting.)

  • The answer to BOE members’ request on September 6, 2005 for information regarding the potential cost impact of the Position Compensation and Classification Study to DCSS.

The taxpayers of DeKalb County paid more than $341,000 – when you factor in the as yet undisclosed expenses for Deloitte -- for the deliverables from this salary study. The information I am requesting should be easily available electronically, as well as in hard copy, in DCSS files. A study of this magnitude and importance – not to mention cost – should be readily available on request.

Mrs. Tyson, you went to a lot of trouble assembling a “chronology” of the salary study (albeit with large gaps of time) which mentions the existence of the very things I am asking for. The chronology, itself, given to and apparently mostly ignored and unread by current BOE members, does not provide the deliverables we paid for. Simply not having the documents now, whether due to carelessness, incompetence or intent, is not acceptable.

You have the option to produce these documents, at no cost, for taxpayers in response to my request. Since I and other taxpayers have already paid for the documents with our tax dollars, I would greatly appreciate it if you would simply make them available at no charge on the DCSS website within the 3 business days allowed by law – by Thursday, April 14, 2011.

Thank you for your consideration and cooperation,

Sandy Spruill

Oldie but Goodie: "Schools, County to Talk" circa 2005, with an interesting Algebra note too

"Schools, County to Talk" More Cooperation planned on planning, rezonings - by Patti Ghezzi The Atlanta Journal-Constitution July 14, 2005 - School board members and county commissioners say they want to cooperate on dealing with growth, and on Monday the school board adopted a "Memorandum of Understanding" pledging to do just that. - The memorandum says the county will keep school officials informed of long-range planning as well of residential rezoning requests. - "We see the need for greater collaboration and planning," said Simone Manning-Moon, the board member who recommended adoption of the memorandum. - The idea is for school officials to know far in advance when new houses and apartments are coming so that they can build classrooms in the areas where they will be needed. Parents have long complained that the school district addresses crowding too late - once kids are already there. - Three elementary schools - Vanderlyn, Fairington and Rock Chapel - are in such a crowding crisis that hundreds of their students will be bused to other sites when school starts in August. - In other action, the board approved a policy change regarding eigth-grade algebra, which all students are required to take. Parents will get to choose whether the course counts as middle school or high school credit. - Last year, the first year the course was required for all eight-graders, one in five students failed, in part because teachers were ill-prepared for the sudden curriculum change. Two-thirds of the students failed the state's end-of-course test. - Board members did not think kids should have to start high school with an "F" on their transcripts. - Board members said many parents misunderstand the new policy and think the board is relaxing the rule that all eight-graders must take high school algebra. - Policies vary in other metro school districts in which algebra is taught in eigth grade. In some cases, the course counts as middle school credit. In others, the course counts toward high school graduation.

SACS experiencing backlash

Today's AJC has published a lengthy report regarding the newfound higher level of power and influence of AdvancED, the company that runs the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS) accrediting.

Private agency, public power

Interesting tidbits include:
  • AdvancED, run by hard-charging President and CEO Mark Elgart, has since 2006 built a brand that boasts it drives quality education for 27,000 schools and 16 million students in 69 countries.
  • Georgia is ground zero for accreditation trouble: Six of the eight districts that AdvancED has put on probation nationwide are here.
  • AdvancED took in more than $21 million during each of the past two fiscal years, records show. It moved into a spacious new building — a sleek, modern glass castle with high ceilings and ample seminar rooms — in an Alpharetta office park.
  • While Georgia passed a law last year elevating the importance of accreditation, North Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would bar public universities from considering SACS credentials for admissions or scholarships and make the state the primary accreditor, instead.
  • Georgia’s education department has little power to intercede if districts have problems, so residents learned to complain to SACS, instead.
  • Unlike in states such as Maryland, Georgia’s education department does not provide oversight for SACS’ activities.
Read the article. It's interesting.  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"The Lottery" - View it on Hulu for Free!

For those of you who haven't seen the documentary "The Lottery", now is your chance. Below is a description.

In a country where 58% of African American 4th graders are functionally illiterate, The Lottery uncovers the failures of the traditional public school system and reveals that hundreds of thousands of parents attempt to flee the system every year. The Lottery follows four of these families from Harlem and the Bronx who have entered their children in a charter school lottery. Out of thousands of hopefuls, only a small minority will win the chance of a better future.

Directed by Madeleine Sackler and shot by award-winning cinematographer Wolfgang Held, The Lottery uncovers a ferocious debate surrounding the education reform movement. Interviews with politicians and educators explain not only the crisis in public education, but also why it is fixable. A call to action to avert a catastrophe in the education of American children, The Lottery makes the case that any child can succeed.

And here's a quote that hits the nail on the head about equitable access to a quality education that our public schools should provide, but simply don't.
The problem is not the parents. The problem is not the children. The problem is a system that protects academic failure and limits the choices that parents have.

Click the link below to view the movie online at your own leisure.

The Lottery

Friday, April 8, 2011

An invitation from Michelle Rhee

Closing the achievement gap is, without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges we face in our country today. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 16 percent of African American 12th graders are proficient in reading and only six percent of them are proficient in math. While graduation rates have improved during the last decade, only about half (53.7 percent) of African Americans graduate from high school according to Diplomas Count 2010. These statistics are alarming, especially when we take into account the rapidly increasing numbers of youth in prison.

Georgia has historically been a leader in the civil rights movement and I will be coming to Atlanta on Thursday, April 14th to speak at Spelman College. Mayor of Sacramento and education reform advocate Kevin Johnson will join me alongside local leaders for a panel discussion on this important topic. We will explore the critical question: Is education the civil rights issue of our time?

Please join us:

Event Details:
StudentsFirst Panel Discussion
Thursday, April 14, 2011
6:30 PM to 8:45 PM
Sisters Chapel, Spelman College
350 Spelman Lane SW, Atlanta, GA 30314

Click here to RSVP to the event now.
Bring your friends and join us for a panel discussion to explore how we can put the needs of Georgia's students first. RSVP at

I hope to see you on Thursday, April 14.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Civil Disobediance for Higher Education?

This is a mistake, a really big mistake. I should keep my mouth shut.

I'm already pilloried in some quarters for advocating for the students of Cross Keys High School attendance area. A well understood secret is that some of the resentment coming my way is due to the fact that a percentage of these young people are either illegal immigrants, a.k.a. undocumented students, or have family members who are in this category.

The "immigration issue" has been heating to a boil for many years. It is boiling over now partly due to the economy slowing down, partly due to a spurt in xenophobia, and partly due to the very large population growth among undocumented immigrants (do you prefer "illegal aliens?" ... that's ok.) in our midst. I also believe it also is boiling over at this time because we are seeing 2nd and 3rd generation illegals and a minority group feeling empowered by the 2010 Census results.

Don't misunderstand me, I do think we have a really big problem on our hands with our borders and immigration policies. However, I don't think there are any easy solutions and I think too many want to ignore the real complications. Our current, ridiculous state is the result of decades of neglect by our leaders and the full weight of the serious issues involved is now bearing down on the shoulders our children.

In this writing, I'm narrowly addressing the issue of public education as it relates to these realities. The more large and ugly debate about immigration reform and illegals in our society is for another forum.

These are kids who are 100% American in their upbringing, interests, education, tastes, and dreams but who are also here undocumented, ok ... illegally. They have the same expectations and hopes as their more papered peers at our public schools. One thing they do have in perhaps greater measure than their peers is pride and courage.

I see this every day in the young people I have the privilege of meeting at Cross Keys, Sequoyah, and the five elementary schools feeding into them. In the elementary schools, I see in the young faces the same things I see in all children in our community - silliness, wonder, energy, excitement, hope, and sometimes sadness. Their older siblings at the middle and high school navigate through the same troubling and exhilarating processes of adolescence as every other kid in this most-blessed country.

But I have noticed a change in the older ones over the past two years or so. They are more discouraged, more despairing, and troubled about their future and the future for their younger brothers and sisters. Things that they may have taken for granted or glazed over at the ages of five, or eight, or twelve are now staring  them square in the face - how will you complete your education? If you leave the country for education, will you be separated from your sisters forever and miss their quinceañera, their first date, or kiss or car?

Many of the undocumented students are Mexican by cultural heritage but make no mistake - this issue is not limited to our amigos hailing from Mexico, Central America and South America. We have families from every continent on the globe making their way into the USA without papers. So what do we do with their children? Year after year, and now generation after generation, our public schools have encouraged them to educate themselves and chase their own piece of the American Dream.

The have spent their entire lives elevating their minds and aspirations through education only to discover that they are no longer welcome in much of our country and now in Georgia unwelcome in many of our schools. Closing off avenues to public universities has slammed the door shut on many of these young people who want to finish their education in Georgia and become productive members of the community.

And then today, I saw this video. A group of graduates staged a protest on April 5th at Georgia State University by blocking the road. Seven of them were arrested. The first one arrested appeared to be wearing the bright yellow cap of a Cross Keys graduate. Her name, ironically, is Georgina. These types of demonstrations are increasing in frequency and in volume all over the country. My reaction was, "How tragic and how beautiful!"

These young people are disrupting traffic to demand access to higher education! What the hell? I wish all of our young people had this level of dedication to educating themselves or the courage and passion to fight for their siblings and their futures, too.

But then again, perhaps I'm just making a really, really big mistake ...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Here is a very important piece of legislation to follow.  We were first made aware of it by Rep. Mike Jacobs via his comment on the blog -

Senator Millar and I have worked with the House Education Committee and Mary Margaret Oliver to amend Senate Bill 79 to shrink the DeKalb BOE to seven members as a matter of general statewide law. The bill passed full committee this afternoon and is now in the House Rules Committee. The bill also addresses problems in Savannah-Chatham County and the Atlanta Public Schools.

In essence, this bill, which seems to have some serious support, trumps all of the others that prompted the board to write a letter, signed by each member to Sen. Mosby, the head of the DeKalb delegation, stating their (obvious) lack of support. We discussed that letter, which you can view by clicking the post, Self-preservation? Another political power play by the Board!.

They really need to get a clue. SACS recommended a reduction in the size of the DeKalb school board. This is the fifth bill introduced into the Georgia legislature attempting to reduce the size of the DeKalb school board. At what point will the board stop and self-assess? What will it take for them to "hear" the message? They are elected by the people, yet they won't even support Mary Margaret Oliver's attempt to allow the people to vote on what the people would prefer as the size of the board (HB 22).

Enter Senate Bill 79 which states in part:
(a) Members Effective January 1, 2012, members of local boards of education shall be elected for terms of not less than four years, provided that longer terms of office may be unless their terms are otherwise provided by local Act or constitutional amendment.

(b)(1) Each local board of education shall have no more than seven members as provided by local Act. (2) This subsection shall not apply to a local board of education whose board size exceeds seven members as provided by local constitutional amendment or federal court order or pursuant to a local law in effect prior to July 1, 2010; provided, however, that if the local law of any such local board of education is amended to revise the number of members on such board, paragraph (1) of this subsection shall apply.

(c) Members of local boards of education in office on July 1, 2011, who are serving terms of office of less than four years shall serve until December 31, 2012, and until their respective successors are elected and qualified. Members elected in 2011 shall serve until December 31, 2014, and until their respective successors are elected and qualified. Successors to all such members shall be elected to serve four-year terms of office and until their respective successors are elected and qualified.

Further . . .
(a) On and after January 1, 2013, in counties in which there is being collected a homestead option sales and use tax pursuant to Article 2A of Chapter 8 of Title 48 and a county sales and use tax for educational purposes pursuant to Part 2 of Article 3 of Chapter 8 of Title 48 and the county board of education consists of more than seven members, such county boards of education shall comply with this Code section. Such county boards of education shall consist of seven members elected from single-member districts of approximately equal population. The number of members may be reduced to less than seven members by local legislation, but such members shall be elected from single-member districts of approximately equal population.

The bill also allows the governor to step in and take control of a school board in a system that has lost accreditation (Atlanta) along with a few other stipulations.

Please let your legislators know your thoughts on this bill.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Plea to the New DCSS Superintendent

Obviously, the three candidates for DCSS Supt. are researching the system which includes reading this blog. It seems that they are aware of the layers of wasteful bureaucracy in the Central Office.

Here's a quote from the blog:
"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."

Because this Board of Education and Interim Supt. have failed to address Title 1 and the Office of School Improvement, the next Supt. must address this big important stuff.

It is time to eliminate the DCSS, Audria Berry-led Office of School Improvement. It is time that Title 1 dollars are spent on students and in the school house, not for a cadre of sorority sisters with limited teaching experience but important friends and family connections. It is time for Dr. Morcease Beasley to stop with the busy work and needless time and paperwork requests requests for our teachers.

It is time to eliminate the millions of dollars spent on OSI staff. Place those funds in the CLASSROOM!
Give them the chance to go back to teaching. If OSI staffers think they would be hired by any other school system at their present salary, they live in an alternate reality.

The new superintendent must change the culture of the school system. He/she must make the tough decisions. And this is the one to start with first.