Hey Nancy,

What's Up With That

If you have a question and would like to ask Nancy "What's up with that?", please email Nancy@NancyJester.com.

Moving Forward – Dr Atkinson’s Separation and the Interim Superintendent

I want to be on record as opposing both action items on today’s DeKalb BOE agenda. My observation is that the board, as a whole, does not fully appreciate the reality of our current circumstances. As I told the state board, we have three deficits: academic achievement, credibility and financial. With the actions today, I see no evidence that the board will improve on any of these deficits.

While I am prohibited from speaking about the separation agreement, I can state that I am philosophically opposed to the level of compensation and perks that superintendents routinely receive not only in our metro area but across the nation. The golden parachutes that are also typically given at their exit are equally problematic. Given the state of affairs in DeKalb, I do not believe there is any credible rationale for paying severance to anyone.

Regarding the new interim superintendent, I believe it was a mistake not to engage the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, the Governor’s Office and AdvancED in the selection process of an interim leader. I believe these actions represent insular thinking which will further erode the relationships between DeKalb, these entities and the public.

On a broader note, I have been disappointed with the institutional limitations that have failed to arrest the declination of DeKalb’s school system. The state’s third largest system has been on a precarious path for many years. All along the way, the institutions of our state should have recognized the unsustainable and reckless path that was before us and engaged in increased and more effective oversight of this district. I’ve blogged before about our state’s need to move to an accreditation model based on student achievement results and financial management as is done in many states. Had such a system been in place a decade ago, DeKalb would not find itself in this situation. I will continue to advocate for our state to restructure our state department of education to produce this type of accreditation model. We cannot allow our state to continue investing in failure with no mechanism to identify and solve the persistent and developing problems with education in Georgia. The same state framework that led to our state and DeKalb’s problems is not capable of correcting them.

There are other steps that can help mitigate the footprint of district failure and incentivize DeKalb and other districts to improve their trajectory. Here are my top recommendations for immediate consideration to the state department of education and to our legislators.

  1. Eliminate compensation to board members in districts that have deficits on their year-end financial statement.
  2. Eliminate compensation to board members if their districts have achievement levels below state averages.
  3. Eliminate compensation to board members if their district must request class size waivers.
  4. Revoke the license of any superintendent that has 2 years of declination in student achievement results in their district.
  5. Allow portability of per pupil state funding for students who are in districts that have seen declining achievement levels, are operating in deficit or have increased class sizes beyond the state standards. The portability of these funds should allow the students to attend public school in any other district or an independent charter school, should they so choose.
  6. Should a district be put on probation or lose accreditation, mandate that the district must allow parents and teachers to enter into a contract to self-manage their school or chose an independent management company to provide services to their school. These schools must have full control over their per pupil funds.
  7. Should a district be put on probation or lose accreditation, mandate that any community organization that wishes to pursue and fund alternate accreditation through another statutorily approved accreditor (such as the Georgia Accreditation Commission), may do so for any school with the full cooperation of the school district.

 

I hope that you will join me in advocating for these immediate measures to be put in place. If you agree with them, please tell your legislators, the state board and the Governor.

I also encourage parents to support the Parent Trigger bill (HB123) that made it out of subcommittee yesterday and will soon be before the full House Education Committee. Tell your legislators to vote for it.

I think that DeKalb is a cautionary tale for our state. Other communities are also experiencing changes that may lead them to face challenges and conflicts similar to DeKalb. If we can implement a framework on the state level that prevents these challenges and conflicts from festering into system failure, other districts can avoid DeKalb’s predicament.

(31) comments
  1. Well said Nancy. Let’s hope someone is listening.

  2. Nancy Jester is the BEST thing to happen to our children in Dekalb County. I am thankful that she’s close to all this nonsense so that the truth can be shared with the parents. Why the others can’t be as honest or forthcoming about these issues is beyond comprehension. Nancy, I can only imagine the level of frustration you deal with on a daily basis but please hang in there for us.

  3. Of all the elections I’ve participated in, over 30+ years, as is my civic duty, Nancy, I’ve got to say you’ve given me the most “bang for my buck” . THANK YOU!!! You represent governing as it should be, and I hope 2 things. 1. The State BOE rids our county of this sham of a School Board AND 2. They recognize your value and re-instate you in the replacement Board. You are an angel for our children

  4. Well said and I plan to email one in power with these very suggestions. I go one step further and say give parents back that portion of property tax that pays for education if their district is failing/placed on probation. What I pay in property taxes (versus my parents who have a similarly priced house in a good school district in AL – I pay triple what they pay) would fund private education for one of my kids. Hit the county where it hurts – in their pockets. Maybe then county leadership will wake up and take some responsibility for this mess, too. We love you, Nancy! Keep up the good work….

  5. Let me get this straight. After certain board members chased away a qualified superintendent candidate from the Charlotte N.C. district by leaking negotiations about her compensation, the same board hired Cheryl Atkinson, whose sole qualification was that she headed up an underperforming school district that is 10% the size of Dekalb. Now, we’ve paid Atkinson a bunch of money to go away and hired an interim superintendent with NO experience. WTF???

  6. Well said. Thank you very much.

    Also, Dunwoody Dad is right on the money with his recap of events.

  7. Nancy, thank you. I know it has taken a lot out of you and continues to take a lot out of you to be directly in this fire. WHen all is said and done though, take heart that you have been on the right side, and it will be much easier to sleep at night years and decades from now when you can see what your work has done and the positive impact you have had. I agree with Mom Who Voted for Nancy – best electoral decision any of us could have made – and thank you for taking on the challenge.

    I want to add in, and maybe I skimmed over it, but I do whole heartedly believe, that along with all of your suggestions, Dekalb must be brokem into smaller districts. There is so much evidence out there to show that smaller districts serve their student populations better, can meet and exceed standards better, and apply their financial means in a more direct and impactful way. And while this may not be “obviously” the cheapest way to go from a surface look – the aggregate savings from smaller districts is significant when you consider: student attendance increases, student achievement increases, property values increase, less money is wasted on programs that do not directly benefit each school, and because of more easily traced accountability – less personell and financial waste is had.

    Looking forward to your next update, per the usual :-)

  8. Hang in there and keep fighting the good fight. You are giving us a reason not to give up all hope. We love you!

  9. In my opinion, if you are going to have elected school boards then I believe in “normal” circumstances voters are the ones to hold them accountable, not the state. I think Nancy has been forced to grasp for straws and I applaud the effort. If we need this type of rules to govern elected school board then lets have state representative members appoint BOE members.

    What seems to me to be missing in GA is any state standards fot the education. We doll out the dollars and really don’t require any standard. I am pretty sure ANY ACCREDiTION is voluntary in GA. Sounds stuck on stupid to me…I am not an expert, but I do know that VA education works. They have elected board members and then state law- state standards each school must meet. Va accredits each public school in house but accredits private schools using SACS to examine each school. VA has not wasted a dime in the “system” accreditation we have hung our hats on in GA.
    VA Law: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/accreditation/index.shtml

    I think we should stop socially promoting schools that are failing. I say get rid of this BOE , help educate low input voters and demand GA leaders stop School House Social Promotion – establish state standards for EVERY SCHOOL IN GA.

    To REMOVE this BOE:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-nathan-deal-and-georgia-state-board-of-education-review-sacs-findings-if-accurate-replace-the-dekalb-county-school-board

  10. Betsy,
    I am right there with you regarding accreditation. Also, I’ve appreciated your work through the Change org. I thought I’d add a little information here: GA does require all school and districts abide by and teach too state adopted standards. In Dekalb we use the nationally adopted Common Core Standards. Speaking as a teacher, having all classrooms, schools, and districts bound by these educational standards is phenomenal. Unfortunately and fortunately it stops there. Districts adopt curriculum and schools supplement curriculum to use in teaching these standards. In Dekalb we have several issues: one is a one size fit all education philosophy. Dekalb has not adopted a successful way of reaching the extreme academic abilities represented in its boundaries. Gifted education is sparse and minimal, supplanted through parents. The students who struggle through either ability or economic disadvantages are equally lost within our system. We lack effective intervention programs, teacher training, and suplemtal materials for our at risk and ELL students.

    We can not keep socially promoting our schools, I agree. But the problem isn’t standards – it is how we go about meeting those standards and the arsenal of tools our educators have in their belts to help ensure success. Continued furlough days, budget cuts, salary cuts, program cuts, lack of training and above all a lack of a warm, welcoming, and community feel will keep us in this mess. Along with the dysfunctional district office and self centered behavior exhibited by our board.

  11. Erika,
    Please take the time to read the actual standard. I have two sisters who are employed in VA schools, one teachers third grade the other is an elementary school guidance counselor. They agree this system is HARD but it works even in the “poorer” Virginia areas. Private schools are required to be accredited too. http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/accreditation/stds_archive/soa_2011.pdf

    Va Standards to Accreditation is very specific and doesn’t just agree that we will all abide and teach to specific state adopted standards. It goes much further. Kinda like having your kids agree to drive your car according according to the rules of the road and then not monitor their progress or have any way to force (if you have to) corrections. Handing districts a licence to educate our kids without a good way to regularly monitor seems to me we do in GA. I think we should adopt accreditation standard like VA which include accrediting individual schools or closing the doors by not funding schools that can’t pass.
    Betsy

  12. I think we may be crossing wires on standards. I’m talking in class standards and I think you are meaning accreditation standards?

  13. If I understand correctly, Virginia like GA has “standards” that must be taught at each grade level. VA also has what I am suggesting Ga adopt, which includes those standards of what is to be taught and accrediting standards that must by Law be followed and verified every year. Its something really great to think about and really get behind! Every school in VA must be accredited by either the state or an approved accrediting agency. We in GA fall short and so do our kids. I think we have dismal graduation rates (especially black males) and fall very close to dead ast in the United States.

  14. This is all so disheartening. Paying Atkinson for failing sets a poor example for the kids who attend DCSS schools. Hiring — at a whopping $275,000 a year! — a totally inexperienced ex-politician to try to fix this mess is an effrontery to all DK taxpayers.

    All of you PLEASE contact your state representatives and senators and lobby them to do whatever needs to be done to give citizens local control of our schools, whether it be through charter school systems, clusters, or some other means. I still think disallowing cities to operate the schools which serve their jurisdictions is wrong. I will continue to petition for legislation to give us that option.

    – The Maven

  15. Thank you for your excellent service Nancy and for this blog post. Your efforts are appreciated. And I’m not even in your district.

  16. Looks to me like Dr. Atkinson was paid severance for agreeing not to sue the Dekalb BOE, or for keeping her mouth shut about what is actually going on here, or maybe both.

  17. Hate to say it, everyone on the DeKalb BOE should be removed and let the state board appoint a new crop. We need a clean house. The whole bunch are an embarrassment to this county with the biased votes, non-votes, abstentions, and disagreeable actions. We had the best school system in the state until Board positions became jobs rather than a service to the community.

  18. “All along the way, the institutions of our state should have recognized the unsustainable and reckless path that was before us and engaged in increased and more effective oversight of this district. ”

    This statement and your rally cry to contact the State BOE, lawmakers, and Gov. Deal is pure gold.

    Stay on this, continued awareness and righteous demand for change will follow.

    There are many moving parts in play, right now, Rep. Taylor’s signaled his intent to legislate a Dunwoody School System, is a game-changer, as would ‘pursu[ing] and fund[ing] alternate accreditation through another statutorily approved accreditor (such as the Georgia Accreditation Commission).’

  19. what Max said.

  20. Has anyone here in Atlanta/ DeKalb looked into how Texas has organized their public schools? They have the “Texas Independent School” system. Their scores are high statewide, even in inner-city schools their scores beat us. I worked with a large city school in the “Houston Independent School District” that was terrific. Perhaps Taylor’s bill is the start of such a system here??? We need something done and if Texas has a template….. lets at least get the folks under the Gold Dome to look at having “independent schools.” That would be a real change in the tax structure if schools keep the tax money they generate in their counties.

  21. Tess,
    The burnt orange horns decal on Nancy’s bumper sticker should provide some insight to her familiarity with the TIS system.
    It is a great model, one to be envied, and hopefully replicated.

  22. “Eliminate compensation to board members if their districts have achievement levels below state averages.”

    By definition, there must be districts that have achievement levels below state averages. That’s an aspect of how averages work. This proposal would penalize most heavily impoverished rural districts that are already struggling mightily. Thus, the students in these regions would also be negatively impacted. As a native of Georgia, keenly aware that there are real, live people who live outside the perimeter, with real, live children who deserve to be educated just as much as my own children do; I can not possibly support such a punitive and unreasonable measure.

  23. “We lack effective intervention programs, teacher training, and suplemtal materials …”

    Erika, thank-you for touching on this incredibly important issue. This issue affects districts all over the state. I have a sister-in-law that teaches math in the Macon area. When she was younger she purchased her own manipulatives and other supplemental materials. Now, that she is a young mother with three children, she can no longer afford to purchase these supplies. So, as items are worn out or lost, her classroom becomes less and less well supplied. I believe that it worries her a great deal.

    In the last several years, similar to our situation in Dekalb, her pay has been cut three times. Her district has furlough days and her classes have grown larger which makes it much more difficult for her to provide extra attention to a student who is struggling. Having family and friends in other districts in Georgia and being aware of the negative impact state budget cuts have had to many of our states’ school systems, I confess I find it a bit perplexing that there are folks who feel state intervention is some sort of magic cure for our schools’ woes.

  24. Terri
    Are you saying that heavily impoverished students can’t learn? There are quite a few heavily impoverished students that go to KIPP Academy and Ivy Prep public schools that are doing very well.

    I’m not sure how “eliminate compensation to board members” penalizes the district.

  25. I rapidly skimmed HB 123 and, over all, it seems reasonable. I did note that moving children within a school system is one of the proposed remedies to under performing schools.

    (3) Mandate that the parents have the option to relocate their student to other public
    90 schools in the local school system to be chosen by the parents of the student from a list
    91 of available options provided by the local school system.

    This intervention is precious little help within a system that has a single elementary school, a single middle school, and a single high school. Yes, we do have the on-line academy, however, that is a poor substitute for attending school with a peer group and trained, caring instructors.

    If I were going to modify HB 123, I would suggest eliminating property tax as the primary funding source for our schools. It is an antiquated method that dates back to the days when only white land owners were allowed to attend school. It drives dissension around issues of gentrification, keeping our elderly in their homes, and inequity in our schools. It helps ensure that a poor child, from a poor area will attend a comparatively poor school. So, we should eliminate the property tax for education and slightly raise the state income tax.

    The state could then pay a bonus to teachers who agree to teach for a minimum of, let’s say two years, in some of our deeply rural and more remote areas. A simple sliding scale could be created to determine how much money is allotted to each student taking into account such issues as the following:

    1) medically documented health or learning deficits
    2) whether the child qualifies for free breakfast/lunch
    3) geographic isolation of the child and his family

    Why would I allocate more money to children with medical issues and children from less wealthy backgrounds? Because these are the children who need the greatest level of intervention to increase their likelihood of success and, therefore, our likelihood of meeting our goal of better educating all the children in Georgia.

  26. “Are you saying that heavily impoverished students can’t learn?”

    No, I did not say that nor did I imply it.

    Again, everyone can not be average or above. That is not how averages work. It is mean spirited to penalize people who are working diligently under adverse conditions because their numbers fall on the wrong end of a spectrum.

  27. ““Eliminate compensation to board members if their districts have achievement levels below state averages.””

    Hi Terri,
    Sorry, I misunderstood. Please explain how, as you said, “This proposal would penalize most heavily impoverished rural districts that are already struggling mightily.”

    Terri,
    You go on further to say ” It is mean spirited to penalize people who are working diligently under adverse conditions because their numbers fall on the wrong end of a spectrum.” – People who work diligently should not be rewarded if they are failing. Call it mean or whatever you want. I don’t believe in rewarding failures.

  28. Certainly, applaud DCPS Board member Nancy Jester for flying at the poor state of public education in DeKalb County head on. Unfortunately, her seven recommendations pose much the same old threaten-to-punish-people-and-that-will-incentivize-them-to-do-right way of thinking that can only make matters worse. Rep. Ed Lindsey and similar others already embody that slothful character trait when it comes to learning to improve public education.

    Hopefully Nancy will throttle up her Spitfire and Mustang drive to help DCPS do the hard work of learning how to improve DCPS, which must include, as with APS, boldly confronting the lose-lose racialist ideology so clearly and plainly operating at the board level. DCPS Board’s push-out of then-superintendent candidate Lily Cox in order to hire “urban” Cheryl Atkinson illustrates the matter. Now, perhaps “urban” Michael Thurmond as interim superintendent — as opposed to, say, a Brad Bryant for that role — also illustrates the matter.

  29. Ed, I believe I would be equally happy with either Michael Thurmond or Brad Bryant or even a well-deserving, long experienced school principal that might be ripe for a promotion. I have long scratched my head in wonder over the national searches to find someone utterly unfamiliar with our district to helm it. I see nothing wrong with promoting from within or seeking from within someone with intimate knowledge of the system, it’s weaknesses, it’s strengths, and it’s true needs.

    And I would love to see teachers have a real voice in how the schools and the entire system, from buses to funding of field trips, are run. If teachers were truly a part in governing our schools, I suspect we would see a leap in performance. Maybe they should be allowed to vote on all crucial issues as though they are shareholders in DCSS? I don’t know. Perhaps, that’s too impractical, but, daydream material or no, it would be lovely.

  30. Terri, lovely is good, real good, so I’m with you on the teachers. Of course, the only reason teachers aren’t involved as you suggest is simply because of lack of district leadership at the top to provide for it to happen. No need for the district to be IE2 or Charter.

  31. I don’t want my school superintendent sitting under busses looking for answers.(AJC, 2/13) I want a supt. who will look directly at and do something with the huge problem DeKalb is facing. That problem is, a non-functional school board incapable of doing the jobs they have been elected to do. The only 2 tasks the BOE is charged with are: making policy for the system and hiring the supt. to do the daily work of educating children. (3 supts. in 3 years and constant infighting over policies!) The majority of members on the board have proven to be a group of self-serving, un-informed place holders, elected over and over while our system crashes. Leadership and decision making are so missing that they cannot even select a leader from their own ranks. Here’s hoping the state and governor will see the problems, remove this bunch, and not permit the excuses given by Mr.Thurmond to keep them in office. The teachers, students and parents of Dekalb deserve better that this, but where will it come from?

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