Jennifer Hatfield is a longtime DeKalb resident, a graduate of DeKalb schools, a former DeKalb teacher and the parent of two DeKalb students. She is a vocal community advocate in the area of education.
These are comments she made at a public meeting to the new school board edited a bit for publication. While she focused on DeKalb, her advice could apply to any school district:
By Jennifer Hatfield
An open letter to the new DeKalb County Board of Education:
I was very vocal in my support of the suspension of the former board members. I am very impressed by your resumes and what I believe is your genuine desire to help the children of DeKalb County.
Welcome aboard. I and other parents want to help you. Please allow us to. Engage us. Draw upon our knowledge and experience and use it to your advantage.
The district adopted the Premier DeKalb moniker seven years ago. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines premier as first in position, rank, or importance. I think we can all agree that this does not accurately describe DeKalb County School District currently.
For far too long, some of your predecessors believed that premier referred to them personally. We all know people who live beyond their means — those who live in a house they cannot afford, drive a car they can’t afford and try desperately to keep up with the Joneses.
Previously, our school district has operated similarly. We’re operating in a deficit, and we’ve been living beyond our means for over a decade now. That is part of what landed us in our current predicament.
Premier DeKalb is not a superintendent with a quarter-million-dollar contract and a private chauffeur, who touts flashy programs and has a golden parachute.
Premier DeKalb is a superintendent with an incentive-based contract, who can impact student achievement and lead by example. It’s graduating students with golden tickets to university level educations and successful careers.
Premier DeKalb is not a palace for a central office, complete with a fancy boardroom and filled with too many employees earning six-figure incomes.
Premier DeKalb is schools that are well maintained, safe, absent of leaky roofs and operating at capacity, schools where principals have autonomy and make decisions that meet the best interest of their students and teachers.
Premier DeKalb is not company cars for regional superintendents, while teachers drive to and from work every day, paying too much for gas out of their own insufficient salaries.
Premier DeKalb is retaining quality teachers by demonstrating to them that they are valuable — lowering student-teacher ratios, eliminating furloughs, increasing their benefits and pay, asking teachers them their opinions and then really listening to their answers.
Premier DeKalb is not money spent on attorneys.
Premier DeKalb is money spent on teachers, students and student achievement.
Premier DeKalb is not settling for mediocrity.
Premier DeKalb is setting high expectations for all employees and students alike, striving to be the best and doing what’s best by our teachers and students.
We must change our perception of what a premier school system is. We need to care less about the superficial appearance that we are a premier school system and start caring more that the educational experience in DeKalb is a premier one.
We must rethink what Premier DeKalb truly means.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog