On the blog today, some folks asked why I don’t write more about the practices of high-achieving districts, such as Decatur. Two hours later, I received this e-mail from a Decatur board member explaining why he is choosing not to run for a third term.
That board member is John Ahmann, who is also a policy expert on education and has worked with the Atlanta chamber and APS over the years. Ahmann and I have had a lot of professional discussions over the years on teacher quality, one of his major focuses. (As I noted earlier, my twins attend Decatur schools.)
I thought Ahmann’s statement offered insights beyond Decatur, so I am sharing it here:
Here is his statement in part:
Over the last eight years, I have worked hard to contribute to helping City Schools of Decatur be among the best of the best. But just as in a relay race, I think now is the time to “pass the baton” so that someone else may continue the sprint to the finish line, and I have decided to not seek re-election to the Board.
Having worked in public policy change my entire adult life, I am acutely aware that any successful endeavor involves many people working together as links in a chain. I am proud to have been a link in the chain for arranging pro bono support from the Boston Consulting Group to develop the System’s strategic plan eight years ago; brokering philanthropic partnerships that led to the early childhood learning center and the program with the Ben Franklin Academy (which ensured dozens of at-risk students graduated from DHS); and working closely with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle on the legislation that enabled the creation of Charter Districts.
The area I have pushed the hardest and with the most consistency the last eight years is raising the quality of our instruction staff. Simply put, Decatur students deserve the best teachers. Recruiting and retaining the best teachers requires that we support them fully in their work and development as well as evaluate their performance in a clear and consistent way. I leave understanding much better how hard teaching really is, and that we must do so much more to nurture, support and reward great teaching. And we owe it to our children to do something about poor teaching in those instances where we find it.
The research is overwhelming in its conclusion that the quality of the teaching in the classroom is the most powerful determinant to a student’s success. A child in Decatur should never have a bad experience because of poor teaching. Decatur is blessed with a high-quality instruction staff, but we should not stop until we believe that every teacher in every classroom in every subject is in at least the top 10% of teachers nationwide. With over 400 applications per teacher opening, CSD can be highly selective.
With the support of an amazing community, CSD has aimed high: to be among the best community school districts in the nation. The challenges ahead for City Schools of Decatur are substantial because we aspire to be among the best in the nation. Over the last few months I have been in the “nay” category on a number of important votes. These included the high school start time; our transportation contract with the DeKalb County School System; a 1.5% pay raise for CSD staff at a time when we are engaged in deficit spending; and the recent 1 mill tax increase. So I have concluded that either candidate currently running for District 1 post would be more effective than I have been at enacting the change I believe is needed to continue our progress going forward.
As a prepare to hand off this baton to the next sprinter, I want to end with a big thank you to this amazing community that gives such tremendous support to our school system, both in engagement and also financially through paying a very high local millage rate. Sometimes the intensity of the engagement was tough on particular votes but in retrospect I can truly say the decisions were better for it. I have learned from my own experience that a temptation on the school board is to assume a, “they don’t understand” posture, or a we/they view instead of “us.”
Another temptation is to manage community engagement instead of truly embracing it, especially when it disagrees. Being human, the ego comes into play and sometimes issues feel personal that really should not be. Checking the ego at the door and the propensity to believe as a school board member I have all the facts and they (the community) don’t is hard. This is why community engagement is so, so important. We are all fallible. None of us know everything. But through the push and pull of dialogue, through engagement (sometimes intense), we will make better decisions. I know I did.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog