I have planned and run successful retreats and I can tell you – this was not one. Dunwoody City Council recently announced that they will be having an all day retreat. Click this article at the Patch to see what a well-planned retreat should look like.
This BOE “retreat” was billed as a discussion between the BOE and the Superintendent from noon until 3 PM. Actually, the meeting began 50 minutes late and ran over by 2 hours! And I’m still not sure why they met at SACS headquarters. Mark Elgart did not make an appearance. Nor did anyone from SACS.
It was just another typical BOE meeting – but with food and without the hour of public comments. This meeting was enlightening in random, unexpected ways. Although, some BOE members mumble and don’t speak up or speak clearly, even a casual observer could tell that there are BOE members who are not well-versed in the operations of the schools in their districts. For example, most do not know which high schools are on a 4 x 4 block and which are on a 7-period day. Surely they could know this information about the high schools in the districts that elected them! Gene Walker did not know that there are only 4 Parent Councils in DeKalb. Sarah Copelin-Woods went ballastic at the mention of Alvin Wilbanks’ name (Gwinnett Superintendent) because of an error in judgment made by a few Gwinnett teachers. Gene Walker did nothing to rein her in. Sarah continued to rant “sotto voce” as Superintendent Atkinson continued through her PowerPoint presentation.
There was a lot of unprofessional behavior–the same behavior that teachers struggle with in their classrooms every day. Jay Cunningham alternated between leaning way back in his chair with his eyes closed, playing with his phone and getting up to leave the room to take calls. While Superintendent Atkinson was presenting, there was whispering between some adjacent BOE members. At least two BOE members did not bother to take notes even though they were each recently provided their own iPad. To be fair, I could not see all of the BOE members because they were seated at a round table.
Tom Bowen, now vice chair, left the meeting at 3:50 PM – just when the highly-anticipated, $150,000 new salary audit summary from Management Advisory Group (MAG) was introduced by Superintendent Atkinson. He missed the best part of the whole meeting! The most discussion and, certainly the most passion displayed all afternoon, came to the fore with regard to DCSS central office staffing. It was clear that Jay Cunningham, Sarah Copelin-Woods and Gene Walker think of DeKalb County School System as a jobs program, keeping their friends and family fully employed. While that may not be the opinion of others on the BOE, not one person called Jay, Sarah or Gene on their thinly veiled “concerns.”
Below are my reactions to the report from Management Advisory Group (MAG) regarding bloat in the central office:
- Where we are now is exactly the same place we were following the Ernst & Young report.
- This report came to almost exactly the same conclusions as Ernst & Young.
- And, they made the same request to look at what employees really do and to standardize job descriptions/requirements across DCSS, while also standardizing the salary scale.
- So, we are paying again for essentially the same information. Surely no one expected an improvement! Hopefully, this report will not go AWOL.
One final thought: Thank you, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for sending a reporter, Ty Tagami, to sit through the whole, interminable “retreat” yesterday! It’s critical that respectable news publications tediously track the spending of the people’s tax dollars, as well as the quality of education in Georgia. Ty wrote an excellent article which can be read here. However, I do differ with Tagami’s interpretation that Superintendent Atkinson said she would “massage” the MAG report. First, we did not see the whole report, just a summary. And, second—the way I heard it—what Superintendent Atkinson was specifically referring to when she used the word, “massage” was the MAG-suggested organization chart. And, I agree. It was poorly drawn, looked like an after-thought, and did need a lot of “massaging”!