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 gofundme.com.
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.
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.
DeKalb County School District (DCSD), the third largest school district in Georgia, has selected Infinite Campus as its new student information system (SIS). Serving nearly 100,000 students, DCSD will now have the capacity to manage student data and support academic program needs.
DCSD underwent a five part selection process that began in the spring of 2013. Essential criteria for the selection included company stability, cost, and a complete SIS package with grade book functionality, scheduling abilities, superior state reporting and more.
K-12 Solutions, an Infinite Campus Channel Partner, will provide local service and support for DCSD. According to Brock Wilson, K-12 Solutions Group COO & Managing Partner, “We’re thrilled to welcome DCSD to our growing customer base in Georgia. DCSD has an extremely knowledgeable and reputable technology team and strong leadership within the Georgia SIS community. Not only will they benefit from user-friendly functionality and personalized service and support, but also by partnering with a company that has a vision for the future that aligns with the DCSD technology plan.”
Administrators are excited about the Mobile Portal App capabilities while parents appreciate having the ability to check their student’s grade from their mobile devices. Teachers value the ease of use and intuitive user interface and have heard nothing but positive feedback from other Campus customers.
“Infinite Campus is a proven product. The features and functionality will not only provide our district with today’s needs, but the advanced technology prepares us for the future. We are excited about the instructional management tools that will allow teachers to move away from the traditional classroom experience and provide blended instruction,” says Melanie McLendon, DCSD SIS Manager.
The DeKalb County School District may become the next big metro Atlanta system to give more autonomy to principals and parents, if the school board votes as expected next month to pursue charter system status.
Every Georgia district must decide by summer 2015 whether to maintain the status quo or to restructure and push more decisions from the central office to the schoolhouse.
DeKalb would join Fulton County in the charter system category. Gwinnett County, Georgia’s largest district, chose a middle ground, becoming an “Investing in Educational Excellence” district and keeping more central control than a charter system.
Georgia is threatening to punish districts that reject change by actually enforcing some state mandates. Currently, DeKalb and many other systems are balancing their budgets by using waivers to extend class sizes beyond state maximums and to shrink their school calendars under the minimum 180 days.
DeKalb school board chairman Melvin Johnson said he will vote for charter status when the board meets May
5. He believes local control would encourage more parent engagement. “I think it will be a positive for the entire district,” he said.
Superintendent Michael Thurmond is recommending charter status instead of the status quo or the middle ground selected by Gwinnett. Among the benefits enumerated by his administration: keeping the waivers and encouraging innovation. But Thurmond says he would grant autonomy only to schools that demonstrate the capacity to lead, raising questions among some parents.
“We’re hoping to get more details about how that will happen,” said Maggie Anderson, a parent who serves on the governance council at Chamblee Charter High School. “We’re ready to do that.”
Andrew Lewis, executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said the charter system model does not offer as much autonomy as a regular startup charter school gets. Still, it’s a shift in that direction, he said. “It’s pushing some decision-making down to the school level.”
Well, the deadline to sign your “contract” for next school year (2014 – 2015) has come and gone.
Inquiring minds want to know: Did you or didn’t you? If not, why not?
If you did not sign the “contract,” we hope you will be willing to complete a short survey. You will not be asked for any specific identifying information. The survey may be completed on your home computer. Simply click here to download it and open it in Microsoft Word. Then place your cursor over the check boxes you select or at the beginning of the line where you will type a brief answer. After completing the survey, please save it and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or save it, print it and mail it to DeKalb School Watch, POB 660221, Atlanta, GA 30341.
Please do NOT use a DeKalb County Schools computer (even a DCS laptop you take home) or DeKalb County Schools printer or a connection to DeKalb County Schools high speed Internet to complete the survey. Even if you are using your personal laptop or tablet and personal e-mail (i.e., Gmail or Yahoo, etc) do NOT use a DCS computer, printer or high speed Internet connection.
If you do not have a personal computer at home, use a public computer in a DeKalb County Public Library. If you have a personal laptop or tablet but no Internet connection at home, you may connect to the Internet at a DeKalb County Public Library or at McDonald’s or Starbucks.
As a reminder, per § 20-2-211(b) in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.):
Upon request, a written explanation for failure to renew [a certificated teacher’s] contract shall be made available to such certificated personnel by the executive officer. When such notice of intended termination has not been given by [April 15 for school year 2014-2015, only] the employment of such teacher or other certificated professional employee shall be continued for the ensuing school year unless the teacher or certificated professional employee elects not to accept such employment by notifying the local governing board or executive officer in writing not later than [May 1 for school year 2014-2015, only].
HB 244 becomes effective July 1, 2014 and the dates shown above will change to from April 15 to May 15 and from May 1 to June 1.
In spite of what Ward-Smith claims, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission says this in its Ethics FAQs about the breaking the “contract” you signed: “A school system can report an educator at any time, but it does not always result in a sanction against the educator’s certificate. The Commission has decided that it would not sanction an educator for Abandonment of Contract if:
The Educator submits a letter of resignation prior to June 1st for the upcoming school year.
The Educator submits a letter of resignation with at least a two week notice after June 1st for the following reasons:
A documented personal health problem or family medical problem that requires the Educator’s full-time care and attention.
A documented spousal transfer and relocation out of a reasonable commuting distance of the contracted position.
A documented promotion within the field of education.”
The way we read GaPSC Ethics FAQs, (and we must emphasize that we are not lawyers and are not giving legal advice), teachers who signed a “contract” have until May 31 (i.e., prior to June 1) to submit a letter of resignation to DeKalb County Schools without fear of sanction by GaPSC.
The way we read O.C.G.A. § 20-2-211(b) (and we must emphasize that we are not lawyers and are not giving legal advice), when notice of intended termination has not been given to teachers by April 15 for 2014-2015, only, the employment of teachers will be continued for the ensuing school year unless the teacher or certificated professional employee elects not to accept such employment by notifying the local governing board or executive officer in writing not later than May 1 for 2014-2015, only.
Although DeKalb County Schools is bound by the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, enforcement is another matter. We are not qualified to give legal advice and we strongly suggest that you seek the advice of your attorney. We encourage teachers to read the law, then use any legal benefits you have with your professional educators organization membership — or through legal benefits paid for by payroll deduction or any other payment plan — and seek the advice of a qualified attorney. Or contact a qualified attorney on your own. You need to understand the law, know your rights, and know how enforceable your rights are.
Following in the footsteps of Atlanta Public Schools, the DeKalb County School District will initiate a superintendent search in late spring.
[T]he Atlanta school board revealed last month that Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, was the lone contender to succeed Atlanta Superintendent Erroll Davis. Meanwhile, DeKalb’s superintendent, Michael Thurmond, has said he does not want to remain in his job after his contract expires in June 2015, which is prompting another search effort.
DeKalb school board Chairman Melvin Johnson said Tuesday that DeKalb will begin discussing a search for a replacement in June. He named three board members — Joyce Morley, John Coleman and Jim McMahan — to prepare for that discussion. Besides DeKalb, Cobb County will be searching for a superintendent, after the resignation of Michael Hinojosa.
DSW Note: As we have said many times – it is critical who is elected to the next board — they will be the ones to choose the next superintendent. We need fair, balanced people who make decisions based on best qualifications and a good fit, not simply skin color as was publicly admitted by our last board chair.
One of our regular blog participants who goes by the moniker, Howdy, created a list of questions for candidates to answer. These questions were sent via email to each of the candidates for DeKalb school board. So far, we have shared Don McChesney’s answers, which he posted on his own blog and can be reviewed in the comments of the post titled, ’4/2 Meet the Candidates’ here >> Don For DeKalb
Candidate John Oselette (District 4) also spent some time responding to Howdy’s comments. His answers, along with Howdy’s questions are below. Find out more about John Oselette at his FaceBook page >> John Oselette for District 4 DeKalb School Board.
First, what would you propose to do about the court case involving the teachers seeking the restoration of their TRA contributions that the Dekalb School Board voted to terminate? First, I would like to clarify the retirement programs for teachers. The “TRS” is a required retirement program for all school districts. The TRS sets the contributions that must be made into the system by employers (school districts) and employees (teachers, etc.). This retirement program is administered by The Teachers Retirement System of Georgia and you can learn more about this program at this website: http://www.trsga.com/Index.aspx In 1978, DeKalb withdrew from Social Security and established an alternative plan known as the TSA. Employees can contribute to the TSA and the Board contributed to the TSA until 2009. The “TSA lawsuit” was a response to the board waiving the policy requiring a certain amount of notice be given to employees before they stop contributions. The potential liability to DCSD is large. If I had been on the Board for this vote, I would not have voted to suspend these contributions. The district needed to eliminate bloat and waste before it touched a benefit for teachers in the classroom. The Board should plan now for restoring the TSA employer contributions. This benefit is important in recruiting and retaining teachers in DeKalb. I believe the money is there, the priorities are wrong.
Second, what specifically would you do to address the bloat in the DCSS administration that has been documented by the AJC and others as far exceeding the administration/teacher ratio of neighboring counties? 1) Conduct a forensic audit of all finances. 2) Request an independent audit of Human Resources and require the Superintendent to fully implement recommended actions. 3) Advocate for an online check register. 3) Advocate for an interactive organizational chart. It should have every employee by division in an easily searchable and understandable graphic. Third, what specifically would you propose to rein in the expenses involved with the so-called “parent centers” that seem to be concentrated in specific areas of Dekalb County and not others? I would propose that Parent Centers be eliminated completely. The funds currently used for parent centers should be directed to add teachers in the classroom and lower class sizes. Fourth, what specifically would you propose to rein in legal expenses? What would you do to insure we ended the practice of duplicating employment of both “white” and “black” law firms when only one is needed? Of the 3 law firms currently employed, one law firm can handle the day-to-day legal needs of the District. I would vote to eliminate the others. Fifth, what specifically would you do to reach out to communities that feel that they have been ignored for too long, such as Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and Lakeside? I would suggest Board “Town Hall” Meetings in communities throughout DeKalb attended by Board members from different Districts and the Superintendent. I would also suggest each Board Member maintain a website with updated information on the issues, what their positions are and what votes they have cast and why. I would also suggest the Superintendent prepare quarterly reports to stakeholders.
Sixth, what would you do to restore the trust of the people of Dekalb County in the DCSS? 1) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to immediately begin the formal search process for a professional, experienced and highly successful Superintendent. 2) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to institute financial reforms, beginning with switching to an Accrual Accounting Method. 3) I would work with my colleagues on the Board to institute an on-line check register so every expense is accounted for, viewable to and searchable by the public. 4) I would ask for an independent audit of HR and require the Superintendent to implement all recommended changes. Seventh, what specifically would you do to get the priority on the classroom and not on administration? The board should not approve a budget that doesn’t dramatically shrink central office staff and eliminate wasteful spending. The budget should be drafted from the classroom up. The administration should have to justify every dollar not spent on direct instructional expenses. Eighth, what would you propose to do about initiating a search for a new, permanent superintendent? That should be one of the first items on the agenda for the new Board. The number one quality that the board must identify as a search parameter is for all superintendent candidates to have a record of improving achievement in school districts similar to DeKalb. Ninth, would you undertake to initiate a full independent forensic audit of the Dekalb County School System? If so, would you insist that the results be made public without any modification by anyone? Absolutely, yes. Tenth, what would you propose to insure that the school board and administration listen to and truly consider what the public has to say? Use your vote and hold elected officials accountable. The public should be relentless in their demands for transparency and accountability on the part of the district. Help your board hold the administration accountable by showing up, speaking out and supporting those board members who actively pursue reforms. Eleventh, what is your position on new ideas such as that presented by the Druid Hills Charter Petition? What new directions would you propose to change the status quo at the DCSS and give all of us a new comfort that such charter schools, new independent schools, or other such programs are not needed and that the DCSS will take a new course of improvement that is measurable to convince us that it is serious and can be trusted? I support Charter Clusters and Charter Schools in general. I would have voted for the cluster. Parents and communities need more choices and more autonomy. Twelfth, what specifically would you propose to get administrators out of the way of teachers and to get teachers into a fully accountable position? Each school needs to have control over its budget and HR decisions. The central office should plan an extremely limited role in the functioning of each school. It is impossible to hold schools, principals and their teachers accountable for their results if they are being micromanaged and burdened by a central office bureaucracy. Only when we have true decentralization, can we get a clear picture on how schools and teachers are performing. Thirteenth, are you comfortable with the current budget preparation, presentation, and approval process? If not, what specifically would you change? No, I am not. The budget is not developed in a transparent process with a “classroom first” strategy. As a board member I will advocate for adopting policies that force these improvements. The ongoing financial reporting to the board and public is also not acceptable. We need better and timelier financial reporting. We need monthly reporting done on an accrual basis and an online check register. Finally, what specifically would you propose to end teacher furlough days and to begin to restore their full compensation with some allowance for annual raises? The financial controls I have advocated for will drive money to be spent in the classroom. The results will be to eliminate furlough days, lower class size and provide more money for teachers’ salaries.
U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ)
Sally Quillian Yates
U. S. Attorney -- Northern District of Georgia
Richard B. Russell Federal Building
75 Spring Street, S.W., Suite 600
Atlanta, GA 30303