I am not sure that hearings at the Capitol are the answer to any school system’s dysfunction, although they do help draw public attention to the issue. Two DeKalb legislators, both of whom are smart and have good track records, are assembling a committee to review events in DeKalb schools and where the state’s third largest school district is headed.
I think that Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) will offer some wisdom, but the responsibility for improving DeKalb schools belongs to the duly elected school board, educators and parents of the county. And there is plenty of talent in DeKalb County, and there are some strong school board members.
They need to hire a good superintendent, clean house, as posters here and my own reporting have convinced me that there is too much nepotism in DeKalb, and then get back to the business of educating children. Many of the criticisms of DeKalb on this blog cite its loss of eminence and its inferior education as compared to a generation ago.
But the county has changed, and there are far more hard-to-educate children now than when DeKalb was a bedroom community of Atlanta. Those days aren’t going to come back because the easiest-to-educate kids now live in Alpharetta and Peachtree City. Poorer children, immigrant children and children whose own parents didn’t go to college have a longer way to go than the students whose parents bought them the Tolkien trilogy when the kids were still in diapers and send them to math camp.
That is not a slur on the county, just a reminder that DeKalb has more challenges today than it did 30 years ago. I live in DeKalb and chose it for its vibrancy, diversity and the fact that it was one of the few places back 20 years ago where I could find gnocchi, bagels and falafel within a few miles. (Now, you can get them all over Atlanta.)
Every school system is dealing with the fallout of the collapse of housing markets, and DeKalb has been harder hit than most with its high number of foreclosures. If ever there was a time for scrupulous and ardent stewardship of public money, it is now.
I am not sure that the help of the General Assembly is needed at this point. But help is coming.
Here is the official release:
State Senate and House members are forming a legislative review committee in response to the DeKalb County school board’s changing leadership and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) questions regarding the board’s practices. Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) will co-chair the DeKalb School Board Legislative Review Committee and will hold their first meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 341 of the State Capitol.
“I’m honored to serve as co-chair of this committee and look forward to working with DeKalb County’s legislative delegation to ensure this school system stays on the path to success,” said Jones. “There are serious issues facing DeKalb’s school system, and we must act immediately to see that the best candidates are elected to the board. The committee will also review the concerns raised by SACS in our capacity as the state delegation.”
Oliver emphasized the need for cooperation between the legislative committee and the school board, noting: “I’m a proud graduate of the DeKalb County school district, and I’m very concerned about the tough challenges our school board faces. We need to be proactive with our school board in looking forward to the 2011 Legislative Session to develop policies that address the current problems with the DeKalb County school board system.”
Members of the review committee will look at three specific areas, beginning with the need for more public information on candidates running for election to the school board, including the skills required to meet the current challenges. Members will also conduct a review of the school board’s implementation of reforms as required under a new law the legislature passed this year. Finally, the committee will provide assistance to the district in response to SACS’ inquiries and search for a new superintendent.
The committee will conduct meetings leading up to the legislative session that begins in January. Other issues that may be addressed include a review of the organization of the board, the organization act for board members and the school district as well as issues related to board oversight, new ethics mandates and public participation in the selection of a new superintendent.