Good questions from new DeKalb Board of Education members at their inaugural board meeting tonight, which I watched online.
The board voted unanimously to end its involvement in the lawsuit challenging the law that enabled Gov. Nathan Deal to oust six members of the board. That vote ends payments to the attorneys in the lawsuit.
It seemed that many folks were at the meeting to cheer on the new board, including the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.
The six members appointed by the governor asked lots of questions, all of which were focused, relevant and pointed.
I was impressed with the questions from Deal appointee Thad Mayfield. He was quick in his analysis and offered strong points in the protracted discussion on the financing of portable classrooms and the maintenance of them.
Board member Marshall Orson — one of the three members elected this past fall — requested DeKalb terminate its status as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state. The board vote puts a stop to the payments to attorney Bob Wilson. However, the case may not go away as suspended board member Eugene Walker has said he intends to pursue the legal battle.
The board did not vote on the contract with Success for All, agreeing to give school chief Michael Thurmond time to figure out if the program is working. Thurmond said he is getting mixed responses from schools about the value of the program so he needs more time before deciding whether to renew the contract with Success for All.
Thurmond suggested DeKalb could consider Success for All for those schools that want it rather than imposing it system-wide. A stumbling block was that the program was introduced by the administration without input from teachers and some were not happy about it being forced on them, said Thurmond.
In fact, Success for All advises that schools have an 80 percent faculty buy-in before the whole-school reform program is introduced, something that Kathleen S. Howe, Deputy Superintendent, Division of Curriculum & Instruction, said didn’t happen in DeKalb.
“We just have to go back to square one on many, many decisions that were made,” said Thurmond. “It is hard for any program to succeed if the people charged with teaching and implementing are not supportive of it.”
Next up was the role of school advisory councils in principal searches. The board had a first reading on a policy change that would allow for more community input in principal searches.
“We are going to have to be very careful in crafting regulations to provide advice ” said Thurmond. “Ultimately, the job of hiring principals to run schools should be made by the superintendent and the Board of Education.”
Thurmond noted that a candidate could appear to be excellent, but there may be confidential and damning information in the hands of the district that cannot legally be shared with the parents.
There were also first readings on policies expanding opportunities for the public to interact with the board.
During board comments, board vice chair Jim McMahan thanked the new board members for stepping up and “being part of the solution for improving our school system.”
New board member Karen Carter thanked the staff for providing information. “It makes such a difference when you are the new kid on the block.”
Carter said she came back to her desk after her swearing-in last week to find a note from Christopher Mitchell, apparently an infant. The note said, “I will be starting kindergarten in 5 1/2 years. Please have everything fixed by then.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog