A letter to the new superintendent: Georgia has “the lowest level of expectations…Get in the driver’s seat.”

Get Schooled reader Mary Jessie wrote a letter to new state school superintendent Brad Bryant that I thought made some good points, so I am sharing it here. Mary is a former teacher and administrator and has worked in APS and Fulton schools. She served as president-elect, president and program chairperson of the Georgia Association of School Personnel Administrators from 1996-2002 and is now an education management consultant.

I think she plots out a great plan of action for Bryant and for whomever the voters elect in November.

Dear Mr. Bryant:

Last week when Gov. Perdue appointed you as Interim State School Superintendent, he gave you what Dr. Mark Wilson, principal of Morgan County HS calls, “the power to act.” I don’t have to tell you how challenging this will be; however, I hope that when you accepted the appointment, you already possessed the knowledge that something is very wrong with education in Georgia and that you have a vision for what education should be and is supposed to accomplish.

Recently, I viewed the Georgia DOE website. I was disappointed and angered when I discovered the mission statement which reads: “To graduate all of Georgia’s public school students with a meaningful diploma based upon rigorous standards delivered by an effective qualified workforce”.  While these words are well intentioned, as a career educator, I find them to be at the lowest level of expectations, short-sighted and limited.  Why do I say this?  If the agency with responsibility for driving the educational system in our state has such a short-term goal, this in itself serves to cheat our students out of the kind of educational opportunity that will prepare them with a high quality K-12 educational experience, encourage them to continue schooling beyond high school, and to live and work as viable citizens in the 21st century global society and beyond.  If our mission is solely focused like a laser on high school completion, we are giving students only a minimal opportunity to be competitive in the world they will face in the future.

Several summers ago, I submitted a commentary for publication by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. I titled my commentary, “Prepare Students for the World, Not Just for the Test”.  In this writing, I advocated for students to be exposed to an educational experience that broadens their scope and intellect, provides them with strong second language learning opportunities, builds their global awareness, increases their capacity for thinking critically and solving problems and prepares them for living well in the future.  These are the kinds of high expectations all of our students need to be challenged to meet.  The educational programming we provide them cannot continue to promote rote memorization, low level learning, test preparation and targets that only get them out of high school.

Mr. Bryant, let’s get real!  If we are to ever be serious about ensuring that our students are competitive with students from other states as well as with people from around the world, our educational vision, mission and programming must change.  Individuals like you are there to drive the change we need.

Though you are only serving in an interim capacity for now, do not use that as an excuse for not taking the needed action.  I know you are focused on getting the signatures needed to place your name on the ballot in November, but at the same time, do us all a favor and be the kind of change agent we need to begin to fix our educational system.  Take the steps to set in motion the kind of change at the DOE that will add the most value to ensuring that our educational system in Georgia provides students with the highest quality education possible and our state becomes a model for other states and countries around the world to emulate.

Here is a list of “must dos” for you to consider:

  1. Re-imagine and rebuild the DOE- What should be its role and core business?  Should it be an agency for supporting schools and districts or continue as an agency for creating processes that micromanage and place unnecessary obstacles in the way of schools seeking to provide a high quality education for students?
  2. Consider increasing the role of the RESAs- Drill down provision of essential services to districts to a regional level where human capital with the expertise to serve should be staffed in closer proximity to the schools.
  3. Become the voice for education in Georgia- Get in the driver’s seat; take the vehicle in the right direction; say something of value when you get to the destination.
  4. Enable a functioning comprehensive data system that will provide information to school leaders to aid in making educational decisions.   We have gone far too long without this system; excuses for not having it are no longer acceptable!
  5. Build a partnership with the Governor and members of the General Assembly so that they will be confident in you as the “leader of  education”  for Georgia; this will enable and increase your capacity for influencing them to create legislation that supports public schools as opposed to handicapping them or placing obstacles in their way.
  6. Connect with the district Superintendents around the state in a genuine way.  Create an on-going advisory team of superintendents and other school district leaders who will meet with you monthly to provide you with ideas, opinions, information about best practice, local concerns, etc.
  7. Pull together the best financial minds in the state and identify some new sources of revenue for education to support but not replace adequate state funding; revisit QBE and create a new structure for adequately funding education in Georgia.

Mr. Bryant, through this forum, I am making a personal plea to you.  In other words, I AM BEGGING you to act.  I know that you have big shoes in which to walk and a long way to go.  If you seriously want to be a force for moving Georgia in the right direction, you will lead the charge by making education our No. 1 priority.  Please, please don’t let down the children of Georgia by denying them an opportunity to be the beneficiaries of the highest quality education possible.

Personal regards,

Mary M. Jessie

49 comments Add your comment

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June 24th, 2010
5:53 am

Actually, I think the DOE should adopt the physicians creed of “First, do no harm.”


June 24th, 2010
6:35 am

The state has low expectations about everything, so what else is new? In the last year, hiring of immature and incompentent individuals, I expect nothing more.


June 24th, 2010
6:43 am

DAMN GOOD REASON FOR HOME SCHOOLING…GEORGIA public schools have been in the sewer for years…SO WHAT ELSE IS NEWs..

do u smell whats cookin

June 24th, 2010
6:54 am


DO NOT SUBMIT a job app on this blog. HIDDEN AGENDA = hire me.

RESA’s are nothing more than some teachers who got burned out teaching kids and thought instructing teachers would be easier. RESA’s are a drain to public money and do NOT help teachers become better instructors. Would you listen to a person that got half way through becoming an plumber couldnt hack it on the job site then said HEY , i can show others how to do it


June 24th, 2010
6:59 am

Georgia public schools work extremely well for those students who show up ready to learn. Both my kids go to public school in East Cobb and the their schools are excellent!

Go Raiders!

Thomas Teacher

June 24th, 2010
7:02 am

Elect Mr. Richard Woods.

what a crock

June 24th, 2010
7:15 am

MJ, no where in your little writing do you mention give teachers support, you tell him to get in the drivers seat; you mean the same seat that K.Cox was in appraoching the cliff we are about to go over; this guy was appointed by Sonny, he is gonna do whatever he is told to do right up till the Thelma and Louise moment

he’s got 5 months to stash cash, finalize contracts, move ppl around so they dont lose their jobs before the newly ELECTED super takes over.

SS teacher

June 24th, 2010
8:00 am

Until we elect a person with educational experience, like Wilbanks in Gwinnett, this position will remain a joke. The problem with Cox was she was elected because of her party affiliation not her experience (classroom teacher is just not enough experience). The current appointee reminds me of having a politician operating on you instead of a Doctor.

There are two main factors affecting Georgia education:
1. rural counties need to be consolidated and improve SAT scores from the rural counties
2. reduce dropout rates

and for all of you that keep saying our schools are “government schools” you seem to think this is a dirty word. If it hadn’t been for the government stepping in we would still have black children going to below standard schools and reading out of 50 year old textbooks. The feds had to step in because the states(mainly southern) were run by old, white, racist, men (the same people who say our schools are “government schools” today). Some things never change.

DeKalb Educated

June 24th, 2010
9:05 am

Raise standards for all students, provide safe and stimulating educational venues and support teachers with pay raises instead of furloughs. Instead the mission is get your diploma and go to work, Bubba. Let’s hope Brad Bryant will set a meaningful course for Georgia schools and have Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope sent to prison and fire the DeKalb Board of Education for mismanagement.

maybe a change in attitude

June 24th, 2010
9:33 am

Mary Jessie’s letter was indeed a plea for some significant change, yet those of you who have written comments here have “Eeyore” syndrome: “Everything is horrible, and there is no chance that things will ever get better.” While the new superintindent may be a puppet of Purdue, he may also very well not be. While he may maintain the present course of the DOE, he may very well decide to effect some change. All of us educators have given into negative attitudes at some point, but perhaps if we all (myself included) adjusted our attitudes, regardless of the continued bureaucracy, silly testing, lack of parental support, etc., we may perhaps find ourselves happier in our professions and more effective agents for change. What if we all made a conscious effort to approach our jobs as if we had everything we wanted and needed? What if we approached our jobs focusing only on the task of educating the kids in front of us, not the entire state, and completely ignored all the morale-killing news? Pollyanna? I don’t think so. I know that as a classroom teacher I am in charge of my own destiny as far as what happens in MY classroom. Yes, I know we have to deal with parents, administrators, and sometimes unruly students, but too often we teachers quibble over 10 minutes of morning duty, a thank you we didn’t receive but should have, and all the other little things that kill our spirits. I know there is always a final straw that breaks the camel’s back, but I will not be broken. There is no administrator, parent, or student that will break me. After all, I am a teacher, a member of the greatest profession in the world. I make a difference in the lives of students, and no one should take away the satisfaction we all get from that. I have read this blog for several weeks, and I find myself being dragged down by all the negativity. Even though I am sure the negative comments are justified, unless you received some sort of cathartic experience from venting your frustrations, I am not sure that the negativity is helful to anyone. I have been guilty of being too vocal about the sad state of education, but I am going to try and adjust my attitude so that I can continue to enjoy the profession I love. What if all teachers tried that?


June 24th, 2010
9:43 am

I thought the point of this letter was to express our low expectations and how to raise these expectations. Not one of her points leads to anything dealing w/raising expectations. She mentioned teaching to the test, but not one of the points addressed TEACHING, but instead administrative issues. What about discipline? Discipline issues are the predominant reason teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn. Give teachers the authority to deal with discipline problems. As long as graduation rate is the most important factor discipline will continue to be a problem along with low expectations. The expectations have been lowered to keep everyone in school. Until we deal with the elephant in the room (discipline) we will never raise expectations. Kids must behave if learning is to take place.

HS Tchr

June 24th, 2010
9:48 am

do you smell: Actually RESA’s can be an excellent resource. In my county, the RESA serves several counties and offers an ongoing list of excellent courses tailored to identified needs in the service area. My experience with classes has been great, and I even took on a master’s degree as a result of a summer class I took at my RESA. If done right, those places can and should be an excellent resource for professional learning.

Until we get past the era of standardized testing, we’re never going to really improve. No matter what this, or any superintendent says or does, we’re not going to see substantive improvement until we take a new view of assessing student learning and growth.

@ SS teacher

June 24th, 2010
10:47 am

@ SS teacher
June 24th, 2010
8:00 am,
FYI – Wilbanks treats his teachers like “tall children.” A good state super will give power and authority back to teachers!


June 24th, 2010
10:47 am

Take care of the small things, and the big things will line up. I agree that having disciplined classes is key. No matter how talented I am, no matter what gimmmicks my county buys, no matter how well written the mission statement, if I have no recourse to continuing to have disruptive students in the classroom, it “availeth me not.”

Look at the highest achieving schools. What do they have in common? Not parental SES (although that is frequently a co-factor). They effectively handle students whose behavior interferes NOT ONLY WITH THEIR OWN LEARNING, but with the learning of their classmates.

When we do not have effective removal of disruptive students, when we make all students suffer for the 20% who do not behave, we are saying that what we are doing is not important. Even worse, we are saying that the 20% are animals who cannot do better. And folks, I don’t believe that is so! Even a dog can learn to behave.

Our continuously giving students “another chance” has got to stop. When their parents send them through the schoolhouse doors, they MUST conform to expected behavior standards, OR BE REMOVED and given “reasons” to conform. It has to be done for the other 80%.


June 24th, 2010
10:54 am

We’ve lost sight of the difference between an education and job training.


June 24th, 2010
10:56 am

Good thoughts. Yes, discipline is an issue in many schools and needs to be addressed. Perhaps #6 is a starting point to address that issue?

I teach in a rural school and fortunately discipline is not a big issue. Most of our students are well-behaved. Many folks on this blog tend to focus only on metro Atlanta and forget that the state line does indeed go beyond the metro area. Rural systems are bleeding. Even in good years we can’t afford all the “bells and whistles” that metro counties enjoy….robotics classes, extensive AP/IB courses, etc. Entire programs have been cut in our schools(elementary-high school)….music, art, agriculture, computers/technology.

Blather or drivel?

June 24th, 2010
10:57 am

Was this blather disguised as drivel, or drivel disguised as blather. Only someone who has never WALKED THE WALKED in a classroom would call this a “great plan”. This career hack has the nerve to say “Let’s get real” but doesn’t mention one word about discipline?

You can no more have a “great plan” for education in Georgia without addressing discipline, than you can have a great plan for Afghanistan without addressing the Taliban.

Mary Jessie therefore is either completely clueless, or completely intellectually dishonest.

Shame on Maureen for not only participating in this charade, but in fact endorsing it.

You’re readers aren’t stupid Maureen. And when you print a letter that mentions 7 ways to address education, and discipline isn’t even in the top 7, you’re openly disrespecting your readers.

But readers, if you don’t call Maureen on it…


June 24th, 2010
10:59 am

@SS teacher, thanks for your comments on those who refer to public schools as government schools. I am so sick of hearing this. I wonder, though, why you think rural systems should be consolidated. If my county was consolidated with one of our neighboring counties, it would be a disaster. The other county would take what little money we have as well as out best students and send us their worst . Imagine the howls if you told two metro counties they were going to be combined. Same here.

@schooled, you are so right about discipline. In one of our feeder schools, two students held down an 8-year-old while a third stomped on his arms breaking one of them. These kids will be tried in juvenile court, but I’m willing to bet there will be little school discipline. In a few years, the little darlings will be at my middle school where our teachers are discouraged from sending disruptive kids to the office for discipline. We are expected to mollycoddle the kids and give them rewards when they don’t misbehave. It’s a joke. Then the kids get to high school where behavior is enforced somewhat better and the sweet angels get angry that someone expects them to behave, and they drop out.

I know many of you don’t agree with corporal punishment, but the teachers who were around when it was an option say it only had to be done once or twice early in the school year and kids understood what would happen if they acted up. Discipline was swift and then it was over.

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

June 24th, 2010
10:59 am

No, Michael, I disagree: the state of Georgia and its individual school districts have never aspired to anything but training entry-level workers. Low tax, low wage state. That’s the *real* crime behind the Atlanta CRCT scandal: they were cheating to beat a test whose bar is so low as to be laughable.

Maureen as Ronald Reagan

June 24th, 2010
11:06 am

Does Maureen remind anyone of Ronald Reagan, in that she won’t mention the word discipline, just like Ronald Reagan wouldn’t mention the word AIDS?

FC teacher

June 24th, 2010
11:23 am

I was also disappointed by MJ’s “must do’s.” As a teacher, they are meaningless to making a real difference in the classroom where the action, in fact, happens.

Not to mention that it’s naïve to think that an interum super could “put into motion” any lasting change.

This letter is nothin but a job pitch–and not a very good one.

Just Wondering

June 24th, 2010
11:25 am

I “missed” the section of the letter that addressed teacher morale and expectations, the first being critically low and the second being beyond superhuman. From a veteran Georgia teacher who’s almost too burned out to care!

An advocate for public education change & choice

June 24th, 2010
11:34 am

A close examination of the history of public education in GA (from a policy making perspective) would reveal that its never been very highly regarded which is the real crime.

Frankly, one has to question the real value add of the State DOE along with the position of the State Superintendant and the State BOE. Its governance is weak and its guidence often shortsighted.

I read this commentary and I think to myself the laundry list of ideas are in appropriate for someone holding an interim position which will likely be occupied by someone else within 6 months. Unfortunately we’re treading water until after the election.


June 24th, 2010
11:45 am

Teacher&mom makes some great points. I have also taught in rural systems where discipline was not an issue at all. Is this/should this be a state or a local issue?

Start all over again

June 24th, 2010
11:47 am

Abolish the State BOE.Give each school system 5000.00 per student per year.Make each system responsible for the education of their students. If the parents do not like the results ,fire the Superintendent’s.All system superintendents would have to be elected not selected.Why not; after 30 years of the same old same old? Start all over again.The current State Education System is a JOKE!


June 24th, 2010
11:54 am

I didn’t see a whole lot in that letter that really addresses expectations per se, and #4 totally scares me…how much money has the state already spent on data systems with various degrees of uselessness, including the one implemented just last year that still doesn’t work correctly?

I was expecting a lot more from the letter. It started off well.

Giving the respect due

June 24th, 2010
11:54 am

I would have more respect for someone standing by the beer cooler in a convenience store asking for a dollar for bus fare, than this letter.


June 24th, 2010
11:54 am

I must agree with the many here who have found the letter rather lacking in substance. “Reimagine the DOE?” Isn’t that sort of like “reinventing the wheel”? Do we really need to do that? Why?

“Drill down provision of essential services to districts to a regional level where human capital with the expertise to serve should be staffed in closer proximity to the schools.” What we don’t need is more jargon.

“Become the voice for education in Georgia- Get in the driver’s seat; take the vehicle in the right direction; say something of value when you get to the destination.” Reads like an excerpt from a bad speech, and I should know because I’ve had to write some bad speeches.

“Enable a functioning comprehensive data system . . . .” Avoid beginning sentences with the word “enable.”

Partnering with the Governor and the General Assembly? Wow! Why haven’t we thought of that? (Because they don’t want to be partners, that’s why.)

6 and 7 don’t even warrant a faceitous comment.

Giving the respect due

June 24th, 2010
12:06 pm

Gee an “educational consultant” writes a letter full of useless jargon. What a surprise.


June 24th, 2010
12:19 pm


June 24th, 2010
12:20 pm

Maybe a change: How many years have you been teaching? What sort of school? SES/education level of parents? Just wondering.

One of the biggest changes I have seen in 38 years is that I cannot just shut my door and teach my students. Last year I counted over 50 observations of the classes I was pushing into. It has been getting worse each year. Some of these observations are evaluative (by the reading coach, math coach, principal, assistant principal) and many are the “show ‘em off” variety. I also have rarely had to send a child to the office; I am lucky that I tend to have students who are willing to do what I need/want them to do. I see others struggling, however, and having violent kids flipped back into their classrooms with no real consequences. I have also seen more and more “can’t do its” kicked upstairs into administrative rolls, for which they are desperately not prepared. They make my job a lot harder. When challenged to come into the classroom and demonstrate, THEY CAN’T DO IT!

Ms. Downey, this also read to me as a job solicitation. JMHO. Please post substantive ideas instead.

Maybe some denial

June 24th, 2010
12:25 pm

Thank God maybe a change wasn’t around in Birmingham in the 50’s. Maybe a change probably would have told Rosa Parks to look at the bright side and think about how wonderful it is to be able to stand up and take advantage of such a great public transportation system.

It's up to the readers

June 24th, 2010
12:28 pm

A few have done it here, but obviously not enough. If the readers will not call out Maureen when she insists on foisting pablum like this upon her readers, then it’s going to continue.

If people keep accepting the product as is, what is the incentive to improve the product?

It’s up to the readers to demand better.


June 24th, 2010
12:40 pm

What the heck do Birmingham and Rosa Parks have to do with the letter under discussion?

It's up to the readers

June 24th, 2010
12:43 pm

Thank you redweather, for showing us why Maureen is able to get away with posting pablum like today’s post.


June 24th, 2010
1:14 pm

The reference to B’ham and Parks was in response to Maybe a Change, not in response to the letter at the top by Mary Jessie.


June 24th, 2010
1:33 pm

@Michael: “We’ve lost sight of the difference between an education and job training.”


Unrealistic all the way around

June 24th, 2010
1:43 pm

Those like Mary Jessie have far too unrealistic expectations for the student population as a whole and are one of the main causes for poor student performance in Georgia. Not all students have the aptitude for, nor should be forced to take higher level math and science. Starting with the premise that all students should be prepared for college with Algebra II, etc is not only a waste of resources, but also serves to increase the high school drop-out rate. Focusing on being able to speak and write well is far more important. Throw in keyboarding, balancing a checkbook and a few consumer skills and many students would be far better prepared for life after high school. The ones with the aptitude will rise to the top and go to college. College should not be treated as an extension of high school. With half of freshman dropping out the first year, it should dawn on those who supposedly know something about education a new approach is needed.
Inclusion is one of the biggest impediments to public education. Resources have been shifted to trying to raise test scores for the lowest students to the detriment of nurturing the brightest. In the process we’ve shortchanged both groups.

smells like ......

June 24th, 2010
2:07 pm

@HS Tchr,

the last RESA i was at was like a pep rally; Oh golly gee, if we just will do this the students will be like angels, stay in their seats, learn Greek, and never get in trouble ever. All the teachers and the RESA instructor were watching the clock as the 8 hour power point was presented. Anyone here ever have to sit through a power point. Just because you can make a power point does NOT mean you have to show one at every meeting? AHHHHHHHHHH

I love it when some teachers tell students wait till you get in the real world; those teachers and RESA instructors are not in the real world. Some HS students have to pay rent to their parents, buy their own car, take care of their younger brother and sister while mom/dad is out, arrested, or at work.

It would be better to have a workshop on how do we help these students and put it in the heads of some teachers this is what some kids have to do.

The letter MJ wrote is like some job pitch with a little to much useless jargon mixed with sugar. ECK

A Choice

June 24th, 2010
4:28 pm

Georgia has a choice over the status quo: KIRA WILLIS

@a choice

June 24th, 2010
11:17 pm

You Willis supporters keep on saying that, but then she won’t articulate what she would truly do to change the status quo when it comes to the lack of authority teachers have in the classroom.

She gives the same non answers as Martin, Westlake and the others.


June 25th, 2010
2:57 am

Yes, let’s discuss discipline. We need disciplined and well trained educators to compete on the world stage. Let’s get the educators out that give education a bad name!

Educator for Life

June 25th, 2010
10:24 am

LOL, it seems MJ has forgotten the purpose of a mission statement. Hello, a mission statement is the short-term goal and the vision is for the future! Look, we can place blame everywhere and on everybody, but the DOE does not control how our curriculum is taught. They only control the standards. I have been teaching over 10 years and the DOE (and Superintendent) has no real impact on me. My county system has the real impact on me. When they hire administrators that don’t support me and my students, there is no way I can blame the DOE.

Seems like a majority of people on here bash any and everything, regardless. parents, start supporting your teachers by doing what you are SUPPOSED to do at home, which is monitor your child’s academic endeavors and promote respect and positive behavior. A lot of your kids come to school with no respect of the teachers becasue they talk back to YOU!!!

So, if you think GA is oh so bad, then move out of state or home-school your kids. Then, you won’t have to create complaints.


June 25th, 2010
4:46 pm

Gee Enlightened, did you ever think that if we stop demonizing teachers instead of supporting them, we might be able to take steps to get rid of the ones that don’t belong, instead of “getting rid” of the best and the brightest like the Platts?


June 26th, 2010
1:12 am

You have to GIVE respect to GET it. I see/hear a LOT of demonization of parents. It takes a village. Teachers are not perfect and do make mistakes just as parents are not perfect and do make mistakes. But one thing for sure, the attitudes filter through. So when I interact with teachers whom for some reason believe that they should be worshiped because they stepped into a classroom, they will get the SAME ARROGANCE from me. The great teachers with whom I interact treat me as a valued partner in my child’s education and I RETURN that with support and respect.

And just an FYI, the REALLY good ones haven’t all left. They are trying to outlast the whiners with their pity party blaming kids and parents for their lack of knowledge and skills.

being a teacher

June 26th, 2010
5:23 pm

So many jobs come in different forms, come in many different time slots and job descriptions and the biggest sting and blessing is the pay. Being a teacher means number one to uphold a decent standard of morals(and of course knowing your subject area as well). I am not a religious person, I really believe I am good without god. From 8:30 to 3:15 I have to be the strong, mature person but not to the point where the kids will not respect you or have true fear of you. I love my job and do my best to be calm, fair and objective in the worse of classroom storms because how you deal with one student can affect the behavior of the other 20 based on your reaction to the situation. Once that “respect” has been established my job becomes easier. Now there is the other job description of the school bureaucracy which is paperwork, meetings, lunchroom duties etc.. which for me is about %30 where I teach about %70 of the time. I feel this bureaucracy is a necessary thing to help the school function better and improve student performance. The problem I have is I find some of my “duties and responsibilities” too tiresome and menial. Cut down the required meeting times and communicate in email so save planning time. I am in a school within a school so weekly meetings must happen to inform staff on small and large school events. I feel extra work is created for teachers from others justifying their own job positions who work in the school but do not teach. I’d rather use that time to open a math lab in the media center for 2 hours one day a week. I know many kids come to teachers for help and are turned away because of meetings. just my 2 pennies.


June 28th, 2010
11:30 am

kudos to enlightened…from a fellow parent advocate!


June 28th, 2010
2:24 pm

Aks Janice Fair if she was physically assaulted, even after she repeatedly warned administration about her eventually assailant, because she was “arrogant” or lacked “knowledge or skills”.

I’m sure if Janice Fair had just “established a relationship” with her assailant, as just a teacher suggested, she never would have been assaulted, right?