DeKalb school chief: Balanced calendar to shorten summer, weekly early release for teacher training and planning

Cheryl Atkinson

Cheryl Atkinson

In his introduction of DeKalb’s new school chief at a chamber event this morning, school board chair Gene Walker described Chery Atkinson as someone “who doesn’t go along to get along. She is small in stature, but huge in determination and commitment. Dr. Atkinson believes in what she is doing. It pours out of her. I am proud to work with this lady.”

Atkinson began her State of the System address with her usual theme: Victory.

“Victory is what we will have in every classroom,” she said.

After a very warm description of each board member, Atkinson praised them  for their support. She then introduced her “A team,” the staff members who lead departments and serve as her cabinet.

She reiterated her goals for the school system, saying how community input in her first 90 day listening tour led to the addition of “safe and orderly schools” to the priority list.

Here are highlights from her State of the System address: (She mentioned plans to move to a balanced calendar, which we have in Decatur. I expect there will be some push back as many parents don’t like the abbreviated summer and the Aug. 1 back-to-school date. In fact, Cobb’s balanced calendar only lasted one year because of parental protests.)

“Education is not one of those absolute sciences . You have to monitor it to make changes.”

She said the system is working on a revised curriculum, the first draft of which will be shared in May for feedback.

“We will end social promotion and set higher standards for all students. You don’t end social promotion overnight because you can kill off some children. It is a process.”

She called for early intervention, saying, “The greatest part of the achievement gap is before we see children in kindergarten.”

“We will implement a balanced calendar so our children don’t spend so much time away from the learning environment in the summer. Many of them don’t have anything to occupy their time. That is critical time we are losing.”

“We will invest in our teachers and leaders. A weekly early release will allow teachers to have that time to make good instructional decisions based on that data. We have the talent. We just need to hone it, support it and develop it.”

She called for consequences and reward for student behaviors. “Our children learn based on what we give them and what we show them.”

She called for more school options for “children who don’t fit in a traditional setting. One size does not fit all. It never has.”

“There are some areas that we need zero tolerance. There are some things that will not be tolerated in school. Period.”

“We need a central office. We cannot operate without a central office. We need people that understand that we are going to be about servant leadership. We need people that understand and are willing to go that extra mile. I will tell you I will accept nothing less.”

“We will invest in e-technology for our schools.”

Saying that even toddlers can operate iPhones now and that they are native to the world of technology, Atkinson said, “We cripple them if we do not understand that. Teachers must have instruction in technology and technology at their fingertips. Students must have iPads and  e-books. These are the tools of today.”

“Our core business is not building buildings. It is about educating children.”

Her summation of DeKalb: “It is not as bad as it has been, but is certainly not as good as it can be.”

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

98 comments Add your comment

retired teacher

February 23rd, 2012
9:52 am

Wonder what she means by a “weekly early release”? Does it mean teachers will be in the forbidden world of “LEFT ALONE” so they actually get something useful done? Or is it just going to be more training and meetings that go no where because there’s no time to implement it well.

Ned

February 23rd, 2012
9:56 am

If school starts earlier doesn’t that mean it would end earlier–that is, would not the summer break be so much “abbreviated” as reconfigured?

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
9:56 am

Thanks, Maureen. Do you have the names of the “A-team”?

Happy Kine and The Mirth Makers

February 23rd, 2012
10:02 am

VERY IMPRESSIVE. Such a fine speech…No doubt its the same speech with which she has regaled her followers with many times over.

Same old song and dance.

Ned

February 23rd, 2012
10:06 am

Someone decipher the tea leaves of Dr. Walker’s supportive introduction for me please.

Atlanta Mom

February 23rd, 2012
10:07 am

“A weekly early release will allow teachers to have that time to make good instructional decisions based on that data”
Is she saying that once a week parents will get their children home early? APS started early release about 4 times a year, and I can tell you that no work gets done in the HS on early release days. Classes that are normally 90 minutes are cut back to 40 minutes (everyone has to eat lunch before they are dismissed) and the teachers simply write off the day.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 23rd, 2012
10:07 am

Thanks Maureen for the report, I did not support Dr. Atkinson being hired, after the search fiasco. She will be under a microscope from all sides and I believe that is a good thing.

I want to hear her thoughts regarding a balanced calendar and how she will help the teachers with preparation and training time. I hope she can pull that off, since the furlough days pretty much took all those prep days away, the past two years.

I hope she can turn her speech into action. I also hope the folks who have been around and helped usher our system into a ditch, step aside and give the woman a chance to succeed. If she succeeds then we all succeed!

Dr. Atkinson has had to spend the last 5 months dousing the flames that the past administration let get out of control. We need to give her a chance to implement her changes and everyone is watching her closely, she will be held accountable. Good luck Dr. Atkinson, I now fully support you and hope you are the one to turn our flailing system around.

Maureen Downey

February 23rd, 2012
10:09 am

@Dunwoody, I did not write them all down, but I recall her naming Ramona Tyson, Walter Woods and Gary Brantley.

Maureen Downey

February 23rd, 2012
10:12 am

@Atlanta, That is what I presume she meant — one day each week DeKalb schools would close earlier to provide a common window for all staff to train and plan.
I know that these one-day-a-week early releases are common although I have no idea whether they pay off in higher achievement. I know that teachers like them as they provide common planning time.
Anybody out there know if these ever work as intended? Are they lost days?
Maureen

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
10:12 am

Ok, thanks. I read recently that Ms. Tyson will be heading up a “Accountability” Division – whatever that entails.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 23rd, 2012
10:42 am

DM, Are you saying a leader from the past administration, who our indicted super hand picked to succeed him, is in charge of accountability? Not sure I really like this call. What if Gene Walker grows tired of Dr. Atkinson, like Steen Miles, and the powerful DeKalb politicos ask Ms. Tyson for an inside look at the accountability? Could she organize it to make OUR new Super look bad? I’m just saying… I don’t trust many from the past administration and I am shocked that a former interim super would be asked to stay on in a new role, unless this was not totally Dr. Atkinson’s decision.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
10:45 am

Ron F.

February 23rd, 2012
10:50 am

my system, before the meltdown, did several early release days a year. They were used for planning, meetings, parent conferences, etc. I’m sure some teachers wasted the time- some will no matter what. But by and large most teachers used that time for common planning, reviewing assessment results, contacting parents, and professional development. As a teacher, I can tell you that a few extra hours in the building without kids gives me some really good time to catch up on grades and effectively plan based on needs. I’ve gone in on Saturdays when there has been a lot going on to get that quiet time in my room. Early release days, when we’re all in the building, can be very useful time. You just have to make the priorities known and hold people accountable for the time.

Beverly Fraud

February 23rd, 2012
11:04 am

Some initial impressions

-“Victory is what we will have in every classroom,” she said.

What’s next, walking around like Robert Duvall in a cowboy hat saying “I love the smell of board cleaner in the morning”?

-After a very warm description of each board member, Atkinson praised them for their support.

Well at least she can tell polite lies when the occasion calls for it.

-“We need a central office. We cannot operate without a central office…”

I was thinking along the same lines just the other day; thinking “I need a whole in my head. A massive hole in my head. And some foot fungus.”

-“There are some areas that we need zero tolerance. There are some things that will not be tolerated in school. Period.”

Now if she is willing to INCLUDE in that list, CHRONICALLY disruptive students who OPENLY disrespect adult authority figures, then MAYBE DeKalb will see a change.

Maybe…

Dekalb taxpayer

February 23rd, 2012
11:07 am

I was so hoping that Ms. Tyson would NOT be one of the “A team” members. Why would the super want the former interim super looking over her shoulder? Is the board, i.e. Walker, forcing her to keep Tyson on?

A weekly early release? Nutso Cucko.

February 23rd, 2012
11:11 am

Dr. Atkinson wants “A weekly early release will allow teachers to have that time to make good instructional decisions based on that data. We have the talent. We just need to hone it, support it and develop it.”

A WEEKLY early release? THIS IS CRAZY. Just how are parents supposed to adjust their after care arrangements for this plan? Has Dr. Atkinson thought for a nano-second how all those kids are supposed to get home and who will care for them after school? Nannies and babysitters cannot be found just by snapping our fingers.

This makes just about as much sense as the governor closing schools for two days to save on gas money….ridiculous.

I was hoping she was smart, now I think she is just plain ignorant.
ONE MORE reason for a charter school.

Good Mother.

Love the longer summer

February 23rd, 2012
11:15 am

Can one of those school options please be a school that doesn’t have a balanced calendar?

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
11:15 am

I wonder if the job for Ms. Tyson has to do with the fact that she received a new multi-year contract, I believe last spring?

Beverly Fraud

February 23rd, 2012
11:21 am

“She reiterated her goals for the school system, saying how community input in her first 90 day listening tour led to the addition of “safe and orderly schools” to the priority list.”

Does anybody else see it as a REALLY bad sign that she had to ADD “safe and orderly schools” to her priority list?

Isn’t that kind of like a school bus driver, after 90 days on the job announcing, “After listening to your concerns, I’ve decided to make SOBRIETY a priority during my bus route”?

Beverly Fraud

February 23rd, 2012
11:23 am

Well upon rereading my post, I guess I already have a HOLE in my head. Now if I can just get some foot fungus I’ll be as attractive to taxpayers as DCSS Central Office is.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
11:28 am

Interesting that now there is a link on the front page of the DCSS website to the address. It was not there earlier today – I check the DCSS website every morning.

paulo977

February 23rd, 2012
12:17 pm

What does she mean by “Higher standards ” for starters? Is it making sure , for example , that 2nd graders master 3rd grade work on written tests, or is it the practice of encouraging creative and exploratory thinking through group interaction , drama , art, music , etc , which all take TIME?

Ron F.

February 23rd, 2012
12:17 pm

“A WEEKLY early release? THIS IS CRAZY. Just how are parents supposed to adjust their after care arrangements for this plan?”

How then do we do professional learning? AFTER we finish babysitting? We’re already offering, at low cost to parents, tutoring and after-school care as it is. Weekly is a bit much, but if you want us to have time to plan and spend contacting you about your child, you have to give us a little bit of that time. It can’t all be done between 4 and 6 and on weekends. We have families and lives too, you know. I spend evenings on the phone with parents from my house and many weekend either at home or in the school planning and trying to keep up. I take time away from my kids to make sure yours are getting the best I can give. I know not all teachers do this, but the good ones, the ones worth keeping in the system, do this all the time. We would greatly appreciate a little time during a normal day to do at least a little of the work.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 23rd, 2012
12:25 pm

DM, If it wasn’t for you or Maureen I would have had no idea! Off to watch it right now. Still confounded by the decision to keep Ms. Tyson. She expressed publicly that she did not want the job of Super. There was a discussion about her new contract and if I recall there were those that said she deserved the new deal for all her work she had accomplished previous to the new contract. I don’ t think there were many thinking she would stay on beyond her duties as interim and transition Super.

Tyson looked the other way for 6 months while a worker of hers, after getting a $15k raise, didn’t show up for his new job. She also was in charge of a massive expansion of MIS expenditures that have not shown total return on investment. However, she did shepherd the system through a very tough time, right after the indictments rained down and of course the very contentious redistricting process. The BOE should have given her the rest of her contract and said thanks so much for your service! Keeping her holds ties to the past administration too close, in my opinion.

Tough times are still to ahead as Dr. Atkinson tries to steer this massive operation in a totally different direction. I’m very interested to watch as we move towards the “Core Curriculum” that lies ahead. Is this the “scripted learning” that Dr. Atkinson spoke of this morning?

paulo977

February 23rd, 2012
12:26 pm

one day each week DeKalb schools would close earlier to provide a common window for all staff to train and plan.!!!!!!!!!!
_____________________________________________

Unfortunately what we have done do teachers , for the longest while is to led have crippled them with the’ dysfunctional’ demands of the system to make kids regurgitate facts !! They have attended education courses , they have studied what it is education should be all about and then they have had the misfortune to land in a snake pit! What training? Give me a break!!

redweather

February 23rd, 2012
12:29 pm

“We will end social promotion and set higher standards for all students. You don’t end social promotion overnight because you can kill off some children. It is a process.”

So the large print says no more social promotion, and the fine print says it’s here to stay?

thomas

February 23rd, 2012
12:33 pm

@ Nutso Cucko (that’s your handle name, right? very fitting, I think)

So, you want schools to operate for the convenience of the parents? Is that the purpose of schooling?

Ernest

February 23rd, 2012
12:37 pm

I would think other members of her ‘A’ team are Ms. Kendra March (from Charlotte Mecklenburg and now over school leadership) and Dr. Kathy Howe (from Kansas City and now over Curriculum and Instruction). I’ve had a chance to speak to both ladies in different settings and came away encouraged. I got the impression that both wanted to perform thorough and exhaustive analysis before making recommendations. In other words, they wanted to let the actual data influence the decision making process.

As many have said, the proof is in the pudding. Will they be able to implement their reforms without outside interference’s? There will be some bumps in the road because regretfully some are resistant to change, especially if they are affected. It also will not happen over night.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
12:43 pm

At the very least, notice of this meeting should have been sent via each school’s email blast.

East Cobb Parent

February 23rd, 2012
12:44 pm

Maureen, how does early release figure into the seat time/hours that are necessary to count a day? Would the kids then actually go to school more days? The studies I’ve read for balanced calendar or year round school, say the benefits are in providing extra tutoring during the breaks. So I’ve never understood the shorter summer being a benefit unless you are providing tutoring during the summer and those other breaks. I could buy into balanced calendar if they didn’t want to start school so early in August.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2012
12:53 pm

I believe Cherokee County also offers the balanced calendar.

Ipads and what not...

February 23rd, 2012
12:53 pm

Atkinson said “Students must have iPads and e-books. These are the tools of today.”

Poppycock.

We don’t need these things. Too often and especially at my child’s school, they are a distraction. I have all those gadgets at home and use them only when abolustely necessary. We need to focus on reading skills, which means a live teacher in front of a live student. THAT’s the investment we need to make.

When “technology” is introduced in the classroom this is what happens– the students get parked at a computer and ignored. Children need real, live human beings to emulate and learn from. Cheryl Atkinson is leading us down a stupid path with all this technology baloney. Even research needs to be done in a libary with limited internet hits for research. Thoughtful, research is done with books by people who take the time to write them and perform research. Concentrating on gadgets is not focusing on education.

Booo hisss…..wrong idea, Cheryl.

Good Mother

bu2

February 23rd, 2012
12:55 pm

We need to make sure we have school board members who live in the real world. Weekly early release is a disaster for parents who work and who aren’t teachers. Its difficult for a lot of families with a non-working parent. The 8:45 middle school in APS has got to be difficult for a lot of parents and children.

The DCSS biggest problem is that it isn’t focused on the customers-the children and parents. Its been too focused on the employees (that doesn’t mean it gives them much help to do their job-just that its not customer focused).

To Thomas

February 23rd, 2012
12:57 pm

You write “So, you want schools to operate for the convenience of the parents? Is that the purpose of schooling?”

You grossly exaggerate and skew the meaning of the post. Schools shouldn’t be run for the convenience of TEACHERS. Planning can be performed after 2:30 when kids go home to school. It makes zero sense to shuttle the kids off to a half day of “school” where they get the roll called, eat lunch….and go home. There’s no value in that.

It is easy to see, Thomas, which side of the bread you are buttered on ….both sides.

2:30 is already a half day. Shooing kids home at 11 a.m. is pointless. It’s a waste of time and money.

Good Mother

jsmtih

February 23rd, 2012
12:59 pm

If you think dekalb county schools are going to get better your crazy. what could possibly make you think the dekalb county schools are going to improve ? its the same crap year after year. i hate to sound so pecimistic, but the county schools have been going down hill since the early 80’s and its not going to turn around. i think what is going to happpen in atlanta is what has already happened in savannah. almost all the white kids in savannah go to private schools and almost all the black kids go to the public schools down there. i see atlanta moving in that direction.

To Ron F

February 23rd, 2012
1:02 pm

Ron asked asks a good question “How then do we do professional learning?”

Ron, have you been in education all your life?
Business people and other workers do training after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
Teachers have from 2:30 to 5:30 to plan, train and do whatever else they need to do. They also have all Summer, about 8 to 10 weeks. US Teachers have the lightest number of days and hours worked for all professions.
If you’ve been in education all your working life, you may not understand what the rest of we working people have to do to earn a living.
Good Mother

Ernest

February 23rd, 2012
1:15 pm

Dunwoody Mom, I agree. I believe most public appearance she makes should be on the website. Citizens are interested in what she has to say. Last year this speech was recorded by PDS 24. Hopefully the same was done this year.

They did replay her interview on V-103 from Wednesday on “The Frank and Wanda’ show on WUPA last night.

GeeMac

February 23rd, 2012
1:27 pm

I was going to post a correction to the misconception that school ends at 2:30, but why waste the energy typing something that will no doubt be ignored (if I’m lucky) or completely twisted into an incoherent rant against teachers? So, nevermind….

Oh My!!

February 23rd, 2012
1:35 pm

This Cobbian will be praying for a strong turn around in DCS!! People are drawn to strength and I think the new super gives DC a good start. It may not always be a smooth ride moving fwd, but I’m confident that in the end a majority of the folks will be happy how things work out.

Dekalbite@To Thomas and Good Mother

February 23rd, 2012
1:36 pm

” Schools shouldn’t be run for the convenience of TEACHERS. ”

Actually, schools SHOULD be run for the “members of the classrooms”. The “members of the classroom” are the teacher and her students. There is no classroom without students, and there is no classroom without a teacher. It’s a symbiotic relationship. When you improve the environment for either the teacher or the student, it has a positive effect for both. You cannot degrade the environment of the teacher without negatively impacting the students since they occupy the same physical and psychological space.

Why would you not want a teacher to have adequate time to plan lessons and assess student work? What parent does not want interesting lessons, reliable assessments of their child’s content mastery, and either remediation or enrichment when they vary from the norm.

Do you think adding to the stress level of a teacher promotes patience with and concern for his students? Do you think you get patience with a child by applying pressure to a teacher? I worked in private industry for almost a decade in a direct revenue producing position as well as taught almost every grade level and content area for over two decades. There is no comparison. Children are not like clients, customers, or co-workers, nor is it wise to treat them so.

If you want a meaningful and successful educational experience for your child, you will want the environment for the “members of the classroom” to be as pleasant and productive as possible. That’s what we do for our children. No matter what life throws at us, we seek to provide as stable and comforting environment as possible. IMO – this extends into the classrooms where they spend so much of their time.

Good Teacher @ Good mother

February 23rd, 2012
1:40 pm

“Teachers have from 2:30 to 5:30 to plan, train and do whatever else they need to do. They also have all Summer, about 8 to 10 weeks. US Teachers have the lightest number of days and hours worked for all professions.
If you’ve been in education all your working life, you may not understand what the rest of we working people have to do to earn a living”

Are you serious?! Most professionals start their work day at 9am. I get to school by 7! (and I’m now on my lunch break as I write this.) We get 25-30 minutes for lunch. Most professionals get more time. And you want us to stay until 5:30? That’s a 10 1/2 hour work day! I really think my 9 1/2 hours per day and 4-6 hours on the weekend is enough, don’t you?

And yes, we may only work 190 days. Oh wait, make that 187 days because of “calendar reduction days” (i.e. furlough) BUT we only get paid for the days we work! Our paycheck may be come every month, but trust me, we don’t get paid extra.

On top of that, in my school system, I haven’t seen a step increase or cost of living raise for OVER 5 YEARS.

A little respect, please. Good teachers such as myself go above and beyond every single day to serve your children. Perhaps you might try teacher for a year to see what we teachers have to deal with.

alm

February 23rd, 2012
1:51 pm

So far I’m cautiously optimistic about Dr Atkinson. I think she’s made the right moves and I would hate to see her thrown under the bus over weekly early release. If they have the release I will just make it work because I know that teacher training benefits the students. I also know that this is the type of thing that will get parents worked up. Sadly, fraud and miss management has not work them up.

echo

February 23rd, 2012
2:13 pm

Good Mom…shouldn’t you be working right about now instead of blogging about stuff you don’t know anything about? School doesn’t let out at 2:30 at ANY school I have ever worked at (and that would be 7 schools). Even if they did let out at 2:30 that would mean the day started at around 7:30. Most teachers are at school about 30 – 45 minutes BEFORE the start of the day and typically for 30 – 45 minutes AFTER the end of the school day. Get a clue or just STFU…you are a complete waste of bandwidth! MOST of a teacher’s job is done in the time they AREN”T in front of kids. Every person I know who works in the private sector get training DURING their scheduled work time or they get comp time. There is no comp time for teachers. And that great summer is UNPAID.

flipper

February 23rd, 2012
2:25 pm

@echo… looks like …..one of those angry teachers you don’t want teaching your kids. Hopefully, you aren’t at my kids’ school.

Beverly Fraud

February 23rd, 2012
2:53 pm

I always wondered why some forward thinking administrator never thought of this: Teacher planning day, let teachers do what will ACTUALLY HELP THEM in their classroom. Well the problem with that of course is that SOME teachers would chat endlessly the whole day.

Solution? Tell staff “name 3 things you are going to get done today”. Give them 30 minutes to come up with a plan for that day, or else they spend the day in the Media Center watching inspirational speeches from Michelle Rhee, Beverly Hall and Crawford Lewis on education reform.

Given THAT choice, you’ll most likely get your money’s worth from your public servant.

echo

February 23rd, 2012
3:03 pm

@ Flipper…most of the parents who know me would beg to differ. Looks like you are in the “know nothing but make comments anyway club” too.

bu2

February 23rd, 2012
3:10 pm

Shortening 1 day puts a financial burden on the parents to pay for care (if they can find it) or take vacation time. In a county where a substantial number, if not a majority, of the children are on free lunch, that is a bad idea. In many cases, the children will be roaming around with no supervision. That’s a recipe for problems. That goes beyond the problem of getting anything done in a 3 hour school day.

yes i am worried

February 23rd, 2012
3:31 pm

Good Mother

You don’t live in DeKalb, (thank goodness), you don’t pay taxes in DeKalb.

Please just go away.

Dekalbite

February 23rd, 2012
3:50 pm

The hours have not even been announced so it is a little early to cast stones. I doubt Dr. Atkinson came up with this on her own. I would say she has talked to the teachers. How interesting. I don’t ever recall that happening in DeKalb.

dkt

February 23rd, 2012
4:20 pm

DCSS, like most large public school districts, employs heaps of certified “educators” who could serve as substitutes so that teachers could attend professional development meetings and training.