DeKalb school chief at one year: School board must self govern.

Dr. Cheryl Atkinson

Dr. Cheryl Atkinson

Colleagues have been telling Cheryl Atkinson that it seems her first year as DeKalb County school superintendent flew by.

“Maybe to you,” responds Atkinson, who has spent the past 12 months holding fast as hurricane-like winds buffeted her school district.

Atkinson is still standing. And sometimes, she’s still smiling.

Lately, the leader of the state’s third largest school district has had more reason to smile. For the first time in five years, DeKalb saw a jump in enrollment this year, gaining 855 students. (That jump led to math teacher shortages at some high schools, but Atkinson said teachers should be in place now.)

On the newly released SAT scores, DeKalb seniors earned an average combined score of 1,343 for critical reading, writing and mathematics, an increase that was nearly double the statewide average increase. DeKalb still trails the national average of 1,498, but its improvement rate is significant, especially since 70 percent of its students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. Atkinson hopes to raise scores by having all high school students to sit for the SAT or ACT during the school day.

While the state’s passing rates on the End of Course Tests in algebra and geometry were 74 percent, DeKalb students posted an 89 percent passing rate. The county saw improvement on its CRCT scores as well, exceeding the state standard in third- and fourth-grade reading, sixth-grade social studies and seventh-grade math.

“I attribute that to a focused effort around being accountable and then actually trying to do what we said we were going to do,” Atkinson said in a recent interview.

Atkinson expects academic improvements to continue as DeKalb introduces benchmark testing to chart student growth, a challenge to administer because only 36 percent of the district’s buildings are wireless. She admits “hiccups” in the rollout of the benchmarks, noting, “It really is our trial and error year. We are hoping by the second quarterly benchmark assessments that the majority of students will be taking their assessments at the computer, hopefully at their desks.”

She recognizes the increased burden on teachers from a new round of assessments on top of larger class sizes, which is why she’s advocating for a weekly early release where school would end an hour earlier to provide time for teachers to plan, compare notes and collaborate

“Whenever I go into schools, I ask teachers, ‘Who’s learning and how do you know?’” said Atkins. “Teachers are telling me ‘You’ll have to wait to the weekend so I can get to checking their work and grading them.’ There is just not enough time to retool and to be able to share information.”

As a principal, Atkinson oversaw a school in Florida with high poverty and low parent involvement. To bring parents to the school, she launched evening performances every nine weeks where every student was on the stage so all parents had a reason to come. She held family spaghetti dinner nights. She concluded school 15 minutes earlier to allow children time to do homework, only bringing it home to have parents sign it.

“What is the point of homework? It is practice, not torture,” she said. “Who cares whether children do it on the bus or at home.”

In her first year, Atkinson spent a lot of time countering rumors, which tend to take root and spread like kudzu in DeKalb. She hasn’t been helped much by the DeKalb school board, a feuding group who often add confusion rather than clarity to controversies.

In fact, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools — the accrediting agency for many Georgia school systems including DeKalb — plans to visit next week to investigate complaints of board mismanagement and meddling.

While some DeKalb parents expect Atkinson to tamp down the unruly board, Atkinson says, “Boards have to govern themselves. They have to keep each other going in the same direction. Superintendents can share a lot information and certainly talk about reform, education practices, data-driven decisions, strategic planning and execution and all the things we do as educators, but we can’t be the board.”

Despite any clashes and disagreements, Atkinson believes that the DeKalb school board shares both her commitment to student achievement and her belief that equity and opportunity for all students in the county are “non-negotiables.”

“It is a challenge to address issues and move a system forward with competing interests and competing agendas,” she said. “A good system struggles with it, a great school system has mastered it. The board, as a unit, and the superintendent — I see it as marriage. Being divided doesn’t help.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

53 comments Add your comment

Pride and Joy

October 7th, 2012
5:02 pm

I am not impressed with Atkinson. This diabolical idea of ending school early on Wednesdays so that teachers can plan is idiotic. Rules require schools to serve lunch everyday. When schools let out early so that teachers can plan, no learning happens. Kids cite the pledge, get roll called, free lunchers get their free breakfast and lunch, everyone goes to the bathroom and then school lets out.
So that’s one day a week wasted — to high a price.

Concerned Parent

October 7th, 2012
5:34 pm

She may be better than Crawford Lewis but that’s not saying much. The board may have problems but so does the superintendents office. We’ve had our transportation canceled, lost a principal, lost our teacher and faith in the management of the school district already this year.

Can’t say much good about her asst superintendents either. Nothing like storming out of a parent meeting and giving BS answers at a board meeting to instill confidence, is their.

Let’s see if you’re still singing her praises in a year.

Dekalbite@Maureen

October 7th, 2012
5:43 pm

“The county saw improvement on its CRCT scores as well, exceeding the state standard in third- and fourth-grade reading, sixth-grade social studies and seventh-grade math”

Perhaps I’m missing the basis for your statement. Here is the CRCT comparison with every other metro Atlanta school system. It is copied and pasted straight from the AJC graphs so kindly provided after the 2012 CRCT scores came out.

http://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/shocking/

Dr. Atkinson has not been here long enough to evaluate her changes to effect academic
improvement, but the DeKalb scores are still the lowest in the metro area. Our rate of improvement is slower than the other metro systems. It’s like we are walking while others are jogging and running.

bootney farnsworth

October 7th, 2012
6:23 pm

I’m unimpressed.

get back to me when she makes real steps towards cutting the bloated admin staff, privatizes Fernbank, closing redundant schools and selling off property. talk is cheap

catlady

October 7th, 2012
6:54 pm

So, the board needs to govern itself (with the help of SACS) and the superintendent goes her merry way (with the help of SACS.)

Schools in Georgia need to jettison SACS/AdvancED. Starve the beast!

A transcriber who needs work

October 7th, 2012
7:05 pm

I’m not impressed by her standards, I’m a literary certified Braille Transcriber, certified by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., can I get a job in the school system to provide material to the visually impaired? I think not, she didn’t give me the time of day.

Old timer

October 7th, 2012
7:17 pm

I do like some of her ways to get parents into the school…..I learned there is no sense of assigning homework if no one does it. Suppers are good…math nights…..help. That is a good start. And the board needs to go so everyone can start over.

Concernedmom30329

October 7th, 2012
8:17 pm

She is right, the board has to govern themselves. They are problematic at best and some are probably actively working to undermine her as we speak.

However, she makes it easy. The PhD program with RTT money is dumb and I personally know (so not a rumor) that at least one of the 8 could retire next year. We are unlikely to get much return on that investment. Very disappointed in Atkinson’s judgement on this and other issues. The recent car purchase is a bad idea, as well.

You don’t hire someone from regional headquarters to run international headquarters without lots of time spent as an underling at international headquarters. She is over her head — perhaps most would be — but once again DCSS got this wrong. This system needed someone who had run a system with 40,000-75,000 students and a large budget.

By the way, Atkinson’s former system, Lorraine Ohio is in horrible shape.

jsmith

October 7th, 2012
8:26 pm

what do you people expect , she is in charge of all those schools in south dekalb filled with lower income kids , teaching those kids in that environment is not easy.expecting test scores from those students at those schools to rise is damn near impossible. the most important job for her is to make sure the descent schools left dekalb continue to get better by making sure the schools north dekalb are zoned to serve only the people in the neighborhoods around those schools and not letting apartment dwellers attend the better schools in the county. all apartment dwellers should be bused to schools in south dekalb

mojo

October 7th, 2012
8:40 pm

@concernedmom, You are right about needing a super from a larger district. It’s a shame that some on the board had to use other criteria as their deciding factor in who to hire.

I bet that the super is having an interesting go of things with the current chair of the board. Let’s get real. They need to have Jester or Speaks as the chair. Only then could the board govern itself.

RAMZAD

October 7th, 2012
9:03 pm

Until the citizens of DeKalb County get a new Board of Education, particularly an initiative to remove Board chair Dr. Eugene Walker- the system will be mired in mediocrity.

Boris

October 7th, 2012
9:08 pm

What was the SAT participation rate in Dekalb? If we don’t know this, how do we know the rise in scores wasn’t attributable to the system encouraging low performing students to take it? AJC should always publish participation rates when mentioning SAT scores. Otherwise they mean nothing.

Angela

October 7th, 2012
9:29 pm

@Pride and Joy,

Parents always have concerns when their days are disrupted because their children are not in school. The things that concern teacher is how much do parents assist their children on assignments, insteal positive academic ethic, spend less time disrespecting the teachers and more time seeing how/what you can do to make learning for your child better, and soooooo much more. It is so amazing how many parents complain about their children not being in school. And, if you could only hear what your children hear when you say it. If the school day is shorten why can’T parents take that time to take their children to the library or on an educational trip. Learning is learning and it does not always take place in school. Remember, teachers did not give birth to your children you did and that is where the education and its values first take place.

As for Cheryl she has done just as much unnecessary spending as Crawford did. Here to name a few things:

Implemented academic programs at very high cost.
Hired her own people and paid their moving expenses.
Hired her own people and are paying them a salary of 150K+ with no cuts.
Paid 2 high profile auditing companies to come in and restructure or whatever they were hired to do at a very high price.
Paying for over priced and unecessary testing materials.
and the list goes on.

Million dollar question, if we are in millions of debt and have a hugh deficit where is the money she is spending coming from? Something is not adding up.

However, she continues to cut teacher salaries, lay offs of other staff and personnel, etc. She has yet to in good faith or even lie to take a pay cut herself. She has just found other ways to do the same stealing that Crawford has done. Also, the word on the street is that she and Romona Tyson are relatives. We have not heard from Romona since Cheryl arrived. Also, Romana is still being paid at the same salary she was as interim.

Lastly, you can continue to step on your staff and personnel and still live high on the hog yourself and something from something will continue to bring DCSS nothing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Angela

October 7th, 2012
9:40 pm

@Old Timer,

Just for the record Cheryl did not begin that program. Teachers who don’t get paid to stay past their working hours began that program. Also, that began before Cheryl came aboard. Cheryl has done nothing positive for the DCSS system. The sad thing is that we meaning (African Americans) continue to make a mockery of ourselves. Yes, I am African American. Look at all of the school systems that have and are still on the news pert near every day. Those counties are Atlanta, Dekalb and Clayton. Look at the make-up of those boards. We are our own worst enemy.

abcteacher

October 7th, 2012
10:04 pm

Dekalb has had benchmark tests for years! It is nothing new. She just wants it to be on computer. Before there were pretests and postests and now there are only posttests. So now there is no benchmark to show how the students have improved on the same subjuect area. When the students go into the computer lab there are glitches and the students can not get on. Also, the county expects kindergarten students to be able to follow the test on computer and follow teacher directions. Some of the students in Title I schools have never even used a mouse. She is misleading you, Maureen, if she said that they are starting benchmark tests! Last year the first benchmark test was given and then everything was stoppped. It was a crazy year!

Tackless Angela Just Stating The Facts (Angela)

October 7th, 2012
10:19 pm

@jsmith

You make a half way factual point. However, it is not because the students live in apartments. The fact is 90% of those parents are uneducated themselves. Many and I mean many living in the houses are living on section 8. The other half are beign raised by great and grand parents. If you really want to change things that would have to start with the federal government and the state of Georgia. Parents receiving public assistance must be placed on a strict program and the program must be monitored closely. This means that they must attend school to further their academic ability and maintain a GPA of nothing less than 71. They must also, obtain a job within the first three months of completion of school. The can only receive assistance for 5 or less children in both food stamps and checks. The main reason that most of the students on the south end of the county lack of ability is because their parents lack ability. And, as I stated above to Pride & Joy what parents say to their children have very profound affects. They complain about school being closed because for the most part they don’t want to be bothered with their own children. When school is out why not do something academic with your child. I have parents asking for homework for their children. But, when it does not come in the form of work sheets you don’t hear from them again and the children don’t do the assignments. Work sheets DO NOT promote learning in any form. We must teach all children to use their brain by thinking. We must provide an academic plan that will make our children competitive with others all over the world. We are now using Common Core standards but here again if it is not a positive force at home most cannot expect to be brainy at school.

whatever

October 7th, 2012
10:42 pm

She really does want school to start a week earlier. also she wants crcts to be taken in early april. No big deal you say? Well let’s just look at that: if crcts taken early april then they have spring break (14th 19th) of april, there is a month after when the kids are in school until summer. NOTHING happens in this time in most schools. I know for a fact, kids watch movies, have extended recess times, this may be the only time they have cursive instruction (if at all), play computer games. So to wrap up. They have Christmas holidays, come back 2nd week in Jan, take a week off in February, then have classes until beginning of april, test and then nothing. This pushes the nothing from 3weeks to 4 weeks.

Dekalbite@abteacher

October 7th, 2012
10:58 pm

“When the students go into the computer lab there are glitches and the students can not get on.”

Until the computers actually work in the labs and in addition there are enough computers for kids, these benchmark tests cannot be taken. Information systems will not be able to provide the support necessary for students to seamlessly take these assessments Dr. Atkinson is referring to. She doesn’t understand that it’s not just the wireless issue. It’s the failure to maintain the computer labs necessary for students to take these benchmark tests. She seems to be counting on iPads or some such tablet arrangement. However, these devices must work almost all of the time as well. MIS has not shown it can manage the the relatively few computers it has, much less so many tablet devices.

dteacher

October 8th, 2012
8:25 am

Maureen,

Very disappointed in this slanted piece that could have written by Atkinson’s highly paid PR people.

First, you ignore one of her chief responsbilities: determining the budget and choosing how money should be spent. You can look to the AJC for numerous examples of egregious spending choices: RTT funds for a few “leaders,” raises for a select few, posting a position opening for a highly paid secretary, refusing to gut the central office and instead “massage” the audit findings.

Second, you give no context for the test scores. When did these seniors take the SAT scores?. And how does last year’s number compare to those the year earlier. Atkinson didn’t begin her contract until October and then she had a 90-day “chat” and “visit” tour, so this teacher is trying to determine what, specifically, she did to contribute to SAT, EOCT, or CRCT improvements. What I remember is her changing when we’d be paid, pushing a “balanced” calendar, stopping benchmarks, and overseeing the contracts debaucle.

Third, how is her overseeing a school similar to her overseeing a district? I’m concerned that any reference to Lorain would remind people of the financial disaster in our county, so it seemed easiest to leave it out.

Finally, you take her claim that 855 new students contributed to the math teacher shortages at face value. This reader would’ve liked some balance here. Our school has been begging for teachers (math, science, social studies, English) since summer.

Why wouldn’t she be smiling? Unlike teachers, parapros, bus drivers-those people who actually work with students-she hasn’t had her pay cut. And no matter how bad our financial crisis gets, she knows she can still acquire a top-of-the-line gas guzzling automobile and highly paid security personnel to fill up her tank and drive her around.

Married with (School) Children

October 8th, 2012
8:36 am

Wow.

DCSS’s on-call PR contractors could not have written a better puff piece themselves.

Insider

October 8th, 2012
11:15 am

Maureen, your blog is usually even-handed and thorough when you examine DeKalb. However, I am compelled to write for the first time and agree with the other “puff piece/PR” comments. Dr. Atkinson is on her way to bringing a once great district down in flames. Her disorganized, adult-centered, and fiscally irresponsible approach will eventually finish what Dr. Lewis started. He was small potatoes compared to her when it comes to bleeding the system dry to promote a personal agenda. Eventually, the incompetence and poor ethical standards of the people she has brought in or promoted and the policies she has enacted under the cover of darkness will come to light. We will be subject to the same scrutiny and humiliation that we saw with Atlanta Public Schools after the CRCT scandal. We will also be on the hook for millions of dollars in misspent federal funds, lawsuit settlements/losses, and contracted services. Trust me, this will end badly. Very badly.

alm

October 8th, 2012
12:12 pm

I received a notice from DSW2 about tonight’s BOE meeting. It looks like the board is going to vote if they should give more money to Lewis’ defense above $100,000 of our tax money. See section G.2.
https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/viewmeetingOrder.aspx?S=4054&MID=23965

Pat and Mike

October 8th, 2012
12:46 pm

Yes. Go to DeKalb School Watch 2 [http://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/now-what/].

With almost NO notice, Gene Walker and his co-conspirators on the Board are attempting to push through a CYA action that has the possibility of putting DeKalb County Schools millions of dollars more in debt. It also makes ALL current and former DeKalb County Schools Board members and employees very attractive targets for litigation.

Essentially, this action, if approved, tells all law firms — defense and prosecution — that payment of their bills is guaranteed by property tax.

You can be sure than any lawyer worth his/her salt will know exactly how to butt in line ahead of students and teachers.

How can we PERMANENTLY put a STOP to Gene Walker, Cheryl Howell Atkinson, Ramona Howell Tyson, Ron Ramsey, Crawford Lewis and others of their ilk?

Tuckergirl

October 8th, 2012
3:10 pm

Crawford Lewis should be required to pay for his own defense. He’s the one under indictment. Why Dekalb is paying for ANY of it is beyond me.

Fred in DeKalb

October 8th, 2012
3:41 pm

Insider, can you be more specific regarding your allegation that Dr. Atkinson has taken a **disorganized, adult-centered, and fiscally irresponsible approach** to running the school district? The situation that the school district is in is from an accumulation of questionable decisions and favors provided for many insiders over the years. She inherited a mess and you think it can be cleaned up within one year? I wonder if you think someone else could have?

Tackless Angela Just Stating The Facts (Angela)

October 8th, 2012
4:17 pm

@Fred in DeKalb,

It is in fact true that Cheryl inherited the mess. It is also, a fact that this mess cannot and will not be cleaned up in one and maybe not even two years. However, the key is that you do not come in doing more and more and more spending to clean up the mess that was created via spending.

Also, if you really and truly have the school systems best interest at heart, you would not continue to bring your own people in at such a high rate of pay 150K+. You would not pay their moving expenses. Also, in good faith one might even take a cut in pay themselves when you are continuing to take teachers pay and expect more work and after work time from teachers with less pay. She has done NOTHING and I mean NOTHING to acknowledge her teaching staff. Cheryl is no more concerned about DCSS than Lewis was.

Also, am I to understand that Cheryl has bought herself a new car. Just for the knowledge there are many many teachers losing their homes, cars, families, etc. Get a grip. Again, no she cannot clean up a mess in one year but she sure could make better decisions that show good faith and appreciation to the DCSS personnel beyond those that she is paying hugh pay checks!!!!!!!!!!!

Fred in DeKalb

October 8th, 2012
4:50 pm

@Tackless Angela, thanks for your response and acknowledging that cleaning up this mess will take a while. You mention her bringing in people she knew and has worked with in years past. I recall the community indicating they wanted many of those in senior leadership positions removed. My understanding is this has been done, with two exceptions. For a district the size of ours, how much would you expect to pay for a QUALITY CFO, Deputy of Instruction, Construction, or School Leadership? You get what you pay for. What would you say is a reasonable salary for quality people in those positions, given the current state of this district? I don’t know about moving expenses but I do know they can be tax deductible. If these were paid, could they be a write off for the district? You say she’s done nothing to acknowledge the teaching staff but I thought changing the pay periods from once a month to twice a month was a result of feedback from teachers. I guess the fireside chats weren’t of value for teachers either. I have heard some teachers complain that due to the central office reductions, they don’t know who to contact for various questions. Regarding the car, I understood that 3 older cars were traded in for one new car, for a net difference of under $9,000. Over the long term and considering warranties, isn’t it cheaper to maintain one new car versus 3 older cars?

Cleaning up the mess she inherited means making tough and unpopular decisions, many which should have been made in years past. I question whether any other superintendent would have made different decisions, especially when you consider this dysfunctional and micromanaging Board. Is it possible she would have made other decisions however knew she could not get the votes to do them? If there were not questionable decisions made in years past with finances, specifically with utility and legal costs, would things be easier? Insider made some strong allegations and I wondered if they considered the challenges any superintendent would face. It is easy passing judgment after the fact when you don’t have all the information in making the tough decisions.

Fred in DeKalb

October 8th, 2012
4:54 pm

@Pat and Mike, is there a reason you printed the maiden names of Tyson and Atkinson? Are you trying to infer something by this, similar to those that listed President Obama’s middle name to suggest something with some people in the country? It is amazing the things that some people do, hoping the ignorant will believe.

Tackless Angela Just Stating The Facts (Angela)

October 8th, 2012
5:08 pm

@Fred in DeKalb

Fred if is extremely hard to make a big deal out of paying us twice a month verses once a month. So what, our pay has been cut by over 10K. I was looking back on a scale from 2008-2009 and it cut my pay by over 10K a year. If I wanted to get technical it is more now that we are now in the 2012-2013 school year. As for paying for quality. You must first acknowledge the quality that you already have. You do not step on their toes. I am speaking of the teaching staff. And, Please Please keep in mind that the last people you screw over are the ones who make the system be what it is.

As for the car I really don’t care what she drives but I do care that even if I need a new car that I could not remotely afford to purchase one. And, much less would anyone grant me one because of the loss of credit standing due to my less than small pay cut.

Should I not assume that you are on the inside instead of the outside? One only knows what they hear, read, etc. You must be on the INSIDE to really get allllllllllllllll of the factsssssssssssssss! And, when those facts don’t impact you personally it makes it very hard to relate to or understand.
But I do respect your thoughts and comments.

Tackless Angela Just Stating The Facts (Angela)

October 8th, 2012
5:30 pm

@Fred in DeKalb

Regarding your comment to Pat and Mike please go back and read my other post just using the name Angela.

Dekalbite@Pride and Joy

October 8th, 2012
9:31 pm

Regarding your comment criticizing Angela’s grammar.

“It is “instill” not “insteal” and just like my…”

Two independent clauses separated by the coordinating conjunction AND need a comma after the coordinating conjunction.

“….you asked a really stupid question ”

The end of a sentence should have a period.

“…you have to work FULL time and I know zero parents…”

Two independent clauses separated by the coordinating conjunction AND need a comma after the coordinating conjunction.

Here is a reference to the use of independent clauses in a sentence in case you want to brush up on the grammar rules. Pay attention to this quote:
“The Rules
(a) Separate independent clauses with a comma when using a coordinating
conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet).”

http://www.hamilton.edu/writing/seven-sins-of-writing/the-second-deadly-sin-incorrect-punctuation-of-two-independent-clauses

Here is a link to the use of a period at the end of a sentence in case you want to brush up on the grammar rules. Pay attention to this quote:

“Rule 1
Use a period at the end of a complete sentence that is a statement.”

http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/periods.asp

If you want to criticize other commenters’ grammar, perhaps you need to ensure your grammar is perfect. Note that I used a comma after the independent clause in the beginning of the sentence.

dekalbed

October 8th, 2012
9:38 pm

Fred,

To which “quality” leaders do you refer? The ones that botched the contracts, the ones who couldn’t get the numbers right on number of teachers leaving the system, the ones who decided that block schedules don’t contribute to “brain drain” but traditional calendars do, the ones who decided using RTT funds to pay for the phds of 8 “leaders” even though there is no data to show this “education” will improve instruction, the ones who approved benchmarks and slos without ever considering content, time, and paper usage?

And this taxpaying teacher will never be convinced that it is cheaper for the county to maintain Dr. Atkinson’s gas guzzler. In fact, the fuel usage disclaimer explains that we’re actually paying more for it.

Fred in DeKalb

October 8th, 2012
9:58 pm

@Tackless Angela, you said NOTHING was done to acknowledge the teachers and I gave an example. Tonight the Board approved the Balanced Calendar, primarily because a majority of the surveyed staff members indicated a preference for it. Who knows what is best for instruction other than teachers? That is another example listening to staff.

Like many in this community and around the county, I empathize with teachers that have had their salaries cut. Unfortunately this is happening to employees in the public and private sector around the county. I’ve read between 100,000 and 250,000 teachers have been laid off around the country since 2010. No one disagrees that this is not good for education or for children. Because of the housing crisis, there is less property tax revenue. I see too many foreclosures near where I live. This directly impacts the property values of nearby homes. The state and federal government are both providing smaller percentages of the overall budget. DeKalb is now paying for not performing a *belt tightening* during the good times and rolling back the millage rate. I’ve asked many times for realistic recommendations for addressing salaries and teacher-student ratios but none have been given.

If you have a realistic and workable solution to replace over $100,000 in the DeKalb school budget since 2010, please tell us.

Fred in DeKalb

October 8th, 2012
10:10 pm

@dekalbed, I’m impressed by the new CFO, Perrone, so far. The new Operations officer seems to be pretty sharp also. Given the state of our finances and operations areas, both seems to be a breath of fresh air. I don’t know enough about the other ones yet to comment but my point remains, given the negative publicity surrounding this school district (much which is deserved), it is difficult to attract quality people, especially if you are offering below market salaries. Do you disagree with this?

Proud Educator

October 8th, 2012
10:45 pm

Research says that it takes 3-5 years to change an organization. Give the lady a break! Everything going right was in place before she got there; everything going bad accelerated when she arrived…I don’t think there will ever be an administrator who has 100% support. I guess that’s why they say administrators have to have thick skin.

Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
3:48 am

While re-reading my post at 9:58 I noticed a mistake. I meant over $100M has been cut from the budget not $100K. Big difference.

Blue Ed

October 9th, 2012
6:01 am

@Fred in Dekalb

Your sycophancy is embarrassing. You should be ashamed, unless you’re on someone’s payroll. Your also infuriating to Dekalb teachers who are at the receiving end of the bigger mess Atkinson has made of the mess she inherited. We don’t know whether to laugh at you or lob a few insults your way. Are you part of Atkinson’s personal PR machine?

Don’t go defending the indefensible. Ask any teacher about improvements under Atkinson, but don’t mention SLOs, Benchmarks or balanced calendar (she pulled a fast one on everyone with that) or you’re liable to be laughed out or run out of the building.

Go ahead keep you head buried in the sand. Most teachers who read this ignore you and chalk your comments up to your utter obliviousness to the disasters occurring daily in the schoolhouse.

Blue Ed

October 9th, 2012
6:04 am

“you’re” for “your”. Don’t want your complaining about my grammar to disregard what I and most teachers take very seriously.

Again, shame on you!

The Deal

October 9th, 2012
8:19 am

This puff piece makes me want to vomit, Maureen. Seriously? There is so little that is good going on in this school system that Dr. Atkinson has to tout the move from monthly pay to bi-weekly as a major accomplishment. Anyone who thinks there is a shred of hope for this school system at this point has never left DeKalb. IT ISN’T LIKE THIS ANYWHERE ELSE. We have listened to so much BS like Maureen and Fred that we begin to question our own instincts and common sense. DeKalb’s school system is unique and not in a good way. This system is not going to be fixed by a couple of new board members or even a new superintendent. If you have hope that it is, then you just haven’t been around long enough. These same battles have been fought by parents for years and years. The names change, but the scandals, intimidation, friends and family, and reverse logic (raises and PhDs for administrators while giving furloughs and pay cuts to teachers) continue. There is not a clear way out of this mess. If there were, it would have been put out there by now.

Concernedmom30329

October 9th, 2012
8:50 am

Proud Educator
I would agree with you except that some of the decisions she has made are so bad. The new car, the PhD programs, the calendar, giving Ron Ramsey a 50K raise, etc

The most worrisome (and suspicious) change is that Atkinson demoted the auditor by changing the job title. The outsider quit. On the organizational chart, the auditor now reports to Ramsey instead of the Board. I can not overstate what a big problem this is.

bu2

October 9th, 2012
1:33 pm

@Concerned
The separation of the auditor from the board is a concern.

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
2:25 pm

“I’ve asked many times for realistic recommendations for addressing salaries and teacher-student ratios but none have been given.”

And many times you have been given realistic recommendations for addressing salaries and teacher-student ratios, but you have ignored them.

I. $4,000,000 Fernbank Science Center
Fernbank still costs around $4,000,000 to operate. Since the Fernbank field trips have cut out, why are we still maintaining this facility?

$15,000,000 – Coaches
Instructional, Instructional Change, Graduation, Literacy, Math, etc. are all certified personnel who could teach but do not teach. There were 190 of them (called Instructional Specialists on the state Salary and Travel audit), and they consume around $15,000,000 in Salary and Benefits. DCSS is only obligated to spend around $4,000,000 on Instructional Coaches per Title 1 guidelines. We are not required to have all of those other coaches.

We have replaced many of the Instructional Coaches with Data Coaches and the Data Coaches now have clerks to assist them.

B. $4,500,00 – Parent Centers
Parent Centers – We had around 80 Parent Center personnel and spent around $4,500,000 in salary and benefits for them. No other school systems spends this. We are only obligated under Title 1 guidelines to spend 1% of Title 1 funds on parent involvement which equates to around $400,000.

What is the new structure for Parent involvement? Is it over $400,000? How much have we pared down?
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C. $5,600,000 Coordinators
Coordinators – We had around 60 coordinators which made around $100,000 per employee in salary and benefits for a total of $5,600,000. DCSS used to have less than 20 coordinators. Programs and services were consolidated and good clerical support allowed them to wear several hats.

How many coordinators have been let go from DeKalb or returned to the classroom? PATS continues to post coordinator jobs.

D. $8,000,000 Special Education Lead Teachers
There were 90+ DeKalb Special Ed Lead Teachers, Coaches (not to be confused with the above named coaches) and Coordinators (not to be confused with the above named coordinators. They are termed Special Education Specialists on the Salary and Travel audit. They serve 130+ schools and cost $8,000,000+ a year in salary and benefits. They are in charge of paperwork for the special education program and never teach a single child. By contrast, Gwinnett Schools has 20+ Special Education Specialists serving 130+ schools costing them around $1,700,000. DeKalb has 7,500+ Special Education students while Gwinnett has 16,000+ Special Education students.

I have not heard of any reduction in force for this group of non teaching employees.

III. $11,000,000 – Security
DCSS spends almost $11,000,000 for around 200 Security personnel – including every demographically comparable school system. Look at the figures for DeKalb Security.
http://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/dcss-spending/the-cost-of-security/

Why do we still employ 200 Security personnel in 12 month positions? Why do we still require a full force in the summer months? Why have the MAG audit recommendations not been followed with respect to reducing our Security cost?

IV. Outsourcing
It is time to look at PARTIAL outsourcing in many areas – food services, custodial, grounds maintenance, security, etc.

V. $13,000,000 – Maintenance

DCSS with 95,000 students spent around $13,000,000 a year for maintenance while Gwinnett spends around $9,600,000 (and Gwinnett also has more schools).

I have heard we decreased our maintenance staff. By how much? What is the savings?

VI. Further consolidation of schools – Last time we saved around $4,000,000 by consolidating schools. We could save additional dollars by more consolidations.

VII. $50,000,000 – Counselors and Assistant Principals
DeKalb is overstaffed and/or pays over the school day in hours for counselors and assistant principals. 270+ Assistant Principals cost $25,000,000 in salary and benefits and 320+ Counselors cost $25,000,000 in salary and benefits. This is a total of $50,000,000 for 590 Counselors and Assistant Principals. Counselor hours need to be reduced from 9 to 8 and position numbers need to align with other school systems. If need be counselors in very small elementary schools can share a counselor. Assistant Principal numbers can also be aligned with the marketplace numbers.

If we reduced any, what was the number of Counselors and Assistant Principals we reduced? Did we reduce Counselor hours?

IX. $Millions- Legal fees
DCSS is still spending millions a year in legal fees, most of this in this on the Heery Mitchell suit with no end in sight. Soon we will owe lawyers any money we MIGHT (and this is a gamble) make. In addition, we now have an in house legal group now.

Even dim witted and slow footed SACS cited our expenditures on legal fees versus students as contributing to a lack of concentration on student achievement.

X. Scripted Learning programs
DCSS spent $6,000,000 last year on America’s Choice, a scripted learning program that has not only shown no efficacy for DCSS students, in fact the low income schools it serves are behind the rates of achievement for every other metro school system. DCSS has been purchasing this program for six years with no ROI.

Now Dr. Atkinson has another scripted learning program called Success for All to replace America’s Choice. How many millions is it costing us? How many more students do we pack into our overcrowded classrooms in order to pay for this “new and improved” scripted learning program? Teacher comments say this new multimillion dollar program does not even correlate with the new Common Core standards all schools and school systems must follow.

XI. Magnet programs should be housed in existing schools so there is little duplication of admin and support and should cost no more than regular education students. Parents should provide all transportation.

These are but a FEW examples. There are many more that would not impact our teachers in the classroom. When you balance the budget on the backs of the teachers, you balance it on the backs of the students.

Tackless Angela Just Stating The Facts (Angela)

October 9th, 2012
5:39 pm

@Dekalbite,

Now you know that Fred does not have a solution to the problem. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
7:26 pm

@Tackless Angela, as I’ve inferred earlier, the solution that school districts around the country have taken to address revenue shortfalls have been to reduce labor costs, which unfortunately includes teachers. Around the country, class sizes have been increasing as a partial solution to this reality. You may want to consider going to a search engine to see that what I am saying is correct. Perhaps that is the difference in us, I can acknowledge a reality and understand the tough decisions that have to be made.

@DeKalbite, thank you for attempting to find at least $100M however there were many fallacies in the information you provided. For example, you provided the total expenditures, such as $11M for security under the guise this could be eliminated. Given the multiple unfortunate incidents we’ve had at several schools this year, you would probably find that many parents think we need more security. I’ve heard that some special needs students are not being serviced properly because of severe cutbacks in that area.

As usual, you and I agree on many things such as outsourcing some positions (though this was tried years ago and many still have a bad taste in their mouths from that experience), consolidating more schools, and placing magnets in neighborhood schools. In fairness, there are only 4 magnet schools in DeKalb and they have been cut back with staff significantly so I don’t know how much savings would be realized from this. DeKalb has more school buildings than any other district in GA which adds to maintenance and administrator costs. How many families do you think would agree to their neighborhood school closing for *the greater good*?

Finding $100M+ is not easy. If it was, the many smart people in this community would have provided realistic and workable recommendations for doing this. Every employee has had their salaries reduced through furlough days (not sure why so many people don’t understand this). Citizens have lost tremendous value in their homes, the major investment for most people. I know more people that are underwater thus cannot move. This is the real world I keep talking about. Can someone else acknowledge that the solutions available are limited?

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
7:46 pm

” For example, you provided the total expenditures, such as $11M for security under the guise this could be eliminated. Given the multiple unfortunate incidents we’ve had at several schools this year, you would probably find that many parents think we need more security.”

We need to have our Security expenditures in line with other demographically comparable school systems. In addition, our exorbitant Security expenditures which are out of line with EVERY other metro system have NOT ensured our students are safer than other school systems.

Do not turn up your nose at saving $30,000,000 or $40,000,000. Every dollar saved can be re-employed for direct instruction for students. Just cutting 75% of our Coordinators would give us enough money to hire around 50 more math teachers. Where are your priorities? Not with students if you do not understand that coordinators do not teach students math – math teachers do.

Why would you not make most of our Security personnel 10 month instead of 12 month and save another $3,000,000 thus being able to add another 50 science teachers – have you seen our students’ science achievement? Again, your priorities are not student achievement. Security personnel working during the summer do not improve science achievement – science teachers do.

It is really not brain surgery. It is paring down every department as much as possible in order to ensure DCSS has the teachers we need to teach our students.

Dekalbite@Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
7:50 pm

“…”it is difficult to attract quality people, especially if you are offering below market salaries.”

I take it you do not consider teachers are “quality people” since you do not advocate paying them market salaries. FYI – Teachers are the the very personnel who ensure students master content. Mastering the content of math, science, social studies and language arts is the ONLY reason school systems exist and we pay school system taxes.

Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
11:46 pm

@DeKalbite, I also agree with you on reducing some of the security staff from 12 months to 10 (there are still activities going on in many schools over the summer which require security) however I reject your assertion that Security expenditures should be in line with other demographically comparable school systems. Expenditures such as that should be based on need not a predetermined comparison. I don’t have data to support my supposition but believe you will find more relative poverty in DeKalb than many in the metro area that may have similar demographics. I say that because I believe the presence of MARTA and access to Grady are more attractive to those lacking access to transportation and healthcare. Given the prevalence of relative poverty areas in DeKalb with students that attend public schools, we see the scores of many of those students putting a drag on the scores of the rest of the county. Through Title 1 Parent centers, resources were provided to help parents help themselves and their children however you question the value of this offering. Generational poverty is real and exists in DeKalb.

Like you, my priority is for student achievement however one also has to believe they are in a safe and secure environment. You probably have not heard about concerns of gangs at some high schools that have impacted student attendance and learning. Perhaps because you don’t see this is why there seems to be a lack of empathy on your part. Yes, a science teacher is very important to teach science but that science teacher will have a difficult time if students attend classes intermittently due to concerns about gangs.

I always have to come back to the point you seem to never have an answer for, if you eliminate all the instructional support personnel you consider excess that handle much of the government regulatory paperwork and professional development that allow teachers to focus more on teaching, who do you think that responsibility will fall on? You can eliminate the personnel but the work requirements still remain. Will overburdening teachers more impact student achievement?

Fred in DeKalb

October 9th, 2012
11:55 pm

@DeKalbite, I also have to ask, are you aware of a school district around the country with similar demographics that has a school budget that has either remained flat or increased over the past 5 years? If so, I believe you will find a school district that maintained their teacher-student ratios and perhaps provided salary increases for staff members. Most of what I read daily is that most school districts are struggling to provide the services and resources they have from years past due to less property tax revenue. Given labor costs make up most of school budgets, it is reasonable this area will see cuts to address budget shortfalls. It works like that in public and private industry.

Dekalbite@fred in Dekalb

October 10th, 2012
2:50 pm

DeKalb had a greater support and admin ratio to teachers at the beginning of Great Recession. We had legal bills in the tens of millions that no other metro school system had. We had more of our per pupil dollars invested in Security (many more than other demographically similar school systems). We spent close to $7,000,000 a year (compensation, transportation and facilities cost) for Fernbank Science Center – that’s $28,000,000 over the last four years of this recession. We spend millions a year more in special ed admin and support (not teachers) than demographically comparable systems with no better or worse results. Do you need more examples?

The point is that for 4 years the superintendents and the BOE kept letting teachers go by attrition (thereby raising class sizes for students) while they endeavored to keep everyone employed in the same jobs and positions and hours they were accustomed to. This has been disastrous from an economic standpoint for taxpayers, but more importantly, it has been disastrous from an academic standpoint for students. Lewis should have been trimming the admin and support personnel from the get go and placing every warm body that had a teaching certificate in the classroom. Legal fees needed to be reduced and capped. Scripted learning programs, millions in travel expenses, etc. needed to go. many schools needed to be consolidated. There were so many ways to save and only after hundreds of millions in red ink, the loss of close to a thousand teachers and totally unmanageable class sizes did anyone in the DeKalb administration act – and they still sidestepped many of the choices that were really not even choices – they were necessities.

Did you see Marietta City Schools superintendent Emily Lembeck featured in AJC last week. She was lauded for keeping the Marietta taxpayer dollars in the classroom and improving student achievement. I’m sure you know Marietta City has even a GREATER percentage of students at poverty level than DeKalb.
Here is a quote from the AJC:

In seven years, the district has significantly increased the number of students exceeding standards on state exams. It was one of the first in the state to become a charter system, allowing for more fiscal and academic flexibility. Amid austerity cuts, Marietta avoided layoffs and furlough days this year, unlike most Georgia districts.”
http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/lembeck-increases-scores-brings-attention-to-marie/nSWM8/

Dekalbite@fred in DeKalb

October 10th, 2012
2:56 pm

“I always have to come back to the point you seem to never have an answer for, if you eliminate all the instructional support personnel you consider excess that handle much of the government regulatory paperwork and professional development that allow teachers to focus more on teaching, who do you think that responsibility will fall on? You can eliminate the personnel but the work requirements still remain. Will overburdening teachers more impact student achievement?”

There has been an inverse relationship between more admin and support and student achievement. The more admin and support,the more paperwork for teachers and the greater the class sizes. While we need some admin and support, we could and should pare dramatically back on the non teaching side. The student achievement numbers do not support your thesis that more admin and support personnel are what raises test scores. More motivated and competent teachers are the driver of student achievement in low income schools.