DeKalb students’ test scores lowest in metro

A new article at the AJC informs us that yet again, DeKalb posted the lowest test scores on the 2013 College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) of all area metro systems. Mark Elgart just restored accreditation, emphatically claiming that he cares very much about student achievement and takes it under consideration when accrediting schools. However, the reality of these scores are not congruent with Elgart’s public claims and his endorsement of our school system leadership. There is no accountability to students – except that now, Superintendent Michael Thurmond [seemingly taking leadership lessons from Bev Hall] has publicly stated that teachers’ salaries will not increase until test scores improve. Now, there’s a management technique that will send the rest of the highly qualified teachers running for the hills!

Elementary and middle school performance improves while high schools dip on state report card

By Rose French and Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Walton High School was the top-performing high school in Cobb County for the 2012-13 school year, according to state education data released Monday.

… Schools and districts are receiving grades today through the state’s College and Career-Ready Performance Index, which uses factors like student test scores, academic progress and closing the gap in performance between groups of students to spit out a numerical grade of zero to 110.

Among districts in the heart of metro Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools got higher grades on the elementary, middle and high school level. Cobb was up on the elementary and middle school level and down on the high school level. DeKalb was down on all three levels. Fulton was up on all three levels. Gwinnett was down on the elementary level and high school level, but its middle school grade was up.

…Search our interactive database at to see how your school scored.

Click here to read more.

Check the state’s database directly here >>

Posted in Budget Cuts, DeKalb County [GA] Board of Education, DeKalb County, Georgia, GA Legislature / Laws / O.C.G.A., Michael Thurmond, Ramona Howell Tyson, SACS/Accreditation, Testing & AYP | Tagged , | 55 Comments

Nancy Jester’s t-shirt response

From our Emails >>

nancyjesteradThere’s an interesting discussion going on in the Get Schooled blog at the AJC. What a great exercise of The First Amendment! I am always refreshed to see a robust dialogue even though we may disagree. Here’s some clarity on a few issues.

The t-shirt has been around since last November. Last May and July, I wrote articles about The Bill of Rights.

As indicated, I am not a fan of Georgia’s K-5 Social Studies curriculum. My specific critiques remain these:

1. I think it is inappropriate to teach children about expanding rights and freedoms before discussing the freedoms and rights as documented in and protected by The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Expanding rights is discussed in third grade but The Constitution and Bill of Rights are not in the standards until fourth grade.

In third grade: SS3H2: The student will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.
a. Paul Revere (independence), Frederick Douglass (civil rights), Susan B. Anthony (women’s rights), Mary McLeod Bethune (education), Franklin D. Roosevelt (New Deal and World War II), Eleanor Roosevelt (United Nations and human rights), Thurgood Marshall (civil rights), Lyndon B. Johnson (Great Society and voting rights), and César Chávez (workers’ rights).
b. Explain social barriers, restrictions, and obstacles that these historical figures had to overcome and describe how they overcame them.

In fourth grade: SS4H5: The student will analyze the challenges faced by the new nation….
a. Identify the major leaders of the Constitutional Convention (James Madison and Benjamin Franklin) and describe the major issues they debated, including the rights of states, the Great Compromise, and slavery.
b. Identify the three branches of the U. S. government as outlined by the Constitution, describe what they do, how they relate to each other (checks and balances and separation of power), and how they relate to the states.
c. Identify and explain the rights in the Bill of Rights, describe how the Bill of Rights places limits on the power of government, and explain the reasons for its inclusion in the Constitution in 1791.

2. The standards are clearly being used to promote a social agenda. Why is this necessary? Can we not simply teach American history without inserting “the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights”? By using that framework, the standards are open to legitimate criticism regarding who is “in” and who is “out”.

3. The discussion about “expanding rights” and social movements does not belong in third grade. The lessons represent an overly simplified view of the implications (good, bad and indifferent) because they are directed at eight and nine year olds. The subject matter needs context and robust discussions that can only happen with older children.
As some have pointed out, teachers can enrich the curriculum. That’s true. I have had two children experience this curriculum so far; both with excellent teachers. I’ve seen the textbooks, the homework and the projects as they relate to the third grade curriculum. They have all reinforced the agenda being taught.

There’s nothing new here but I am thrilled that this subject is getting the attention it deserves. The t-shirt is meant to be fun and bring up the discussion about how we teach The Bill of Rights in Georgia.

- Nancy Jester

Posted in GA Legislature / Laws / O.C.G.A., Georgia State Board of Education, Nancy Jester, Uncategorized | Tagged | 22 Comments

The April 16 ELPC meeting

From our Emails >>

bluemarine_logoToday I attended the Emory-LaVista Parent Council meeting at Lakeside. Our superintendent , Mr. Thurmond, was the primary speaker. It was advertised as a state of the system update. It really did not follow that kind of format, but some interesting nuggets of information were discussed.

Mr. Thurmond initially tried to show us how he has built such a surplus into the budget. His estimate was that we would have a $20 million surplus in the FY 2015 budget. He attributed this to Dr. Bell and a hard working BOE. It certainly was not clear where this money was coming from, but I will hazard a guess. If memory serves me correctly Governor Deal returned approximately $540 million to the educational establishments across the state. It was generally intended to be used for teachers. It would hopefully be used to take away furlough days and give the teachers a salary increase. Of course our legislature neglected to say specifically how this money was to be used. Because of the lack of specifics, school systems could use the money at their discretion. I believe this is where we are getting some of our money that is going into the surplus. If all of this $540 million the state gave to all the school systems was used for salary increases, as it was intended, each teacher in the state might see as much as $4000 in salary increases. It would be less than that if the money was used to buy back furlough days too.

Some of the questions from the audience were about furlough days and salary increases. My take on his statements were that the teachers would at least have their furlough days decreased or possibly eliminated. He sounded pretty negative on salary increases for teachers. He basically said that he wanted $60 million in surplus before he could address raises. He also said that would be three budget cycles before we got there. He chided our sister school systems for spending portions of their surplus on their teachers. My take on this is that we have to be competitive with other systems to compete for the best teachers. I guess that is on the back burner.

Mr. Thurmond also appeared to be somewhat confused about the general state of our economy. He stated that the current recession had ended in 2009. He also stated that a new recession was starting now. I believe he attributed this to other “authorities” but he did not specifically say who. I found his economics lesson to be somewhat confusing.

He also spoke of the DeKalb School District eventually becoming an urban school model. This one confused me even further. I was not aware that we had made such strides in the last two years.

He took several questions from the audience. I felt like he did not answer any of them. He would ramble from one subject to another and do the political thing. Talk about what you want to talk about if you cannot answer the question.

He was quizzed about DeKalb becoming a charter system. One questioner said … how will this change things from the past? I am still waiting for an answer for that one. He talked a while, but I never clearly heard the question addressed.

He emphasized having to educate the parents. I guess this was to give support to his “bridge initiative”.

He was also asked about zero based budgeting so the budget can be crafted on money going to the classroom first. In a five minute discussion there was no answer to the question. He basically said everything will be decided by a committee and the superintendent would only have one vote. I will leave this to you to figure out what he meant by that.

He also referenced how they cut $6 million in legal fees. When Mr. Thurmond came on board the system was served by two full-time legal firms. This current BOE and Mr. Thurmond hired a third at $50,000 a month. He also leaves out that at any one time the BOE may have 5 to 10 additional attorney’s on the payroll that are handling many cases that are referred to as “complex litigation”. This is where your day to day firms say they have a conflict of interest and ask for additional attorney(s) to be brought on board or increase their fees because it is beyond the general scope of their retainer.

I think Mr. Thurmond tries to put a positive face on almost everything. I will give him credit for that. Unfortunately, not answering specific questions with real answers that include facts and data are damaging to him. There were people there that know he skirted almost all the issues. DeKalb has had this long enough. We need real answers to our questions.

- Don McChesney

Posted in DeKalb County [GA] Board of Education, DeKalb County, Georgia, Don McChesney, Georgia Education, Michael Thurmond, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

Register to Vote by Monday!

Registered to VoteAre you registered to vote?  If not, you have until 4:30 PM, Monday, April 21, 2014 to register.  The Voter Registration office is open between 8 AM and 4:30 PM. Not sure if you are registered to vote?  Check it out here.

Not registered = Cannot vote.   Make sure your voice is heard!



For more information, contact:

Voter Registration 
4380 Memorial Drive 
Suite 300 
Decatur, GA 30032 
Phone: 404-298-4020 
Fax: 404-298-4038 

Office Hours: 
Mon-Fri, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Parent Centers done right can be a benefit to students

From the Center for Public Education >>

On Wednesday, the Kellogg Foundation announced the 30 organizations it was giving more than $13 million in grants to continue their work in engaging families and empowering parents in advancing student learning, particularly early childhood learning. One of the largest philanthropic foundations in the country, Kellogg has a long history of supporting programs that help individuals and communities become self-sustaining, productive members of society. This latest grant program is the first time the foundation has funneled funds into the issue of family engagement, for which it received the most applications—1,130— in its 83-year history. Such overwhelming interest in family engagement is indeed a welcome sign, which our research and school stories have shown can impact student achievement.

The six types of parent involvement

Joyce Epstein of the Johns Hopkins University, Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships, one of the nation’s leading experts on parent involvement, divided school parent involvement programs into six broad categories:

  1. Parenting, in which schools help families with their parenting skills by providing information on children’s developmental stages and offering advice on learning-friendly home environments;
  2. Communicating, or working to educate families about their child’s progress and school services and providing opportunities for parents to communicate with the school;
  3. Volunteering, which ranges from offering opportunities for parents to visit their child’s school to finding ways to recruit and train them to work in the school or classroom;
  4. Learning at home, in which schools and educators share ideas to promote at-home learning through high expectations and strategies so parents can monitor and help with homework.
  5. Decision-making, in which schools include families as partners in school organizations, advisory panels, and similar committees.
  6. Community collaboration, a two-way outreach strategy in which community or business groups are involved in education and schools encourage family participation in the community.

Actions school boards can take:

  • As SEDL concluded: “Recognize that all parents, regardless of income, education or cultural background, are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well.”
  • Survey parents and teachers to understand their perspective on parent involvement. Investigate how parents want to be involved, and how teachers want parents to be involved.
  • Work to create a common understanding of how parents could best support their child’s education and how teachers could communicate with parents. This might be accomplished through discussions, flyers, meetings or other strategies.
  • Identify barriers to achievement within schools. Can parents help address these challenges? If so, how?
  • Give teachers training on how to develop homework assignments that involve parents.
  • Regularly involve parents in their child’s homework, and report on the results of doing so.
  • In middle school and high school, talk clearly to parents about the courses and grades their students will need to succeed.
  • Continue to survey or otherwise track the effects of involvement, in order to use schools’ time and resources wisely. In these tight economic times, focus on putting schools’ money and energy into what works best, rather than continuing ineffective programs.

- See more at:

Posted in Budget Cuts, Georgia Education, Good News!, School Funding, Title 1, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

RIP Tami and Jess Willadsen

The AJC is reporting that Tami Willadsen, president of The Museum School — a DeKalb County charter school — and her 10-year-old daughter, Jess, were killed in an overnight house fire. Tami’s husband, Dave, suffered minor physical injuries; their 5 year old son, Jack, is being treated at Grady hospital for serious and extensive burns. The fire fully engulfed their home forcing firefighters to fight the fire from outside. In addition to Tami’s and Jess’ deaths and the serious injuries to the young son, the family has lost their home which they just moved into six weeks ago. All of their possessions including furniture, clothing and keepsakes — and their source of income because Dave worked from home — are all gone.

Neighbors have set up an online fundraising effort for Dave and Jack Willadsen and for the neighbors on either side of the Willadsen’s house. Those neighboring houses sustained substantial heat damage. To see how you can help — from donating money to donating needed items to donating other types of assistance — please see

Words fail us when we consider the depth of this loss to the Willadsen family, to The Museum School, and to the greater community. We are keeping Dave and Jack in our thoughts and prayers. If you can help in any way, please do so. This is a sad, sad day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

United We Stand


The newest issue of “Churches Now” magazine highlights the commitment to uniting DeKalb county that has been forged among its ministers, police force and citizens.

One Friday night a few months ago, a powerful service attended by over 2,000 people was held at Fairfield Baptist Church in Lithonia and included DeKalb’s top brass as well as some officials from Rockdale County. In attendance were notable pastors, our school superintendent Michael Thurmond and Cedric Alexander, our new police chief. The coalition of pastors had been spending months working on a new mentoring initiative for boys call the “Right Choice”. The group of 13 pastors, galvanized by the police chief launched an after school program last fall in response to a string of violent crimes committed in DeKalb.

The coalition credits the police chief for being the catalyst for change. He is said to have had the vision to bring these pastors and communities together. Fairfield’s pastor Ben Gaither saluted Chief Alexander and referred to him as a modern day Nehemiah. It was Alexander’s idea to bring the churches, elected officials, law enforcement and communities together as one. Gaither said the unity service symbolized the power of a village working together to save its children.

Pastor Micheal Benton, who hosted the unity service, already has a program in his church that brings youth to the church after school, feeds and spends time with them until their parents can pick them up. He is quoted as saying, “We have to show them how to make the right choices and let them know what they do matters.”


[DSW Note] This is a wonderful effort by a united community. We are behind them 100%, celebrate them, wish them the best and ask our readers to support these efforts in any way possible.

Read the article beginning on page 34 of the Spring 2014 online edition of the magazine >>

Posted in DeKalb County, Georgia, Education in the South, Georgia Education, Good News!, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment