How is the DeKalb School Board Shaping Up?

I’M BACK

Sorry to disappoint you Maureen, but I plan on continuing to blog. I will stop when you do. Is it not conceivable that Ms. Jester and I might have insight into Board operations that you do not have? When I was on the board, I never suggested that you shouldn’t write about certain topics. Nor did I criticize you when your facts weren’t quite right. Commentary, criticism and opinion are part of the fabric of a free society. Maybe it’s just me, but I think giving the voters in DeKalb more information from more sources is quite healthy. I am glad you are out there talking about important issues in education. There’s room for us all. Now, on to business…

How are things shaping up in DeKalb with the appointed BOE?

I really enjoyed the Board meeting on April 1. Two things really struck me. One board member asked what “QBE” was. REALLY! The citizens of DeKalb need better than this. Ponder this with me: Do you think anyone could get elected if they stated in public they did not know what QBE was? Would you vote for someone who didn’t understand how our state funds education? In addition to not understanding QBE, one of the board members didn’t realize that a number of teachers and paras were RiF’d last year. Where have you been? Right now you have six appointed board members and three elected ones. That is quite a mix. You have one third of the population properly represented and two thirds unconstitutionally represented. Tell me that our legislature and the governor really thought through this one.

The second thing that struck me was the vote on the calendar. As I recall Ms. Jester and I voted against the balanced calendar. Of course we lost that vote. Now how should a responsible board have handled this issue at this point? I agree with everything Dr. Howe said about how the decision was made. It is interesting that they did not give such a forthright answer to me when I first heard the explanation. At this late date what should a board have done? In my opinion, we should have kept this calendar for one year and then returned to the traditional calendar if that is what teachers and parents preferred. By changing now you have messed up the folks who have already planned vacations, etc. around the announced calendar. Instead of messing up some of the people, you have now thrown a curve to everyone. One needed to bite the bullet on this one for just one year. You can go ahead and approve the traditional calendar for the following year.

Toxic bureaucracies

How about the Atlanta Public School System? They are in a world of hurt! In reading about how the APS hierarchy worked, I was reminded of DeKalb. When Dr. Atkinson started, communication to the BOE slowed to a crawl. Her top lieutenants were afraid to talk to board members. If they talked to us, they had to send an email to the Superintendent to explain. They were all under great stress. This would often show in Board meetings. I remember asking about Success For All (SFA). We asked if the teachers had proper input. Dr. Speaks specifically asked about the handling of the schoolhouse voting to approve the use of SFA. We were assured by a top member of the Atkinson team that teachers got to vote regarding the use of SFA in their schools. Based on what a staff member said Monday, the previous Board was clearly, purposefully given incorrect information. Why? If we know this, what other information provided by the administration is false? Could it be that information in the SACS report is suspect?

This is the same pressure that many in APS had to deal with. When your boss says “do this”, what are your options? What if you are a single parent with only your income and you are asked to fabricate answers by your superiors? That sure puts you in a bad position.   Some did things to protect their high salaries. Others did it because they saw no way out. Atkinson’s staff was the same way. It was her way or the highway. It is also not good to be a whistle blower. Look at Nancy Jester. She and I tried to shine light on some of the issues in DeKalb. Where did that get us? Many APS teachers were fired for speaking up about the cheating. There is danger in being a whistle blower. In our state, there’s no real protection.

In the coming weeks I plan on reporting to you about our Grand Jury interview and the Heery Mitchell case. This is where the media really led many astray. Also what about the Charter Cluster idea? That is going to be interesting.

Thanks for the support and encouragement. I have heard from so many of you who want to know more about my time on the board. It’s nice to hear from others who also want to fix this system. I do too.

Don

3 thoughts on “How is the DeKalb School Board Shaping Up?

  1. Hi Don,
    Thanks for keeping up your blog. I enjoy reading your thoughts and hope you will continue. When I began my employment with DeKalb Schools in 1985, the administration building was open and friendly to all: teachers, parents, even students. There was a supportive and helpful attitude that gave us confidence. You could call the adminstrative offices and get real help with questions about your health care, your paycheck, or staff development opportunities. You could usually visit staff members at their offices unchallanged by a gatekeeper secretary or security guard. By the time I retired last year DeKalb School Administrative Offices looked more like some large corporation headquarters with security everywhere and access to administrative staff severely restricted. No walking back to the desk of someone you had business with. Getting someone on the phone was difficult; school administration had become an armed camp with the wagons circled and access defended aganist the very people they were hired to serve and who pay their salary. Administration officials were suspicious of each other. Teachers were warned to be cautious about communicating outside of their own school. I hope that the new superindendent and school board will address these issues and open up the school system administration for easier public access, communication, and participation. The trend for the past 10+ years has been in the wrong direction.
    Also, on another note, I would encourage you and Nancy to be less critical of ignorance mistakes like not knowing what QBE means. The language of education, like the military, computer technology, and many other fields, bristles with acronyms. Making fun of a board member for this mistake seems arrogant and somewhat petty to me. At least he had the courage to ask the question and find out.
    Al

  2. Al,

    Thanks for your kind words. It is always good to hear from you. I think you are right about the atmosphere that permeated the school system. You and I started in DeKalb about the same time years ago. It is most certainly a different atmosphere today.

    I am going to have to disagree with you on the QBE acronym. If I were running for a school board post and made such a statement I would be showing I was not in touch with education. I believe QBE has been around for over two decades. It is widely understood by the general public and is widely discussed by the public in at least a general way. I cannot accept the fact that this seemed to be a total surprise to this board member. Each of these folks solicited this office. What are their qualifications? The public did not have a say on six of these folks. I liken this to a teacher not knowing their subject matter yet being placed in front of my child to teach. On most of the acronyms I could agree with you but not this one.

    Thanks for your input.

    Don

  3. On the QBE, I thought that he asked the question for the benefit of those who may have been listening to the answer. Also, it is not uncommon for someone who is highly intelligent to not want to make others feel inferior by constantly talking over their heads. So, one way to get your question answered is to ask the other person to explain it to you in their terms. It helps them to feel you are not trying to ridicule them and helps you to learn something new – what exactly it is that your friend knows (or doesn’t know) on the subject and to what extent. Not sure that is what happened in the scenario above, however, Don’s sentiment does remind me of something similar … a parent at Briarlake Elementary asked Mr. Paul Womack, the board member who thought it would be fine for the school system to oversee cell phone towers and make sure they were safe, if he could explain the electromagnetic spectrum since he was going to be the expert on how much radiation was okay to place next to young, still developing children for several hours a day, several days a week. His answer? No.

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