Friday, September 30, 2011

On the other hand

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fulton Audit Results in Swift Action

Can we imagine a day when DeKalb initiates these kinds of regular audits, and then takes swift action - regardless of the identity of the wrongdoer? Read the article below to learn of a recent event in Fulton, where an audit uncovered wrongdoing by a popular principal at a popular school that resulted in that principal's immediate resignation. We can only hope that our new leadership will watch over taxpayer dollars this religiously.

From the Neighborhood Newspapers

Riverwood HS principal resigns; interim in place
By Noreen Lewis Cochran

After eight years as assistant principal and 10 years as principal, Eddie Echols resigned from Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs on Sept. 16 during a meeting with Fulton County School System Chief Human Resources Officer Ronnie Wade.
“They talked about the findings in the audit,” system spokeswoman Samantha Evans said about an in-house procedure routinely conducted by the human resources department. “He resigned during the session.”
The 41-page audit report for the 2008-09 school year, randomly chosen by the audit department headed up by James M. Yerich, uncovered a pattern of irregularities, Evans said, related to protocol.
“Findings in the audit revealed there was a misuse of school funds,” she said. “We’re talking about the way you request funds. There’s a compilation of things. These were measured in the audit.”
Iris Moran, instructional area superintendent for the Riverwood cluster of schools, addressed parents and guardians with a Sept. 20 letter which was posted on the school website.
“I am sure this announcement comes rather suddenly, but let me assure you that it is not due to anything involving the well-being of students or staff nor the school’s performance under [Echols’] leadership,” she wrote. “I can tell you that a routine audit has revealed an inappropriate use of financial resources contrary to Fulton County policy. However, there is no evidence that there has been any loss of funds to the school.”
The interim principal is experienced pinch-hitter Dennis Kostulakos, most recently the head of alternative school for disruptive students Crossroads Second Chance North in Roswell .
“Kostulakos will work with the Riverwood community to ensure the students remain the primary focus,” Moran wrote. “Kostulakos will use his leadership skills to guide the direction of the school. [He] will continue to work with the strong leadership team.”
With a position available, Moran said normal selection procedures apply.
“The process will include opportunities for stakeholder involvement and input, including surveys and participation of parents, staff and community members on the screening committee,” she said.
Superintendent Robert Avossa, Ed.D., will review the finalists.
“The final recommendation will be made to the [school] board based upon the expertise and judgment of the superintendent,” Moran said.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Suggestions for Dr. Atkinson

A recent article in the AJC says the following about Dr. Atkinson's plans for the next few months:

Atkinson called it “a new day in DeKalb,” on her fourth day on the job in leading Georgia's third-largest school district.

“Victory is in the classroom,” she said. “It will take the entire community to ensure success.”

Formerly of Lorain, Ohio, Atkinson said she would call on the DeKalb community for guidance. The Tuesday night meeting was part of her 90-day "entry plan," a study of the school system's strengths and weaknesses. After the brief introduction, the audience of roughly 300 people was broken into smaller groups and led to several classrooms where facilitators sought ideas.

While Atkinson called on the community for ideas, the Tuesday participants noted that they represented a fraction of the parents and teachers in a school system with 99,000 students.

Atkinson will contact more people. She’ll meet with administrators, teachers, students, parents, government leaders and civic and business leaders. She plans to ride school buses. She'll review reports, studies, resumes and job descriptions. The school system will host a survey on its website.

The results of the research will be revealed in four months. Atkinson plans to present her findings to the school board in January, and the school system says she'll use the information to identify key staffers and potential new hires to form her leadership team.

To that end, this blog will offer our own "Virtual Suggestion Box". Please add detailed suggestions, plans and observations in the comments of this post which we will share with Dr. Atkinson in a few months. Be succinct. Be specific. Be helpful and kind. We really do have a chance for a new day to dawn and we expect that our bloggers will exert every effort to help make that dawn break.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dr Atkinson -- hard at work!

Dr. Atkinson, true to her word, is making the rounds. She is working very hard to make a connection with the communities she serves and is looking to them to inform her vision moving forward. She has already held a State of the System Address at the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting at Henderson Middle School, a strategic planning meeting at the main office that involved community input and has visited several schools. We were also informed by David Schutten's iPhone text message to his ODE listserve that she has extended offers to several new key administrators:

1. Kathleen S. Howell as Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

2. Kendra D. March as Deputy Superintendent for School Leadership and Operational Support.

3. Gary Brantley as Chief Information Officer.

4. Walter Woods as Executive Director of Communications.

Below are some video snippets of her comments to the ELPC crowd. (Brought to us by Jonathan Cribbs of the Patch.)

As mentioned, Atkinson also held a strategic planning meeting, which had a "community engagement" portion on Tuesday evening. Read the report on this meeting in the AJC:

New DeKalb superintendent draws big crowd

Below are some additional email reports from attendees. I'll add more as readers send them in ( ), or those who attended, please leave a comment in this post.

It was a pretty typical exercise with 30 minutes of "orientation" speeches and then break out into a room with a facilitator to answer 5 questions and then everyone vote on the answers that matter most to them.

It's important to note that none of the facilitators were DCSS staff so people were told to be free to be honest. [One of our reporters] was part of a group of 20, including some well spoken students from Arabia Mountain. There were a pretty high percentage of teachers who were also parents, and also in the main auditorium [we would have liked to have had more non-teacher parents in attendance]. The concerns raised were pretty much the same as what was described in the article, and also pretty much the same as the discussion from the Charrettees of last fall's redistricting exercise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another spot of good news from Dr. Atkinson!

The DeKalb Board of Education approved the following personnel recommendations made by Superintendent Dr.Cheryl Atkinson:

1. Kathleen S. Howell as Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.

2. Kendra D. March as Deputy Superintendent for School Leadership and Operational Support.

3. Gary Brantley as Chief Information Officer.

4. Walter Woods as Executive Director of Communications.

Appointments were made pending completion of DCSS hiring process.

I will provide information about these individuals as soon as it is available.

David Schutten

(sent to the ODE listserve via iPhone)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A good start by Dr. Atkinson

Dear DeKalb Parents, Staff, Students, and Community Members:

Today begins a new chapter in the history of the DeKalb County School District (DCSD), and it is a privilege for me to be part of the legacy. I am honored the Board of Education has entrusted me to focus our District’s efforts on student success, and I am confident that by working together we can reach our goal.

In the next few days, I will provide the Board with a 90-day transition plan to fully assess the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of the District. I will use those first 90 days to listen and learn from the community, parents, teachers and principals.

My plan is to visit each school and speak with each principal. I plan to meet with the civic community and to gain their support for a comprehensive plan that will put Students First. I plan to meet with parents, students, teachers, parent-teacher organizations, representatives of teachers’ groups, board members, elected officials, and key business leaders. The message will be the same everywhere. If we band together, keep our eyes on the goal, and put Students First, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

In the first 90 days, a complete assessment of the senior instructional team will be conducted to help uncover ways to begin working immediately to enhance student success. A complete assessment of our financial priorities will be conducted with a focus on shifting more of our resources to the schools and classrooms. More ways will be learned to enhance instructional capacity, operational processes, personnel quality, and financial priorities of the District.

The challenges are great, but I firmly believe that by working together and putting Students First, we can reach our goal of building a world-class school district. With the support of the community, parents and the Board of Education, we will be the catalyst for improving the academic skills and lifetime opportunities of our students.

The citizens of DeKalb County expect quality education, and the children of DCSD deserve nothing less. I am committed to educational excellence and ask that you join me in achieving this goal throughout DCSD.


Cheryl L. H. Atkinson, Ed. D.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DeKalb Schools prepared to pass accreditation

Rich McKay wrote a very balanced article updating us on a few key issues at DCSS in today's AJC online.

DeKalb Schools prepared to pass accreditation

DeKalb County Schools will meet every requirement put to it by its accrediting agency by its October 31 deadline, according to interim superintendent Ramona Tyson.

In her last official act as interim superintendent Tyson told the DeKalb Board of Education that they are ready for the test that could make or break Georgia's third largest school district.

"We are one month out before AdvancED returns and we are well underway," she said.

. . .

A new superintendent, Cheryl L.H. Atkinson of Lorain, Ohio, has been hired and her first day is Thursday.

New financial safeguards are in place and a new fraud hotline is set to go online later this month.

Academic improvement plans are in the works and a longrange planning session is set for Sept. 20 with parents and community leaders invited to participate.

But one of the eight areas of concern from SACS doesn't seemed to have been clearly solved in some parents' minds -- namely, can the board get along?

At a recent meeting when the board hired its new superintendent, the vote was 6-to-3, with board members Don McChesney, Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks voting against her. While the three dissenters told parents that they would back Atkinson, three other board members walked out of the meeting during a heated discussion.

That spurred ongoing public debate about whether or not the board is really making changes needed.


Click the link above to read the article in its entirety.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Transcript from the Briarcliff ES PTA meeting with Womack discussing the cell towers

Transcription of 8/31/11
Meeting with Paul Womack at Briarlake Elementary School
Womack = Paul Womack, elected again in 2008, having served for twelve years in the 1970s, currently District 4 Rep - School Board Vice Chair / Acting Chair During July 11 board meeting in which a contract was agreed to that will put cell towers at 9 public schools in DeKalb County. Womack is the district representative for 5 schools on the original list of 12: Lakeside, Briarlake, Brockett, Jolly and Princeton.
Interesting to note that this meeting was assembled on short notice within about two days time and 22 people attended, many of whom were not actually invited and the meeting hosts were unsure how they even found out about it. The meeting that was held in May regarding T-mobile’s proposal that Mr. Womack mentions in the transcript below, was supposedly highly publicized and every attempt was made to let the community know about it. That meeting had only 3 attendees from Briarlake. (The Lakeside meeting was held at the same time one mile away.) The Brockett meeting had 5.
Womack: You can use [the money from T-Mobile] for improvements, things for the school, room parties, things like that.  It’s up the community how you’re going to spend that $25,000. There has been no location so far. They have looked at a couple of sites, but I have been assured by T-Mobile that the community will be able to say yeah or nay as to the actual placement. Questions?
F1: The literature from the World Health Organization from December, 2010, mentioning the RF that comes from cell phones as inconclusive regarding damage as well as the RF from cell phone towers.  Five months later they came out with a major study that’s conclusive that long-term usage of cell phones can be (damaging). There’s also a study due out in 2013 about cell phone towers and exposure to those. Shouldn’t we consider waiting until… 
Womack: (Steps on speaker) The contract has already been signed. That’s a given. Uh, you get more radiation from your microwave than you do..
F1: But that’s not constant exposure.
Womack: I understand, but when you use this, that’s your choice.  That will not be your choice. (chatter) Excuse me, one at a time, please. One at a time. Uh, I can’t say that that study is right or wrong, but I know that the federal government says that it cannot be taken into consideration. But there is no concrete, proven fact. I haven’t seen that study, but I will ask the administration to look at it. I will get an answer.
F2: Will you take a look at this study of dairy cows in Germany? It shows a verifiable link between the RF emissions and the cow’s behavior. They were aborting their calves, not producing enough milk, and when they were removed from that range, everything went to normal.
Womack: Ok. Now you had a comment back there.
F2: Well, my point is, if this is such a controversial issue, why are we taking the risk with our children?  Aren’t we supposed to protect children?
Womack: Your name is…
F2: (Answers)  I’m just concerned that we are thinking “oh we’re going to get all this money, so that makes it ok”.
Womack: No.  It doesn’t.  We held a seminar here. We advertised it for a month. Put it on the website. The community was told, but everybody said, “oh it was the end of school, we didn’t have time”. We had about ten people that showed up for that presentation from T-Mobile.  And I only heard one question during that presentation that was anywhere in voicing a concern.  And the community over at Medlock voiced major concern and we took it off of the contract. But their voice was not from the safety, they were mad because Medlock had been closed.  They didn’t want any encroachment.  We’ve tried to follow what communities wanted and very frankly, I’ve only had 4 or 5 questions out of this community as to whether it was safe, why did you do it.  If the community does not speak up,  I can only support or not support what I’m hearing.
F3: I have a comment. Many people didn’t come, because they didn’t know.  Now that people know, I understand that this took place in the summer.
Womack: There was a presentation on May 3.
F3: There was a presentation but it didn’t discuss cell towers on this property.
F4: You’re right here in my neighborhood, in my backyard. I didn’t know anything about this. I’ve spoken with several of my neighbors and nobody knew anything about it.  Nobody let our neighborhood know anything about any possibility of there being any cell phone towers right in our backyard. It’s the first time we’ve known about it right after your vote.
Womack: I’m sorry.
M1: Well it looks like now, it’s a done deal
Womack: It is a done deal.
F4: Unless there’s a protect order.
Womack: That won’t happen cause the county has come to us to ask how we did it cause they want to do it too.  (arguing ensues)
F4: If you did it before we had a chance to know about it that was
Womack: It was on television before the vote, on all of the stations.
F4: What stations?
Womack: The television stations ma’am. It was out in the public. I can only do what I hear, not what I’m hearing after the fact.
F4: Well, if we didn’t know before the fact, then what could we say before the fact?
F5: I could find nothing online.
Womack:  Well, it was on our site. It was publicized through… We had sent notices to uh, I don’t know what to tell you on that.
F5: During the vote on July 11, during the meeting it was brought to your attention that the community was not aware of this. I am very involved in the schools and I was not aware of this.
Womack: I don't know what to tell you.
F5: I do know that you pushed the vote through.
Womack: Yes
F5: You opted. Your name in the meeting minutes opted to push the vote through.
Womack:  Yes
F5: And you say that the contract is now signed, but we’re saying that we didn’t know. You’re telling us we did, but I’m telling you that no, I did not.
Womack: Well, I don’t know how to get it out anymore than we tried. I don’t have the resources personally to do this. We asked the administration to post it on the site. I do know that we got it out the best we could. And I don’t care what issue it comes to a community, part is going to have it and part is not.
M2: I realize that, but at the same time, the procedures that have been used at least since the Roosevelt administration, whenever we have an issue of public necessity, vs the rights of private citizens affected by that alleged necessity, is that we have a period of adequate notice – sufficient to get the message to the members of the community that are affected. I’m just saying that if all you did was notify the PTA and you’re planning on putting a 150’ cell phone tower that’s 50 feet from my property line?  And it’s my property value that’s going to be affected, then you need to notify me and other members of the community that are affected.  I back up to the playground of this establishment.
Womack:  One of your neighbors, I discussed it with him because he, uh, came. And I asked him, “what’s your interest?”  And I said, “are you concerned?” and he said, “Oh, no. no.”  He said, “I’ve put cell towers up all over the country.  Now you may know who I’m talking about, somebody right around here.  I live, not quite as close as you are. I don’t know what to tell you.  I didn’t know why you didn’t know it because we tried to get the message out.
F6:  Well, I’m right next door. We have a neighborhood alert.  We have a newsletter. We have an email alert for the neighborhood.  Nobody in our neighborhood knows about it and we are immediately next door.  My property line is exactly next to the property line of this school.  Nobody in my neighborhood knew anything about it.  Not a thing.
Womack:  Well, I don’t know what to say to you.  We tried to get it out.
M2: Did you put signs up?  I mean, did you put any signs?
Womack:  No, no we did not.  We did not.  No.
F6: So, one meeting and that’s it?  You had like one meeting and pushed it through?  Is that what happened? I mean that’s what it sounds…
Womack:  Well, actually, yes, I would say that is the fact of the matter, yes.
F6:  That doesn’t seem right.
M3: I’d like to try to suggest a rationale for why what happened did happen.  We are at a time when our county is looking for sources of revenue to keep the schools open, not have to cut services while politically it’s the wrong time to be raising taxes and here was a chance to get a hold of a cool, free half a million bucks and if we went and got this thing done without making a lot of noise, it was gonna happen and the county and the school board was willing to take the risk that there wouldn’t be a couple of lawyers living next door that might somehow find their way there might be a rite of notice and run down to the courthouse.  And that’s what happened.
Womack:  Well, let me, let me respond to the taxes.  The school board does not raise taxes… since 2000.  Ah, I was chairmen of the Budget Committee we cut 104 million dollars out of the budget.  A lot of it was in the area that most people were concerned about.  And that was in staff. And we got rid of a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. That we know of.  This year the administration was pushing through another budget and I was able to stop it.  I’m vice chair. And we cut another 15 million.  We are not going into the classroom.  We have increased the number of students.  But we have, I think, as good of a fiscal record as any school system, probably better than most.  We did not do what the county did - raise property taxes, what? 28 percent? We didn’t do that.   But you know, I don’t really buy that the community did not know because Medlock and a couple of areas around the county found out.  They had to have knowledge because they came to the board and said, “No.” And the board said, “Ok.” We listen you.  But nobody came to, from this community and said “no.”
F7: I am new to Decatur, and I met a parent from Medlock.  And, I knew nothing about the cell towers at the school before I met her and she described to me a wooing relationship with T-mobile.  That they came several times and tried to tell them how good it would be, and this was before the school closed, how good it would be for the community, how, ah, they could make it look like a water tower and not like a cell tower, that it could have their mascot painted on it, and so they, in the process of wooing the community alienated the community.  And that’s what I understood from this parent.
Womack:  Well, that could very well be true.  Yes sir?
M4:  Just curious, I’m sorry.  I was a little late.  You may have discussed it earlier.   If it is not a good decision for the three schools that you pulled off the list, and I saw this in a report I recently read and the person in that article quoted a board member as saying if they heard anything at all, then how does the logic follow through that it is a good idea for the other schools?
Womack:  The, the, uh, answer to that, maybe, maybe.  It was that the community came forth and said we just don’t want it.  That was, that was before the vote, sir.
F5:  But, you can change the vote, right?  You can bring it back up?
Womack:  No, no.  The contracts have been signed.  I’m sorry.
F5:  Well, don’t you think if other schools were had a quite a lengthier notice because of T-mobile and..  and we didn’t have any interaction with the school so we didn’t have any notice.
Womack:  I can’t answer that.  I can’t give you an honest answer about that.  If I said “yes” it would be a lie, if I said “no” it would be a lie.
F5:  Well, just personally, I’m just amazed that those other schools were that together and were there at that meeting.  And were, you know, in the…
Womack: They voiced it to their, their, their local boards
F5:  And so, in this report of that meeting, you know, there’s all this stuff about how this school and that school went to the community and this school doesn‘t want it … and it says that cell phone towers especially near developing children could be a danger.  Is there a provision in this 15-year contract if there is something in there that is damaging to children?  Is there some sort of break off?
Womack:  I don’t know about that.  If you would make just a little note for me and I will try to get you an answer.
F5:  Okay
Womack:  But, I can assure you, just as one board member, if this thing proves to be detrimental, and not, uh, an eyesore, if this were detrimental to kids the board would move to break the contract.
(mumbled talking in background)
So, everything we’ve seen so far and I’ve told you the FC - the Federal Communications Act says health cannot be … it is updated… look, I can’t give you the answer.  Look either you are in FAVOR of this, or you are not.   Yes sir?
M5:  Then I have a question.  If this is a private company and it’s not a question of public perception.  And if a private company can go buy private property somewhere.
Womack:  Yes sir.
M5:   And it wasn’t a matter of money as you said so there in your speech a while ago, then what was so seductive about this particular proposal that you had to go for it and after there are three major objections and sneak it through as you did.
Womack:  We did NOT sneak it through, sir.  That’s your definition.  We did not sneak it through at all. The seductive part is we have poor cell service in here.  Over at Lakeside.  Over at Lakeside.  There is no police.  There’s no fire.  There is no cell service across from Briarcliff almost all the way down to Clairemont and back down a great degree down… (unintelligible name of a road).  And in the school last year they had a young lady that had a seizure.  And that community wants a cell phone.
F7: They don’t have a land line?
Womack:  They did, uh, it happened outside.  And it took them something like 10 minutes to get from where they were inside because they were trying to take care of her and the seizure she had. 
(His cell phone started beeping. - which was a little amusing since he was just making the point about no cell service in the area)
Excuse me. (He reaches into pocket, takes out phone and turns it off.)  
Yes sir?

M6:  Can, can you generally explain the electromagnetic spectrum and tell us why 120 towers isn’t sufficient for coverage?
Womack:  No sir, I can’t.
M6:  Because it doesn’t make any sense to have more.
Womack:  You have a cell tower right down here at, uh, at uh, Oak Grove and Lavista.
M6:  Here you can have the addresses. I’ll give this to, you can have the addresses of where all the towers are at.
Womack:  I’ve seen that.  And, I know we’ve got a lot of cells in here.  But the cells - break out.
M6:  How?
Womack:  Sir, that’s a technical question and I’m not prepared and I will not discuss it and I am not talking about it.
M6:  But, you made the decision to put the tower in.  Without knowing?  That doesn’t make any sense to me.
Womack:  That doesn’t have anything to do with…
M6:  (Angry)  It has everything to do with our children!
Womack: We have very limited cell service in this area.
M6:  Do you want me to tell you why it is that way?
Womack:  Why?
M6:  Because they’ve jumbled the airwaves with all the towers in.  You’ve got asymmetrical lines and you’ve got symmetrical lines.  Asymmetrical are for residential areas, meaning we take in…
Womack:  You’re the expert, sir.  I’m not …
M6:  Well then I should have made the decision!  And I would have said No!  Because, to me, 120 is pretty sufficient!
Womack:  Okay, sir, you’ve made your point.
M6:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.
F8:  … (unintelligible - lots of talking going on in background)… and when did the school system start making decisions about cell phone coverage?
Womack:  This started, I guess, last, um, about mid-last year, well, I guess.. And we, uh, discussed it in a couple of board meetings best I can remember… lightly, not heavy, but lightly.  And we said, “We have to go to the community.”  And, we did that as best we could.  I’m sorry we did not contact your association.
F8:  Well, I would like to know where did you go?
Womack:  Well, Maam’ I can’t… I can’t answer that.  I’m not gonna go knock on your door and say, “Hey, we gonna put.. 
F8:  I’m not asking you for that, but what I am asking is that you go to the neighborhood that is immediately next door and give us some kind of notice.
M7:  Mr. Womack, you could have done what’s standard for zoning issues, which is that..
Womack:  Post a notice out here?
F8:  Exactly!
M7:  You could have put up a large sign that everybody notices …
Womack:  Look, we relied on our website.  I’m sorry we didn’t do our job as well as we should.  But, let me tell you something, whether you like what I’m going to tell you or not, I really don’t care
M7:  Obviously!
(more mumbling from audience)
F9:  That’s the problem!
Womack:  That is not the problem.
F9:  That IS the problem!
Womack:  Ma’am, when you set in my seat and you’re pulled as many ways as I’ve been pulled since I came back on this board, you would run from this job.
F9:  (Angry) That was your choice! That’s not my problem.  I did not force you to do that!
Womack:  I understand, Ma’am.  And I’m not debate that with you.  You’ve got your life… I’m not, because I paid to get this job and the community asked me to do it. Now…
F9:  Then don’t complain!
Womack:  It is the most important job there is in the state.  The school board.  Because it’s charged with educating the future leaders of this country.  If we fall down, the community falls down.  I’m sorry that you did not get the notice that you wanted.
F9:  No notice.
Womack:  I said I am sorry you didn’t get it!  I’m not going to play on the words.    Yes, ma’am?
F10:  Um, I’m not going to say if it is right or wrong because it sounds like it’s already a done deal and really there is no sense arguing over it at this point unless you’re going to bring it to court.  From that vantage point, my question really comes to you is that if this was about money for the cell towers, is there any sort of written information as far as how much Briarlake is going to get for it?
Womack:  $25,000
F10:   And that’s it?  Out of that $250…
F11:  $450 (others also chime in with $450,000)
Womack:  $450.  Now if they put another cell phone, uh, carrier up there, you get an additional $25.
M8:  But, by law, don’t they have to fill the other 120?  Don’t they have to co-locate?  Or do you not know the laws on that either?
Womack:  Sir, I don’t know the answer.  You’re an expert in the math and things..
M8:  Yeah, I am, and I will be more than happy to tell ya… you’re skirting the law!
F11:  That’s right!
Womack:  You need to talk to our people.  I’ll be glad to open that door for you.
M8:  Oh yeah, I’d appreciate that. Thanks.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 10th Anniversary Events in Atlanta and DeKalb: Lessons to help teachers explain

From Yahoo News:

Sept. 11, 2011, marks the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. The tragedy is being commemorated at events across Atlanta, and even outside it in the Freedom Ride from Atlanta to New York City.

* The 9/11 Interfaith Gathering seeks to build "relationships between faith communities and across lines that have divided us in the past." It was planned by a group that included Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as well as Buddhists and Hindus. The free event will start at 5 p.m. in the Decatur Hotel and Conference Center's ballroom. Parking is free at the Decatur First Baptist Church next door; parking at the hotel is available for a fee.

* The 9/11 Victory Run is a 5k run / walk around Chastain Park "in celebration of Ryan Means' dedication to our country." Means was an Iraq War soldier who died of cancer. Registration starts at 12 at the Ryan P. Means American Legion Hall, and costs $30; online pre-registration is $25 for adults and $15 for those 18 and under. The race itself starts at 2 p.m. Runners are encouraged to park alongside Chastain Park, and not in the nearby residential neighborhoods.

* The DeKalb 9/11 Memorial, a project to build a permanent memorial in the Atlanta area, will be holding a Remembrance Ceremony "that will include a ceremonial procession and memorial dedication" starting at 8 a.m. The event is free to attend, and will be held at the DeKalb County Public Safety Complex. Visitors are asked to park in the designated areas, and "leave the roadway open for the ceremonial procession."

The 9/11 Memorial in New York City will officially open on Sept. 11 with a ceremony for victims' families at Ground Zero. The Memorial will then open to the public on the next day for visitors who reserved passes in advance. On Sept. 10, Community Board 1 will hold Hands Across Lower Manhattan, an event on the West Side Waterfront.

Click here to read the touching story about Richard "Rick" Rescorla, a 62-year-old retired and decorated U.S. Army colonel, who had focused on security at the World Trade Center for years and led over 2,500 people to safety despite having received official instructions to stay put after the 8:46 a.m. crash next door. An opera on his story recently opened in San Francisco. A Vietnam War Hero, Rescorla also was featured on the cover of the book, "'We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,"' and Fort Benning, Georgia, displays a statue of him.

And for teachers, "Education Week" featured a recent post entitled, "Teachers Step Gently Into Lessons About 9/11" offering suggestions for lessons on the topic of the 9/11 tragedy. You need an account to read the post, but accounts are free. High school social studies teachers are finding that most of their current freshmen—kindergartners in 2001—never experienced the horror of watching the twin towers collapse.  The video at the top of this post is a collection of news reports along a timeline of that terrible day.  It's not long, but it certainly helps explain that tragic event. In addition, you can purchase a copy of the book, "The Legacy Letters", edited by Dunwoody resident, Brian Mand. All proceeds go to the non-profit group, Tuesday's Children.

Yahoo will be sponsoring a "Digital Moment of Silence" on September 11 at 8:46 am as we, and certainly the entire country will be silent and reflect.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reprint: "What teachers really want to tell parents"

Many of you may have already stumbled on this editorial by Ron Clark. For those they haven't, it is below. Thanks to my Ashford Park neighbor, Lisa, for sharing!

Taken from CNN at: What teachers really want to tell parents

  • Ron Clark is an award-winning teacher who started his own academy in Atlanta
  • He wants parents to trust teachers and their advice about their students
  • Clark says some teachers hand out A grades so parents won't bother them
  • It's OK for kids to get in trouble sometimes; it teaches life lessons, Clark says
Editor's note: Ron Clark, author of "The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers," has been named "American Teacher of the Year" by Disney and was Oprah Winfrey's pick as her "Phenomenal Man." He founded The Ron Clark Academy, which educators from around the world have visited to learn.

(CNN) -- This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, "You can't leave us," and she quite bluntly replied, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

Please quit with all the excuses
The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone.

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

Parents, be a partner instead of a prosecutor
And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, "My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!"

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.
And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.

Teachers walking on eggshells
I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster.

My mom just told me a child at a local school wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job. My mom, my very own mother, said, "Can you believe that woman did that?"

I felt hit in the gut. I honestly would have probably tried to get the mark off as well. To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary. Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." If you aren't happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That's a teacher's promise, from me to you."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 6 Board Work Session

Whoops, missed the citizen comments.  Anyone who watched them, please post what was said.

Tyson pulled the minutes from the August 29 meeting.

G-1: Gary Babst (Audit & compliance) Requested a waiver of adoption. New fraud reporting policy (same idea as whistleblower policy). Waive BDC.
In order to respond to inquiries from SACS, it has become necessary to waive Board Policy on Policy Adoption, Descriptor Code BDC, specifically, 'No proposed alteration, amendment, repeal, or new policy shall be voted upon until the next regular monthly meeting subsequent to the meeting at which the proposal is offered'.
G-2: Amendment to policy: new EIE - reporting of fraud or misconduct. Necessary for follow-up. [Not sure what that new policy actually says.]
The adoption of this new policy is necessary to ensure adequate resources for reporting fraud and misconduct. Download supporting document here.

Here is the supporting statement:

Board Policy
Fraud Prevention
Descriptor Code: DIE
Reporting of Fraud or Misconduct

The DeKalb County School District expects the highest ethical standards from its employees as well as its business partners in the community. Further, the District encourages reporting, in good faith, any activity constituting fraud, waste, or misconduct involving any operation, program or individual in the District. No punitive or legal action will be taken against anyone for reporting fraud, waste, or misconduct unless the disclosure was made with knowledge that the disclosure was false or made with reckless disregard for its veracity.

The Superintendent shall establish and communicate procedures to facilitate the reporting and follow up of fraud and misconduct allegations (including anonymous reporting) within the District. This information can be found on the District website.

[So, if I'm reading this right, our long-promised whistleblower hotline is still not in existence.  In fact, it has now become the responsibility of the superintendent...interesting.  UPDATE: Babst later tells us that the hotline will be activated in late September.]

G-3: Receipt of findings Case #1104 - Accepts tribunals facts and recommendations. [Executive Session]
G-4: Case #1105 Accepts facts and recommendations of tribunal.  [Executive Session]


Turk: Financial Report.  Download it here.
$328,000 from General Fund to DeKalb Government for costs to hold the SPLOST 4 vote
Contract with Board of Health.  $35,000 for a [part-time] nutrition coordinator - paid by the Board of Health. Speaks: Redundant to our department? Turk: An enhancement.
Grant authorization over $50k for list of vendors. Download the list here.
State board of workers comp: $62,000
Jamie Wilson : Human Resources Report.  Download it here.  McChesney: Includes hiring staff for Druid Hills? Wilson: We didn't hire, we reassigned from within the system. Jester: What are you doing to hire necessary people faster? Wilson: Enrollment balancing happens during 3rd-4th week of school. We don't usually hire until after Labor Day. It would not be in the best interest of the system to move staff earlier.  Standard across districts.  Jester: So, what's the strategy? Larger classes? Substitutes?  Wilson: A variety of ways, including those as well as some teachers working extended days. Cunningham: Thanks for all your hard work.  I want to compliment you on your making adjustments in a timely manner. Parents, please be patient while we make adjustments.
Tekshia Ward-Smith: Extend Aetna life insurance policy (Up to $50k per person). Not to exceed $1,188,203. McChesney complimented her thorough documentation.
Patti Reed: Gallop pre-screening contract. $112,000 (funded by Title 2)
Babst: Internal Audit Report. 16 Audits completed. 77 deficiencies found. Cash handling issues.  Fundraising violations. On-going booster club concerns. On-going p-card audits.  Implementing ethics hotline: working with Global Compliance.  Outside resource.  Will produce consumer communication materials. IIA (Institute of Internal Audits) held a training webinar this month. Download report here.  Jester: Talk about your audit plan. Babst: Talked with staff, developed an audit universe. Identified highest risk items. Front-load school audits at the beginning of the year. Process audits come second half. Jester: Good to audit booster clubs, but higher item audits would be good. We've had indictments.  Need to focus on the big areas.
Vonzia Phillips: Teaching American History Grant Program. $74,000 paid to GA State.  Paid from TAH grant funds. Womack: Is this a traditional study? Phillips: Covers grade spans.  Covers traditional history and field trips like Williamsburg and Washington DC.  Spectrum Consulting LLC will be administrator of the grant. $50,000 paid from TAH grant funds. ($997,500 year three grant in total.)  McChesney: GA State is supposed to report attendance and testing, etc. Is there a duplication? Phillips: GA State offers expertise and resources, Spectrum measures average percentage of change (expecting a 5% gain for each teacher) and all teachers participation.
Kelli Wright: Purchase nine K units.  (Lottery funded.) New kindergarten units have been ordered for: Briar Vista, Canby Lane, Evansdale, Knollwood, Laurel Ridge, McNair Discovery Learning, and three kindergarten units have been ordered for Snapfinger. Each kindergarten unit costs $5,853.91. Additional kindergarten units beyond the nine may be needed should growth continue.
Sandra Nunez: 21st Century Community Learning $300,000+
Rosalind Dennis: Media books: State allotment is $13.03 per FTE. Not to exceed certain amounts per vendor (from $50k - $1 million). Download list here. Jester: Where to find? Wilson: On each school's allotment sheet. Jester: What data are we evaluating to find if this "narrows the achievement gap". Can we use more specific goals, as narrowing the achievement gap seems like a 'throwaway' reason that I see a lot. Tyson: The old board insisted that every item needs to have a goal attached. And I agree, we struggle with assigning these goals. We have an opportunity to set new goals, as these were set three superintendents ago. We will discuss this at the strategic planning meeting on September 20 at 6 PM.
Destiny -- renew - $500,00+
Trent Arnold - Assessment Iowa and Cogat -- $495,000
Audria Berry - Over 2000 students use the ESEA transfer. Over 200 use MARTA. Asks for MARTA cards. $90,000.
SES (free tutoring) 118 vendors approved by the state. Not to exceed $2,116,000. Title 1 low-income students. Jester: What are we doing to steer students to better vendors? Best and most effective tutors? How do you assign tutors? Berry: We don't. We empower parents to ask the right questions and they make the decision. Hold a Provider's Fair. Allocate $93,000 for three support teachers at PATH Academy. Over 40 vendors exceeded $50k limit. Approve vendors for the 91 Title 1 schools up to $50k each. Trainings by the state for teachers and leadership teams will be held at Callaway Gardens. See vendor list here.
Delmas Watkins: Budget requests for Career Tech and computers. Some items paid by Perkins Grant.
Parker: Asking for Construction allocations.
A whole bunch more - including discussion about charter schools like the Museum School.

Donna Edler read a statement regarding her walk out out on McChesney's speech. She admonished McChesney for criticizing them. I apologize if anyone was offended by my act of civil disobedience and personal protection. I will protect myself from bullying. Mr McChesney's comments were not true. Mr McChesney's insulting comments were offensive, uncalled for and unproductive.  (The rest of her statement is a near copy and paste of Walker's letter to the AJC). She ends with, However, unlike Ms Jester, I am not unhappy with our choice. I am happy to welcome Dr Cheryl Atkinson.

Walker: Another personal privilege. I would appreciate if you didn't use the clock. I want to provide a response for the record in support of hiring Dr Cheryl Atkinson. (He then reads his AJC published statement. You can read it in it's entirety here.)

Their main point? Nancy, Don and Pam should have just kept their mouths shut. Walker and Edler (and at the beginning of the meeting Zepora and Schutten) are righteous in their decision and continue to beat up on those who disagreed. These people are sore winners and just won't let go of the fact that not everyone agrees with their methods and their choice. Jester reiterated that all three dissenters pledged support.  Curious how the "winners" have reacted. I'm confident we can all work together. It's difficult to compare data across states. It's like apples to fig newtons.  Dissent is a normal part of the deliberative process and it should be supported and embraced.  All I can say is "Bless Your Hearts", can we all move on? Bowen suddenly decides that in the future you can't make comments off topic and you will be timed. (A little too late, Tom.) Walker disagreed. Says the board governs itself and can set policy aside at any time.

My point? Just drop it now board - you are being ridiculous and petty.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Minutes from the Briarlake ES community meeting on cell towers

[August 31] concerned citizens met at the invitation of School Board Member Paul Womack to discuss the issue of cell phone towers on DeKalb School properties, specifically at Briarlake ES. Attendance was in excess of 22 individuals including both PTA co-presidents, other PTA board members, parents, neighbors, teachers, employees of the CDC, Mr. Womack and later, Ms. Edler also of the School Board.

The premise of the meeting was to discuss site location on the school campus, however, it quickly turned to vocalization of concerns that the DCSS had entered into a contract without adequate notice and without support of the community.

Mr. Womack began by giving specifics of the background of the project and an idea of the appearance. The proposed cell tower will be 150’ tall topped with a 4’ lightening antennae. It will be contained within a 60x60 foot site including a 8x12 utility building. He did not mention the required 20 foot easement needed to access the site. T-mobile has stated that they will work with each location to ascertain acceptable placement of the tower. Note that the tower would exceed the height of local mature trees by 50-60 feet.
(View an example at Mercer University by clicking here.)

Steve Donahue is the county employee handling the relationship with T-mobile. He was unable to be present at the meeting.

The lease agreement contains a provision to give each school $25k upon installation and the remainder of the money goes to the school system. Mr. Womack was asked how this was determined in light of a Cobb county T-mobile lease example giving 60% to the school itself and 40% to the district. He stated that it was how the contract was set up by T-mobile.
(Click here for a pdf of the contract.)

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On the subject of notification, a copy of the original flyer was presented to Womack. This flyer does not include text indicating that cell towers would be erected at Briarlake or any school. Mr. Womack agreed that this information was not conveyed in the flyer. See attached file. This flyer was not distributed to the community at large. No zoning or public sign notices were issued.

Testimony was given that Medlock parents were “wooed” by T-mobile in advance of county notification. It was stated that this could have been the reason for those communities’ ability to take early action. They were reacting to information given by T-mobile itself rather than being subject to the transmission of information by the county.

Faced with many testimonials from families stating that they would leave the system in avoidance of the risks associated with the immediate proximity of a cell tower at the school, Mr. Womack stated that he was sorry. He stated that the contract is signed and a done deal. It is in fact waiting for permitting in the District Commissioners’ offices.

On the topic of safety studies, many new studies were cited by those in attendance. Mr. Womack was given a copy of a study in Germany showing the detrimental effect on dairy cows.
(Click here to read the study by a German pharmaceutical institute.)

Mr. Womack stated that he had not previously been given any information that there was a danger with the cell towers. He went on to say that he and the board would definitely look at (pulling out of/altering) the contract if significant data showed a risk.

A suggestion was made to use some of the lease money to protect the school in some way, perhaps a metal shield on the roof. It was agreed that the money would be insufficient to do so. It was also suggested that the county provide Health Waivers to parents of attending students in light of possible future lawsuits from radiation exposure.

When asked why the board would enter into such an arrangement with T-mobile, Womack stated that he “did it for the coverage, not the money.” Mr. Womack is an AT+T customer that does not have adequate coverage at his home.

In conclusion, Mr. Womack agreed that there was insufficient notification to those in attendance. He agreed to revisit the issue with the school board and report back to Briarlake’s PTA with his findings.

Addendum: Here is an article about a school system that proposed the same plan, but acquiesced to the community and canceled the project.

Proposed Playground Cell Tower Nixed By Effective Public Education Campaign In North Idaho

UPDATE:  For those of you who take the current evidence of the safety of these towers at face value, I thought I'd share some old ads -- highlighting the old thinking that people believed fully at the time:

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Calling All Those of Quixotic Hearts: A Windmill, Ahem, a Public Meeting Regarding "2020"

"I've been a soldier and a slave. I've seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I've held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning "Why?" I don't think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams - -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all - -to see life as it is and not as it should be." - Miguel de Cervantes

Like Cervantes' great hero from La Mancha we cling to our dream and ride to joust the windmills of change for DCSS ... I am sharing this because I think it is important and I think the "plan" is far from optimal or equitable. Please attend but just in your own street cloths and with your own opinion or verbal lance - not collectively coordinated, colored t-shirts or worn out mantras. Thank you! :)


"The DeKalb County School System is re-establishing a strategic planning process and invites you to participate! It is vital that we hear from our stakeholders on the future direction of the school district before the plan is developed.

What: A Community Engagement Session to gather input from stakeholders
When: Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
Where: The DeKalb County School System Administrative and Instructional Complex (AIC) Auditorium, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain, GA 30083
Who: All DeKalb County School System stakeholders are invited to participate.

To Attend: Please RSVP by calling 678-676-0023 or by email:

If you need an interpreter in order to participate, please notify us of your specific needs when you RSVP.

An on-line survey will be available for those who can’t attend the meeting. A link to the survey will appear on the district’s website immediately following the meeting."

Miss USA 2011 — Should Math Be Taught In Schools?

Happy Friday!

From Huffington Post
Last June, the Miss USA Pageant put out a video montage of every crowned Miss USA's answer to the question, "Should evolution be taught in schools?"

Unfortunately, the ladies' answers played directly into the "notoriously inarticulate" trope for the most part, and the general consensus among YouTube voters (4,700 to 400) seems to be that the video does not reflect well on the pageant or the U.S. On the bright side, the things these women said were also prime parody material.

Mackenzie Fegan and friends stepped up to the plate with a pitch-perfect parody and did the Miss USA girls one better by asking whether or not math should be taught in our nation's schools. The ladies give some thoughtful responses.

Enjoy! And have a fun, safe weekend!