Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tyson's Contract, Justice Department Upholds Board Size Change and an update on "BookGate"

Some interesting pieces on recently.

First, the AJC is reporting that the DCSS Board of Education has extended Ms. Tyson's contract by three months.

Then, the Justice Department ruled that the new law giving Gov. Nathan Deal the power to suspend the entire Atlanta school board and reducing the size of the DeKalb School Board is legal.

Justice approves bill allowing school boards to be removed en masse

And of course, we find out that after all this time, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the state agency that licenses and regulates teachers, handed Ralph Simpson a 10-day suspension for selling $12,560 worth of copies of a book he wrote about himself to five local schools, including two that were under his direct supervision.

DeKalb administrator-author agrees to 10-day suspension

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 Test Scores

In comparing standardized test scores, one has to be careful. I am generally not fond of comparing one grade level one year to the same grade level the next year. It isn’t the same children, and really doesn’t tell you very much. However, I do think that more global comparisons can be helpful.
In looking at DeKalb’s CRCT scores and wanting to show the big picture, I decided to compare our progress against the state’s progress. For example, in 2010, our 8th grade reading scores resulted in DCSS ranking 138th on the Math CRCT. Well, this year, though the percentage passing stayed basically the same, we now rank 154 out of 179 systems. And this is what should be troubling, even where we gain; we are losing ground as compared to the state as a whole. For purposes of this blog piece, I am using the data from grades 3, 5 and 8.
On the CRCT, Social Studies scores improved in almost all grades, though in grades 5-8th, the pass rate doesn’t hit 60 percent. Science scores are also weak and in 8th grade barely one out of two DeKalb students met or exceeded standards. Most changes in scores, whether they were increases or decreases, were very small, probably rendering them statistically insignificant either way. While we have to be careful not to expect too much too quickly, as that can have unintended consequences, DCSS needs to be doing better. We are being passed by school systems with far fewer resources.
Thanks to the regular School Watch contributor who prepared the charts below comparing DCSS' pass rate with the other metro systems. As you can see, we had the lowest pass rates (indicated in red) in almost every grade level in reading, ELA and math. Thanks to Clayton County for apparently not even trying in the non-AYP subjects of science and social studies.
Next week, I will post similar data from the High School Graduation Exam. The trends are similar in that even where we improve, the rest of the state is improving faster.
The take-away message is for people who think things are really ok in the DeKalb School System, they clearly are not. For our elected officials who choose to turn a blind eye to the state of academic achievement in DeKalb, shame on you.

RAMP Comes to Cross Keys to Serve Area High Schoolers

I am privileged to be the first to let you know about an amazing program to be launched this fall at Cross Keys HS that is available to students from Dunwoody HS, Chamblee Charter HS, Cross Keys HS, Tucker HS, Lakeside HS, Clarkston HS, and Druid Hills HS. The Remote Automation Management Project (RAMP) will be offered via a partnership between DeKalb County Schools and Moultrie Tech.

Moultrie Tech is only the second site in the United States to become a platform for this type of innovative instructional support for robotics and automation. Cross Keys HS is the second site in Georgia to become part of the Moultrie program (I believe Forsyth may be the first).

A nationally recognized instructor, Patrick Gunter, has been hired by DCSS and assigned to Cross Keys to lead the class on site. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gunter on the day of his contract signing and can tell you that he is the sort of mentor and thought leader to which you want your kids to have access. Students will also have video conferencing access to Moultrie Tech faculty for support of their hands-on work with a $40,000 piece of SMC Corp robotics.

How cool is that? Check out the video below for in-depth look at how RAMP works in high schools.

The instructional leader in the video, Mr. Estes, met with Mr. Gunter recently at Cross Keys to make arrangements for the robotics and video conferencing equipment to be placed at the school.

Mr. Patrick Gunter, CK's newest teacher, is an advisor for the the Georgia Institute of Technology's "Solar Jackets," award-winning solar car design team and is exploring the possibility of starting a high school car team. Stay tuned to CK Foundation's Facebook Page or web site for more details but spread the word by sharing this unique educational opportunity with your neighbors NOW! I asked Mr. Gunter what sort of pre-requisites he had for working with students (math, sciences, etc.) and he looked at me without hesitating and said, "Work ethic."

Mr. Gunter notes, “There just aren’t enough high school students choosing technology-related majors when going to college. Most students who would qualify to major in Engineering lack interest in the field. Robotics has a strong appeal to today’s students, and these competitions use robotics as a very powerful platform to attract students to the study of science and technology.” Mr. Gunter plans to foster a top-notch robotics team at Cross Keys starting this year. With many regional, national, and international wins under his belt, he is quite serious about the prospects for a CK-based team.

CALL your home high school counselling office or CK's at 678-874-6102 for registration details! What an extraordinary opportunity to work side-by-side with an exceptional engineer like Mr. Gunter. Spread the word and let's make this opportunity available to as many young people as possible!

READ about the RAMP program from Moultrie Tech.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What is in the Best Interest of DeKalb Schools' Core Business of Educating Students?

This is the question Ms. Tyson and the DeKalb Board of Education should have been asking as they made budget cuts.

Consider this recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution regarding how Marietta City Schools is avoiding budget-cutting impacts to instruction as they consider what is in the best interest of their students.

Marietta City Schools is a diverse school system of 8,000 students with 50%+ African American, 30%+ Hispanic, and 15% White. 74% of Marietta City School students are classified as Economically Disadvantaged (a greater percentage than DCSS), and 11% as Students With Disabilities (also a greater percentage than DCSS). Every regular education school in Marietta City Schools is a Title 1 school.

Every school in Marietta City Schools made adequate yearly progress, and the entire system of Marietta made AYP in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Is there a correlation between improving student achievement and keeping your core business intact when you make budget-cutting decisions? Read what the Marietta City Schools superintendent Emily Lembeck says about her decisions to “protect what happens in the classroom”. Posters have said that they want a superintendent from a school system the size of DCSS. Is that more important than a fiscally responsible superintendent with a solid track record in moving students forward academically?

AJC article published June 20, 2011:
“Marietta City Schools plans to cut its budget 4 percent through belt-tightening measures that include outsourcing 22 custodial positions. There are no furlough days or teacher layoffs planned.

Superintendent Emily Lembeck said that could change if the system doesn’t receive the funds expected from state and federal sources. Last year’s budget was based on a revenue shortfall of $5.9 million.

The district’s Board of Education will vote on the 2012 budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the school headquarters at 250 Howard St. A public comment hearing will be held a half hour before the meeting. The $74.5 million budget is $3.1 million less than last year’s.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 will eliminate a food service warehouse position, consolidate two bus routes and use $3.4 million in reserves. Two alternative and special education facilities will be combined at one location. The city system has 11 schools and 8,000 students.

School officials said the budget process has been challenging since 2008. Lembeck said privatizing custodial jobs was a difficult decision based on the economy, which has driven school systems to look at business and staffing practices.

“It becomes more difficult to protect what happens in the classroom without looking at some services that are not directly related,” Lembeck said. “Reducing days of instruction through furloughs and larger class sizes is not in the best interest of our core business of educating students.”

Marietta City Schools started outsourcing custodial jobs seven years ago through attrition. Schools spokesman Thomas Algarin said increasing the privatization will save the district $223,242 a year. Thirteen head custodians will continue as school employees and those left will have to apply to ICS Contract Services in Atlanta for custodial work after June 30.

Many other school systems have outsourced jobs to save money. Joe Edgens, executive director of facilities for the Nashville Public Schools System, said his district privatized about 618 custodial and 44 ground services positions in 2010, saving the system $5 million to $6 million a year. Nashville has 78,000 students and a proposed 2012 budget of $670 million.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

DeKalb School Board waiting for Superman

Atlanta Public Schools have two things that we don't:  A professional interim superintendent chosen from outside the school system to lead them through the rough waters ahead and a whistleblower.

We were supposed to have a 'new' whistleblower hotline installed last September. (Read our post.) In fact, it made big news and gave our board public credibility in an AJC article entitled, "DeKalb School Board protects whistleblowers".  But listen - hear the crickets? We still do not have a whistleblower hotline -- much less, a whistleblower.  I guess when there are none, it makes them easier to protect.

But worse, our board seems to be in some kind of cloud, imagining that some superman of a superintendent is "still out there" waiting to jump aboard and save our ship!  This candidate must be really special in their minds, as they have already (purposely, in my opinion) sabotaged two excellent candidates that have emerged as finalists and then been sent packing by the board -- via media leaks regarding privileged contract negotiations of the first and vicious attacks on the perceived record of success of the second. These attacks came from people like Zepora Roberts, who is no longer on the board and should never have known this candidate's name, much less anything else (including race). How could she have known what the board had discussed in private?  Someone on the board must have told her - and no one stopped her rant against the candidate at the board meeting (which I believe was Tom's duty as chair.) Our board members need to wear Depends when they go into executive session.

We had THREE excellent candidate finalists back in March! Somehow, our board has managed to drive each one away.  Two of these three dropped out and the board focused on Lilly Cox, a PhD and Superintendent of Hickory (NC) schools.  She spoke of being a moral and ethical leader with a laser-like focus on children. But someone on the board managed to leak the contract negotiations, violating the trust between board and superintendent well before the partnership was even formed!  Cox, understandably, removed herself from further consideration.

Then, the board was apparently refocusing on Dr. Robert Duron, Superintendent from San Antonio schools (in Texas - a state with extremely stringent markers for passing their version of "AYP").  Duron's district passed in all categories, except that of high school completion, which he "failed" due to nine students who had left the system and could not be tracked.  Now, it appears that test scores are soon to be released, showing that San Antonio has passed the Texas requirements.  During all of this, it was revealed that Duron was seeking employment elsewhere (here and in Florida) and his board voted 'no confidence' in his leadership, a political response common in this arena. Again, this private, executive session information was leaked (ironically to the same reporter, Richard Belcher) and Duron negotiations broke down among board members.

Nancy Jester, Pam Speaks, Paul Womack and Don McChesney responded to the leaks in a letter to the public - citing the reasons for their strong support of Duron and encouraging the public to support him as well.  Oddly, in yet another interview with Richard Belcher (after the rest of the board had left town for training in Savannah), Board Chair Tom Bowen did not mention one word about the leaks, however described Jester's email as 'inappropriate'.  Then, shockingly, Tom goes on to report on the discussions in executive session regarding keeping Ramona Tyson on for three more months!  Executive session discussions - not yet voted on or ready for public announcement!  (Cue the Cheshire Cat.)

Now, the excuse is that the board is looking for a candidate who has led a large, urban, mostly poor, minority school system that has passed AYP.  Well, I wish them luck, but it sounds a bit like a young lady hoping for a knight in shining armor while remaining holed up in a tower growing old alone.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New immigration law could impact school enrollment

Tensions are running high for many immigrants in Georgia illegally as we approach the final hurdle to passing a law allowing police officers to inquire as to someone's immigration status.

The AJC ran a good article on Sunday highlighting some of the people who could be affected. Click here to read it.  It is surprising that the AJC published the names of several people here illegally as well as details regarding where they work and attend school.

It is said that next to Gwinnett, DeKalb has the most immigrants.  Georgia tracks the number of students enrolled as English-language learners and DeKalb has 9,329 (and 187 ESOL teachers). Many of those who are here illegally are planning to flee Georgia in anticipation of the chances of getting deported due to the new law. This could trigger a significant loss of students in our schools – and consequently a loss of state and federal funding.

It's certainly something to watch.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Death to High School English

A recent issue of Salon magazine featured an essay by a college English professor entitled, "Death to high school English".

[Recently, the professor started asking her students]: "What exactly did you do in high-school English class?" And whether I ask them as a group or individually, whether I ask my best students or my worst, the answers I get are less than reassuring. I should add here that my students matriculate from a wide array of schools, everything from expensive prep schools and Midwestern publics, to military academies and boarding schools abroad. But despite this diversity, the answers I get from them about their preparation in the language arts are surprisingly similar.

Those who didn't make it onto the honors or A.P. track hardly mention writing or reading at all. They talk about giving oral presentations and keeping reading journals evaluated with a big, meaningless check. They reveal putting on skits, reenacting some scene in a novel or play whose title they can't recall. One student recounts a month of junior English class in which she and her classmates produced digital short film adaptations of the trial in "The Scarlet Letter."

"Sounds fun," I say to this student, a girl who would not know how to summarize a source or correct a sentence fragment if her life depended on it.

As for the students who did make it to more accelerated English courses, their recollections are a little less disheartening, but only a little. They read Shakespeare, they tell me, usually "Romeo and Juliet," sometimes "Macbeth." They read "Catcher in the Rye" or "Huck Finn," "The Sound and the Fury," a little Melville or Hardy. They read these works and then they talked about them in class discussions or small groups, and then they composed an essay on the subject, received a grade, and moved on to the next masterpiece. Did their exposure to a few of the great works challenge or change them, did it spur them to read more widely or more critically, or did it make them better writers? Occasionally, I guess. Mostly, they seem to recall struggling with comprehension of these classics, feeling as though they just didn't "get it," and for those students who know they will not major in English, does it really matter, they wonder. But not much time is spent pondering the question because, now, thrown into the cauldron of college-level coursework, they have bigger fish to fry. They have professors in every area and every discipline telling them they're going to fail if they don't learn how to write a comprehensible, grammatical and at least marginally organized academic essay.

Was it really so essential that these students read Faulkner? Most of them, frankly, seem to struggle with plain old contemporary prose, the level of writing one might find in, say, the New Yorker. Wouldn't they have been better off, or at least better prepared for the type of college work most will take on (pre-professional, that is), learning to support an argument or use a comma?

I raised these questions with Mark Onuscheck, the chairman of the English department at Evanston Township High School, a large, suburban school with a diverse student body and an excellent reputation, a school that's matriculated more than a few students into my classroom. I asked him how exactly a school like his teaches or tries to teach kids to write, and his initial answers make me start chewing on my nails. He talks about processes and collaboration, about students working together and doing peer review, about how they keep writing folders, and do writing frequently in various, informal ways.

"But the writing they'll need to do in college won't be informal," I say. "And it won't be reviewed by peers but by professors. So what about specific writing and research skills? What about style and grammar?"

Almost instantly, his tone shifts from one of back-patting, pedagogy-speak to something more honest. He laughs. "It's very hard to get a lot of teachers to teach those things, especially grammar. We have such a need to engage students. There's such an emphasis on keeping student enthusiasm going and getting them to want to actively participate. When you start talking about grammar, it's like asking them to eat their vegetables, and no one wants to ask them to do that. They prefer class discussion, which is great but to a certain degree, goes off into the wind."

And of course, there's also the logistical issue, the almost insurmountable challenge of teacher-to-student ratios, miserable ratios that are only going to get more miserable in light of the devastating teacher layoffs taking place around the country. At this particular school, every English teacher teaches five sections of English, and each section has approximately 25 students -- a dream load compared to what teachers at, say, a Chicago public face. But that still means a three-page formal essay assignment would translate into 375 pages of student prose to be read, critiqued and evaluated. The very thought makes a cold, dark dread creep across my soul. It makes my own burden, two sections of composition, 15 students to a class, seem laughably light. And yet, to my more successful, tenured friends, even my numbers seem grueling. One of them says flatly, "I'd teach four sections of lit before I'd do one of comp. Four sections with my hands tied behind my back. It's just too much work."

I wonder at times, is it even worth it? Do students really need to learn to write?

A Tale of Two School Systems – Part III

“This is an EQUALITY Issue” 

Since July 10, 2006 when Audria Berry was made Director of the Office of School Improvement, the number of DCSS Title 1 schools has increased slightly while federal funding (primarily for the academic improvement of students in schools classified as Title 1) has increased 220%. Note that federal funding from 2005 to 2010 has been close to half a billion dollars. When 2011 RTTT money is added in, that half billion figure will be a reality. Although the DCSS administration from Lewis to Tyson has treated these federal dollars as “free” money, EVERY citizen in DeKalb County who has paid federal taxes in the last 6 years has seen this money deducted from his/her paycheck. Have these federal dollars benefited the students they were/are intended to benefit?

DCSS is STILL divided into a dual system when it comes to student achievement. Look at DCSS’s 2011 Georgia High School Graduation Test scores. The Office of School Improvement has had close to a half billion dollars to spend in the last 5 years from when these students in our Title 1 high schools were in elementary school, and they have failed to move them forward in relation to their peers.

$500,000,000 spent for INCREASED student achievement in Title 1 schools that has in reality resulted in DECREASED student achievement is not acceptable. BOE members need to look at the schools they serve and ask if they are comfortable supporting the present DCSS administration personnel who have overseen the expenditure of half a billion dollars for Title 1 schools while presiding over a decline in student achievement. The DCSS administration needs to understand that taxpayers all over DeKalb are interested in the achievement of EVERY student in EVERY school in DeKalb. The DCSS administration and BOE must take responsibility for spending tax money earmarked for leveling the playing field for our lowest income students in an efficacious manner. A Return on Investment needs to happen for ALL students.

See below for a list of the schools that the DCSS BOE members represent. Please email your BOE member and ask him/her if he/she is satisfied with the $500,000,000 spent by the Office of School Improvement.


Friday, June 17, 2011

There's a Hole in My Bucket, Dear Liza

There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
My, oh my! What a wonderfully wet week we've had children! Not only did we have four Board members running up the white flag on the superintendent search and the "leakiness" of their peers, we got a view of the fountain of youth that is the next SPLOST IV scope.

The drama of the reveal was breathtaking! What would the fourth down payment on our fantasy trip to a renewed capital plant look like? A lot like the last three is the answer. True, there are a few lucky communities with replacement, neighborhood-scale schools and there's the laundry list of other items that seemed to touch every school in the district.

Wow! Not ...

Besides Nancy Jester's brave 'no' vote, the only part of the entire proceeding that stuck in my head was a pesky image of a bucket full of holes like the one above. The "capital needs" were described as "$3 billion" and the SPLOST IV revenue target of $475 million. I thought, "Wow, that leaves $2.5 billion in unmet needs."

Then I remembered what we had been told by DCSS in past years whenever I asked where Cross Keys' auditorium was in plan: "Kim, we have over $2 billion in needs and only $500 million in SPLOST dollars - no one is getting everything they need and we are spreading it thin." Putting aside the fact that many are, in fact, getting "everything they need," I have been surprised that no one seems to be noticing the SPLOST death spiral we are in as taxpayers.

There are a lot of holes in our capital bucket and the money is running out those holes faster than we can fix them apparently. What are the holes? Too many schools and sites to maintain - way too many properties.

Let me over-simplify this so I can understand it ...

Five or six years ago we had $2 billion in needs. In the ensuing five years, we spent $500 million against this need. This should leave somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion in need, right? Not according to DCSS this week.

The current line is that we now have $3 billion in identified needs and $475 million to spend in SPLOST IV. What?! Our need more than doubled from $1.5 billion? What's going to happen in SPLOST V? We'll spend $500 million in SPLOST IV against the $3 billion in need leaving $2.5 billion which, if the next period is like the last period, will double to $5 billion in need??

Is our leadership blind or irresponsible or both? That this kind of dynamic can be allowed to persist without addressing the fundamental issue is a massive failure of fiduciary responsibility.

SPLOST has become for taxpayers like one of my favorite movies, "Ground Hog Day," where the protagonist is trapped in the same day over and over again. He says, "Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." That is how I feel about the current "2020 Vision" and SPLOST IV - there is no tomorrow in these plans today.

When will the madness stop? Unlike for Bill Murray's character, I am afraid not soon for DeKalb taxpayers, not soon ...

The Friday Report: Think Positive!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Someone save this leaky ship!

What can be done about these leaks? Why does no one in power seem to have an issue with the fact that people like Zepora Roberts (former board member) are given inside information and then have the nerve to publicly share it?  This kind of knowledge can only come from private personnel discussions in the school board's executive meetings.  The Zepora leak came AFTER the first leak of contract details with superintendent finalist Lilly Cox to Richard Belcher at WSB - which triggered Cox to withdraw from consideration and sent the board off for training on executive session confidentiality. Worse, after this "training", someone not only leaked information about the next finalist to Zepora, the entire Chamber of Commerce was given confidential information! The Chamber Chair then boldly made a public opinion statement (aired by WSB) that the Chamber thinks the school system should stick with interim Ramona Tyson!

What is going on? Are there ethics left anywhere in DeKalb? Why didn't Bowen shut Zepora down? Her comments were about a personnel issue, which is strictly and officially off-limits! Is the media complicit in this sabotage of the school board's effort to hire a new superintendent?  Why? Is it ethical of Richard Belcher to publicly air private contract negotiations, thereby destroying the process and ruining someone's career?  Are reporters compelled to report everything they are told? How would Belcher like it if he was in private negotiations with CNN and someone leaked the details of his contract requests?

This is all so discouraging. SACS won't intervene.  The governor won't intervene. We are virtually unprotected.  Board members who successfully leaked information have now been given a license to behave badly in order to get their way.  No one will interview in DeKalb now.  Really, who would, when you go into negotiations knowing that people like Zepora, Richard Belcher and the Chamber of Commerce are going to blab it all over the airwaves?

Compare our dysfunctional county with Chattanooga/Hamilton County.  Click here for their Public Education Foundation's annual report.  They have a private educational foundation that focuses on improving their schools.  It is a public/private partnership involving citizens, the school board, school system leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and local universities to ensure their schools have the proper tools, highly trained principals and the very best teachers as well as opportunities for students to improve their success.

How far we have to go to get to a point of community collaboration like Chattanooga!  We are infants in the world of educational enlightenment - take a look at our leaders' behaviors and compare them to quality systems around the country.  We need professional leadership and help.  We need good people to run for school board, forge community partnerships and partnerships with local colleges and government agencies.  This is a plea for a lifeline. Please, consider doing whatever you can as a citizen to step up to the plate and be the change we so desperately need!


Zepora: The Rant
Read our post with Zepora's speech transcribed. Her words are proof that she was given inside information that she should never have known – much less been bold enough to publicly state her opinion of the person under consideration for superintendent before that person had a chance to announce his intention to his current employer.

Also, many thanks to John Heneghan for compressing, editing and posting this video clip for us!  Read his article posted on Heneghan's Dunwoody Blog.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Has teaching become a factory job?

I've quoted from John Taylor Gatto's books in the past (especially "Dumbing Us Down", but I never actually read his first essay which was published in "The Wall Street Journal" soon after he quit teaching.  He has reposted it, along with a much longer essay at his website, The Odysseus Group. Click here to read the entire essay.  The original letter to the WSJ is below. I think he is spot-on in that our school systems have become a 'religion' meant to slow maturity and "extend the dependency of the young well into what had traditionally been early adult life." Modern schooling's mission is to advance group thought, not to promote the rugged individualism that was always held as uniquely American.

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid. 
That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. It’s a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, something like this would happen. Professional interest is served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re-formed." It has political allies to guard its marches, that’s why reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation. There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen—that probably guarantees it won’t.

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it. I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Superintendent Search - Setting the record straight

This email was just sent from Nancy Jester's newsletter server -- it went out her constituents and others on her email list. Assuming this is public information, we have taken the liberty of reprinting it here on the blog.

DeKalb Citizens,

I am writing on behalf of the DeKalb Board of Education members Don McChesney, Pam Speaks, Paul Womack and myself.

Unfortunately, on Friday, June 10, 2011, someone leaked information about the superintendent search process to the media. You can view the story by clicking here. The leak included the name of a candidate and violated confidentiality. Had this action not been taken, we would not be writing to you today. Everything that we are writing about is already available to the public.

We are writing because we feel compelled to set the record straight on this candidate. We ran for our positions to do something and not be something. We believe that we must hire a leader from outside of our system. This is not to say that we do not have capable people within our ranks. We have many wonderful employees. Unfortunately, we also have real structural impediments to success combined with a lack of public confidence and a myriad of perception problems.

When we began this process we thought that we were on our way to finding a qualified and dedicated professional. Our search firm provided us with a host of diverse and worthy candidates. As you know, our search has already been plagued by leaks that were purposefully made to undermine the will of the board and caused candidates to withdraw from consideration. This was a great loss for DeKalb from a superintendent perspective and it damaged our ability to attract candidates. We are convinced that the latest leak has made DeKalb radioactive to potential candidates. These actions have damaged the students, employees and the taxpayers of DeKalb County. Furthermore, they have potentially damaged a candidate who did nothing other than graciously accept our invitations to speak with us.

We want you to know that from the beginning, Dr. Duron emerged as our number one choice. It was abundantly clear to us that he had the temperament and experience to lead our district. We independently reviewed his record. We familiarized ourselves with the accountability standards in his state. We examined the population of his students. We read the impressive references that were written on his behalf.

We would like to set the record straight on Dr. Duron's record. His district has seen steady improvements under his leadership. He has even proved creative and resourceful in obtaining grant money for inventive ways to tackle achievement problems and re-purpose once closed schools. We have put together a PDF that you can download from the blog tab of Click here to go directly to the link. You will see that with a significantly poorer district, Dr. Duron has outperformed DeKalb with respect to AYP standards. In DeKalb (2010) we had 5 failing subgroups for AYP as a system. Dr. Duron's district had only 1 sub-group that failed.

There are some members of our board that would have you believe that Dr. Duron isn't a qualified candidate because his district received a label of "academically unacceptable" from the TEA. Please review the website PDF for clarity on this matter. You will note that Texas standards include a completion rate. Districts must track all students even if they leave your district and move out of the state or country. Each district is required to document that a student that leaves is enrolled in school elsewhere. SAISD missed their "completion rate" standard by 9 students that they were unable to locate. Please note that for the academic year that just ended, Dr. Duron's district is projected to meet this standard and receive the "academically acceptable" rating from the TEA. Again, you can see this documented in the PDF on my website.

We ask you to stand with us and support Dr. Duron. He is a qualified professional that will serve and represent our district well. He will bring accountability, ethics and innovation to DeKalb. We cannot wait. Our children cannot wait. If you agree with us, please email the board. Here are their addresses:

Thank you,
Nancy Jester
Don McChesney
Pam Speaks
Paul Womack

Read the following blog posts regarding the leaks on these supposedly highly confidential personnel meetings:

BREAKING NEWS: Cox is Out, Tom Bowen Fails Again, And Ramona May be a Contender
Another board member trips the superintendent search (again?)
Zepora: The Rant

Zepora: The Rant

The video has been posted.  The hard evidence is in.  Zepora Roberts (who no longer serves on the school board) was given inside information on the current negotiations with the latest school superintendent finalist.

In the video, she expounds on what she knows at the microphone, with no fear of retribution.

"The superintendent search has gone on long enough with no results for the children of DeKalb County School System. Saying that we are taking our time and not rushing to get the right person is not producing or generating any qualified candidates to come to DeKalb.  The rumor all over the county is that you're looking for a white candidate because you get more from a white superintendent is not and does not help matters at all. You should be looking for the most qualified candidate for this school system and not a particular color person. We are in deep trouble with this search. Please put your personal picks, petty politics, racial preferences outside and aside. Place the betterment and the education of the children of the DeKalb County School System above all else. 

We have the best superintendent candidate right in our midst in Ms. Ramona Tyson. Open your eyes and look at what she has done and accomplished: The Cheating Scandal, The SACS Concern, The Budget, The Redistricting and Closing of Schools.  These are issues that long-time, experienced superintendents won't even touch with a long-handled spoon. Yet, Ms. Tyson has met each issue head-on with success.  Regardless of what you do, there will always be some people that you will not please. But you do what's best for the children and the overall system and you move forward.  Again, I ask you, hire her – immediately, permanently.  Whether you know it or not, your reputation as a board does not carry a good reputation and it makes a candidate hesitant to even look at DeKalb County.

The candidate that you're looking at, is not and has not been successful where he has been for the past two to three years. And his board has not renewed his contract. Why do you think that bringing him to DeKalb would change his strike record? It won't.  He wants to escape to a more lucrative, green pasture and you're providing the pasture for him to get fat. Please don't make this mistake.

Now, regarding the budget and the future planning.  Midway Elementary and facility is a dump. Not personnel, but it is cramped. The cafeteria is no bigger than a single classroom. It has no reception area. And I ask that you look at moving Midway where Peachcrest Elementary currently exists since you have it on the list to close. Since it had a lot of renovations done, it will give more space for Midway from which to operate.

Lastly, why would you spend $30,000 for a grease trap on Atherton Elementary School if you're closing it? 

Thank you."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More on the "Office of School Improvement" $$$

The DCSS Office of School Improvement is spending $4,400,000 annually in salary and benefits on the Parent Centers. The Parent Facilitators are supposed to be ensuring parents have the skills that will give their children the support that is conducive to educational success. Yet year after year, fewer and fewer of DCSS Title I schools are making adequate yearly progress.

The Parent Centers were established in 2005 the year after Dr. Lewis became superintendent. He immediately put Audria Berry in charge of the centers as a  "school improvement" initiative funded with federal Title 1 dollars, of which DeKalb brings in $128 million annually.

At $4,000,000+ in salary and benefits annually, taxpayers have spent $24,000,000 on these Parent Centers since their inception.

It is interesting to look at the highly paid members listed under title Parent Coordinator in the state Salary and Travel Report.

One of them is Zepora Roberts daughter ($76,495 in salary and benefits), one of them is Frankie Callaway's daughter ($61,775 in salary and benefits), and there is even a Guillory in there ($81,095 in salary and benefits). Not one of them is listed as a certified teacher at the Georgia Certification site although Ms. Callaway's daughter has an expired paraprofesssional certificate.

[BTW - Ms. Roberts daughter made $4,300 more in salary in 2010 than in 2009 and up $8,000 since 2008 during a time of frozen staff and teacher wages.]

We have little reporting on this initiative other than their own in-house newsletter. There are NO statistics on how many parents this group sees. NO tracking of results. Absolutely NO accountability in an area that should be producing academic progress, not academic decline.

The ineffectiveness and lack of accountability of these expensive Parent Centers must be audited and investigated for results.


State Salary and Travel audit 2008,2009,2010

Georgia Certification:

DCSS newsletter:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another board member trips the superintendent search (again?)

Desperate times - we're in them.  Get a tissue. You will cry.

WSB is reporting that the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce is asking DeKalb County School System to "hold off" on hiring a new superintendent until the entire new board is seated 17 months from now.
"Channel 2 has confirmed that as recently as a week ago, four members of the school board wanted to hire the current superintendent from San Antonio, Texas school district. That fell through and [Chamber Chair, John Kelly] said Friday his group is satisfied with interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson. [We disagree.]

Tyson has been interim superintendent for nearly 16 months but has not said anything publicly about seeking the job on a permanent basis.

The candidate from Texas, Robert Duron, has two years left on contract with the San Antonio school district. But in March, Duron's own school board gave him a public vote of no confidence.

Duron was interviewed by the DeKalb school board earlier this year, but he was not one of the finalists. His name popped up again after all three candidates withdrew. Sources told Channel 2 that school board Vice Chairman Paul Womack lead the effort to hire Duron as DeKalb's permanent member but couldn't get five votes to bring him in.

That leaves the school board without a superintendent three weeks before its own deadline. 
“We're still moving along at the same pace. I still expect us to have a superintendent in place by July 1 -- as of today,” DeKalb school board Chairman Tom Bowen said.

Kelly said Ramona is doing a good job and has done everything asked of her. He said the board should take its time looking for a replacement because the new leader should know who the governing body is going to be. He added he is only speaking on behalf of his chamber."

Excuse me? Is it not bad enough that we have to endure this highly dysfunctional board of education and their complete inability to agree on a new leader for our school system, that now we have to bow down to the wishes of the DeKalb Chamber? Why even have a board of education?

This is the second leak - actually the third, if you count Zepora's rant against this candidate at Monday's board meeting! The first leak sent excellent finalist Lilly Cox running for the hills. (Click here to read more on that.)  Now this new leak occurs AFTER being reprimanded for the Cox fiasco just last month! AFTER being sent to board training on the subject of confidentiality in executive session and in personnel issues. They are unprofessional and hopeless! If SACS does nothing to sanction this board this time, then I would suggest that parents file a class action lawsuit for educational malfeasance. I would hope that John Evans, Civil Rights icon who just admitted to the board on Monday that his 3rd grade grandson cannot read would lead the charge to improve student outcomes – beginning with a new, professional, education-oriented superintendent. It's time to find a board who will hire a leader who cares about our children's educations.

I am going digging. I will find out more on this candidate and get back to you on the real reasons this candidate was booted by a certain manipulative contingency on the DeKalb Board of Education.

UPDATE ON THE DIG: Apparently, whoever leaked this information says that their concern is that the San Antonio school system currently led by Robert Duron was rated  'Academically Unacceptable' by the Texas Department of Education due to their 'completion rate'. This is the rate of high school completion which tracks individual students from 9th grade through graduation in the state of Texas. [Can you imagine! This has been a big complaint of ours -- we don't track graduation rates as being from 9th grade - we only track ours as the number of students who began the year as a senior and the percentage of those students who graduated.  We on the blog have long complained that we have an enormous dropout or slow completion rate, however, we cannot know for certain, as we don't track student progress individually from 9th grade.]

In fact, we found that this lack of completion pointed to nine students who were unable to graduate due to another tough requirement in Texas: they limit the number of IEP students who are allowed to have accommodations on the graduation test.  These nine students were in that category. Beyond that, the district students met or exceeded standards in 32 of 34 measures - fully 94% of students were able to meet or exceed the state of Texas standards.

Now, new data has been released stating that the San Antonio School District is projected to be deemed 'Academically Acceptable' for 2011 – even with the far tougher standards imposed by the state of Texas (compared to Georgia).

Also, apparently, the San Antonio board's vote of no confidence was a response to their discovery that Mr. Duron had applied for a job in Florida. This is a standard political move, and one of the main reasons that these negotiations should be held in extreme confidence until such time as both parties agree to make the status known. Our board already drove Lilly Cox out of contention due to their leaking private information about her negotiations. Now, it appears that certain board members are once again trying to manipulate the superintendent search due to their personal preference. (I'll leave the rest to your imagination.)

The Friday Report: "Art Project" by Google

I have decided to start a new posting that runs every Friday and focuses on something new that is relevant to education and to bringing information from the world to our students in the classroom. Send a suggestion to if you have an idea for "The Friday Report"! 

This first post highlights a new effort by Google to bring the world's most well-known art museums' collections to the internet called "Art Project".  This is a fabulous new tool for art educators!  Art teachers can now use their ACTIVboards to take students on virtual field trips to famous art museums in places like Amsterdam, Versailles, New York City, Berlin, Moscow, Madrid, London and Florence.

Google's marketing statement says, "The Art Project is a collaboration between Google and some of the world's most acclaimed art museums. Powered by a broad, connected suite of Google technologies, the world's great works of art and museums are now within reach to an unprecedented global audience."

Repurposing the Google-earth street view tool, Google now allows you to "explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces." Click here to check it out.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is the real reason T-mobile wants their towers at our schools?

Sent in by a DeKalb School Watch Reader (We have been contacted by a variety of groups highly concerned about this cell tower initiative. This is one of several requests to post information about the T-mobile proposal.)

My community would love to see some sort of request for the full details of the cell tower proposal by T-mobile that is being considered by the DeKalb County School Board. The more I think about it, the more I have realized that this proposal is about a lot more than we may think.

The objections of health and property values are valid, yet may only concern the limited few around the schools affected. What we have not grasped is that this is going on right now all over the country, with T-mobile just getting "no's" here and there and moving on quickly, then getting "yes's" and signing deals. Has anyone started putting the pieces together to question the significance of what they are doing and how it relates to the soon-tob-be finalized merger with AT&T?

There must be some limits imposed on technology when there is concern about its safety. We certainly cannot expect corporations, such as T-mobile, to be transparent about their true intentions. It is not up to them to protect children. Their job is to sell what they have been told to sell, especially in light of the fact that they know they will soon be part of a highly publicized, major merger that could potentially leave many of the T-mobile folks without jobs. They are selling at all costs now. AT&T is looking to own the airwaves in terms of roaming and thus prevent any smaller companies from becoming true competitors.

It is not the right time to be doing business with T-mobile. They do not care about their name or reputation because it will be mute within six months. And, AT&T does not need additional coverage in our area. Their motivation is clearly to “hog up the airwaves” so that they can lease space to other smaller competitors in an effort to monopolize the industry.

That will mean higher charges, less bargaining on corporate accounts, fewer deals, less mercy when it comes to every customer they have, including the residents in our community as well as the school system and county government.

Read “AT&T, T-Mobile Merger Bad News for Consumers” at

We need full disclouse of the details of the proposal being consider by DeKalb county. And, we need to encourage residents of all ages to show up for the July 11 meeting and work session when this vote will take place. State your case now, before the July meeting, while the topic is under consideration. When it is over, we will not have another chance to voice our opinions on this subject for 15 years, if the deal goes forth as planned.

This is big and we deserve to know why our school system would be in talks with a company that will no longer exist in a few months. If they are talking with AT&T via T-mobile, that could be considered collusion. Our accredidation is already in jepardy... we don't need more scandal especially if we ever hope to get a decent superintendent in here!

And, if they are really trying to do the right thing, then they should postpone the vote. We can wait till school in back in session so parents can attend a true discussion of the pro's and con's involved in the offer. We should wait until the AT&T / T-mobile merger is in place so we can negotiate with the true contract owner. And, we really should wait until our own leadership is in place by way of a new, experienced superintendent. A decision this big should not be made when there is no clear leadership to stand behind it.

I understand that our interim superintendent does not want to be considered for the job. Why, then, would she allow a vote this controversial to take place now? The first study involving children and cell phones is due for release in 2013. We can wait.

If you do not have enough information to make a solid decision, then err on the side of caution. The first rule of medicine is 'First, do no Harm.’ Wise words no matter what the profession.”
- Brian A. Kuzik MD, MSc, FRCP(C) Consulting Paediatrics, Royal Victoria Hospital of Barrie Assistant Professor of Paediatrics (Queen's University, University of Toronto)

T-mobile, or should I say AT&T, we know what you are trying to do and we will not allow it. Can you hear me now?"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tune in to Comcast 24 at 6 PM

Big meeting tonight.  Lots to discuss.  Tune in to Comcast Channel 24, stream it on your computer by clicking here or just drive on over to the Palace and watch it live.

The Board of Education is expected to take action on the SPLOST IV joint resolution. To view the meetings, the proposals, the SPLOST IV proposed list of projects, and the facility condition assessments, click here and scroll down to "Updates".

Click our calendar icon to view the agenda or click here to access the eBoard agenda with supporting documents. We'll update this post as the meeting marches on (it will be long).

To view older minutes (through April) posted on the DCSS click here.


6:15: Awesome video produced by students. Called "I Need You" it featured students stating their needs for learning from every person involved in their education. These students tell us, "I need you to expect more from me and set high goals. It doesn't matter if I get a free or reduced lunch or am learning to speak the language or have special needs, I need you to believe in me. Teach me. Engage me. Care for me. Believe in me and I will learn."

6:20: Bowen promises a waiver to Museum and Peachtree Hope charter schools for one year.  Schools can spend the year assembling their application for a DCSS sponsored charter.


* People are not hip to installing cell phone towers on school property.
* Zepora!!! She admonished the board for taking too long to look for a superintendent. She slammed them for looking for a "white" candidate because they think "you get more from whites"[!!!]  Says, "We have the best in Ms. Tyson. Open your eyes and see what she's accomplished. Hire Her. Immediately. Permanently. The candidate that you're looking at has not been successful and his board has not renewed his contract. He is looking for a greener pasture and you are providing that pasture. Don't make that mistake." Then she goes on about budget recommendations.
* John Evans - my third grade grandson can't read. He failed the CRCT. He's on the list for Peachtree Charter cause they told me charter schools are better than regular. They told me to appeal his results. Why would I do that? He shouldn't go on if he can't read! He has LD and ADHD (Evans digressed and said that most black kids are labeled ADHD for some reason.)
* Advocate for Sky Haven and Meadowview
* Second advocate for the Museum School
* Peachtree Hope advocate thanks the board for special consideration - then goes on to reminisce about the Civil Rights Movement.  "I went to sleep for 40 years and a lot of children today still need help." This charter school will help.
* Another Peachtree Hope advocate and his children.
* David Schutten: (ODE) Not spotlighting schools but there is not one place for parents to sit - unwelcoming. Some principals do a good job, others not so much. Understand budget cuts but disappointed. Disappointed that Womack would support a millage increase. 20/20 master plan. Says board never questioned 900 student schools but suddenly are questioning. Bait and switch. Understand Austin being rebuilt. Septic tank school needs rebuilt. McNair promises need to be kept. Dresden corridor - and Stone Mt predict enrollment drop due to anti-immigration bills.
* Theme school parent. "At the theme schools, we get it."
* DeKalb police are hosting a summer camp program. Summer PAL - summer athletic program.  Added educational component. June - July. 4 weeks.
* Proud Cedar Grove parent - has seen some improvements, but Cedar Grove has not had major additions like an auditorium or cosmetology lab ("like Tucker and Lakeside") [??]
[NOTE: 7:20 - we're at an hour and we have 3 more speakers?!!]
* Sandy Purkett - Great Redan - PILOT program - earned $8 million in scholarships.
* Speaker states that SACS asked board to ensure they are following their own policies.  In laying off (RIFs) board was supposed to use quality of employee. DCSS should strive to keep employees who have good servitude.  She said her RIF was based on seniority, not job performance.
* Viola Davis (Unhappy Taxpayer) We are "anemic" - we need to stop redistributing wealth across the state.  Her home was devalued from $160k to $78k.  We need to demand what is due to us from the state.  We can get it if we have a united front.

Tony Hunter: SchoolNet Update. Building level administrators have been trained in how to look at a global view of individual performance. Teachers subsequently trained. Can create individual school and district level benchmark assessments. PD Planner has been developed (Registers and tracks Professional Development-for all employees) Curriculum loading. Info accessible for SS and ELA. Working on math and science (July 1 deadline). Will also load common core standards. This tool will generate reports for RTTT. (A demonstration ensued.) Renewal of Instructional Data Mgmt System
Womack - Personal privilege. Tonight the board will approve the budget and tax levy.  Addresses a misstatement on the part of a speaker (Schutten) - "Said I was supportive of tax increase - I am not. This board wants to do everything possible for teachers and staff - board took 10% cut - but Schutten doesn't appreciate.  Has Mr. Schutten taken a pay cut? He needs to do that if he's criticizing the board."  Point of order - (Donna) - asks that board members not address members of the public by name. [Blogger note: the rules are always read that the board will NOT RESPOND to speakers - Womack broke the rules. Tom should not have allowed that.]


Motion to increase taxes .5 mil. Donna moved for an increase to 1.0 mil - with a sunset in 2 years. Womack: county is looking at raising 2-4 mils. Won't vote for a tax increase. Period. End of sentence. Bowen pointed out that we have one of the highest millage rates and never put it back down in 9 years when times were good. Walker also declined to support.  Jay is also concerned about county increase along with increase in water bills. Cuts are necessary to balance the budget. Won't vote for increase. McChesney endorses others points. We're in the 1st year of a 3 year water increase.  Also Atlanta pushing us on a 1 cent transportation sales tax. Plus we're asking for SPLOST 1 cent sales tax. Most systems are limited to 5 mils -- we're one of the three highest in the state. In the real world, people are taking salary cuts, furlough days, getting laid off. Sarah: I think my fellow board members should recognize that all of us do not think the same way.  Says, "If you don't agree, then don't vote but don't annihilate another board member. Think about how it effects another person the way you state your case (like, when  you say, 'it doesn't make sense')." Womack: history of 25 millage cap: Due to DeKalb community college. Constitutional amendment from the state to raise to 25 mils. However, we have disposed of DeKalb college, but have not disposed of the tax. Donna withdraws motion. Turk has to read the original.  Sets rate at 22.98 mils. PASSES. [This is going to be a long meeting.]

Back to the operations budget: $1 billion 235 million 105 thousand dollars. Donna asks for calendar modification of furlough days. Close schools over holiday break. Save on utilities. Allows employees vacation or sick days to use. [?] Tyson: Furlough days are a reduction in the work calendar by definition. That's the only way to capture savings. Turk: Value of sick leave or vacation day is not a budget savings. [Kind of basic Is there a reason they couldn't have discussed this before this meeting?] BUDGET PASSES. Unanimous.

Changed the name of the finance committee to include the word audit.

SPLOST IV Resolution: Tyson - wants to build an arts school at Avondale Middle.  Shot down the idea to merge Hawthorne with Henderson Mill ESs. Moseley - November SPLOST referendum outlines $475 million in projects. Parsons study showed $3.1 BILLION in facilities needs. [is this above the $2 Billion we were told when we voted for SPLOST 1 years ago?] Jester - amendment - substitute language to say Dunwoody elementary school TBD instead of specifically naming Austin. Tyson: yield to attorneys on wording. Attorney says ok. Motion to write the language to say "for" an elementary school in the Dunwoody cluster. Bowen doesn't understand. Attorney explains - as written, a new school would have to replace Austin. New language gives more latitude. Bowen still questions. Walker questions the difference. Says, "Austin is not in Snellville, it's in Dunwoody." Tyson tries to clarify [this is beginning to look like an episode of Seinfeld] Walker still doesn't understand. Edler: The idea of not specifying a particular school is of concern to me. Says the spirit of this program is to identify 'projects'. That diminishes the work we are trying to do. Donna tells Nancy she's muddying the water. McChesney says it's clear - it creates flexibility. Does not preclude the named school but has a potential for an option because we don't know where numbers will end up. Seconded her motion. [Aren't they supposed to second things before they discuss?] Speaks understands the concept and understands comments. But says if things are in black and white, the citizens hold you accountable. So if there's leeway, it will just be in the Dunwoody area, not specifically for Austin.  Is that interpretation the same for the other schools on the list? More discussion. Mosely says data shows that the Dunwoody area has a definite need for capacity. Staff recommended Austin due to it's low building score. Sarah mocks Jester for "picking" through projects. Says she'll do the same and have a "picking good time". Jay says no. Leave it as is. Motion Fails (6-3)
Jester - appreciates the time put into the SPLOST plan but is concerned about the time constraints. Voters should have more info and be allowed more feedback and discussion time. Special interest groups have been able to organize and advocate for their desires.  There hasn't been time to make a formal building plan. Votes no but SPLOST IV Referendum PASSES (8-1) [This gives Coralwood their requested $10.6 million - click here to read our post on it.]

Turk - property taxes are above projections by $11 million [Really???!]
Turk: Annual tuition fee for non-residents: $3, 400+ (down from last year) Edler: Who pays? Turk: used for seniors who have moved, but want to graduate from the school they attended. Edler: Is it also an option for anyone to choose to attend DCSS? Moseley - it only applies to seniors.
Turk: Bank of America for 22 deposit accounts. Sarah: heard bad things about Bank of America on the news. Did you? Bowen: I would not admit it.
Wilson: Approve personnel for ALL 2011-12 contracts as recommended on the CD given to board members and in a binder in the board office.
Knollwood library - Target donation (>$5,000)
Contracts for web-based programs and other services (routine annual items)
Preschool special ed - 84 classrooms. Software to monitor progress. IDEA funds.
Gifted and professional dev online courses. Edler: do we charge the teachers for these online courses? No.
Stepney: College board - DCSS to pay for 9th grade PSAT exams - $95,000+
AdvancEd / SACS - yearly dues $72,600 (requirement) [!]
Annual Perkins Grant - Career/Tech ed
Communities in Schools of Atlanta - $885,000 for contracted services for 12 Title 1 high schools (Title 1 funds used) McChesney compliments the detailed info the board was given on this beforehand - would like to get this kind of info more often. Edler: Any volunteers or are they paid? All coordinators are paid but we do have volunteers.
Donahue: Capital outlay budget reallocations:  [Bunch of them - check the agenda]
Chamblee HS - approve the new site [didn't realize there was a new site]
$52 million limit to Turner Construction
More money for the WBBC! Some kind of coolers... $802,000!!! Plus an additional MILLION for something else! Tyson explained in detail. [Didn't we just approve MILLIONS for this move last year?!! Here is a link to the project descriptions and here's a link to our original blogpost on the cost of the move.]
Replace the septic tank at Smokerise ES (the only one in the system)
New copiers for all schools next year!
Hunter: SchoolNet $900,000+; plus $179,975 for testing software;
Lakeside HS technology pkg: $705,000
Telecom equipment: Zeta technologies $221,000+

OTHER BOARD COMMENTS (2 minutes) No one had a closing comment.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

A True Kleptocracy: The Children Be Damned!

The letter below was sent to the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) Board of Education (BOE) members and Ramona Tyson – and unnamed others – on Thursday, June 2, 2011. The letter was a team effort by knowledgeable, regular editorial contributors to DeKalb School Watch.
  • This letter is pertinent on a number of levels – the most important being it is another documentation of DCSS’s wasteful, ineffective spending to support a friends-and-family jobs program with no discernible return on investment (ROI).
  • This letter about wasteful, ineffective spending is especially timely because the upcoming Monday, June 6, 2011 BOE meeting includes a vote on the SPLOST IV resolution.
  • This letter was sent with a clear subject line: Title I Funding and Non-performance Issues.
Yet the only BOE member who has opened the e-mail as of 3:30 PM today (Sunday, June 5, 2011) is Nancy Jester. Ms. Jester opened the e-mail on Thursday, June 2, 2011 – the same day it was sent. Ramona Tyson has not opened the e-mail, either.

We know this because this e-mail was sent to Tyson and the BOE members using ReadNotify – certified e-mail with delivery receipts. With ReadNotify, we know, among other things, when the e-mail was opened and for how long.

The determination to maintain status quo at all costs ... the repeated non-action in the face of well-documented and reasonable requests ... and Tyson's and the BOE's intentional disregard of communications from taxpayers clearly demonstrates that the DeKalb County School System is a true kleptocracy:government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.” This word is from ancient Greek – κλέπτης (thief) and κράτος (rule) – and the definition is found online in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The Letter:

Members of the DeKalb County School System Board of Education and Ms. Tyson:
DeKalb County School System (DCSS) parents are demanding student achievement improvement. You can build new schools, close and consolidate schools and sign on to a plethora of "programs" all day long, but DCSS Title 1 students continue to lose ground when compared to their peers in the metro area.
Editorial contributors to the DeKalb School Watch Blog who have the knowledge and experience to research the topic of student improvement, have published the following on that blog:

DCSS received $128,000,000 in total federal funding last year (2009-2010).
This includes the stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as well as some other federal funding. The lion's share of these dollars is distributed to and managed by the DCSS Office of School Improvement which serves Title 1 schools. Almost all federal funds are targeted to Title 1 schools. Even AYP student transfers (and thus NCLB sanctions/penalties) are only for Title 1 schools although non-Title 1 schools must be receiver schools to Title 1 school students who do not meet AYP. In other words, the transfers only work one way. The penalty is that you will lose federal funding if you don't offer transfers, tutoring, etc. to Title 1 school students who don't make AYP. The reason DCSS got $128,000,000 ($50,000,000+ in Title 1 funding and the rest in other federal funding - much of that being ARRA and the upcoming RTT) is that we have so many Title 1 schools. The decisions for spending that money are made by Audria Berry in the Office of School Improvement, creating a center of power and patronage. Many non-teaching highly paid and highly placed and connected teachers depend on Ms. Berry's decisions regarding their programs and their continued employment. The Office of School Improvement exists for the academic improvement of Title 1 schools and for the benefit of students in those schools. The few non-Title 1 schools in DCSS are served by the regular curriculum directors who report to Morcease Beasley. This is why the decisions on $128,000,000 made for Title 1 schools' academic improvement are so critical. This was an enormous part of the DCSS budget (14%) last year. Ms. Berry has held this position or that of Title 1 Director since Crawford Lewis came into office in 2004. Her decisions on the hundreds of millions of federal dollars have resulted in the DECLINE of DCSS Title 1 schools making AYP (lowest percentage in metro Atlanta). Ms. Berry has had SEVEN YEARS and HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of federal dollars in funds to improve the number of Title 1 schools making adequate yearly progress. DCSS Title 1 school students deserve better and they deserve a change in leadership. Sources:
Go to the state weblink below, drop down to choose DeKalb and then click the Revenue button:
DCSS Title I schools are not making adequate yearly progress at the rates of EVERY other metro school system. More importantly, the percent of Title I schools making adequate yearly progress (AYP) dropped from 80+% in 2008-2009 to only 50+% making adequate yearly progress in 2009-2010. For example, Clayton, Gwinnett, etc. had almost the same percent of Title I making adequate yearly progress in 2008-2009 (80+%) BEFORE and 2009-2010 (80+%) AFTER strict test monitoring. 100% of Clayton's schools are Title I. ALL of the metro area schools take the SAME tests and are under the SAME rules for Title I expenditure of funds. This is not a question of legality (although the precipitous drop in schools making AYP proved so in APS). This is a question of competence. Title I and federal funds allocated to personnel and programs should be moving Title I schools forward, not backwards, in making adequate yearly progress. When the DCSS Title I schools (BEFORE strict monitoring) were making adequate yearly progress, the Office of School Improvement was taking the credit. Now that we have strict test monitoring, and we can see in reality how many Title I schools are NOT making adequate yearly progress, the Office of School Improvement must take the blame and be held accountable for a lack of student progress that is commensurate with the other metro systems. There are many ways to meet Title 1 guidelines. Ms. Berry has chosen to meet the guidelines by filling the schools with highly paid non-teaching personnel and purchasing expensive learning programs. For example, she could use paraprofessionals or part-time retired teachers to staff the Parent Centers freeing up more money for direct instruction personnel. She could be allocating more staff development decisions to the local schools who could then contract with educational experts that customize staff development to each school's particular need(s). There are many ways to meet the guidelines. The ways Ms. Berry is choosing are NOT producing the results other systems are getting. Here are the links to see for yourselves what's happening in Title I schools. The superintendent and the BOE need to be take a serious look at this data: DCSS Title I 2008-2009 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status) BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: DCSS Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: Clayton Schools Title I 2008-2009 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: Clayton Schools Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: Gwinnett Schools Title I 2009-2010 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)BEFORE strict monitoring of tests: Gwinnett Schools Title I 2010-2011 (see Number of Schools by Adequate Yearly Progress Status)AFTER strict monitoring of tests: DCSS taxpayers want results, not excuses. Title I schools and their teachers and students deserve better.
Please take this information to heart and use it to RELEASE the leadership in the "Office of School Improvement", clearing the way for DCSS' new superintendent to create a stronger, more effective, more reliable pathway to student improvement.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical matter affecting the futures of tens of thousands of children.