The short answer is no. The more in-depth answer is we do not know. I have poured over the available data of her district in Ohio, and what I saw was not surprising. An urban, poor school district struggling to teach its kids. This is not an anomaly. There are issues like poverty and race that cannot be solved by superintendents. Those are societal issues that filter down and affect many levels of our society. As outsiders we are looking at data and trying to determine what our outcome may be based strictly on test scores from a district that we have no intimate knowledge of. No administrator is a miracle worker. All they can do is put in policies and procedures that foster a healthy environment that will eventually produce success. Lets face it, minority districts with large numbers of students living in poverty take time and resources. No one should expect her to turn around her district in four years, and they should not expect it here either. In all professions, be it school systems, private companies, or even sports organizations, decisions based on who to hire is much more complex than raw data. We need to judge this candidate as a whole and not via pieces and parts based solely on numbers. What concerns me more than the test scores of the students in her district, is the fact that she has moved around a lot. That makes me wonder if she will stay committed to DeKalb for the long-term, say a decade or so. If she could stay committed and turn around the system without cheating like what happened at APS, then she will be able to write her own ticket. I am not going to let test scores be the primary reason for not accepting her as superintendent. We do not have to settle, but we do need to move forward. I am sure there are better candidates out there, but who can say that those candidates want to be here. Time is running out a decision needs to made real soon. Unless something shockingly gross comes out, I would be willing to give her a chance. That’s just one mans opinion though.
On another related note, I am not hearing much from my brethren down here in South DeKalb. Whether you agree with the boards choice on this or not, you should let your voice be heard. It’s pointless to cry after the fact. And please attend the meet and greet.
School started this week, and I have resisted writing about my experience taking my son to his first day of Pre-K at R. McNair DLA. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised but that’s all I will say. I want to wait and see how things go for the first few weeks before I formulate an opinion of the school. So with that said, the folks at the DeKalb School Watch blog have posted a poll wanting to know how parents feel about the school system. I have added my input and I hope you would do the same. Those guys over there really have their act together, and I bet the info they get from that poll will show up at a board meeting one day. here is the link to the post.
And here is a direct link to the poll
It has been a while since I posted, but there are two things that everyone is talking about and I want to chime in on both
I think any of us with a functioning brain knew that DeKalb taxes were going to go up. I don’t see how it could have been any other way. I am no anti-government squawker who believes all government is evil, but I will say that unlike private sector companies, and unlike individual’s, governments just have to vote in order to increase revenues. They don’t need to take on an extra job, they do not need to change their product line or shift their marketing strategy. They just have to say yea and it’s a done deal. That is how I knew it was a done deal. And even when they lower taxes as a gesture of “we care”, it rarely equals the increase they forced on us in the first place. I believe that taxation is part of the societal contract that we have with one another. There are certain things, like public safety, I do not want turned over to private enterprise, and the only way to pay is through taxes. I do want to see better management of the funds they do collect. Though the CEO touts he has cut some 100 million from the previous two budgets I think he can do a little more. I wrote a post last year about the Georgia State study that said DeKalb could shed nearly 800 positions and still provided a decent level of service to all citizens. I would like to see the CEO put those recommendation in place. He asked us to swallow an increase, the least he could do is trim the fat in county operations. Also, I don’t think it is coincidence that the three dissenters in the group are all up for re-election in 2012. Here is where I have to wonder about motives. Of course Boyer would vote against a tax increase, that’s her thing. But Barnes-Sutton and May make me wonder if they did the math and knew that they could dissent knowing that the increase would make it through, thereby giving them cover next year to say they voted against a tax increase. Barnes_Sutton may be trying to mitigate damage for the bad check scandal, and Lee May might have his eyes on an even bigger prize. It would not surprise me. The only one to vote for increase and is up for re-election was Kathie Gannon.
Everybody is up in arms about the APS scandal and the cheating on CRCT tests by teachers and administrators. It is a sad thing when people we trust our kids education with would betray them and us in such a way. They have sent a decade’s worth of children into possible poverty, crime, and hopelessness. Not all of the children touched by the scandal will end up that way, but I cannot wait until the report or documentary comes out examining what happened to the children who attended some of the schools with the most egregious offenses. That brings me to DeKalb and South DeKalb in particular. At the same time revelations about APS started to bubble up, DeKalb also was in the mix along with a few other systems. In fact, the principal at Atherton resigned and was arrested for falsifying documents in 2009. Now there is no proof as of yet that the state or the media found any systemic problems in DeKalb, but that does not mean it isn’t a problem. I do know that local media are looking harder at all the systems who were in the original report, so do not be shocked if DeKalb gets hit by this wave too. In fact this open letter sent to the AJC by the DeKalb County School Watch blog could stir up the hornets’ nest and reveal some unpleasant information. In the end, we do not know what these children would have done later on in their academic careers, but what these teachers and administrators did was to take from them the possibility of academic success. They passed them along knowing they were not properly prepared. These are men and women who turned their backs on the very children they were suppose to prepare for the harsh reality of real life. Instead of preparing them, they turned into a bunch of Judas’ and handed over these childrens future to the streets and ultimately the justice system.
The recommendations are out and South DeKalb neighborhoods fared better than expected. Two schools, Bob Mathis and Toney elemetary were spared the axe in a proposal by interim superintendent Ramona Tyson. Bob Mathis will have its attendance lines redrawn to take in students from Chapel Hill Elemetary, and Oak View will gain students from Chapel Hill as well. I did not see any information on changes, if any, at Toney ES. It seems Toney came out of this unscathed for now. Several schools in South DeKalb will be closed as a result of last nights proposal. Glen Haven, Sky Haven, Atherton, Peachcrest and Gresham Park will all be consolidated into other schools in the area. Columbia and Towers High schools will be getting students from Avondale High, which will continue to house the DeKalb School of the Arts. Columbia High will also pull students from McNair and Southwest DeKalb. Magnet schools will remain as they are, which was a core issue for many parents in the system. Livsey ES, the only North DeKalb school slated for complete closure, was spared. Some schools that got a last minute stay are not completely out of the woods. Tyson indicated that some of those schools could be closed after the next school year. Given the scope of how deep the school closures could have been, this seems to have been a compromise that benefits as many people as possible. Instead of 14 schools being closed only 8 were recommended for closure. Roughly 9000 students will be affected as opposed to the 16000 that were projected. South DeKalb will feel the brunt of the affected students, but that was to be expected considering the number of schools that were underutilized. One thing I did notice in this process was the level of parental involvement. Parents county wide were against the merging of the magnet programs. This seemed to have an affect on the decision not to consolidate those programs. Two schools, Livsey and Bob Mathis, had a vocal contingent that made clear it did not want its schools closed. Those desires did not fall on deaf ears. Save Toney ES, I cannot recall any of the schools slated for closure being vocal about saving their schools. If they were, they were drowned out by more vocal parents from other schools. Now the recommendations will go to public hearings and a vote by the board. I am sure there will be plenty of parents from schools scheduled to be closed who will beat down on the board and toss around accusations of fairness and the dreaded racism charge, but like I said earlier, schools with parental support seemed to have won the day. This should be a lesson for those of us in South DeKalb; get involved early and stay involved. There are going to be more issues that affect parents system wide, and those who stay involved throughout stand a far better chance of having their voices heard. Now it is time to see if the system can somehow improve the performance of its under-achieving schools. Here again is where parental involvement will be paramount. See the redistricting proposals here
The CRCT test that has brought down Atlanta Schools has touched DeKalb. 24 teachers are being removed from the classroom according to the AJC. See the initial story here. The teachers removed will be assigned to non-teaching duties while the educators are investigated. Of course timing could not be worse with SACS breathing down our necks. Hopefully the district being out front on this will help the situation. The AJC reports that The 29 employees include five principals and five assistant principals. I have no doubt that a vast majority if not all will come from South DeKalb schools. And so the bad news continues. Here is a link to a story by the AJC that listed the worst schools for suspicious erasure marks. All of those schools were in South DeKalb.
I attended the DeKalb redistricting meeting at McNair High last night and came away convinced that a consensus on what is best for students will never be reached. In the end many parents will be upset with the outcome because there can be no option that will please all. If nothing is done we will all complain about the complacency of the board. If they act they will be accused of acting without thinking. What we have here is a crisis in education where there is no magic bullet. Some of us will end up with the short straw. With that here are a few things I took away from the meeting.
- The centralized plan seems to be dead on arrival. Far too many in attendance was down on that option. If the board has any sense at all, that option will be off the table immediatley. I canot think of one group at the meeting who wanted any of the magnet prgrams moved to the ceneter part of the county.
- Keeping communities together was a recurrent theme for many last night. For South DeKalb, that is a battle lost. There are just too many neighborhood schools that cannot be kept open without some pain or consquence. I sympathize with citizens in these neighborhoods, but the alternatives are not much better. We cannot continue to support schools that have low enrollment with no foreseeable increase in the future. I talked with several Bob Mathis parents, and they were adamant about keeping their school open. One couple, who have no children in the system, wondered how this empty building would affect their property values. They wanted to know why the board had not considered moving students who are in trailers at Chapel Hill to Bob Mathis. Several people wanted to repurpose the school as a special needs diagnostic school like Coralwood or even add more Pre-K classess to make up for the short enrollment. I think we have to live in the reality of today. This is not 1963 where communities were close and people were raised, grew old and died in the same neighborhood. That is not a reality anymore. Demographic shifts are a determining factor here. If couples with younger kids are not moving into the attendance zone, it is going to be hard to argue to keep Bob Mathis or any of the schools slated for closure open.
- I do not get the magnet school concept. Growing up in Indiana, I do not recall special schools for certain educational concentrations. One school that focuses on the sciences, another on the arts. These were programs that were available to all students at every school. Some schools had more students in these programs than others, but it was located in the school where studenst of all abilities attended. I cannot fathom why each school cannot have a “magnet” program, or at the very least each cluster have several schools that offer these specialized offerings. It seems to me that the very idea of magnet schools goes against the belief of fairness that so many seem to espouse. having magnets promotes the us versus them mentality that is one of the core problems in the whole redistricting process.
- Many in attendance last night wanted to promote a slow down approach to redistricting. Demographic shifts mean that every once in a while lines ahve to be redrawn to accomodate those changes. Unlike fast growing counties, where an infulx of studenst mean new schools and a redistricting process, in Dekalb we face the opposite. Having fewer students means more buildings than we have students to occupy. Someone is going to have to bear that burden. The slow down or stop approach only means that parents, like me with a three year old, will have to face that process later on down the road. Far too many people countywide have the mentality of don’t upset my comfortable situation, but someone is going to have to make concessions somewhere down the road, be it 2011 or 2017.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves; what is going to make for a better overall school system? Redistricting is not going to bring about wholesale failure or success to DeKalb schools. What is going to be needed, and will be much more painfull, is a change in the way we do business. We need to challenge students and parents, especially those of us in South DeKalb, to become more involved in the school where our children attend. We neeed to show that mediocre standards are not acceptable and hold everybody accountable including teachers and administrators. Schools should be about education not a pipeline to failure. Good teachers should be appreciated, and great teachers should be rewarded. Students and parents who don’t take ownership of their education should be left to deal with their failure. The whole idea of teaching to the least needs to be scrapped and replaced with the idea of punishing those who cannot meet minimum standards and by punishment I mean failing those who do not meet minimum standards. Trying to ensure that all children succeed no matter the consequences only brings failure to all. It is a cruel sentiment but it is one we have to accept. We cannot save each and every student. We can only provide an atmosphere that is conducive to success. If you don’t take advanatge of that then you are responsible, not the schools and not society. When this whole redistrciting mess is over and is only remembered by a few of us, we are still going to have to own up to the fact that far too many of our schools are failing. That is a fact that will have more and far reaching consequences than this redistricting process.
Check out this post and the comments at the Dekalb School watch blog. Apparently, Fernbank area parents are very well organized and determined to have their voices heard during what will be a contentious debate over redistricting of DeKalb schools. It seems that an e-mail circulated with talking points about how and what to say during the public input meetings happening this month. Here are the talking points:
Process Points to Follow:
1. Be on time, or better yet, be early.
2. Sit at a table (8-12 roundtops) with 1/3-1/2 Fernbank people.
3. Control the pen, control the mike, or better yet, both. Each table will have a “scribe” — be it. Each table will have a “reporter,” who will speak for 2 min. — be it.
4. When you get to “Option 3,” be clear and concise. Use Fernbank as an example of the larger theme — e.g., not breaking up long-established neighborhoods, moving kids to different programs, supporting larger schools.
5. When you hear a point that is consistent with our position, go ahead and applaud.
Substance Points to Follow:
1. We need a clear strategic vision first, before we implement redistricting for fewer, bigger schools.
2. With that vision in place, follow the Board’s own goals:
— don’t split in half historic neighborhoods, like Fernbank, where the building has supported the same neighborhood for 50+ years and the school’s many buildings have served Druid Hills for 90+ years.
— don’t move children from one kind of educational program to another, like IB. The IB program should be available to more students, not fewer. We support a larger school of 900 and providing more access to IB.
— the plan must account for future growth. Construction on hundreds of residences for Emory and CDC families is breaking ground this year. According to the Board’s own goals, those residences should be zoned to Briar Vista.
— the plan must provide safe, walkable environments and pay attention to traffic patterns, and not further clog the Clifton Corridor.
— decisions should be based on actual cost benefits, not on speculation.
Response on smaller issues:
1. We have no official position on location of magnets. If conversation at your table focuses on that, incorporate that concern into your points and MOVE ON.
2. If anyone suggests making Briar Vista a PK-K or PK-1 campus for Fernbank’s children, talk about 1100 students and families with multiple children driving back and forth and back and forth along Clifton Road during the morning rush hour. Enough said.
Finally, schools from our cluster will be there tonight in DROVES. Be there — for your friends, your neighbors, your children, and OUR school.
There were many comments to this post that were generally critical of the Fernbank parents and in particular of the talking points. I for one have no problem with it. I would much rather see people well prepared to deliver their argument, for or against, than showing up and ranting and raving based on emotions and no facts. South DeKalb parents who have a beef with the redistricting process would do well to draft a similar memo. It seems to me Fernbank parents will definitely be in the back of the minds of the school board when final decisions are made.
Here is a list of the remaining public meetings. Please try to attend one even if you don’t have a list of talking points.
McNair High School, Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 6:30 PM
Bethune Middle School, Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:30 PM
Stone Mountain Middle School, Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:30 PM