Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Covert Cell Tower Activity?

So far, it looks like T-Mobile has jumped to attention and gotten right to work building those recently approved cell towers. People report that work on the tower at Lakeside is well under way across from the entrance to Echo Lake by the lower parking lot. We're not sure how work commenced so quickly on this project, as it usually takes at least 30 days to get a permit from the county. T-Mobile has had issues in the past and a group in California is monitoring them quite closely:

T-Mobile accused of installation violations
Company accused of installing equipment in Bay Area cities without proper permits
October 05, 2008|By Seth Rosenfeld, Chronicle Staff Writer

Neighbors wondered why workers waited until late on a summer night to erect an antenna atop a building near the Bon Air shopping center in Greenbrae.

As it turned out, the crew - allegedly working without the required permits - was installing the antenna for T-Mobile, the cell phone giant that has been rushing to set up hundreds of cellular transmission sites around Northern California.

That Marin County installation is one of several in the Bay Area where T-Mobile has been accused of ignoring local zoning rules to set up cell sites, according to building officials and public records.

Other sites allegedly in violation are in San Francisco, Alameda and San Leandro.

In addition, five former employees who helped T-Mobile install antennas told The Chronicle the firm has routinely put up and modified transmission sites without getting permits.


If you see construction activity on a cell tower, please tell us in the comments and /or send an email to


UPDATE: Watch this new documentary on the subject of cellular technology TONIGHT at 7pm!

"Full Signal" 
Documentary will air on DirecTV and Dish
Today at 7:00pm
DIRECTV Channel 375 | DISH Network Channel 9410

Full Signal talks to scientists around the world who are researching the health effects related to cellular technology. From veteran journalists who have called attention to the issue for decades; to activists who are fighting to regulate the placement of antennas; and to lawyers and law makers who represent the people wanting those antennas regulated.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Board Votes in Dr. Atkinson

After much discussion and what Don McChesney admitted was a very unexpected process, the board voted to hire Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as superintendent. McChesney also admonished the board in detail for the previous leaks and expressed disappointment that there was no interest in pursuing the persons who sabotaged earlier candidates. He asked "Why is Lorain officially by the state of Ohio ranked two levels lower than when the superintendent started the job. Today they are at one level below when this superintendent started. I remind you that this is the reason others rejected others. I have stated that if The children of DeKalb county have been marginalized for a decade or more. It must stop. Because of that, if hired, I will support Dr. Atkinson in every way."

Sarah Copelin Wood then basically stated that this is a majority board decision and "just because it is not your decision, doesn't mean that you can work to destroy it."

And Nancy Jester had a prepared statement, which is available in it's entirety on her website. In part, she says, "I believe we saw other candidates with better records and potential to redevelop talent within our district. Unfortunately as you know, our search process was hampered by leaks that were designed to scuttle any forward motion with or about some candidates. I think the most important question about the process and leaks, is, “Why did that happen?” Why did we reject candidates with better records? Why?
My vote today also reflects my dissatisfaction with the superintendent’s contract. I do not think it is in the best interests of the taxpayers."

The vote was then taken and Atkinson was hired by a vote of 6-3. (McChesney, Speaks and Jester declined.)

Dr. Speaks point of personal privilege.

"The search for a new super has been an arduous and painful endeavor. I expected arduous, but not painful. I expected that we would interview highly qualified candidates. I did not consider that person needed to look like me. I will support Dr. Atkinson. I pledge my full support to her. "

Donna Edler thanked each and every board member and commended the board for their effort.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Failing Schools, Forgotten Children: Stories from DeKalb Schools

A video from Parents for DeKalb Schools

In this compelling video, a South DeKalb parent shares her frustrations, hopes, and dreams. Share it far and wide with anyone and everyone who you think could benefit from this story.

By sharing this video, you help to grow our reach to more parents and more schools across DeKalb County.

Brief update: The Board of Education is meeting on Monday, August 29 at 10:00 a.m. for the final vote to hire proposed superintendent candidate, Dr. Cheryl Atkinson. A complete update will be sent following this meeting.

Parents for DeKalb Schools remains committed to ensuring the best possible education for DeKalb children. With your help, we will make it happen together!

See our updated web site:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dr. Atkinson made her public debut this morning

Maureen Downey has an excellent report on Dr. Atkinson's first public meeting this morning. Maureen tells us the following:
In her first meet-and-greet Saturday morning with the community, DeKalb school chief finalist Cheryl Atkinson came across as open, tough, seasoned and ready for the challenges of the fractured district.

Twice, to applause both times, Atkinson said she had no problem letting people go who are not performing. She also won applause when she said that education takes place in the classroom, not in the central office.

(You gained the sense that the DeKalb parents in the audience believe there is too much dead weight in the central office as the applause was reflexive whenever Atkinson talked about changes at that level.)

“My focus will be on our students and student success first with adults and political issues taking a distant second. Children must come first. Our decisions, my decisions, must first and foremost focus on what is good for all children. My intention is to create an internal structure that will allow effective educators to focus on the core mission improving academic performance. We do not have the luxury of allowing non-academic related issues to consume the attention and focus of all our educators,” she said

She also earned applause when she said that she didn’t believe in teaching to tests, but she did believe in preparing for them, including raising the performance of high school students on the college admission tests, the SAT and the ACT. In Kansas City, she pushed and obtained ACT testing for every student during the school day.

There is much more. Read Maureen's blog post by clicking here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parts of Obama jobs package coming into focus

Sent to us by an alert blogger:

VINEYARD HAVEN, Massachusetts — President Barack Obama is finalizing a jobs package that could include a program to refurbish school buildings nationwide and tax breaks to encourage firms to hire workers.

The package, to be unveiled in early September, is Obama's chance to convince skeptical voters he can bring down the 9.1 percent unemployment rate and steer the United States away from another recession - ahead of next year's election.

Parts of Obama jobs package coming into focus

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dr. Atkinson's Lorain District's scores improve

Today's Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio tells us that the districts test scores have improved in 18 or 24 categories and passed 4 of the 24 categories (up from only passing one last year).  This is good news for Dr. Atkinson and for DeKalb parents who were very concerned about our proposed new superintendent's home school test scores.

Atkinson pointed out that the district was working hard to build a better high school student in the past couple of years.

With a higher focus on the basics, such as math, students entering high school have been improving over time.

“If we do what we do well,” she said, “then everyone is getting better and once they get to high school, we should see a bigger difference.”

Right now around 80 percent of students entering kindergarten are not prepared, according to Atkinson.

When Atkinson took the position of superintendent, higher standards were put in place to help the district grow.

“I’m excited with all the issues that we have rooted are now growing,” she said. Issues addressing student curriculum, getting children into school, and helping students succeed, are a few of the things she set out to address.

“We’re not perfect,” Atkinson stated. “But, we’re a lot better.”

Meet and Greet and Contract for Dr. Atkinson

New Details added --

Based on the link below, 30 minutes is being allotted for question and answers. The whole presentation is planned for an hour. I think when the original 3 were here, they each had 50 minutes or so to introduce themselves and answer 10 questions. You can click on the link below to submit your questions ahead of time or show up early, between 8:45 and 9:45 am to do the same.

Meet and Greet
(from the press release)

The DeKalb County Board of Education is pleased to announce that the board’s finalist for superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, will visit with parents, community members and others on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 10 AM. Dr. Atkinson will share her vision for the school system and meet with parents, community leaders and other DCSS stakeholders.
“We’re pleased to introduce Dr. Atkinson to our community of parents and concerned citizens,” said Thomas Bowen, chairman of the DeKalb County School System. “It was Dr. Atkinson’s desire to come immediately to share her vision with our parents and citizens, but she is rightfully focused on the start of the school year in Lorain, Ohio, where she remains superintendent.”
Dr. Atkinson will give a brief overview of her vision for the school system and answer questions submitted by community members. “We are confident that once DeKalb residents get an opportunity to hear directly from her, our parents and community members will be impressed with her creative approaches to increasing academic performance,” said Bowen.
Contract is linked here...
Some contract highlights:
  • Term of three (3) years, commencing on September 15, 2011, and ending on September 14, 2014

  • Annual base salary of two-hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars ($275,000.00)

  • A one-time advance of thirty (30) vacation days

  • An expense allotment of twenty-six hundred dollars ($2,600.00) per month to cover routine expenses incurred in connection with her position, and the SUPERINTENDENT shall not be required to submit reimbursement requests for such expenses.

  • In addition, the BOARD shall reimburse the SUPERINTENDENT for all other reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the performance of her duties, as authorized by BOARD policies and as permitted by State or Federal law.

  • In lieu of furnishing DR. ATKINSON with an automobile, gas for the automobile, maintenance on the automobile, reimbursement for mileage, and insurance for the automobile, the BOARD will provide DR. ATKINSON with a travel allowance in the amount of seven-hundred and fifty dollars ($750.00) per month.

  • A PDA, home fax machine, office and home internet access, laptop computer, and other electronic devices, of the BOARD’S choosing, for effective modern communication

  • An allowance for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by her in connection with her relocation

  • Reasonable, temporary housing in the District at a cost not to exceed two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) per month, for a period of up to six months

  • Legal protection

And then there is this very interesting clause under Termination for the Board's Convenience:

The BOARD, upon a three-fourths (3/4) vote of its members, may at its option unilaterally terminate this Contract for its convenience by giving the SUPERINTENDENT a minimum of ninety (90) days written notice of termination at any time. In the event of such termination, the BOARD shall pay to the SUPERINTENDENT severance pay, either all of the aggregate salary she would have earned under this Contract from the actual date of termination to the termination date set forth in this Contract, or a sum equivalent to twelve (12) months of the annual base salary as stated in Paragraph 4 of this Contract, whichever is less.

Exactly how many is three-fourths of nine? OR three-fourths of seven?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Are Contraction and divestiture in the cards for suburban county school systems—Keller, Texas bus fees may be small potatoes

By Tom Doolittle

I saw the following blurb the other day in an Agora investment newsletter:
“In Texas, the Dallas suburb of Keller is about to charge parents who want to put their kids on the school bus. The charge will be $185 per semester for one child, $135 for the second.”

Add that to the plethora of news items regarding city bankruptcies, police force cuts and closed libraries while Federal support goes the way of tea in Boston’s Harbor.

The reality of economic contraction is only beginning for public services. Sooner or later, today’s form of “austerity” will be viewed as nickel and dime operating cost reductions. When the State of Illinois pawns a toll road to an off-shore company for a garage price, that’s a distressed asset sale, not an operating cost reduction. So will suburban school systems face asset liquidation and departmental closures—particularly where people are moving out, getting older and may shun public education in droves?

DeKalb is already leasing emptied school space to charter schools, but for other reasons than revenue. How long will it be before student reductions in some areas attributable to a variety of population “dislocations” force DCSS (and the government) to look at divestiture and shrinkage for it’s very survival? Will suburban public school systems be forced to face the fact that they have bought, built and tried to maintain too much “stuff” over too wide an area—including bus transportation?

The fact is, school transit systems represent a quirky American luxury. Only in America do you have a single-user transit system that is idle twice the time it is used daily—and only used fully less than nine months per year. A nation in bankruptcy may need to give up such an entitlement. That is, particularly when alternative modes exist. Here’s something I got from a friend when I told her about the Keller decision:
“One of my friends moved to Australia for a couple of years... ALL the children ride public transportation to school there. The buses and trains are full of students in the mornings and afternoons. It works out just fine.”

School busses, like much of our government “systems” will hold until the very end because they represent an amalgam of unsustainable entitlements for all special interests involved (mostly in the private sector). All assumed unassailable in the 20th century, property tax revenue, bond financing, militarily subsidized fuel prices, the under-the-radar school bus lobby, kids deemed their own social class…get the picture? Of course, you’d say that’s what makes America “special” in its own right. True—also unique is a federal government that can print new money and have the world accept it. Unfortunately, like expense reduction, the news from DC is that the Federal Reserve may also pass into obscurity. Soooo many things will change.

You might say that a modern industrialized nation should provide transportation for primary and secondary school students. Maybe, but fundamental questions should now at least be on the table, such as: are school students’ transit needs much different than the general public’s? Consider how school bus routes would accommodate the crushing perfect storm of the end of neighborhood schooling—open transfers (some even county to county), charter schools, home schooling and subsidized private schools. Busses (and transpo departments) would be but a bellwether for school facilities in general—say bye-bye to schools in neighborhoods that residents and visitors won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Many might find the following scenario a tad extreme, except we already are seeing it, primarily from the newly immigrated—our growth demographic and most self-sustaining. I lived in Georgetown, Guyana for the equivalent of my 9th and 10th grade years. All students availed themselves of what was essentially “mass transportation” in the Third World. All private enterprise: bicycles, shared taxis, jitneys and walking. Consider how much these will proliferate among all populations when more of us are living more compactly (coming to a suburb near you), in expanded cities and self-financed enclaves like CIDs and horrors—subdivision homes turned to duplexes or generally housing several families. “Density” is very cost-effective for individuals and public infrastructure.

Cities will probably increase their boundaries to comprise most of a county—once again, hopefully rendering Georgia’s record-breaking number of constitutional “county units” a Sheriff’s Office formality. One can envision a urisdiction that will more resemble its rural roots than a 20th century build-out. Such a county has little demand for services. Shared city schools would become quite probable.

The clear message is that schools and government should be planning for massive “dislocation”: of how people live, where they live, how they make their money and how much money they make. The “worst case” for public agencies must be considered as likely a scenario as returning to any sense of 20th century “normalcy”. They should be wondering whether the unincorporated county areas will actually have comprehensive services at all.

Alternative(s) planning is preparation—just as in emergency management. It could make a changing order more “orderly”.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

DeKalb & NCLB: An Educational Gulag that harms low-income, minority children the most

Something to think about! Are our schools purposely trying to dumb down Americans? Labeling schools as "failures" and dividing communities is a good way to begin a road to destruction. Click here to view the rest of the interview with Charlotte Iserbyt if you find it interesting. She's a bit radical in thought, but I find her long life interesting and her knowledge of the destruction of education to have a ring of truth.

What is going on with our students criss-crossing the county to escape their "failing" home schools?

I'm not sure what happened between the Monday, August 1 board meeting, where Moseley reported that 689 students had requested AYP transfers...

NCLB - AYP Open Enrollment for Public School Choice concludes Thursday. 22 sending schools -- 10 receiving schools. Requests: 18 ES, 268 MS and 403 HS students.

...and Thursday of that week which ended the transfer requests, but today's AJC tells us that DeKalb leads the way by FAR in NCLB transfers -- 1,300 vs Bob Moseley's reported 689.

More than half the transferring students in metro Atlanta’s core counties are in DeKalb County, where about 1,300 have asked to change schools this year.

No Child Left Behind forces transfer decisions on school systems, parents

No Child Left Behind. "NCLB". It's a bill of goods.  I've heard it referred to as No Child Left Alone. President Obama has returned to referring to it by its proper name, "ESEA", the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. What does that mean? Could it be that the federal department of education is actually trying to create an "emergency" in order to take over our schools? Our children? Our minds? Our future?

Of all children harmed in this national brainwashing effort, the first to go down (the guinea pigs if you will) are the poor, the minorities, the Title 1 educated students whose parents believe the promise that the educrats in charge are doing all they can to bring them a chance at a quality education. But the opposite is happening.  The schools in these poor areas are losing their best students, losing enrollment, losing funding, losing access to quality instruction and losing ground.

What are they really getting?  Rote memorization for test results. Dumbing down of critical thinking abilities. Incomplete mathematical knowledge and decreased writing and comprehension abilities. Shallow learning via "word walls", "group projects" "games" and "benchmark testing".  They buy the promise that they have been "adequately" educated, and sent on their way only to find that they do not have the tools to rise out of the lower class. Eventually, many will find that they have only been programmed to serve as workers in a Gulag economy or flow through the pipeline to prison. Harsh? True? Do you want to take that chance?

No Child Left Behind is the biggest scam of the last century.  The federal government should not be meddling in the state's business of education. Our inner city schools are being decimated all over the country due to being labeled as "failing" by federal standards. How is this accomplished? By using small sub-groups to deem a school a "failure" and then offering a transfer (viewed as a golden ticket) to a "passing" school to anyone in the "failing" school.  Although it's a good idea to test and identify sub-groups who are not getting the education they deserve, the decision to offer school-wide transfers is far too punitive a response. Who takes the transfers? The bright students of course!  The others are left in an inferior educational environment which can attract fewer and fewer prepared teachers and involved parents–thereby enabling a vortex of destruction. And the students who transfer do not fare much better. In fact, 300 of our high school transfers to Druid Hills High School will never actually set foot in DHHS.  They will be housed at the recently closed Avondale High School and labeled the "annex" of DHHS. What kind of "solution" is that?!!

See this for what it is people.  Take back your home schools.  Insist on small classes and quality teaching. Insist on a deep traditional curriculum, AP and honors level courses and qualified instruction with a small teacher-student ratio (I'm thinking 1:12 or fewer) and the essential tools and materials necessary to do the work.  Who cares if your school "makes AYP" if you know in your heart that your child is learning to think critically in a traditional method led by a highly qualified teacher?

For more interesting videos on the subject, check out some of these dating back to 1992:
Public Education Dumbs Down Kids Part 1
Public Education Dumbs Down Kids Part 2
Public Education Dumbs Down Kids Part 3
Charlotte Iserbyt Speaking At The Zombie Country Conference
Download the free Ebook: The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, by Charlotte Iserbyt
Raze Education Ghetto in South DeKalb
North vs Central vs South - what's the deal?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Defining Cheryl Atkinson

This video, which we think was filmed when she was interviewing for Superintendent of the Cleveland System, certainly gives us insight into the sincere nature of Dr. Atkinson. Her heart is obviously in the right place and she says the things we love to hear - that she values teachers and that we need change. But does she (or even, could she) really grasp the nature and size of the change required in DeKalb? Is she strong enough to dilute the power of the Friends & Family in the system? The very same people who have wasted our tax dollars and allowed our children's test scores to fall into the abyss are now the ones claiming to execute "triage" on their own results. Does she find that logical? Does she really believe that it's a good idea to place the responsibility of reform in the same hands as those who created the need for reform? Does she have the experience, wisdom and the inner compass to see clearly through the fog to the truth? Can she hear through the cacophony of strong voices advocating for their own power bases? Can she recognize the path that will show the way to a successful future for children?

Below is a chart from the Ohio Department of Education revealing the results of student testing in her 8,000 student district in Lorain, Ohio over the past few years. It's a mixed bag of progress, some areas advanced, some didn't.

Click to view larger
Then, there is a list of accomplishments posted all around the internet promoting her successes.  You may have already seen this list:
  • Raised graduation rate from 75.9% in the 2006-07 school year to 84.7% in the 2009-10 school year in spite of poverty level rate increasing.
  • State accountability for value added model (year’s worth of growth) increased from only one school making a year’s growth to all schools meeting a year’s worth of growth or more. 
  • Implemented full immersion Mandarin Chinese (only one in the state of Ohio in public school setting) and full immersion Spanish pre-school program.
  • Increased the number of foreign language course offerings at the high school.
  • Lorain staff and students have taken educational tours of China, visiting primary, secondary and higher institutions of learning through a partnership with the Office of Chinese Language Council International.
  • Implemented Success for All, comprehensive reading reform model for grades K-8: after two years of implementation, data illustrate an increase of student reading levels. Baseline data for the 2008-2009 school year indicated that 43.63% of K-8 students were reading at or above grade level. June 2010 data show 59.45% are currently reading at or above grade level, an increase of 15.93%!
  • Implemented one-on-one laptop initiative (all students grade 6-12 receive a laptop with textbooks loaded for their use during the school year).
  • Garnered a partnership through effective use of grant dollars, with NASA to implement a NASA Aerospace Lab for $189,000; and implemented the SEMMA program, a K-8 STEM curriculum partnership with NASA.
  • Successfully consolidated two high schools into one comprehensive high school.
  • Implemented Magnet Schools Program within the district to include the following themes at the elementary level: Science, Art, Literature, Math through Music, Gifted & Accelerated Academy; for middle schools: Accelerated Academy; Interactive Simulation (Animation), and Art; at the high school level: high school academies in STEM, the Arts, and Business and Entrepreneurships.
  • Continued to expand the preschool program which increased enrollment and collaboration with Head Start by 26%; instituted a pre-school center in partnership with Head Start; promoted preschool participation which resulted in a 28% increase in the number of students demonstrating readiness for kindergarten.
  • Secured funding to provide ACT for all juniors at the high school level to take during the school day (one of only two districts in the state of Ohio); imbedded ACT Prep Courses as a part of extra curricular offerings; and created a process to imbed ACT academic skills as a part of our required curriculum.
  • Established and implemented inclusion as the district intervention model.
  • Established a district-wide student uniform policy.
  • Established two alternative schools addressing student behavioral and academic needs.
  • Secured more than $18.6 through grants from state, federal and foundation programs to enhance the academic program.
  • Garnered full tuition scholarships for high school graduates totaling more than $7 million.
  • Instituted energy savings program which resulted in a savings of $2.9 million.
She is listed as a Broad Superintendents Academy 2006 graduate here. However, she is not listed on the official website of 2006 Broad Superintendents Academy. An aside: We found out that Ray & Associates have done training sessions for Broad.  They are connected.

We're also glad to see that she has kept up her teacher certification (See Florida certification webpage). This is more than Johnny Brown, Crawford Lewis, Morcease Beasley or Gloria Talley did.

Atkinson, Cheryl Lynn 534187 Bradford Elementary Education, (grades 1 - 6) Professional 7/1/2010 - 6/30/2015

We have done some quick system comparisons:

FY 2011 Budget of Lorain City Schools: $94,664,548 (DeKalb's is over $700 million)

Total Student Enrollment: 7,626 (DeKalb has over 98,000)

Student Demographics - Lorain
30.87% Hispanic, 28.01% African American, 27.96% White, 12.75% Multi Racial, 0.43% Other

85.6% Economically Disadvantaged, 17.8% Students with Disabilities, 3.2% Limited English Proficiency

Student Demographics - DeKalb
Black 71.3%, Hispanic 11.75%, White 10.7%, Asian 4.4%, Multiracial 1.6%, Native American, 0.25%

955 Full‐Time

Approx. 13,000+


Items Of Concern:

Lorain City Schools -- on Academic Watch


Performance Index: (0-120 point) 78.1 points

Number of State Indicators Met out of 26: 1

The only passing category out of 26 is 11th grade writing.

Big Red Flag: 

Atkinson answered “No” to Question #5 on her DCSS application: “Have you ever been involved, or are you currently involved, or do you anticipate involvement in litigation either as the plaintiff/complainant or defendant/respondent?” Yet, there was the case of Aliceson Humphries who filed suit against both the Lorain Board of Education and Cheryl Atkinson. She should have answered "Yes" and provided an explanation on a separate page, as required, about this federal lawsuit. It was recently settled, but lawyers were involved. Aliceson Humphries’ lawyer was Avery Friedman. The lawyer for Atkinson and the Lorain School System was most likely Atkinson’s landlord. Beyond answering "no" on the DeKalb application, it also appears that Dr. Atkinson didn't share the fact that the Lorain school system was named in the discrimination lawsuit with their board.

Additionally, below is one of three pleadings found online at where Cheryl Atkinson is the defendant. Obviously, Cheryl Atkinson has been a party to a bankruptcy with an adversary, which is a lawsuit, technically.

Click to enlarge

Further, there seems to be a possibility of another lawsuit looming on the horizon regarding an alleged change Atkinson made which enabled a lesser qualified student to claim the honor of being valedictorian for Lorain’s high school. The honor of being valedictorian also usually includes some significant financial awards such as full-ride scholarship offers. The full story has not yet come out in the media and it is unclear if legal action is being pursued. Click here for an article about the valedictorians in question. More research must be done to get to the bottom of this issue.

Ray and Associates, Inc. clearly states in their application package that several current letters of recommendation are required. Only one letter is provided by Atkinson and that letter is not on official letterhead. In fact, her recommendation is from the editor of the local newspaper.

She has several errors, or typos on her application to Atlanta Public Schools (click here to review). For example, she gets the title wrong for Broad Superintendents Academy. It is not Broad Urban Superintendency Academy. She actually made the error twice on the Honors and Awards page of her vita because she listed Broad twice in the very short list of honors and awards she has received. She even misspelled superintendent.

Reviewing the list of honors and awards, the first thing noted is that approximately half of what she listed is undated. She lists, undated, the "Vivian Burk Leadership Award", (sic*) but carefully neglects to note that it is from her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. *She spelled Burke’s name incorrectly. It is “Burke” with an “e.”  There are other errors in her applications that seem small, but make a statement about carelessness and inattention to detail.


So, pros and cons side by side, is Cheryl Atkinson the best choice to lead our school system into the future? We are impressed with her image and her sincere demeanor.  We like the one-to-one laptops, digital books and small, steady increases she made in some areas of achievement in Lorain. However, Lorain has only one high school and fewer than 8,000 students. We are concerned that she has no experience leading an enormous, unwieldy, troubled system like DeKalb. We're concerned that she has some legal issues that we feel need further investigating. And we're concerned that she will not be able to penetrate the very powerful adult-led friends and family system and make systemic changes necessary to become an educational leader.


According to the AJCIn a journeyman-like career, she has worked in 12 school districts in six states since 1982, including Georgia's Rockdale County. Records show she and her husband filed for personal bankruptcy in Norfolk, Va., in 1997. The filing was terminated in 2000.

Atkinson holds a bachelors of arts and a masters of arts in elementary education from the University of North Carolina, and a doctor of education in education administration from Virginia Tech.

In a prepared statement, Atkinson said, "My passion is to give all children, regardless of background and circumstances, a quality public school education."

The DeKalb board will publicly vote to install Atkinson as its new superintendent following the 14-day waiting period in late August, though the exact date hasn't been set.


Read the contract here.
Read her Atlanta Application here.
Read her contract here.
Read her dissertation here.
Read an annotated DCSS application here.

The 11 Alive News Team broke the story about the court cases.  View one of their reports here.

News reports from Ohio (history on Atkinson)’t-be-investigated/’s-federal-lawsuit-against-lorain-schools-is-settled/

Lorain Facebook

Monday, August 15, 2011

Here come the lawyers - oh the lawyers -- more lawyers

So what's the tally? Anyone know??? Of course not! We have no way of knowing exactly how many millions of our tax dollars have gone to lawyers. We are paying lawyers all over metro Atlanta – lawyers for the criminal lawsuit against Dr. Lewis and Pat (Pope) Reid and others. Lawyers in the civil case (countersuit) by DCSS against Heery/Mitchell. Lawyers to defend the system in reductions in teacher pay, employment dismissals or bullying or nearly $400,000 spent on a judge to investigate bullying only to find that none existed!  On and on.

In February, the AJC informed us in an article entitled, DeKalb schools hire law firm for ex-superintendent, that the school board capped Dr. Lewis' defense fund at $100,000. Then, Judge Cynthia Becker decided that Dr. Lewis had to find a new lawyer, as his current lawyer is a member of a firm representing DCSS' new construction manager, Barbara Colman's firm.  Colman is scheduled to testify for the school system. So, has the board now thrown more money Lewis' way? Do taxpayers realize that they are paying for the prosecution and the defense in these cases?  In that article, we also discover the following:
DeKalb County schools have capped the amount of money the district will spend representing former Superintendent Crawford Lewis in an ongoing civil lawsuit at $100,000.

The school board has hired Atlanta law firm Goodman McGuffey Lindsey & Johnson to represent Lewis in the school system’s ongoing lawsuit construction manager Heery/Mitchell, but capped the expense at $100,000, district spokesman Jeff Dickerson said Friday.

This is the third law firm the board has hired to help with the suit. The district has already spent $15.5 million in legal fees in the case. The district is seeking $100 million from Heery, alleging fraud and mismanagement.

Earlier this month, the suit was moved from federal to DeKalb State Court and 17 new defendants were added to the suit, including the individual board members and Lewis. Lewis was terminated April and has since been indicted on charges he ran a criminal enterprise at the school system.
Well guess what! Again, according to the AJC, the school board just voted in February of this year to spend $700,000 defending seven former board members in the construction lawsuit. One of the seven, Sarah Copelin Wood is actually still a sitting board member. (Did Sarah vote to spend money on her own legal defense?)

So, the law firm, Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP in Atlanta, was given carte blanche to spend $700,000! Yowsa! And these are "bit players" in the big scheme of the Heery/Mitchell case.

Allow me to continue. But get a tissue, you will cry.

The board has a separate contract with attorney Halsey Knapp, Jr. for former board member Simone Manning-Moon.

There are other, miscellaneous law firms that are hired to handle worker's comp and other employee issues - cases that Josie Alexander is already under contract to handle.

Let's add the aforementioned $15.5 million spent at King & Spalding on the Heery/Mitchell case. The Daily Reporter tells us that King & Spalding might be pushing the limits on this case. The DA "stopped just short of accusing the firm of making a frivolous bid to halt discovery, implying via carefully placed quotation marks that King & Spalding and the school district engaged in disingenuous legal reasoning".
DeKalb DA Robert D. James Jr. wrote that King & Spalding and its client showed "bad faith and collusion" and claimed attorney-client privilege "where it does not exist" in discovery-related matters.
Did I mention that we have paid over $15 million for King & Spalding's legal representation so far? And there is no court date yet on the docket. Judge Seelinger ordered them to remediation out of concern for taxpayers dollars, saying, “This has grown far, far too expensive for the parties, and one party is the school board. Taxpayers are paying for this. Mediation is the best way to get this resolved."  However, that remediation quickly disintegrated.

This is taxpayer money - earmarked by the state and county for educating our children. How much more will taxpayers be forced to spend on law suits instead? What would happen if taxpayers revolted and refused to pay the school tax portion of the property tax bill? What would happen if the state stepped in and demanded an accounting of exactly how many state tax dollars are going into the pockets of lawyers instead of the backpacks of students? How much more of this financial vortex of legal fees must taxpayers endure? When on earth will this nonsense end? Are there any adults in the entire state of Georgia willing to step up and demand answers?

Ramona Tyson promised to the parents attending her first public meeting, the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting back in April of 2010 that she would conduct an audit. In fact, the ELPC minutes quote her as saying, "The priority will be to protect the services closest to students while conducting a forensic audit to examine programs that are not working." (Click here to review the other unfulfilled promises made at that meeting.)

A small, but rumbling group of parents is fed up. They have begun a campaign to declare the school board incompetent. They are currently taking an approval rating poll and may invoke a public vote of No Confidence. Thank goodness for the will of everyday parents and taxpayers. Maybe they can make a difference where no highly-paid, high-powered official has even raised an eyebrow. Fran Millar tried. He posed placing former state school board president, Brad Bryant as superintendent in order to clean house and mend fences.  After giving Bryant a cursory interview, he was completely ignored. Two additional, viable candidates were sabotaged in the process. Nancy Jester, Pam Speaks, Don McChesney and Paul Womack tried to alert the public regarding the behind-the-scenes manipulation in an email, but were publicly criticized by the board chair. How odd is that? The messengers who informed us of wrong-doing are the ones to be criticized by their leader. However, that same leader put forth no effort to root out the saboteurs.

The comment below was posted by Carolyn Henry Rader on Maureen Downey's 'Get Schooled' article "Can someone shake DeKalb school board out of its fog so it can see mounting problems in schools?"

"A few parents and citizens of DeKalb representing Central and South DeKalb met for the first time last night to start the process of forming a county-wide “Parents Coalition”. There is enough talent, passion, professional and business acumen throughout DeKalb County that needs to be tapped into and utilized. It is time to mobilize parents, business and community leaders to move our school system from dismal to successful. There is no more waiting around for Board members to do this but we welcome those who are passionate about helping the whole school system to move forward in a positive direction. A strategic planning process for DeKalb may be the first item on the agenda and one that includes input from the community, and ultimately produces a bold vision and mission that we all can work towards and uphold. And one more thought – change the name of the School Board to a ‘Board of Trustees’ – elected community members who are entrusted to uphold and be accountable for ensuring the jointly (community/school administration) led strategic plan is followed and implemented. Our next meeting is August 24, The Marlay, in Decatur, at 6:15 pm. Please see
for an inspiring example of a school district that decided enough was enough and they embarked on a powerful strategic planning process with strong community partnership move their schools from failure to success."

Our board does not realize just how fed up the public is with their lack of fiduciary responsibility to the people of DeKalb. What level of cognitive dissonance do our board members have in order to continue this never-ending cycle of outrageous (but hidden) legal fees and bad governance?  How disengaged are our state leaders in that they can continue to turn blind eyes to irresponsible actions of the DeKalb School Board?

At the very least, a NO vote on SPLOST IV this November would send a strong signal that taxpayers won't "take it" anymore.  Do not give them access to another half-billion dollars to squander.  Replace this board and place new school administrators and then we'll revisit SPLOST next year.

Message to DeKalb School Board:  No. More. Money.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Disagreement on the Board

This email was just released. It contains the opinions of Don McChesney and Nancy Jester regarding the board's recent contract with Dr. Atkinson for superintendent. Apparently, they both disagree with the board's selection and here's why:

Dear DeKalb Citizens:

I think it is important for me to comment on the choice of Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as the prospective school superintendent for DeKalb County. The opinions I express are mine and I do not profess to speak for anyone else.

My first priority in finding a superintendent was to find the best candidate to raise student achievement in the school system and give the taxpayer equity for money spent. The theme for me was the students. Beyond that all else was secondary.

It is not possible for me to support this choice based on the record. This is the most important decision that has been made since I came on the board. We need to get it right based on an informed study of the facts available. It is too serious to go with only your "gut feeling".

We had several candidates with better records of student achievement but, unfortunately, as you know, their candidacy was plagued with leaks of confidential information to the press. I hope that you will note that there were no press leaks regarding this candidate.

We have read recently published reports in the media that the Lorain City Schools may move up one step on the Ohio ratings scale. These scores have not yet been released by the Ohio Department of Education so we have no confirmation. The most current data available show only 1 of 24 academic indicators being met. Let me remind you that there were candidates not chosen that bested this record. Some showed a substantially better record.

Ohio has Lorain schools on "Academic Watch". This is step 4 out of 5 on their sanctions scale. The next step is "Academic Emergency". That is the most serious sanction. Compare this with the rejected candidates.

Let me be clear. No urban school system superintendent in America will have an unblemished record. It is the nature of the business. I do not expect perfection because that record is unobtainable, but there were other candidates with better records.

Do not take my word for it. Do your own research. You will be led to the same set of facts as me. The only difference will be the spin folks attempt to apply to these facts. Also check the contract. See if you see any danger points there.

Dr. Atkinson is a fine person and delightful to converse with. However, a business decision for academic betterment of our students and not a personal referendum on personality was my goal.

Don McChesney


I'm in agreement with Mr. McChesney's statement. He and I spent hours researching the student achievement records of the candidates that were brought before us. I believe we saw several candidates with significantly better records of student achievement. We also considered professionals who were credible change agents that could help our district attract top-flight talent to key positions and reorganize our district.

If you are interested in examining Dr. Atkinson's record of student achievement, click here to go to her district's "report card" given by the Ohio Department of Education. Over the last three years there have been increases in 9 out of 24 state academic indicators. Those increases range from a high of 9.1% to .8%. The remaining 15 indicators have losses that range from -2.9% to -16.3%. All of the academic indicators for the high school grades showed a decrease in scores over the last three years. For the most recent report card available, Dr. Atkinson's district met only one state academic measurement. Additionally, when compared to other similar districts in Ohio (based on demographic, socioeconomic and geographic factors), they score below the average for similar districts in all categories except one.

The district did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and is on "Academic Watch". (Ohio rates districts on a 5 level basis and Academic Watch is the next to lowest status. The lowest status is Academic Emergency.) When looking at the AYP determination, I noted that the African American population did not meet AYP for either of the proficiency standards (reading and math). This was also the case for students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and students with disabilities (SWD). The largest demographic for our district is African-American so this record, in a small district, concerns me.

I thought that Dr. Atkinson was very professional and charming. I enjoyed meeting her and believe her to be devoted to educating children. I cannot support Dr. Atkinson's candidacy for the Superintendency of DeKalb based on her record of student achievement in a small district. We have serious student achievement issues in DeKalb. We are last or next to last in 23 of 25 data points for the CRCT when compared to 8 metro districts (DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, City of Atlanta, City of Decatur and City of Marietta.) If our school system does not drastically improve, the implications for our county are dire. I do not see anything in Dr. Atkinson's record with her current district that convinces me she will be able to move our district in the right direction.

By state law, districts must announce a candidate 14 days in advance of voting to approve their employment. Additionally, we must make every document we have regarding the candidate available to the public at this time. In closing, I will say that if it is the will of the Board to bring Dr. Atkinson to DeKalb, no one will offer her more service than me. As a mom with three young children, I am invested in the success of our schools with my most precious resources. Thank you for allowing me the honor of serving you.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Background on Dr. Atkinson, the latest superintendent finalist

Does the name Dr. Cheryl L. H. Atkinson sound familiar? It should. She was one of three finalists in the Atlanta superintendent search in June (none was chosen). In fact, she was also a finalist in the Cleveland, Ohio superintendent search in April. This is her third time at bat in 6 months.

Below is a collection of info found via a quick Google search:

Here is her bio from the Lorain City Schools website:

About Lorain City Schools:

FY 2011 Budget: $94,664,548


Student Enrollment: 7,626

3,711 Students in Grades K‐5
1,504 Students in Grades 6‐8
2,411 Students in Grades 9‐12

Student Demographics

30.87% Hispanic
28.01% African American
27.96% White
12.75% Multi Racial
0.43% Other

85.6% Economically Disadvantaged
17.8% Students with Disabilities
3.2% Limited English Proficiency

10 Elementary
3 Middle Schools
1 High School
3 Alternative Option Programs

955 Full‐Time
680 School‐Based
275 Non‐School Based
‐ 533 Teachers
‐ 38 Administrators
‐ 109 Paraprofessionals

For some background on Ohio's standards: There are 26 categories and six academic status designations.

The six designations in Ohio are
• Excellent with Distinction
• Excellent
• Effective
• Continuous Improvement
• Academic Watch
• Academic Emergency

Lorain City Schools -- on Academic Watch


Performance Index: (0-120 point) 78.1 points

Number of State Indicators Met out of 26:  1

The only passing category out of 26 is 11th grade writing.

Oddly, even though they literally failed in 25 of 26 categories, they still had an 84.7% graduation rate. That is incongruent and should be investigated further.

Superintendent’s message from the Lorain School System website:
"Listen to the clarion call for educators. We have the salient opportunity to report the excellence in education to all stakeholders. It is incumbent upon us to educate every child at the highest level. Our actions, through leadership, must insure equity, which represents both the powerful and the powerless.

According to Dr. Atkinson, Achievement is up in Lorain City Schools.
In spite of a $14 million deficit in June of 2007, achievement in Lorain City Schools has consistently been improving. Seven indicators on the Ohio achievement assessment test improved. In the 2007-2008 school year 7th grade Writing increased by 13% and the graduation rate increased 2.6%.

In 2008-2009 the district continued to see even greater student success by increases in 14 achievement indicators, highlighted by 4th grade Math increasing by 9.9%, 11th grade Reading increasing by 10% and a 2.3% gain in graduation rate. This year was the first time that Lorain City Schools received the rating “ABOVE”, which means a year’s worth of growth on the value added State Accountability System.

In 2009-2010 the district “MET” a years worth of growth. 9 indicators increased in 5th grade Math with an 8.5% gain and 8th grade Reading with a 7.8% gain. The districts graduation rate increased by 3.9% bringing the graduation rate up over the last 3 years from 74.7-84.7.

We educate all children at high levels. We can. We will.

(The data below is from the superintendent's page on the Lorain website.)

4th Reading Increased by 1.8%
7th Writing Increased by 13%
8th Math Increased by 1.1%
8th Science Increased by .5%
10th Social-Studies Increased by 5.4%
11th Writing Increased by 1.2%
11th Math Increased by 1.6%
Graduation Rate Increased by 2.6%

3rd Math Increased by 1.7%
4th Reading Increased by 7%
4th Writing Increased by 4.3%
4th Math Increased by 9.9%
5th Reading Increased by 2.3%
5th Science Increased by 7.5%
7th Reading Increased by 4.5%
7th Math Increased by .40%
10th Writing Increased by 3.6%
10th Social-Studies Increased by 1.7%
10th Science Increased by 5.3%
11th Reading Increased by 10%
11th Writing Increased by .60%
11th Social-Studies Increased by 3.2%
Graduation Rate Increased by 2.3%

3rd Reading Increased by 2.2%
5th Reading Increased by 1.8%
5th Math Increased by 8.5%
5th Science Increased by 1.6%
6th Reading Increased by 2.0%
6th Math Increased by 3.4%
8th Reading Increased by 7.8%
8th Science Increased by 2.1%
Graduation Rate Increased by 3.9%

This is the bio Maureen Downey had published about her when she was identified as a finalist in the Atlanta search:

Dr. Cheryl L. H. Atkinson has been the Superintendent of Lorain City Schools since August 2007. During her tenure, she has implemented a comprehensive reform model, Success For All, which has increased Ohio Achievement Test scores in reading for all elementary and middle schools. Dr. Atkinson has also moved the district forward technologically by implementing an electronic grade reporting system, Progress Book, giving parents daily access to their children’s grades. In addition, all students in grades 6 through 11 have been issued E-books instead of traditional textbooks. Students now have all their textbooks loaded electronically on a laptop, which enables them to access the current learning tools and technologies they need to compete in the 21st Century workforce.

Dr. Atkinson was formally Deputy Superintendent of the Kansas City, Missouri School District, a district with more than 38,000 students and more than 70 schools. She also served as Associate Superintendent for School Administration and Regional Superintendent for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, a district with over 125,000 students in over 150 schools.

Dr. Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Learning and a Master of Education in Elementary Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She earned her Doctor of Education in Educational Administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. She has been married for 21 years to Terrence L. Atkinson, Sr. They have three sons.

Below is a screen shot from the Ohio DOE website showing Lorain's test scores over time: (Collected and sorted by a DCSS blogger)

Click to view larger

Friday, August 12, 2011

Another superintendent finalist is announced


CONTACT: Rodney Jenkins, Public Information Officer
678-676-0786 Office
404-486-3710 Cellular

DeKalb County, August 12, 2011 -- The DeKalb Board of Education is pleased to announce the selection of a finalist for superintendent of the school district, Cheryl L. H. Atkinson, Ed. D. The board will formally install the new superintendent in a public vote following a 14-day waiting period consistent with state law.

“Dr. Atkinson is a highly respected and experienced educational leader with a proven record of lifting academic achievement in Lorain, Ohio, and in other districts where she has served,” said Thomas Bowen, chairman of the DeKalb Board of Education. “This was a long process, but in the end we are confident that we have the best candidate to move our district forward. The board is pleased to have her serve the children of our district.”

Dr. Atkinson is currently superintendent of the Lorain, Ohio school district, where she put in place “Success for All,” an academic reform model credited with raising Ohio Achievement Test scores in reading for all elementary and middle schools. She is also credited with effectively applying new technology to schools such as an electronic grade reporting system that gives parents digital access to their children’s grades and academic progress, as well as issuing E-books to some students in place of textbooks.

Dr. Atkinson has served school districts with enrollments ranging from 7,500 to 165,000 students as deputy superintendent in Kansas City, Mo.; associate and regional superintendent in Charlotte, N.C., and associate superintendent in Charleston, S.C. Dr. Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education in Elementary Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a Doctor of Education in Educational Administration from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.

As the Associate Superintendent with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, Dr. Atkinson established procedures and processes to more effectively monitor overall student achievement at all levels. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is an urban district serving 127,000 students (45.8% free/reduced lunch). The district has a total of 148 schools (91 elementary, 32 middle, 17 high schools, and 6 alternative schools).

“My passion is to give all children, regardless of background or circumstances, a quality public school education,” said Dr. Atkinson. She will visit the district within the next 14 days to be introduced to parents and the DeKalb community.

The DeKalb Board also wants to thank Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson for her untiring efforts in stabilizing the district. She has successfully laid the groundwork for a new superintendent by developing and implementing strategies to lift academic standards, improve ethics, transparency and business operations. Mrs. Tyson will continue to serve in a senior advisory role to ensure a smooth transition for the new superintendent.

A "Boost" for Your Friday

Even though I work to avoid it I have perhaps developed a reputation for being jaded about our public education process in DeKalb. Because it is a Friday, a pay day for me, and mostly because I was able to visit Cary Reynolds ES yesterday and see the result of a year-long public and private partnership, I am inspired today.

The new basketball/play area surface provided by the private sector in this case is phenomenal and the kids are going to get a lot of use out. They will also get a needed "boost" to their morale from this powerful, tangible evidence of community support which is sorely needed. 

Here's is a video to cheer up your Friday and perhaps renew your hope for our children, our schools, and our communities. Thank you City of Doraville officials for coming out and the DeKalb County Public Schools Foundation, HECCA, HOOPATLANTA, and especially Boost Mobile for coming together for the children ... call me Mr. Smiley for today and don't call me Monday :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Great "Get Schooled" Blog Discussion on DCSS

This is one of the better conversations on Mo Downey's Get Schooled Blog (Mo lives in the county):
While APS is on road to recovery, DeKalb is stalled in the slow lane

I love how the highly respected Shayna Steinfeld very publicly calls out the BOE Chair for his complete lack of leadership and results, as well as his tolerance of blatant nepotism and cronyism, plus she calls out the rest of the BOE too:

"DCSS Board of Education members are notorious for being “hands on” with daily operations. Many of them also have family members employed by the system, even as other more experienced staff was laid off due to budget cuts. The “friends and family” of present and past BOE members seem to have priority in maintaining their jobs and in promotions, even at the expense of teachers, as furlough days have been approved, salaries were frozen and as students have been packed into classrooms with class sizes increased in some cases to 35 per classroom.

DCSS has really failed on this one: the minority, which was not in favor of the vote for Dr. Cox went to the media to actively leak the specifics of the negotiations with her. This was a tremendous breach of confidentiality, which the Chairman of the BOE did not see fit to investigate. Further, the media did not see fit to investigate the underbelly of the story, which was “why” was the minority actively sabotaging the negotiations. The second hiring round, as the Board “tried again” was no more successful: it also had leaks, leaving the taxpayers wondering if they were “Alice in Wonderland” looking for the adults who would make decisions actually prioritizing the education of the children and wondering why it is, exactly, that DCSS pays SACS $75,000 a year as a fee and then SACS seems to turn a blind-eye as the BOE remains dysfunctional, with almost a billion dollar annual budget, and no one scrutinizes why it is that DCSS appears to have completely failed the children with its core mission: the actual act of educating the children, as the system has plunged to the bottom of the state and the long-term implications this has for the future.

It seems to those of us who are actually paying attention, that the fox is guarding the hen house..."

Cyber learning galore

School just started and it's a good time to honestly assess your child's work load. Will your child need academic support, or just a little inspiration? If so, tutors, test prep, instructional videos, and learning communities are just a click away – some are even free!

Below is an handy list of online "virtual" tutors you can access for your child - From Great Schools.

Tutor in the computer
Have you tried to help your child with homework — only to discover that middle school math is now beyond you, or that science is very different than it was when you went to school?

You can hire a tutor to help your child, but if you don’t have one handy, check out This site provides on-the-spot tutoring in a variety of subjects, using live tutors who use online tools to help kids work through problems on screen.

Without leaving your home, you can find a tutor who can step in and help right away — even if your student procrastinated until bedtime on the night before a major test. In fact, your child doesn’t even have to admit her blunder, since she can find help without your involvement, once you set her up on the site.

Bottom line: Why drive all over town when there's a tutor eager to help right in your computer?
Ages: Fourth grade through first year of college
Cost: Starts at $34.99 a month, which includes one hour of tutoring

Inspiring learning
If your student’s interest and comprehension seems to be lagging, turn him on to the Khan Academy. [One of our favorites here at DSW blog.] This website was created by Sal Khan, who has recorded his own short (10 to 20 minutes each) lectures on math, science, history — you name it. (There are over 2,400 videos.)

"I teach the way that I wish I was taught,” Khan explains on the site. “The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him.”

Kahn manages to make lessons on algebra, calculus, and even organic chemistry seem like fun, enlightening chats — with visual aids. He conveys the finer points of everything from averages to the French Revolution with an ease and enthusiasm that will draw you in along with your child.

The lectures are free and organized so you can easily find the topic you need. There are also some nifty tools for practicing online. Register yourself as a coach to help your child navigate the lessons and to get feedback on how he’s doing.

Bottom Line: We wish this guy was our kids' teacher. (Thanks to the Internet, he can be).
Grades: Kindergarten and up
Cost: Free

Cyber school
If the school your child attends isn’t cutting it academically in a subject or two, making him start over at a new school is not your only option. is a online school with real world credibility: A number of states offer it as a virtual school alternative.

You can purchase a single class or a full-time course load, and supplementing your child's schooling is possible for the cost of a few restaurant lunches. A single class will set you back less than $30 a month plus materials, if you're willing to be your child’s teaching coach. Instructor-led classes are available for high school students. Perhaps most important, kids seem to find the curriculum engaging and fun.

Bottom line: A virtual school your kids can attend no matter where you live — without a private school price tag.
Grades: Kindergarten through 12
Price: One course is $29.95 a month. [This is the virtual school used by the state of Georgia - check with your counselor to see how to access it possibly for free.]

Not lost in translation
Language instruction is being cut from the budgets of schools all over the country, despite evidence that learning a foreign language has numerous brain benefits. (Research has found that picking up a second language improves brain function well into old age).

If your school doesn’t offer language instruction, park your kids (and yourself) in front of LiveMocha and start learning the language of your choice. Spanish? Urdu? Icelandic? There are 35 languages to choose from. Even if your student is learning a language at school, the site can help him sharpen his skills.

Self-paced classes are free and include feedback from native speakers from the massive LiveMocha volunteer community. Or sign up for a course (starting at $25 a month) that includes coaching from an expert. Private instruction from a native speaker is available if you buy a course.

Bottom line: You can make language learning part of your child’s education even if your school district can’t provide it.
Grades: Middle school and up (children must be at least 13 years old because it’s a social network). Younger kids require supervision.
Price: Courses are free. Instruction starts at $25 a month.

Virtual house calls
When a kid’s grades start to plummet, it can be difficult for parents to determine where the knowledge holes are. That's why the Kaplan Kids online tutoring program starts with an assessment test that targets problem areas. Going forward, the online instruction adapts to the child’s progress so he won't lose interest or grow bored.

Kaplan Kids offers math and reading lessons with activities adapted to both little kids and older learners, so they can have a bit of fun along the way.

Bottom line: Experienced tutors who make (virtual) house calls.
Grades: Kindergarten through eighth
Cost: After a seven-day free trial, it costs $29 a month per child.

Loony lessons
If Sponge Bob taught math, history, and science, you probably wouldn’t object to your kids spending Saturday morning in front of the TV.

Meet Tim and Moby. Tim is a witty cartoon guy and Moby is his robot friend. Together on BrainPop they tackle everything from diagraming sentences to polynomials, and they do it with the madcap energy of your kids' favorite cartoons. The pair bring a little humor to their on-demand tutoring lessons, and keep the lectures short and to the point. They even cover health issues, so if you've put off talking to your kids about the facts of life, these goofballs will kick off the conversation.

Bottom line: Cartoons that teach? Worth the price of admission.
Grades: Kindergarten through eighth (Adults have been known to enjoy it, too.)
Cost: $7.45 a month

Study buddies
Studying is more fun when you do it with a friend, and Grockit takes advantage of that fact by using social networking to promote learning. Kids can invite friends to study with them on Grockit, or join students from the online community who are preparing for the same test.

On this site, kids play games or do assessments, together or on their own, that make acing the test the goal. Instead of earning Facebook "Farmville" badges, kids earn badges for mastering concepts in algebra or geometry, or preparing for the SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or AP placement tests. (Of course, its unclear whether kids will forego Facebook time to do test prep, but it's worth a try).

Bottom line: Harnesses that social networking time by encouraging kids to do test prep with friends.
Grades: Seventh grade and up
Cost: $29.99 a month for each course segment.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Approval Rating Poll

With so much wrong with the DeKalb County School System, it appears that there's a grass roots effort to organize the parents. Please share this approval rating poll with every parent you know who has children in the DeKalb County School System. The more representative the response to this poll is of the county as a whole, the better equipped this group will be to organize and be an effective voice demanding change and accountability.

The poll, which is a Google form, can be found by clicking here.

If you feel out of the loop about all that's going on in the school system, click here for a great quick start guide.

Once again, invoke every email list and social media network you have to spread the word!

Thanks for breaking the silence and caring about DeKalb's students.

For information on the parent's group, click here to read about them in "The Patch".

Monday, August 8, 2011

And now, for the ACTUAL August Board Meeting

Gearing up for the meeting scheduled to start in less than an hour.

The agenda (found here) is quite different from the work session last week. (Usually they are almost identical.) We never got the report from Teaching and Learning on student achievement, as Mrs. Tyson informed us that Dr. Beasley was not ready last week, so we'll hear that tonight. Beasley will also tell us about the new mathematics teacher training. Dr. Vonzia Phillips will give us the scoop on the instructional partnership with GA Tech on math/science instruction. Of interest, the board met once again on "personnel matter" today, so we'll see if they have anything to announce about the superintendent search. Also, Mr. Rodney Jenkins, our new Public Information Officer will give us his communications plan.

Download the minutes from the Budget Committee meeting (Item D-1) - they are interesting. The system was complimented for improving their auditing practices. "GDOAA noted significant improvement in the DCSD audit over the past three years due to better recordkeeping, improved documentation and better preparation on the part of DCSD."

We do have a big concern about the seemingly innocuous insurance policy up for approval (item H-4). It seems that Mr. Michael Florio (Human Resources) is recommending that we renew this policy without putting it out for bids. Interestingly, Mr. Charles Austin has been DCSS's commercial insurance broker for over 20 years -- which makes us wonder: Have we EVER put this policy out for bids? If not, then why are we paying Mr. Florio $104,460. plus benefits?

And, Leadership Prep is again asking for help with food services. Interestingly, exactly one year ago, they asked for the same thing. Click here to read my notes from that meeting. Those notes say, "Leadership Prep Academy asked for approval to use DCSS food service until they are able to secure their own. When Sarah asked where LPA was located, the speaker simply gave the street address." [I guess they didn't want to announce that they are located in New Birth Church - and we can deduce that they weren't able to secure their own food service yet?] Also, at that meeting the board approved promoting Ms. Michelle Jones, Felicia (Mitchell) Mayfield's daughter as Principal at Clarkston High School. Ms. Jones was promoted from Assistant Principal at Chamblee High School. I wonder if she was able to improve learning at Clarkston. Maybe Dr. Beasley will enlighten us.

Follow along - I'll take notes - you all make comments. See you at 6!


Cute video - first day of school. Mr. Moseley: thanks everyone for their support over the summer.  Had a great first day. 96,148 students. Will increase. Monday will have a better number. Closed 8 schools. Converted 3 to k-8. 7,400 students have a new assignment. No one lost a job. 6,525 teachers. 22 vacancies. 99.7% staffed. Scheduling is going well. ESEA turnover causes incomplete schedules. Appeals process in CRCT still in process. Grounds look good. A/C is a challenge. Transportation - fewer drivers, better routing, good job. Dr. Berry - Title 1 did 'Herculean' job completing ESEA assignments. 22 sending schools 10 receiving - 33 ES, 486 MS, - 785 HS, - 1034 transfer requests. Museum School started Aug 1 - 197 students. DeKalb Prep - high school will open Aug 2012. Football starts Aug 25 - Tucker vs SW DeKalb. Channel 2 live. 5 more ESs received a safe routes to school grant. If you don't have an ESEA assignment yet, go ahead and report to your home school and await transfer instructions. You can call Dr. Berry's office.

Robbie Jenkins: Communications plan.  Goal to articulate vision and goals. Increase public confidence by educating key groups. Build trust. Deal with credibility among target audiences. Use most effective means. We have the technology. Incorporate one message. Develop subject experts to do interviews. Recruit support from external partners. Media relation protocol. Create a repository for positive news stories and newsletter. [Does he mean like the great one the RIFd Julie Rhame used to produce called "Kaleidoscope"?] Facebook page and Twitter. [Julie tried, but was prevented from doing that by Lewis.] Pump information out. Monologue. (Info out only.) Launch in November. Help board members with communications. Crisis communications program. Predictive dialer system. [They used to do this...] Communications audit. Inventory & evaluate. Eliminate redundancy. Brand messaging.  Editorial calendar.  McChesney: We've abysmally failed at being proactive. Public doesn't know the 'facts'.  Jenkins: My presence won't stop the negative press. Bowen: I struggle with not being aware of issues in the district. Board would like to have talking points - facts and district's position.

Beasley: Update on action plan for student achievement. PPT update. Reprioritizaion. T&L advisory council. Guiding coalition. Grassroots input and support. No district level mandates. All district level paperwork/reporting has been eliminated. Will monitor RTI - student engagement. Monthly meetings with operations. We will "proact" to remove any obstacles. Goals for AYP: 100% participation expected. 95% required. AMOs (Annual Measurable Objectives) - must work toward ensuring goals -- (see PPT).  No more than 15% absent for more than 15 days.  Graduation rate goal: 90%. Science will be a factor in ES. Increases are not keeping pace with state's target.  Curriculum: guides have been updated. Online process for teacher feedback. Preparing a presentation for the board. Instruction: Instructional guide. Reflects best practices nationwide. Principals must work diligently. Focus on right work for right outcomes. [He runs through a lot of detail.  Get his PPT for more info.] RTI: Response to Intervention - "where the rubber meets the road" - we must do a better job. Target reading & math. Will be able to drill down in the data for the first time. Renaissance Learning providing diagnostic reports. Monitor each campus' progress in reading. Data generated to assess if students are on target to pass the CRCT. Phasing out GHSGT - 2011 do not need to pass test: can pass related EOCT for the subject area of Graduation Test.  All students have to pass GHS Graduation Writing Test. Entering 9th grade 2011-12 - required to take EOCT. Weighs 20% of grade. (Previously 15%) Not required to pass EOCT.  Will eventually use EOCTs for AYP. State will determine which ones. Grades 3-12 will continue to use benchmarks. Including IB and AP. Grades 1&2 challenge is "bubbling" for students (teachers have to transfer answers currently.) 87% of incoming 9th graders taking integrated math. 13% discrete. Professional learning: Continue to focus on pedagogy & perceptual knowledge. Career Tech: 11 programs participating in industry certification. Over 5,000 students have been certified. RTTT: 2011-12 - Training year for common core. School imp grant: Towers, McNair, Clarkston -- turnaround funds. Transformation model. Secure resources, tech, staff to turnaround. HS Transformation Director is working diligently. Jay: Re: ESEA - go and visit your neighborhood schools. They are doing a good job. Don't 'run' - stay in your neighborhood school. Take advantage of the funds and programs at home.  Edler: Agrees. [Although her children didn't attend their home schools.] Parents should determine what's best for their children.

SACS Update: Tyson: We're inside of 90 days for revisit.  Next 2 months. By Aug 12, progress report submitted to legal for review. Draft to board by 9-1. Submit report by 10-1. SACS visit mid-Oct. We are 78% complete. On track. Employees will go through intense policy training. (Virtual training - will assess every employee.)  CRCT; Cameras installed. One key to test storage room. Teachers rotate: don't test their own students.  Ahead of schedule. Confident for full accreditation.

Moved H-4 (insurance contract) off consent agenda.  To give staff time to address a public question. Will vote on it later.

Contract for Leadership Prep Food Service approved.

Item H-4. Mr. McChesney: Question - usually ask have you gotten other bids? But it looked like a strong arm. Mr. Florio will explain why this is a good contract (with no bids). If market goes low, we can lower. If rates go up, we can require that insurer stay at low rates of contract. Japanese earthquake, tornadoes, etc. Claims worldwide 3X greater. Looked like markets were increasing. So we're going to stay with the contract (no solicitation, did a market review).  Found a 5-10% increase in premiums. Chartis asking 10-20% increases (we got a good deal last year.) Could have to pay $70-100,000 more. Broker recommended staying with current contract. McChesney - we should always shop and provide info to the public. The public is not privy to info we get.  Jester: Market review means you compared scenerios, but didn't get firm quotes. Florio: no claims to exceed 40% of net premium and promise to not go to market to get a lower bid. Insurer wanted to be able to quote higher if necessary. Jester: If we were to rebid it would negate our current terms. Florio: Yes. Jester: Interesting. What's the commission structure for the broker? Conflicts? Florio: Broker paid by insurer. $1.5 million policy = 10% commission ($150,000). $700,000 range = 15% commission. ($100,000). Jester: What kind of service do we get for the money? Florio: Expertise, not time. They collect underwriting data to base premium calculations. They assist us in the products we want - our insurance is special like the museum rider (used to pay $50,000/year, now free), same with boilers, mold, extras...  Florio: Not the least indication that we could get this coverage for less.

Passed all consent items unanimously.

Board comments

McChesney: Thank Ms Tyson, teachers, staff, etc to get ready for today.
Walker: Joins McChesney in commending our professionals. Go back to super: Raised the word 'triage' - term for determining the treatment depending on symptoms. Coaching wisdom: "Out of a losing season, you come back prepared for a new season feeling good." Join me in a feel good moment rather than a doom & gloom.
Womack: Personal privilege. 47 years ago at 11:00 a woman came into my life. We were married and we had 2 children. Oak Grove/Lakeside. 1995 lost our son to a brain tumor. Can't say enough about this person and what she's brought to our lives. [It's his anniversary.]
Jester: Jester kids had a great first day of school too. I do embrace the "feel good" but we have a lot to do to climb out of the hole we're in.  Everyone needs to buckle down --- all of our problems are fixable.  Cautiously optimistic. Appreciate all the hard work for a great opening day.
Edler: Charges the board with moving the board forward with integrity and ethics to set the highest standards.
Cunningham: Back to neighborhood schools. Understand choices but we have an obligation to our neighborhoods. Quality of life. Economic development. Visit the schools in your neighborhoods - they're good - very close to making AYP. You have a choice, but I hope that you'll take the time to invest in your neighborhood school to make it a first class place to get a first class education.
Sarah: Congrats to the Womacks. To stay together for more than a year or two is commendable these days -- especially if you're married to Mr. Womack! [She was joking!] We've got to put our arms around each other. That's the only way we're going to make it -- together. [Right on, Sarah!]