Monday, August 8, 2011

DeKalb ignores failings of schools

By now, certainly many of you have read the opinion piece written by DeKalb parent, Lynn Deutsch. Maureen Downey posted it for discussion on her "Get Schooled" blog, and now it rests on the opinion pages of the AJC. I think Lynn did a very good job of painting the picture of our dysfunctional school leadership. I pray our teachers and staff can hold out for a while longer until strong, new, progressive leadership can be placed to move us forward. The kids can't wait much longer.

DeKalb ignores failings of schools
By Lynn Deutsch

Today marks the first day of the school year for more than 95,000 students in DeKalb County. For the second school year in a row, the year begins without a permanent superintendent. Criminal trials are pending for the system’s previous superintendent and chief operating officer on racketeering and corruption charges.

Although interim superintendent Ramona Tyson has made some much-needed structural changes, without a strong permanent leader in place, students return to the classroom without the stability and instructional vision they deserve.

The academic performance of students in the DeKalb district is dismal. Only one-third of all DeKalb schools made “adequate yearly progress.” Thirteen of the 19 traditional high schools have been assigned “needs improvement” status because they have not qualified for AYP for too many years. Worse, the actual test scores for students paint an even grimmer picture.

In nearly every subject and each grade level on the CRCT, DeKalb students scored the lowest or near the lowest of all students in metro Atlanta. Tellingly, in 2002, African-American students in the DeKalb system scored 17 points higher on the verbal/math sections of the SAT than the national average for African-Americans.

However, by 2010, African-American students in the DeKalb system were scoring 25 points lower than the national average.

Over the past 15 years, I have been actively involved as a parent of students in the DeKalb system as well as an observer of the politics and policies involved with educating our students. Tyson is the first DeKalb superintendent to admit publicly that these scores are unacceptable.

Very few school board members have shown the same courage.

Donald McAdams, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, wrote, “When a school district fails to improve, it is not the district’s workforce that fails; it is the board that fails.”

Current and past DeKalb school boards have failed the students whom they are charged with educating. The board oversees an annual operations budget of more than $800 million, nearly 100,000 students and more than 13,000 employees.

Yet, academic achievement goals are almost never discussed at DeKalb school board meetings. At any given point, most board members could not answer the question “How are students doing in DeKalb?”

Given the bleak academic picture and the multiple crises the system has faced, it is hard to understand how the DeKalb school board has so badly mismanaged the search for a new superintendent.

Nearly 18 months have passed since Tyson was appointed interim superintendent. There has been ample time and opportunity to bring in a nationally respected turnaround expert to begin the process of fixing this broken system. The obvious efforts, by at least some of the board members, to sabotage the selection process make it clear that some do not want to move forward.

Indeed, the monthly mantra of most of them is look elsewhere; nothing is really broken in DeKalb.

With far less drama, expense and time, Fulton and Cobb schools managed to hire new superintendents, and the Atlanta school system hired a strong interim. Although it has had this task on its agenda longer than those other systems, the DeKalb board has failed to hire a new superintendent.

The adults in DeKalb County also have failed the students. From the majority of the members of the DeKalb House legislative delegation, who refused to pass legislation to overhaul the DeKalb school board, to the county commissioners and CEO who ignore the connection between poor schools and rapidly declining property values, there are virtually no civic leaders demanding change.

In fact, due to the intertwining of the power bases of DeKalb, most remain silent because the status quo works to their benefit. Most parents in DeKalb remain oblivious, often because they believe it is the other schools that are bad or simply because they aren’t aware of the magnitude of what is really happening.

And voters in DeKalb, like voters everywhere, pay little attention to school board races and the consequences of those elections.

There is virtually no pressure being placed on the school board members even as our system is failing thousands of students and jeopardizing their futures. The powers that be remain deafeningly silent.

Things are clearly broken in DeKalb. The school board must hire either a permanent superintendent with a proven track record of improving student achievement or a corrective superintendent with a proven capacity to restructure an organization, recruiting top-tier people to reverse the achievement slide.

Only by hiring such a person and changing their behavior to allow that person to lead can board members begin the long process of reversing the academic declines to restore confidence in the school system.

From AYP status to SAT and CRCT scores, DeKalb’s data show the depth of the problems in the system. Leadership, both civic and corporate, has to admit there is a problem and call on the board to take the necessary steps to improve the system.

Finally, parents and voters must become and remain vigilant during this critical time and hold board members accountable. DeKalb’s children deserve better.

Lynn Deutsch is a parent of three, one of whom is a DeKalb County student. She has served on numerous committees at the local and state level, including the Citizens Planning Task Force and the Master Teacher and Academic Coach Implementation Committee.


Anonymous said...

Obama Administration Exempting Schools From Federal Law’s Testing Mandate
Monday, August 08, 2011

Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses a summit designed to prevent and punish sexual and gender-based violence in U.S. schools. ( Starr)

(AP) - State and local education officials have been begging the federal government for relief from student testing mandates in the federal No Child Left Behind law, but school starts soon and Congress still hasn't answered the call.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he will announce a new waiver system Monday to give schools a break

DCSS should be happy with this one.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 3:40

This exemption just means they won't have to have 100% of students on grade level by 2014 - a statistical impossibility.

DCSS will still assess students. DCSS "sit up here" staff will be sitting here next year with even worse declines under their belt since "more of the same" is their answer to the dismal results of the last two years. I wonder what their excuses will be then?

Atlanta Media Guy said...

This group should not have another year to explain themselves. They have done enough destroying our school system. The fact there are no new plans out there, just recycled and rewritten plans of the past, should be enough to seal the fate of the current "sit up here" staff.

Resignations should have been the order of the day when the Summer started. Instead we have more of the same, the same friends and family, running a system riddled with corrupt, inept pencil pushers that is taking the money out of the classrooms and into the coffers of friends, family, frat brothers, sorority sisters and let's not forget the DeKalb mega-church mentioned so frequently in the media.

Right now our school system needs a fresh approach to educating our kids. Fresh faces, fewer "Improvement" coaches, more teachers, tutors and classroom technology and accountability. Get the teachers more help by re-hiring the Para-pros, let go a couple of years ago.

1.2 Billion dollars should be plenty to run our system, yet the current leadership needs more of our tax dollars to funnel to their family members and friends. Enough! We need a total accounting of all dollars as well as the return on investment in MILLION DOLLAR expenditures like America's Choice and Title 1 Funds

I'm fed up with the Palace Staff, we can no longer trust them to do what's right. We must continue to advocate for change, we must demand it! This Clew bunch has had plenty of time to right the ship, the only thing wrong is that the ship continues to sink into the abyss of failure, and these folks remain employed!

This bunch has only re-arranged the Palace $2k chairs, the same folks continue to sit in them and continue to fail! How long can we let this go on?

Lynn thank you for your incredible and continued support for a system that needs an Extreme Makeover in Palace personnel.

Anonymous said...

They probably first in line for some relief.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Dr. Beasely may not enlighten you, but I will.

Clarkston HS GHSGT

Math Pass Rate:
2009-10 - 72.1 %
2010-11 - 68%

Language Arts Pass Rate:
2009-10 - 81.4%
2010-11 - 76%

FOUR Instructional Coaches (it looks like they ADDED 3 this year) based on the fact that 3 of them were classroom teachers last year per the 2010 Salary and Travel audit.

Click on Academic Performance


Anonymous said...

Copy and paste this to your Facebook account, an email to everyone you know in DeKalb, on your PTA or Community newsletter and/or in a DeKalb blog:

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

Ms. Rader's comment:

"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 powerfu strategic planning process with strong community partnership move their schools from failure to success."

Cerebration said...

Three of our high schools have been awarded RTTT money --

Three DeKalb High Schools get about $3 million in grants

By Rich McKay
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Three DeKalb High Schools got about $3 million in federal grants from the Department of Education to help the schools shore-up student academic improvement. The schools, Clarkston, McNair and Towers high schools were identified as the county's lowest performing schools under the "No Child Left Behind" act. The money will be used for more teachers and educational tools to help the schools perform better. Towers received the most with $1.3 million, with Clarkston receiving more than $881,000 and McNair about $800,00 for the new school year which began this week.

Hopefully they will use this money to work directly with students to improve their learning.

Anonymous said...

As you well know, these schools have been at the bottom of the heap for years. Will be interesting to see how transparent DCSS is with these expenses.

What is the definition of "Educational tools?" Who makes the decision as to what is really needed? Are these more meaningless, non-track able programs?

I would hope that they would look at less teachers and more para-professional tutors--to support the classroom teacher in the classroom. A one-on-one or one-on-two or three scenario would help the teacher and help the student/s. Individual attention would make it easier to hold the student/s accountable.

There are probably many "evening" tutors from the various commercial tutor shops that would be willing to work on an hourly, non-contract basis during the school day--to increase their income. Not to mention we could possibly get some real good tutors on an as needed basis and not have to provide insurance, retirement, benefits etc..

And, speaking of piling it on, these schools have been getting more money than most schools for years as the BOE and DCSS kept propping them up with extra points, which meant extra staff, not to mention handing out bundles of money under the auspices of Title 1 funds. And, let's not forget the now infamous "teaching coaches" that really don't teach or coach.

I hope that we have learned that just throwing more money in the name of programs, may not be the answer.

Anon said...

The problem is that these schools need to be shut down and reinvented. That is what many systems are doing with these monies, but DCSS doesn't have the political will to do what is right.

Shoes Keep Dropping said...

Wasn't there something about Clarkston getting a grant for last year and after being awarded, they got a new principal who didn't have Title 1 experience which was a requirement of the grant? They were awarded a 5 year $6.2 million grant for Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) a few years ago: Did Towers and McNair get grants for SLCs too?

Bet A. Berry picks how the money is used! Stay tuned...

Cerebration said...

A July, 2010 comment on the blog:

Attention Clarkston High School and McNair High School parents and community members,

At today's state board meetings, your schools will receive approximately 2.5 million dollars to spend on school improvement over the next three years.

This is part of the The Title I, Part A, Section 1003(g) School Improvement Grants and Title I, Part A, Section 1003(g) ARRA School Improvement Grants provide financial resources to schools identified as persistently lowest achieving. Only about 10 schools in GA are receiving these grants.

You need to find out what the plans are at your schools to use this money.

You can read all about the grant

Clarkston HS $876,027.00(2011) $881,675.00 $836,637.00 $2,594,339.00

DeKalb County McNair HS $868,746.00 $800,986.00 $663,288.00 $2,333,020.00

July 8, 2010 8:34 AM

Cerebration said...

Clarkston HS – 934 students - 742 (79.4%) black, 29 (3.1%) white, 36 (3.9%) Hispanic, 103 (11.0%) Asian, 24 (2.6%) other. With a design capacity of 1260, Clarkston offers 320 available seats. With $11,694,682 scheduled for an Auditorium/Career Tech Center - Plus an additional $4 million for other improvements – Clarkston should soon be a sought after, very roomy, newly remodeled high school.

AUGUST, 2009

Cerebration said...

From the August 9, 2010 board meeting:

In compliance with Board Policy GAG, Employment of Relatives, it is requested that the Board of Education approve the appointment of Ms. Michelle Jones as Principal at Clarkston High School. Ms. Jones is currently an Assistant Principal at Chamblee High School.

Ms. Jones is the daughter of Cabinet member Dr. Felicia Mayfield.

Anonymous said...

The grants Clarkston and McNair received last year were restructuring grants because the schools were in year 5 or 6 of Needs Improvement.

I agree that these schools should have been completely shut down and re-opened with new administration and teachers and a new curriculum. It should have been something novel and "outside the box." But sadly it is the same old curriculum and failing strategies.

Other urban areas such as Chicago and NYC are using their Title I and RttT funds to experiment with charter high schools and tech schools and private vendors, etc. Sure some will fail but hopefully some will succeed. But DCSS has no vision and no creativity.
Ms. Jones certainly did not have the experience or vision to head up such a diverse school at Clarkston.

Anonymous said...

We know this is off the current topic of conversation but can anyone confirm the existence of the "15 minutes of math" policy put in place by Principal Reed at LHS??

Did our ears deceive us? If we understood the policy, students did so poorly on last year's math EOCT that JR's solution was to take class time away during non-math class to do math?

So now we are asking our social science and lit teachers to adjust their lesson plans and teach math for a quarter of an hour?


If any of you have a student(s) who are being subjected to this continued math mess, let us know!

Thundercats hooooo!

Ben Dover
Jim Bohica