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”!
Thank you for this update!!! I hope that Atkinson sticks closely to the recommendations of lowering the number of jobs, and if secretaries really are doing more work than their boss, than maybe their boss needs to go. Thank you for taking time to attend and report back.
"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.”
I'm curious. What did they say there "concerns" were?
"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."
Sarah, Jay and Gene will do everything in their power to stop Atkinson from cutting the administrative bloat.
They may try to push her out just like Johnny Brown if she decides to stick to her guns and see this through.
Thank you Fernbank PTA, Amy Power and Marshall Orson, for supporting and helping to elect Gene Walker to the BOE. You got your new school coming, and the inefficient, bloated Fernbank Science Center was never addressed, so I guess you don't care what kind of damage Walker will do to the rest of the school system.
A big thank you to the observer.
Jay's leaving the room was to take the pizza orders for his restaurant.
Looks like sameO sameO. Children will be second.
We really need a Plan B to to turn the tide.
Excellent recap! Thanks for the time. Were there minutes/transcripts recorded at the meeting?
The BOE is supposed to attach the summary on the DCSS BOE website. The last audit had a summary as well, and the minutes of the meeting are missing and the summary as an attachment is missing as well.
The summary is supposed to be downloadable from the website. If it is not downloadable in the very near, then taxpayers need to call or email their BOE members and ask for a copy of the summary and any supporting documents.
Taxpayers paid for this summary so it should be public knowledge.
How did they determine the marketplace salaries for the 5 Fernbank Science Center Designers?
An average salary of $72,000 per exhibit designer (without benefits included).
Do you know that a physics or chemistry or biology teacher in DeKalb with a PhD and ten years of teaching experience is paid $58,514? We pay a physics, chemistry or biology teacher in Dekalb with a Masters degree and ten years of teaching experience $53,510.
With benefits (20%), DeKalb is paying $431,782 for these 5 exhibit designers (average of $86,357 each).
The museum part of Fernbank Science Center is only one room, and the exhibits are pretty much the same ones they have had for years. I doubt the very large and many times more exhibits Fernbank Museum has 5 exhibit designers.
Am I the only one who understands that we forgo 7 science teachers with Masters or PhDs and at least 10 years of instructing students in the classroom for these 5 designers? How must teachers with PhDs in physics and chemistry or biology and 10 or 20 years of experience feel when they see these salaries?
Fernbank Science Center only has an entrance way, one hallway and one large room with exhibits that are decades old. How is it possible that we are employing so many "exhibit designers" at such high salaries? I would like to see the basis of comparison since no other system in Georgia to my knowledge even has exhibit designers.
state salary and travel audit 2011
I am interested in whether more details were provided on the consultant's report, or was it just a very high level executive summary. Were the BOE members provided with a copy of the report and back up documents and appendices?
And while I'm no fan, I don't think it is fair to criticise Bowen for leaving at 3:50 p.m. when the meeting was to end at 3 p.m. He does have a day job, unlike some of the others.
"I am interested in whether more details were provided on the consultant's report, or was it just a very high level executive summary"
I would suggest you call or email your BOE member and request a copy of any documents that were discussed at the BOE meeting. These documents belong to you as a taxpayer in DeKalb County.
Where is Jamie Wilson? Is he hiding out and not wanting to move to the Sam Moss building like Turk?
Once he recovers from the shock on not being the HR person in charge, then hopefully he can join his other family and friends at the service center. We wish Jamie well.
His relative Robert Tucker should follow him!! They can continue working and scheming together!
I cannot wait until the Board has only 7 members. The people who voted for Sarah CW should be ashamed of themselves. She has done NOTHING for you or your schools. Her loud mouth and obnoxious behavior makes Dekalb Schools the laughing stock of the Metro area.
You know the Board always talks about the best interest of the students, but I have yet to see many of their choices in that light. I know they all wanted Johnny Brown and then when the parents moaned and groaned because he was doing what he said he would do and the board hired him to do, they got rid of him, along with $200,000 plus dollars. When you hire someone to do a job, let them do what you hired them to do. Quit kow-towing to the parents who grip the loudest and longest, which Dekalb has plenty of. Follow the rules that have been set for all and quit making exceptions. I know that they threaten "law suit", well let them sue, and take you to court for following the law. You've spent enough on the Heery lawsuit, do it and back up your teachers and other employees, who try to go by the rules you all have set in place.
Jay Cunningham acting unprofessionally? Gene Walker and SCW acting like DCSS is a jobs program?
So hard to believe.
Let the congregation say "Amen" for Anon 8:49 PM!!!
Fernbank Science Center only has an entrance way, one hallway and one large room with exhibits that are decades old.
It's obvious you haven't been to the science center in many years. The exhibits are updated on a yearly basis. There is a live animal exhibit. There is an observation beehive. There are beautiful gardens out back that are handicapped accessible that teach people how to compost and use native landscaping in their homes. There are traveling exhibits inside that are changed out three or four times a year. Druid Hills High School students just had an art exhibition there that was up for three months that was outstanding that was done with the help of several of the FSC media designers. What you also don't realize is that these media designers work for the whole county in that they put together exhibits and kits that go out into each school that provide science instruction for teachers and students on a rotating basis all year long. These exhibit are a free resource for children that would never be able to see a "museum" and taxidermied specimens of world class talent anywhere else for free. Not everyone can afford to pay admission to a museum, but FSC is free to everyone, 6 days a week. I feel your frustration about wanting to fund more science teachers in the county. But tearing down FSC would cause so much more harm than it would good. You should really come and visit first hand what you are slamming.
AT least SACS could have been monitoring the meeting and checking out these buffoons displaying their real behavior. Unprofessional, time wasting idiots.
Maybe SACS was watching and they just didn't know it???? One can only hope.
@ Anonymous 12:07 pm
" I feel your frustration about wanting to fund more science teachers in the county. But tearing down FSC would cause so much more harm than it would good. "
While we are spending millions a year on Fernbank Science Center, the entire science budget for equipment and supplies for the science teachers in DeKalb was $55,000 or around 50 cents per student for the entire year.
Look at our 2011 science scores for DeKalb:
Science % FAILED by Grade Level
50% of our 8th graders do not know the most basic science concepts even as science and math competency are the most valuable skills for economic opportunity in this century.
OVER HALF of Fernbank Science Center personnel are NOT teachers. Rather they are admin and support personnel consuming millions of dollars that could be invested in teachers teaching science content daily to students in DeKalb Schools. This "resource" consumes almost $7,000,000 in science education dollars a year with only 29 science teachers. NO OTHER school system in Georgia has a science center, and DeKalb students languish at the bottom of science content mastery.
Fernbank is an educational model and financial burden that does not work well for DeKalb students or taxpayers in the 21st Century.
Why is this 1950's edifice with 29 science teachers accorded millions a year in funding while the 95,000 students in DeKalb classrooms exist on 50 cents a year in science supplies and have the worst science achievement in the metro area?
Because everyone in north DeKalb and Fernbank/Druid Hills likes having it there.
Quick question. Why does our BOE have to have a meeting at SACS Headquarters when not one SACS employee attends the meeting?
Didn't SPLOST, illegally pay for the building of the Palace? I seem to recall that the Palace was not on the original list of expenditures planned for SPLOST 2 or 3, too many to remember now, but why have a meeting away from the Palace? Is this something where the public does not get to see the full minutes or transcripts of? I still can't figure out why Atkinson's presentation about the audit, a tough issue for many stakeholders, had to take place at SACS and not at OUR Palace? Plus, it seems to me the majority of the BOE are not interested in the audit, what disrespect shown by OUR Pizza guy and the former BOE chair who has a REAL job.
If anything SACS personnel should have been at the meeting, just to watch the behavior of OUR feckless BOE.
That concerns me as well, AMG. This now looks like it was done for appearances. The meeting announcement stated a board retreat held at SACS headquarters. Now, to the regular person, or in the business world, a retreat means a facilitated meeting, complete with discussions of visions, goals and objectives. One would assume that the board would have been working diligently all day long with a highly experienced SACS accreditation and education expert as their facilitator or guide.
Announcing this gathering as a retreat at SACS was a brilliant PR move, however, apparently this was not what actually occurred at all. Not at all.
Great PR trick indeed. Cere, your definition is what most think of when the word retreat is used in relation to Boards, committees, etc. But alas, the other definition: the act or process of withdrawing from something that is hazardous, formidable, or threatening was more likely the "retreat" - put the meeting at SACS so the public thinks there is someone watching over their antics, put it in the middle of the day, put it in Alpharetta and you keep your constituents away!
@ anonymous 10:23 pm
"Because everyone in north DeKalb and Fernbank/Druid Hills likes having it there."
It's really the Fernbank/Druid Hills- Central DeKalb -area that likes having it there. The North Dekalb/Dunwoody area is geographically at the same disadvantage as South DeKalb is when trying to use Fernbank services. Fernbank is not easily accessible to North or South DeKalb since its nestled in the Fernbank community and not adjacent to an Interstate highway.
Fernbank Science Center is a 1950s science education model built by a middle/upper middle class school system that now finds itself in a 21st Century urban school system with budget and transportation challenges.
Since so many Fernbank teachers do more outreach, it seems they could be placed in schools in North and South DeKalb and work out of those schools - saving a lot of wear and tear on their cars and saving taxpayers millions a year on Fernbank admin and support. The services would be transparent to the schools that have Fernbank Science teachers coming to their schools. They could also offer AP classes after school to schools that do not have enough students to offer those classes - all conveniently within reach of the students for North and South DeKalb.
Taxpayers pay over $2,000,000 a year in salary and benefits to Fernbank admin and support personnel who never teach a child. Meanwhile, we have $55,000 a year budgeted for science equipment and supplies for 95,000+ DeKalb students who are learning science in the regular classrooms. The regular education classroom teachers have the responsibility for student performance in the area of science education while Fernbank has NO accountability - yet Fernbank Science Center is the entity receiving the millions of science education dollars. Does this make any sense?
I live in Central DeKalb and don't give a hoot about Fernbank Science Center as it stands. We are paying too high of salaries for old exhibits, a "museum" that can't be entered by the public until noon, and that should also be offering teachers at all levels more curriculum help to improve the science scores within the district.
This money could be better used elsewhere, especially with inevitable payout of back TSA to teachers.
It's obvious you haven't been to the science center in many years. The exhibits are updated on a yearly basis. There is a live animal exhibit. There is an observation beehive. There are beautiful gardens out back that are handicapped accessible that teach people how to compost and use native landscaping in their homes. There are traveling exhibits inside that are changed out three or four times a year. Druid Hills High School students just had an art exhibition there that was up for three months that was outstanding that was done with the help of several of the FSC media designers. What you also don't realize is that these media designers work for the whole county in that they put together exhibits and kits that go out into each school that provide science instruction for teachers and students on a rotating basis all year long. These exhibit are a free resource for children that would never be able to see a "museum" and taxidermied specimens of world class talent anywhere else for free. Not everyone can afford to pay admission to a museum, but FSC is free to everyone, 6 days a week.
Wow. You are quite the Fernbank Cheerleader!
I have NEVER seen one of these traveling exhibits you speak of.
I have NEVER met an exhibit designer.
What live animals are you talking about?
It was nice of them to host an art exhibit for Druid Hills students. Would Emory University consider doing so? For free?
Yes, FSC is free. Except that it costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year to staff and maintain. Divide that among our students and they could each have an annual pass to the gorgeous Fernbank Museum just down the street.
There are plenty of places to see beehives for free.
And do we really need to be in charge of maintaining extensive outdoor gardens? Really?
For years, I've struggled with the culture of accountability and what I call system vs. school. The district fields many calls directly from parents who have a concern about what takes place in their child's school. More often than not, the parent's concern is of a systemic nature, meaning that the same issue is also present at other schools -- but the knee-jerk reaction of the district is to bounce the issue and the parent right back to the school, only this time with an attack on the school personnel for not 'handling' their own affairs.
First, is this the experience of all school communities, I wonder? And second, why doesn't anyone see that this is a culture which needs to change? Why take hundreds of parent complaints instead of taking only a few, deduce that it is a district issue and resolve it in a district-wide fashion? Why is everyone so quick to pass the buck and the blame in a district this size?
Honestly, this is probably the one thing other than instructional focus (and wasteful spending) for which I'd love to see change.
I recently had a conversation with the central office because I had an issue which goes on in many schools, not just mine. My questions were deliberately on point as to the school district's practice, not just my own school. Predictably, the schoolhouse person was patched in, the discussion stayed on the schoolhouse issue, and the schoolhouse persons were subsequently raked over the coals (over my loud protestions to NOT do that). Nice.
If nothing else, the immediate benefit to addressing system issues is economies of scale with problem-solving. I often wish parents who are really interested in systemic change will recognize the tactic of system vs. school and make enough district-wide noise to cripple that strategy. That's why it is so important to work together.
"What you also don't realize is that these media designers work for the whole county in that they put together exhibits and kits that go out into each school that provide science instruction for teachers and students on a rotating basis all year long. "
Does it take five $86,000+ a year employees to put the kits together? The teachers must tell the designers what they need in the kits to teach their lesson. After all, the Fernbank Science Center Designers are NOT certified educators. The science teachers who are actually teaching the lessons are making an average of $69,000 a year including benefits while the personnel who put the kits together are making $86,000.
Including benefits, DeKalb is paying $431,782 for these 5 exhibit designers (average of $86,357 each).
"There are beautiful gardens out back that are handicapped accessible that teach people how to compost and use native landscaping in their homes.....These exhibit are a free resource for children that would never be able to see a "museum" and taxidermied specimens of world class talent anywhere else for free."
Please explain why taxpayers are paying millions from our instructional budget to keep Fernbank open when you say it is "free"?
Is teaching people how to compost what we need to be doing with out science education dollars?
DCSS has almost 50% of our 8th graders not able to demonstrate that they know even the most BASIC science concepts. It is unseemly to pay 5 Designers $86,000+ each out of our science education budget to perform the functions you describe. Meanwhile, we seek to make our science teachers in the schools responsible for student achievement when we give them 50 CENTS a YEAR per child for supplies and equipment and pack the high schools classes with up to 35 students compromising lab safety for students.
The Fernbank community is served by and helped elect Eugene Walker. Has Dr. Walker even looked at the science achievement scores of the schools outside the Fernbank area? Does he even care?
"There are beautiful gardens out back that are handicapped accessible that teach people how to compost and use native landscaping in their homes"
I've walked Fernbank Forest for years. The gardens and landscaping are decent, but the walkways are in need of major re-paving, especially for wheelchair usage.
It's amazing how little actual usage the walkways get, as it really is a great place for a walk in nature. In fact, it's a good fitness walk if walked at a medium to quick place (more hills tyhan you'd think).
The maintenance levels have seemed to go down over the past few years. The historic house in the back is in poor shape and receives no maintenance. it's wasted as a storgae building, even though it's on e the oldest, most historic houses in DeKalb.
Fernbank is open to all county residents on weekends. It's surprising how poorly DCSS advertises this nice but fast aging facility.
P.S. I won't get into how poor the exhibits are. They are not challenging or engaging, and they do not change near often enough. I love Fernbank for walking, but my kids are bored by the exhibits there after 10 minutes.
@ 5:46 pm
Thank you for the update on the tired old exhibits and the crumbling infrastructure of this center we spend millions of science education dollars on every year.
Fernbank is a nice piece of greenspace in the middle of the Fernbank Community, but the millions of science education dollars invested by DeKalb Schools is not making a dent in the decline in student achievement in science for DeKalb County students.
Dr. Atkinson needs to look at this program that consumes million of dollars a year and drains the schools of science instructional funds. She says she wants to reinvest in the classroom. She can start here.
We have shuttered neighborhood schools, eliminated 600 teaching positions, given teachers furlough days, cut their retirement benefits, and increased class sizes to historic proportions. But Fernbank Science Center has not been touched even as science scores have deteriorated.
DCSS has easliy spent between $60,000,000 to $70,000,000 on the science center in the last decade (almost $5,000,000 a year in salary and benefits alone). Imagine if that money had been used to update and maintain science labs and equipment in DeKalb's 44 middle and high schools ($1,500,000 per school). We would have state of the art science facilities at all of our middle and high schools. That's what this has cost us in practical economic and educational terms.
What is going on within the administration and the BOE that allows millions of scarce science education dollars to be used on an outdated program that has NOT been effective in improving our students' mastery of the most basic science concepts?
The truth is that Fernbank is an excellent program. It's just that DCSS is so short on "good" throughout the system that the "good program" at Fernbank that doesn't get "spread" around the system seems like it's not an efficient use of 'science dollars'. It seems that the "best" approach to Fernbank Science Center is to require it to seek grants or to affiliate with Emory and/or Ga. Tech and through such partnerships to continue to do what it is doing without draining necessary dollars away from scient education within the county (maybe even approach the Smithsonian about funding it as a pilot... crazy idea, I know). There's a "win/win" here that shouldn't be competing for the dollars the kids needs to learn science in the classroom.
The Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, SC, is a joint venture of the school system and local businesses. They receive substantial support from Spinx Company, Greenville Hospital System, Blue Ridge Electric, Duke Energy, Fluor, Lockheed Martin, Publix, Hubbel Electric, Michelin and BMW, as well as several local sponsors.
They also charge admission to some events.
I don't see why DCSS can't look into pursuing a similar approach. They can even ask the Roper Mountain folks how they did it...
I agree that Fernbank Science Center should be affiliated with another entity so that those tens of millions can be freed up for every day science education for all students.
However, as long as Fernbank Science Center does not have to worry about getting grants, they will continue to depend on the school systems. The majority of Fernbank Science Center personnel are not teachers. Rather, they are administrative and support personnel. Make no mistake. This is not a museum. It is a teaching facility.
We simply cannot afford to fund Fernbank Science Center and also fund topnotch science education in the schools. Since most students learn their science content from the elementary grade level and middle and high school science teachers (rather than the 29 Fernbank Science Center teachers trying to teach 95,000 students), DCSS needs to overhaul this center or discontinue support for it. This initiative needs to come from the top. Otherwise, Fernbank Science Center has no incentive to change its method of funding.
DeKalb will stay on the bottom rung of science achievement until Dr. Atkinson and the BOE get serious about ensuring our science dollars go to the most effective way of ensuring the most students master basic science content. Student achievement, not special interest groups and politically connected communities should be driving this decision.
Lockeheed would be an excellent partner for it...
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