Board candidates will challenge traditional thinking
I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Nooks following the candidate forum in Dunwoody on Tuesday evening which was poorly attended again. Dr. Nooks is attempting to replace Jay Cunningham to represent district 5 on the board. I believe that many of the problems that face the DeKalb school system are rooted in poverty and ignorance. A good predictor of a school systems performance is to look at the number of families in poverty or whose citizens have a minimal education. That is not to say that children from economically distressed situations do not exceed, it just that it is much harder to escape that black hole of poverty. Many struggling schools have students that come from homes that do not put a high priority on education. The parents who struggled in high school, or who did not complete high school find it hard to impart the urgency of a quality education to their children. So why do schools like Stephenson and MLK not meet the bar. According to county statistics, MLK has not made AYP since 2005. Stephenson has fallen short the last two years on AYP. Both Schools are below the state and national average on SAT scores. This is Ironic, since the zip codes surrounding both of these schools have adults whose educational attainment meets or exceeds the state average at all degree levels including Doctorate. In other words these are middle class people who have gone to college graduated and created a comfortable living standard for themselves and their families. These are schools that are not wracked with poverty. Why do write this? Well, because in my talk with Dr. Nooks, and later with Nancy Jester, I raised the issue of poverty, social ills and the environments at Stephenson and MLK that, from the outside, seem to be a recipe for success. My query to him was how can the board battle a social ill like poverty that has beaten every program, every idea, and every attempt to fix it for as long as time itself. Dr. Nooks admitted that poverty and the problems that children in similar situations bring with them to school cannot be ignored. It is fundamental for the board and the system to take into account the whole child when dealing with the various issues that the system is failing in. He also acknowledged the challenges facing a district that has seen its number of economically disadvantage citizen’s rise in the last 10 years. One idea Nooks thought was interesting was a system that is similar to our University system. Competitive institutions that would be attractive to students and parents and would give all students the opportunity to succeed in a fashion that is desirable to the parent and the student. Dr. Nooks acknowledged that reforming the system is easy to discuss but much harder to actually implement. I for one would like to see schools allow a certain number of seats, say 50 for example, for students outside the attendance zone. These fifty seats would be open to those who apply and are accepted based on a number of criteria. Each school could have a unique mission that provided students with a well-rounded education, but also have a concentration or specific area of expertise, and if a student wants to be a part of that school they could apply for one of the open seats. This allows a family to have a choice in what would be the start of a lifelong pursuit of education, and the costs would probably be minimal. I think the thing that impressed me the most about Dr. Nooks, and Nancy Jester was that they were not afraid to discuss solutions that challenge traditional thinking. This is what is needed not just on the school board, but throughout our society in general. The standard model of public schools needs to be reevaluated and updated so we can compete in today’s world and tomorrow’s world. A business model is updated in order to reflect the changes that have taken place or that is anticipated to happen. Public schools should not be an exception to that.