Is Gwinnett still great?

When you drive into Gwinnett County off I-85 you see two water towers declaring, “Gwinnett is Great” and “Success Lives Here.” But a story from Sunday questions whether those statements are still true.

The article looked at the large enrollment gains in Gwinnett – the state’s largest school district – and concerns from many that the district is too big and will be unable to maintain above average academics.

I found it interesting that Gwinnett officials predict the system will grow by about 1,700 students next year.

It seems Gwinnett’s great growth is finally slowing down. When I first came to the paper the district was growing by about 7,000 a year and when I covered the system the average increase was between 4,000 to 7,000 kids a year.

The story asks whether a district can be too big for its own good. Would you prefer a big or small system? Why?

11 comments Add your comment

Gwinnett Parent

March 30th, 2009
10:37 am

I attended a small school system and notice the advantages Gwinnett has. There are more resources available in a large system, more diversity,opportunities,and more ideas. My little school did not have a large diverse population and teachers with advanced degrees. The principal was never addressed as Dr…. My daughter’s class is not over populated and they have white boards and a nice computer lab. However, larger systems generate more red tape and the teachers have less control over their curriculums. Everyday the curriculum changes at my daughter’s school. One day exemplars(word problems) are done one way. The next day an “expert” comes in and has another way of doing the exact same problem. It does not matter whether or not the kids can already answer the problem correctly. Instead of a room full of 5 and 6 yr olds, we have 17 lab rats. Everyday I hear of some new study and how they are trying it in the classroom. The kids are experimented on and tested for results, like lab rats. Sometime in the future they will discover some of these experiments did not work. Unfortunately, it will more than likely be 15-20 years later when half of these children are sitting in a therapist’s office talking about their lack of a childhood. Every chance for creativity has been zapped from the classroom and recess time is taken away for not being on task. Kids no longer read books for pleasure, and they are presented with 20 different ways of coming up with the same answer for a simple addition problem. If my daughter answers the question correctly it is still not good enough, because she has to show 19 other equations to get the same answer. If it is confusing to me, a person with a B.S. in Business with advanced Finance classes, Calculus, and Statistics under my belt, imagine what it is like for a 6 yr old. Let’s be happy the kindergarteners can read, write, graph, do book reports, add, and subtract. Our kids need to be well rounded and Gwinnett Schools are not providing this. My kindergartener should never have to know the meaning of the words “on task” or “AKS”.

Retired

March 30th, 2009
10:42 am

This topic has some bite, and it’s about time someone pointed a finger at the giant zit that’s about to pop (but no one seems to want to acknowledge—except JimD). Gwinnett is one of the greatest spin jobs in all of public education, and I mean that in the context of the country not just the state. Gwinnett has been making ignorant decisions for years, but it all culminated a few years ago with what will be looked at as the worst decision in the history of education. True, it was NCLB that prompted it; however, a system truly dedicated to being progressive and placing the needs of the students first would have found a way to minimize the damage of that Federal blunder. When Gwinnett eliminated technical classes and further exacerbated the view that technical classes are approximately equivalent to failure in life, they sentenced all children to a lackluster learning environment, ever increasing drop out rate, and discipline free for all.

The slavish devotion to testing has crippled the students’ abilities to learn in meaningful ways. To the already ludicrous testing schedule, Gwinnett felt the need to add their own arbitrary and meaningless battery of tests—all stemming from the supreme arrogance of Alvin Wilbanks. The tests measure nothing more than the lock-step progression of instruction for no other reason than it was Wilbanks’s pet idea that he wants to see fulfilled. Some high school students have no fewer than eight standardized tests per year.

But the real elephant in the room was, is, and will continue to be discipline. Gwinnett’s fingers in the ears, stomping on the ground, muttering “I can’t hear you,” approach to discipline is to pretend that there is no problem in the first place. If people were aware of the full extent of Gwinnett’s downfall, they would be shocked. They understand that the Meadowcreek cluster is a wasteland; they’ve heard stories about the Berkmar cluster; it’s common knowledge that South and Central are horrific learning environments; Shiloh’s downfall has been well documented. But the changes at Collins Hill, Mill Creek, and Parkview go largely unreported. Discipline records are glossed over by manipulating the data. (In the event of a fight, it’s entered as one infraction. In the event of a drug deal involving multiple students, it’s entered as one infraction. This keeps the numbers down.) If the public knew HALF of what goes on in Gwinnett’s banner institutions and clusters they would be shocked, outraged, and disgusted.

Until Gwinnett’s entire BOE is replaced, along with the egomaniacal Alvin Wilbanks, the county will backslide its way into becoming the next Clayton, the next Dekalb. So far, I’ve seen nothing done to change the course to that seemingly inevitable outcome. If anything, I’ve only seen evidence of a rampant desire to accelerate it. What was once a great county is fast becoming the state’s largest joke. What does it say about public education if it fails? What does it say about Georgia? The evidence is right in front of you.

jim d

March 30th, 2009
10:55 am

Is Gwinnett still great?

That depends upon who you ask.

If you happen to be an employee of the largest employer in the county and perhaps the state the answer would be yes. Ask a home owner, or parents and you might get a different answer.

As both a homeowner and parents, I’d say that Gwinnett is lacking in real leadership, bowing to political cronyism that at best will continue to have a negative affect on living in Gwinnett. The real problem being uninformed voters that keep re-electing the same leadership election after election, (i.e.: little redhead setting on the BOE for what 40 yrs.?) forgetting all the screw-ups of the previous 4 years. It is little wonder that we have people in office that consider the school system their own little fiefdom and in general hold parents in low esteem.

Sarah

March 30th, 2009
12:10 pm

Laura, I have a question. On one of the vents today it was suggested that homeschooling parents get help from the government. What about it?

HS Teacher, Too

March 30th, 2009
12:25 pm

This is indeed a topic that is long overdue on this blog. And there are so many things to be said, I am quite certain I’ll touch on only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

First, as one poster has already lamented, “our kids need to be well rounded and Gwinnett Schools are not providing this. [Kindergarteners] should never have to know the meaning of the words “on task” or “AKS”.” Truer words can not be spoken. But this isn’t just true at the elementary level. I taught high school in Gwinnett, and it’s true there as well. Sure, there are bad teachers, and schools need to be sure that all teachers are teaching and not just popping in DVDs. But as another poster already said, Gwinnett has mandated such lockstep programs that the necessary flexibility to let kids – and yes, high schoolers are kids – be kids is gone. Worse, Gwinnett tries too hard to be able to say “we cover that” at the expense of the students really “learning it.” So what happens is that the old-fashioned built-in buffer days for remediation, or slowing down to cover a tricky topic, or just plain exploring the topic beyond the textbook, are gone. (For example, in math classes we are expected to go at a pace almost twice as fast as the authors of our textbooks recommend. Talk about not making any sense!)

The mentality is always to press forward, and what happens as a consequence is two-fold: first, we leave behind the kids who didn’t get it the first time; and second, in order to try to mitigate against that, we just water down what we do to begin with. The end result is that all of the students are robbed of the opportunity to learn, because the kids who could handle the real level of the work don’t get to see it, and the kids who might well get it but just need to see it twice, don’t get that chance, either. And then, just to add to the mess, to be certain that we don’t let our watered-down curriculum affect our test scores, we throw in weeks of test prep to drill and kill sample questions so that – even though our students don’t really know the content or have the critical thinking skills that they might have otherwise gotten if we weren’t so test-focused – they can still get test scores to make our schools look great. At best, it’s a farce. At worst, it is a disgusting, infuriating shame.

I have a neighbor who proudly crowed to me about how our local elementary school had such outstanding test scores. What she didn’t know was to read between the lines. There was so much “test prep” that went into achieving those scores, that they were rendered only slightly better than meaningless. And in the meantime, there were the not-so-hidden costs: the students were turned off to testing and, to some extent, school; the students didn’t have appropriate downtime; nor did they have appropriate learning structure. If Gwinnett (and Georgia, and NCLB) would simply let teachers teach, then the occasional test (ITBS? CRCT?) would be fine, and so would the childrens’ scores. But instead, the schools and teachers are mandated to drill and kill to ensure that the kids ace the tests. The problem is that they trade test prep for content teaching and learning. It’s a travesty.

I won’t even get into discipline, because for the most part, I was lucky to avoid any crazy situations. But I will say that Gwinnett really runs its system on bullying. Vocal kids bully teachers; their parents in turn bully the teachers and the local administration, and the local administration undermines the teachers for fear of being undermined itself by the county-level administration. If the county would support the local schools and allow principals to say “the buck stops here,” the principals could in turn allow teachers to say something similar. Giving a little authority back to the classroom teachers would make a substantial and immediate difference in Gwinnett County. But when parents are literally allowed to attack teachers for every decision or grade they make or issue, and the local schools can’t really fight it because the county would overrule them anyway, it’s a broken and unworkable system, and quite frankly, a miserable place to be.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t many wonderful things going on every day in GCPS classrooms. There are fabulous teachers doing amazing things with all grades and all levels of students. There are kids knocking the socks off teachers on a daily basis. It’s foolish to say it’s all doom and gloom in Gwinnett, because the fact is that a lot of good can happen DESPITE the hampering of the “system.” But having been in the system, I say in no uncertain terms that I will NOT let me children be educated in Gwinnett County Public Schools, and that should be most telling.

Still, I have to agree with an earlier poster: if the public knew HALF of what goes on in Gwinnett’s banner institutions and clusters they would be shocked, outraged, and disgusted.

jim d

March 30th, 2009
12:47 pm

Sarah,

are you sure you want government involved with homeschooling?

I’d suggest not. and Although I am not aware of such assistance, if you are seeking some type of help you might start here.

http://www.homeschool-curriculum-savings.com/home-school-financial-aid.html

HAGD

Dr. Craig Spinks /Evans

March 30th, 2009
2:32 pm

When was the last time that the GCSS (or most other GA public school systems, for that matter) was subjected to an external audit by a competent, disinterested, out-of-state entity? And no, neither SACS accreditation processes nor GDOE audits qualify under any of these criteria.

jim d

March 30th, 2009
4:36 pm

GCPS soes internal audits, have for at least the past 10 years. Even after the firing of their chief financial officer scandal a few years ago and all of the allegations hee leveled.

People just dont give a sh#@%

Sarah

March 30th, 2009
5:46 pm

Jim d, I was asking because someone on a vent hinted at it. I have been a public school teacher for over 30 years, have no children and no need for homeschooling.

Lee

March 30th, 2009
8:40 pm

The linked article tip-toed around the real issue facing Gwinnett. Hint, it’s not the size of the school or the school system, but rather the demographic makeup.

Consider this, in 1990, Gwinnett was 90%+ white. In 2000, that percentage was reduced to about 70%. In 2007, the non-hispanic white population was listed at at 51%.

Another 20 percentage point drop in the white population and you will have, well, Clayton County. Except this time, it will have four or five times the impact.

The article mentioned the “achievement gap.” Hell, we’ve been talking about the achievement gap since Brown vs Board and fifty years from now, they’ll still be talking about the achievement gap.

Before y’all politically correct pathogens start deriding me for being racist, how about looking at a few of the schools that have “gone downhill”. Then, look at the demographic trend for those same schools.

There’s the real story AJC.

jim d

March 31st, 2009
7:40 am

sarah,

NP, I guess i just fail to see why a homeschooler would subject themselves to the strings that would be attached to ANY government assistance.