With an 8-0 vote, DeKalb’s school chief empowered to move forward on reshaping system and reassigning staff

Changes are coming to DeKalb schools, according to today’s AJC story. Ty Tagami reports that principals “will have more control over how taxpayers’ money gets spent on education if a major reorganization pushed by the county’s new superintendent rolls out as she promises.”

While posters here believe some board members are out to derail Cheryl Atkinson’s ambitious reforms, the new school chief won an 8-0 vote from the board to move forward. (There was one odd abstention.)

It may be that whatever reservations board members have about revamping the central office and reassigning staff have been overcome by the harsh financial realities facing DeKalb and the community frustration with regressive policies.

According to the AJC story:

The school board met behind closed doors Tuesday for more than three hours with Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, then emerged for a public vote to approve her proposal to reclassify jobs and alter salaries.

The goal, said Atkinson, is to “drive as many of our resources as we can to schools.”

The net effect: a shift in the oversight of about $109 million in annual spending from central office administrators to principals and a savings of $5.6 million this year, system spokesman Walter Woods said.

Few details were made public Tuesday. The 8-0 vote authorizes Atkinson to proceed with her plan, which will shift oversight over potentially hundreds of central office personnel to principals at more than 100 schools. She and her principals still must determine whether particular positions need to be eliminated and others added.

“This is the first step in a very long process,” school board Chairman Eugene Walker said. He was the lone board member to abstain, but he said his non-vote “had nothing to do with the overall thrust of the superintendent’s plan.”

Walker, of South DeKalb, said he had unanswered “legal” and “fiscal” questions. He said he will have opportunities to vote on specific elements of the plan as details emerge.

A teachers’ representative said he is optimistic about the reorganization.

“Dr. Atkinson has taken action to get salaries more in line with where they should be and to eliminate positions that aren’t needed,” said David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators.

Atkinson wants to “get rid of bloat where this is bloat,” he said, and push resources to classrooms. He said teachers are worried about a budget shortfall next year.

“If the board doesn’t interfere, and they let Dr. Atkinson do her job,” Schutten said, “I’m confident that the school system will be right-sized.”

37 comments Add your comment

HS Public Teacher

February 22nd, 2012
8:34 am

Could be a really good thing. However….

There needs to be some ‘checks and balances’ put in place to ensure that no one is hiring their nephew or girlfriend type. This has been a major problem in DeKalb Co School System.

Also, there needs to be some ‘checks and balances’ regarding the Principals autonomy. As in Fulton Co School System, when Principals are given too much power and control that goes unchecked, they too can hire their nephews or girlfriend type. They also can go nuts with crazy ideas that drive staff away and cause the school to decline.

Just some thoughts…

carlosgvv

February 22nd, 2012
8:42 am

“will have more control on how taxpayer’s money gets spent”

Translation – We will be even more inefficient and crooked with your tax dollars than ever before. And, don’t even think of trying to replace us. Thanks to dirt dumb GA politics, we are firmly entrenched in our cushy jobs.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 22nd, 2012
8:54 am

Let the Palace cleaning begin! It’s about time. Gene Walker is so feckless as a leader of our BOE. His abstention speaks volume. Hey Gene the stakeholders of DCSS have had legal and fiscal questions for years! Like the time when a former BOE chairs son hid out at a school for 6 months, after receiving a $15k raise and a new job in MIS. His boss at the time? Ramona Tyson, let’s hope Ms. Tyson is shown the door soon. Any holdovers from the Clew regime should be let go. If not, Dr. Atkinson might end up like Johnny Brown. Let’s give Dr. Atkinson our full support since she will feel the brush back as the pink slips begin to appear.

I have a lot of questions too with this process and I look forward to find out the details as time goes on. Since this involves personnel a lot will be discussed behind closed doors. Will there be leaks? I hope our DA is watching closely because if time is any marker, we’re in for a rough ride until the coat tail riders are out!

Parent

February 22nd, 2012
8:56 am

I would like to see some principals moved around. So many declining schools in Dekalb yet very few principals have been moved.

Would it be so hard for Dekalb to stop the friends and family policy. I know at my neighborhood elementary school that poor hiring controls happen and no one seems to care. I find that as a school declines and involved parents remove their children, what remains is people who just want to maintain the status quo and make sure that “they get theirs.” It is obvious that DCSS from the board on down has no interest in its primary duty: educating children.

Dunwoody Mom

February 22nd, 2012
8:57 am

As with everything the “devil is in the details”. I look forward to getting more information – but this is the first step in the right direction.

Anonmom

February 22nd, 2012
8:59 am

I think the “next step” (maybe a year or 2 away) will be firing principals who “don’t get it right” — I think Dr. A is going to give them enough “rope” to “get it right” and if they don’t it will fall on them. The children may suffer at those schools in the in-between but she needs to give them a chance to show what they can (or can’t) do.

Anonmom

February 22nd, 2012
9:03 am

Dr. Walker is probably the smartest and most educated member of the DCSS BOE. He is also the best “Politician” who “sees color” and has his own “history,” which is the direct contrast to Mr. Womack — their history is polar opposites and they’ve been at odds with one another for over 25 years. Both have their own agendas and histories. Dr. Walker has about 30 “friends and family” employed by the system…. The system needs a younger generation to really “move forward” and “beyond” their personal histories, to which they are both entitled — they have each accomplished a lot in their own ways and are to commended for it. It’s just time for new blood.

George

February 22nd, 2012
9:12 am

Ms. Robertson

February 22nd, 2012
9:26 am

Please start with South Dekalb Schools. I have such a problem with the school my children attend. Anytime your children start their school day with a popular R & B or Hip Hop song to get them excited that is ALL WRONG! Please re-vamp/ re-direct all Dekalb County schools. Perhaps have a out of state job fair, do something. I am tired of going to my children’s school and seeing the teachers dancing in the hallways. I can see and understand why- Vanderlyn Elementary received a award for excellence and performance, as opposed to others in S. Dekalb, are left behind. My children at times , do not want to go to school anymore and they are only in the second grade!

Dekalb taxpayer

February 22nd, 2012
9:32 am

My fear is that the same unqualified people will continue to be paid their inflated salaries only we won’t be able to point to a bloated central office because these people will be “sitting” in schools. The idea of giving more power to principals is good if, and only if, you have competent, experienced principals in all of your schools, and this is certainly not the case in Dekalb. But at this point, truly anything would have to be an improvement.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 22nd, 2012
10:02 am

Anonmom, Did you know Walker was accused of sexual harassment while on the Paroles Board? Did you know our taxes went to pay to settle this out of court at a tune of $100k+. I think DCSS might be the only system in America that has an accused sexual harasser as its’ chair. He might be smart and he must be to survive and win election to a school board after the accusations leveled against him. I fear for Dr. Atkinson as this continues and I for one will support her as this cleansing begins.

This is going to take time to weed through the bad seeds and I am sure Dr. Atkinson is aware of the principals that were placed in their positions because of who they knew. Remember everyone, since this involves personnel issues a lot of this is going to happen behind closed doors and the general public will never know exactly what is being said, unless it’s leaked. I hope our DA Robert James is watching this closely. If anything happens now, Mr. James could have some egg on his face for not empaneling a grand jury to investigate our outstanding, self-policing BOE.

catlady

February 22nd, 2012
10:03 am

One can hope that the friends and family plan won’t be replaced with Friends and Family, part 2. Every hire should go under the microscope! And every former hire should be evaluated and perhaps reduced in pay. I am not saying two teachers who are married should not be employed in Dekalb, but NO ONE who is an administrator or in the CO should have a family member who is thereafter hired. Period. There are several school systems in the Atlanta area where a person looking for a job can apply, not just the system where “mommy” works. And Atlanta has quite a few really qualified people looking for work.

We have had a few terrible friends and family hires in my system. In one, a principal hired her just-out-of-a-substandard-college daughter, over many applicants who were vastly more experienced/higher degreed, into a job that requires extensive experience. In another, a board member’s daughter was hired and has proven to be the laziest, poorest English-using, most self-serving person imaginable. But she is untouchable.

Hopefully what the supt meant was not “we are going to place CO staff in the schools and call them pushing the money into the classroom” because their offices are located in the school.

Teacher Reader

February 22nd, 2012
10:27 am

Hopefully Atkinson will also increase the requirements to become a principal. The job of principal has been handed out to too many people who were not quality educators and therefore can not create or run a quality school, as they don’t know what quality looks like.

Hopefully the Title 1 Coaches who make more money than a teacher at the top of the pay scale, will be put at the teacher pay scale, where they would be everywhere else in this country. Hopefully smaller class sizes will be a result of this move.

I feat that Atkinson will not be supported by Walker and we, as county residents must support her if she is truly trying to better the education system for our children. We cannot allow Walker and other board members to stand in her way.

Ernest

February 22nd, 2012
10:52 am

Dr. Atkinson was on V-103 this morning starting around 7:05 am. I did not catch all of the interview but I believe she addressed several concerns that have been expressed. From what I understand, she is attempting to get the organizational structure in place first. She mentioned that in Charlotte Mecklenburg they used an ‘Alignment Management’ system and that she was looking at that model for DCSS.

Something many would find interesting is the staffing level of the central office. She mentioned that several positions were ‘coded’ incorrectly. As an example, she pointed out that several special education teachers were coded as central office staffers even though they were school based employees. Considering the recommendations in the audit, this is one thing she can quickly address so that positions in the schools and central office are reflected accurately.

From an instructional standpoint, she mentioned expecting over 6 million dollars of savings and wanting to plow that back into the schools. Principals would have great responsibility of what goes on in their schools. To me, this would also suggest ensuring they have the right principals in each school. I do recall hearing earlier that members of her team visited Gwinnett to review their Leadership Academy. Another interesting comment she made was wanting to integrate technology more with instruction, specifically wanting to see a laptop, tablet or e-reader in the hands of every student. In my opinion, this is a major paradigm shift but I am open to seeing if this can work. We must acknowledge that our children are technologically savvy and can probably adapt rather easily. This could enable referencing current information. My concern would be if enough professional development could be provided for our teachers so they would feel comfortable with this.

We should check the V-103 site to see if they saved this interview. I believe it would be worth listening to.

HS Public Teacher

February 22nd, 2012
10:59 am

Ms. Robertson,

My heart goes out to you and your children. You really sound like a parent that truely cares about your child’s education and I do admire that.

I’d like to encourage you to meet with the Principal and voice your concerns. Too often, those administrators do things to “look cool” to the kids without regard for education value. They make decisions based on what is less grief for them without regard for education value. However, if you express you concerns to the Principal they might, just might, listen.

It is worth a shot! Good luck.

Dekalbtaxpayer

February 22nd, 2012
10:59 am

Dr. Atkinson is doing exactly what she should do by assigning those coaches, psychologists, etc. to the schools. The principals can then decide if they need 3 or 4 Instructional coaches or would they rather have teachers. Title 1 funds only require DCSS to spend 10% of around $40,000,000+ of their Title 1 funds on Instructional Coaches which comes to around $4,000,000 yet we employ over 100 non teaching Instructional Coaches for around $10,000,000. Our local tax dollars make up the $6,000,000 difference. A principal should be able to decide if he would rather for example have 2 math teachers (2 math teachers being about the same price as 1 non teaching Coach) and 1 Coach rather than 2 Coaches. Perhaps the principal does not see a need for a psychologist and would rather have extra special ed teachers. Driving personnel decisions to the school level is a good idea and needs time to play out.

I agree that an email to Dr. Atkinson congratulating her on her plan is in order. I would go further and say email the entire BOE to express your support for Dr. Atkinson.

B Anderson

February 22nd, 2012
11:13 am

While many believe corruption runs deep in the DeKalb County School System, maybe the most generous observation we can make is that the culture of the organization does not foster excellence. A lack of professionalism percolates from the board downward. Cronyism and mediocrity are pervasive.
Whether Dr Atkinson can be successful depends on how deep and wide-spread our problems lie.
Do our principals have the discipline, insight and professionalism needed to operate a school building where teachers feel supported, parents feel heard and children learn?

If challenged will staff – whether principals or school staff – balk and shirk their responsibilities? Will they find sympathy from friends and family in higher places? Or will they pull together and do the hard work to improve their schools and the system.
This can’t just come from the top. Somewhere along the way, board, administrators, staff and parents have to rise to the challenges.
I wish I could believe change is coming but the best I can do at this time is have hope. Such institutionalized behavior is very hard to dislodge. Too many people are dependent on it and it gives power to those who could not achieve it in a higher functioning setting.

paulo977

February 22nd, 2012
11:26 am

This young teacher has something very important to say ….

http://www.ajc.com/opinion/snubbing-teach-for-america-1356022.html

Maureen Downey

February 22nd, 2012
11:35 am

@paulo, I had to edit Emily’s piece for print, but plan to run her entire piece on the blog later today.
Maureen

WAR

February 22nd, 2012
11:55 am

uh oh…and here we go

Dekalb taxpayer

February 22nd, 2012
12:10 pm

Amen to B Anderson’s post.

Ernest

February 22nd, 2012
12:36 pm

I also agree with B Anderson’s post. Dr. Brown attempted to make necessary changes during his tenure and was stymied both by the community and Board. While I am encouraged by the unanimous vote (with one obvious abstention), Dr. Atkinson will need support from the community to move forward. Whether she is judged on the ‘micro’ (small decisions) or ‘macro’ (big picture) will factor in her success.

Melanie

February 22nd, 2012
1:58 pm

Questions: What principal has the time or expertise to cut payroll checks at the local level? How many people have mishandled P Cards and bookkeepers fired for taking funds. Where are the checks and balances? Will the pupil teacher ratio be lowered? Merely moving existing services that were housed in central office but whose services were already in the schools is fine but it not a rocket scientist accomplishment. It will not impact instruction. Giving principals the choice of instructional coaches or art teacher or maybe another athletic coach will not cut the muster will Federal Title I Guidelines. What DeKalb needs is a countywide curriculum with indepth professional development for principals and teachers. Change for the sake of change is no good. Let’s get on to a plan that will improve instruction in our schools.

Dunwoody Mom

February 22nd, 2012
2:25 pm

Melanie, I am fairly certain the Principals will not be responsible for “cutting” checks. It was just working to bring home the point that Principals will be making the personnel decisions in their schools.

What DeKalb needs is a countywide curriculum with indepth professional development for principals and teachers

Are you new to DeKalb? County/State is has been moving to the Common Core Curriculum for a year or so now and professional development for principals and teachers is an ongoing part of the state’s new ESEA Waiver.

High School Parent

February 22nd, 2012
2:37 pm

I would like to see what authority is given principals to realign or reject the positions now being assigned to the school house. Simply moving “positions” from central office to the schools is meaningless unless the position includes an individual that is willing, able and qualified to actually teach day in and day out in the classroom. Please no more graduation or instructional “coaches.” Give our schools highly qualified and energized teachers who will be in the classroom every day.

Dekalbtaxpayer@High School Parent

February 22nd, 2012
3:06 pm

I agree. After these moves are made, parents need to be asking principals what are the direct instruction responsibilities of these personnel. Parents need to push the principals to cull through the certified, qualified and motivated non teaching personnel they will now have directly reporting to them and reemploy them in the classroom teaching students math, science, language arts and social studies content every day.

bootney farnsworth

February 22nd, 2012
3:31 pm

I’ll believe it when I see something concrete. education admins are great at rearranging place cards, but not actually removing them

The Deal

February 22nd, 2012
5:12 pm

At least it will be easier to figure out what these people are doing in the schoolhouse as opposed to hidden in the central office. It will be much more difficult to hide.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 22nd, 2012
5:45 pm

The principals are going to be responsible for their progress. Like in any company or government organization you EARN raises based on your performance, not who you know. The principals are going to have to account for their results. A savings of 6 million will certainly help balance the budget for real, instead of on the backs of teachers via furlough days, no step increases and let’s not forget that pesky pension fund thing that DCSS hasn’t matched in two or three years.

Every plan can be gamed by smart folks and the sheer size of DCSS will cause something or someone to game the system. However, if there are enough checks and balances maybe this will be a start of something good.

Dr. Atkinson please release and place on the DCSS website EVERY page of the audit that came out a few weeks ago and the one that is coming up in March. Dr. Atkinson please ask your new CFO to place the check register online, like so many other systems already do. A more transparent operation will improve EVERYTHING!

Dr. Walker you have shown very little support for the new Super YOU voted for. I know what you have said on the record and at other functions, but after Steen Miles op-ed, in The Champion, I really question your agenda and what you’re trying to do to Dr. Atkinson. If you disagree with Steen Miles ridiculous assessment then come out and write your own op-ed in support of OUR new Super and the school system, the very system you claim to be in charge of.

Anonmom

February 22nd, 2012
10:56 pm

Atlanta Media Guy: I am well aware of the sex harassment suits and payments. Personally, I believe that Dr. Walker was elected chair to preserve the status quo ante. I think he is working as hard as he can to protect the “friends and family” plan. I truly hope that Dr. A can beat him in the game and will be better playing those antics than he is. I don’t think that those ’stripes’ will change (or have changed although he is very smart and quite charming). I think the majority of the BOE wanted a “controllable” woman who “looked like them” and that’s who they sought to hire. But, sometimes, you think you get x and you really get y and Dr. A appears to be very bright and caring and may actually be able to competently make some headway. So long as she can beat them at the game and SACS doesn’t let off their “watch” and the community continues to “do their thing” (vis a vis pressure from things such as the DA looking like he has given the BOE “a pass”) we might be able to save Dr. A from Dr. Brown’s fate and the kids might actually benefit. Perhaps, everyone will get together and lobby for a on-line check and p-card register (letters/e-mails to legislators) because that, too, would make an enormous difference. Gee, what a concept………

Atlanta Media Guy

February 22nd, 2012
11:11 pm

Amen Anonmom, I couldn’t agree more! You know I really think Dr. A is someone who is not going to let the past status continue. I for one will stand behind her as long as she is trying to change things for the better.

Melanie

February 23rd, 2012
12:04 am

Press for the P-card and on-line-check. Transparency..so needed, please press on. Why is the number, names and costs of thr private consultants not revealed? I want Dr. Atkinson to be successful because the children deserve a lot of success. Yet, so for I have not seen a road to instructional success. I am also consered of the high salaries of the freieds that Dr. Atkinson brought in. Transparency can solve so many problems. Let’s se complete resumes and previous successes of the folk being brought in.

Tell the truth

February 23rd, 2012
12:09 am

The morale of many teachers and students have gone down because of the incompetent principals and administrators in Dekalb School System. They mistreat teachers, plot against them, and other staff members. Also, they place deep in their pockets funds that are for the children. This is the majority of DCSS administrators. Please keep cleaning house Dr. and get rid of those un-intelligent thugs that are housed at most of these schools as administrators. Run them away ASAP. Please don’t forget to flush the Area Superintendents who cover up for the unprofessionalism of the school administrators.. They are evil and do not care about children.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
9:33 am

So, apparently Dr. Atkinson is giving the annual DeKalb State of the District speech this morning. Who knew? It’s not listed on the website or being streamed on PDS-24. This district has got to get better, and fast, on their communications efforts.

Maureen Downey

February 23rd, 2012
9:49 am

@Dunwoody, Just posted on her speech.
Maureen

Atlanta Media Guy

February 23rd, 2012
10:13 am

Amen DM! Who knew? Once again are they trying to hide something? lol Dr. Walker’s comments were interesting and I wonder if Steen Miles was in attendance. Why didn’t PDS-24 air this? Maybe Dr. Atkinson needs to get a new person to run that operation. After the BOE meeting last week with the incessant buzz and so many huge events and meetings not broadcast, I think PDS-24 needs a facelift.

Sick of DeKalb

February 23rd, 2012
7:21 pm