State of the System

Dr. Atkinson gave a “State of the System” address at a DeKalb Chamber event the other day. We completely missed it, as it was not publicized to the general public. In fact, when we tried to look up the latest news on the Public Relations Newsroom at the school system’s website, the most recent entry is dated August, 2010.

Luckily, Maureen Downey of the AJC was there and gave a good report on her “Get Schooled” blog. Read it at the link below:

DeKalb school chief: Balanced calendar to shorten summer, weekly early release for teacher training and planning

Some highlights reported by Maureen:

Dr. Atkinson introduced her “A team,” the staff members who lead departments and serve as her cabinet.

She plans to move to a balanced calendar (which means longer breaks throughout the year and a shorter summer break).

She said the system is working on a revised curriculum, the first draft of which will be shared in May for feedback.

She plans to invest in our teachers and leaders. A weekly early release will allow teachers to have that time to make good instructional decisions based on that data. “We have the talent. We just need to hone it, support it and develop it.”

She called for consequences and reward for student behaviors. “Our children learn based on what we give them and what we show them.”

She plans to invest in e-technology for our schools.

And she apparently said, “We need a central office. We cannot operate without a central office. We need people that understand that we are going to be about servant leadership. We need people that understand and are willing to go that extra mile. I will tell you I will accept nothing less.”

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47 Responses to State of the System

  1. Apparently, someone from eduKalb was there and tweeted a thread during the speech. (Didn’t realize eduKalb still existed. Their site has been down for months.)!/edukalb

  2. Tucker Guy says:

    I think putting Ramona Tyson in charge of accountability is a very bad idea. It looks like the BOE is counting on her to continue to protect them from any accountability. We can only hope Dr. Atkinson won’t continue the traditions of the Dekalb County School District which have led us to the current state of affairs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tyson should have been gone when Atkinson took over. She’s what became known in Watergate parlance as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The BOE f’d up seriously when they gave her the big raise and strung her contract out.

    A change ain’t gonna come.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If Atkinson were truly interested in investing in teachers, she would push the BOE to restore the TRA.

    I’m not buying any of her change. Sorry. The corruption has become institutionalized in the System/District. And it’s embodied now in the person of Eugene Walker. He’s our new Crawford Lewis figure. What a rat! And he’s already swallowed Atkinson whole. She can’t do a thing without his blessing…uh…curse. The lip servive about the shortened school year, the new bi-monthly paychecks, and the “Victory in the Classroom” BS are just distractors to keep teachers and honest staff from seeing the rampant theft and deception that are still the MO of the DCSS.
    And Walter Woods as part of her leadership team? What a low-life shill-shoveler.

    I’m not cynical. Just wounded and scarred by the monster now known as the Dekalb County School District. It needs to be razed and rebuilt from the ground up.

    I’m frustrated, pissed, and ready to get the hell out of Dodge. There ain’t no lawman here worth a damn.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ramona Tyson did nothing to hold Central Office administrators accountable while she was interim supt. Even when she was in charge of MIS her staff ran roughshod, with Where in the World is Jamal Edwards as the chief example.

    “We need a central office. We cannot operate without a central office.”

    Yes, Dr. Atkinson, we need a Central Office. A mean, lean, efficient Central Office, without the nepotism and cronyism, without the politics, without the decisions to spend tens of millions of dollars on no ROI purchases like America’s Choice and eSIS, etc., etc.

  6. Anonymous says:

    One more thing, I’ve got six words for any of you who naively think that Atkinson’s gonna bust things up and create positive change in Dekalb schools: Ronald Ramsey, Ronald Ramsey, Ronald Ramsey.

  7. Anon says:

    yes, I agree about Ramsey and Walker…. not about Tyson — I really do think she know how and what needs to happen but has had her hands tied but folks like Ramsey and Walker.

  8. Anonymous says:

    @ Anon

    Well, she asked for and got a $73,000 a year raise from the BOE? What was that about?

  9. Anonymous says:

    A person can move from not being not a very good secretary to an executive. secretary to now an area coordinator. I am not sure how much has really changed.

  10. anon says:

    @ Anon

    Well, she asked for and got a $73,000 a year raise from the BOE? What was that about?

    My understanding is that she was ready to quit and the BOE wanted her to stay … really wanted her to stay really badly and that was what it took for her to stay and be “monkey in the middle.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    You do realize Ms. Tyson was hired on the recommendation of Crawford Lewis? She ran the Business Operations for DCSS. Marcus Turk who headed up Finance and Jamie Wilson who headed up Human Resources were her direct reports. She was fast tracked by Lewis and was one of only 4 direct reports to Lewis. Ms. Tyson was very much an insider.

  12. I still find it hard to believe Ms. Tyson had no idea what was going on with CLew and Pope. As long as folks from the past administration hang around, how can the stakeholders believe that the “new” DCSS leadership honestly is really looking for change?

  13. Tucker Guy says:

    Perfectly stated AMG.

    The BOE put Lewis’ hand picked person in charge to keep their actions from becoming indictments and their friends-and-family policies in place. Tyson is very much an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

    They then sabotaged the selection process to weed out candidates who would have actually cleaned house and selected a mediocre candidate who was willing to go-a-long. Dr. Atkinson was caught lying on her application about her bankruptcy and the BOE ignored it. That alone should tell Dekalb citizens something, but it is just part of the larger picture.

    Now her plan is to reorganize and downsize, but she doesn’t want to be the “bad guy” and is giving the job of eliminating positions to the principals. Here is my question, will the educational coaches who lose those positions move into classrooms at lower salaries? Their years as coaches should not count as years of experience. At the school where I am working I never saw the Title 1 educational coach outside of the teacher’s lounge and had not seen an email from her until 3 weeks ago. Now she is sending emails nearly every day and scheduling meetings with teachers. Typical CYA.

    I am sickened by culture of corruption that permeates the central office. Last week everyone in the system had to “verify” they were real people by showing a driver’s license to an HR employee and signing a piece of paper. It made me wonder how many non-real people are on the payroll that they had to go through a process to verify everyone.

    I want to close with God Bless the teachers of Dekalb County. I work with the most dedicated, wonderful, children-loving people around. I am honored to be part of a team that changes children’s lives even with the worthless shackles and pointless encumbrances the central office puts on us.

  14. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    Funny, in a sad way, that the last update from DCSS PR is Aug 2010. Atkinson’s state of system address doesn’t really change my impressions of anything.
    Regarding the education coaches, if they were moved into the classroom, that would be a real ‘victory.’ I’d still consider it a victory if they got to count their years of experience toward their seniority.
    I do appreciate the one ray of hope in this rather gloomy discussion of DCSS shortcomings–there are good, dedicated people in DCSS. I can vouch for that as a parent.
    How do I submit a story to submit a story to Dekalb School Watch Two?

  15. DCSD Teacher says:

    Being serious about keeping good teachers means restoring the Board TSA as a first step. It also means consulting with teachers at some point in the process–no, wait, make that “at MANY points”–in the process of restructuring. This new Superintendent has not addressed a single communication to us teachers, nor, with the exception of her “Fireside Chats”, which involved only a tiny fraction of those who were free to attend, has she publicized any vehicle for us to provide input. We learned Friday that the new name of the district is “DeKalb County School District”, and we learned about these other window-dressing changes, as well. But no changes were announced that would help us teach better, address the discipline problems in schools, or boost our sagging morale. Teachers are leaving DCSD in droves, and unfortunately, it’s often the best who are leaving.

  16. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    DCSD Teacher, I totally agree. One main goal of any school system administration should be to create a good environment for the teachers to do their job. Bringing them into the process should be a high priority.

    I’ve been in the working world long enough to know what CYA means, but what is TSA? I suspect that last word is different than in CYA.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    According to comments in the GetSchooled blog on the State of the System address, teachers have been consulted during recent curriculum sessions. The comment said, “What they’re putting together are more like pacing guides with suggested lesson ideas. The teachers who attended these sessions had a ton of input. Nothing was forced upon them from above.”

  19. Huh? says:

    She actually said “servant leadership?” Didn’t some teachers get fired in Gwinett over a comment like that?

  20. Huh? says:

    saw this on the Get the Cell Out – Atlanta website:

    “Looking ahead, the April Tucker Parent Council meeting will be held on 4/23/12 at Livsey Elementary. Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, Superintendent of DeKalb County Schools, will be giving a talk on the “state of the system.”

    Maybe we will get a second chance to hear her tell us whatever it is that she wants us to believe.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I pray that this is not just the same politics in Dekalb. I am an out of state certified person and I am not happy about what i am seeing. I have been trying to become full-time with the district and I can’t even get a real interview. The last interview was a phony and a joke. I found out that the person was already selected before I was interviewed and this was just formality.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I noticed in the AJC that Leadership Dekalb is seeking applications for the next “class.” Dr. Atkinson better get herself over there and apply ASAP! This will continue her indoctrination in what’s required to be a “leader” in Dekalb. Some illustrious Premier Dekalb Schools [sic] alumni and alumnae preceded her. She should feel honored.

  23. bettyandveronica says:

    1 I bet these ideas were floated at this meeting in particular to see how the wind would blow.
    2. you can mess with alot but why would the woman pick summer to start with her on uphill battle.
    3 save our summers needs to get revved up again, we fought it a few years ago, time to start up
    4 kids deserve to experience other parts of their life. some go to camp, some go to day camp, some swim, some sit on the non productive arses when they could be working a summer job. that is not the school systems responsibility
    5 Ms Atkinson, you picked the wrong issue to get moving on…pick another.

  24. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    I agree remain focused on increasing efficiency of DCSS… or.. er… DCSD… whatever. In any event, let’s not get distracted by the summer thing and take our eye of the more support for teachers thing.

  25. Anonymous says:

    @ bettyandveronica

    Rockdale County School System has a balanced calendar. Rockdale is the only low income school system in the metro area that has a 100% Made Adequate Yearly Progess rate. Rockdale parents are very satisfied with the state of their school systems. Marietta City Schools, another excellent high achieving school system with almost exactly the same demographics as DCSS, has a balanced calendar. DeKalb taxpayers can only dream of having such student achievement as these two school systems. Not that the balanced calendar made them that way, but both school
    systems have superintendents that focus on directing resources into the classrooms, they are lean and efficient on the admin and support side, and their decisions are based on what moves students forward. Look at every component that makes for the success for students in these two systems. What a difference from DeKalb! Saying you will dig your heels in and “defeat” any proposal you don’t like of Dr. Atkinson will hobble her from other reforms. A balanced calendar has many educational benefits. This needs to be part of her overall proposal.

  26. The Deal says:

    DeKalb has plenty of significant issues that need to be cleaned up before we add more changes like a balanced calendar. The superintendent and BOE need to show us that they can operate responsibly from a financial perspective and make organizational changes within before making other changes that have not been proven to improve student achievement. In terms of priority, a balanced calendar falls on the lower end. In addition, DeKalb is not really known for implementing even the simplest of initiatives well. So, let them do the really important, major improvements first and then move on to lesser items once the dust has settled.

  27. Anonymous says:

    @The Deal

    IMHO – To “pick and choose” among the superintendent’s educational reforms makes her efforts become a smorgasbord of academic ideas, and whoever screams the loudest will get their idea inserted or deleted. That has happened far too long in DeKalb. Look at the schools who organized their parents to thwart redistricting in their areas. They were left alone while others with less vocal parents were redistricted and closed. The school that more or less completely escaped redistricting is now getting a brand new school even as the virtually new multimillion dollar wing is being torn down along with the main older building. Was this operating “responsibly from a financial prospective”?

    Dr. Atkinson’t plan needs to redirect resources back into the classroom by hiring additional teachers for struggling, average and gifted students and adequately equipping and supplying the classroom. She can pay for this by “rightsizing” the number of personnel needed in the non teaching areas and ensuring their salaries are no more than marketplace competition. She needs to tie all non teaching job functions to student performance and/or stellar service to the members of the classroom (teacher and his students). She needs to rid DCSS of the “family and friends” personnel who are are not qualified for those positions or are in positions that are not necessary for increased student performance.

    These are top priorities, but there are other smaller steps she needs to take as well. This balanced calendar is one of those small steps. Top performing and exceptionally financially well managed school districts (e.g. Rockdale and Marietta City) with almost the SAME demographics as DeKalb are using the balanced calendar. Marletta City just went to this last year on the recommendation of their superintendent Emily Lembeck. Why do you imagine that these top performers Rockdale and Marietta City made this change that you conjecture has “not been proven to improve student achievement”?

  28. justwatch says:

    A balanced calendar may be part of the solution, BUT you don’t implement after a calendar has already been approved and published for the next year. I know scores of students (some low income, by the way) that have summer programs that won’t end in time for an earlier start date.

  29. bettyandveronica says:

    I still think that changing the calendar is part of it, not the right part to start with though. Make changes that show good faith, let some of those folks go. Move $$ to the principals, great idea. Let them lead their schools or get out of the way. Before we go a changin something like a calendar…let’s discuss what the curric. changes will be, implement and then talk about uping the scores even more. This issue may well be part of it, but It’s for the future, not today, not a “We will move to a balanced calendar” mandated from on high.

  30. Anonymous says:

    @ just watch and bettyand veronica

    I do believe that Dr. Atkinson will be making changes by letting non teaching personnel go. I imagine there are quite a few employees who have not been offered contracts. Do you think they are advertising the fact they have been let go by contract non renewal? She will also be allowing principals to reassign certified non teaching positions to teaching positions. This cannot come until the principals and the Central Office have the contracts in hand. In addition, the results of the support side (uncertified personnel and therefore non contractual personnel such as transportation, security, food services, mechanics, etc.) is due back next month. There are over 7,000 of those employees, dwarfing the Central Office in numbers and therefore in compensation, far outnumbering teachers, and they represent an enormous part of the budget. Many are “friends and family” of the BOE members and DCSS administrators. She will need all the “facts and figures” and cover she can get on that one. Rightsizing and ensuring marketplace compensation is in place for those 7,000+ employees will make the Central Office purge look like a cakewalk.

    Dr. Atkinson has been pressured to move fast, but when she makes moves on something she can control, critics instantly react. You want her to mandate from on high regarding cutting jobs which is infinitely more difficult (hopefully not impossible) politically, yet you want her not to mandate on high when it comes to something that’s really fairly innocuous and has been done by many school systems that have been successful for ALL of their students (success for ALL something DeKalb certainly cannot lay claim to) .

  31. The Deal says:

    Again, DeKalb does not have a good track record on implementing new initiatives, big and small. The most important initiative now is to cut the central office, get the new org structure in place and working, get the teachers trained for the new core standards, and see how she and the board work together. I am neutral on the balanced calendar, in concept, but I am definitely opposed to throwing it in the mix with everything else going on. Just because it has worked for Clayton and Decatur does not mean DeKalb will recognize the same results. Besides, a balanced calendar is not the only solution to kids who fall behind over the summer. I myself am in favor of using summer to target the children who need help. As has been discussed on other forums, there are other children who benefit from a longer summer for things like TIP, athletics, and travel camps. There are also many things about Decatur and Clayton that are not comparable to DeKalb, so the correlation is not as direct as you would imply. It’s not like those school systems were terrible, then implemented ONLY the balanced calendar, and then, all of a sudden, were wildly successful. I’ll repeat it again, DeKalb does not have the track record within and the public does not have the confidence to have such a crippled system take on 20 major initiatives simultaneously.

  32. Anonymous says:

    @ The Deal
    Actually, I cited Rockdale and Marietta City school systems as having balanced calendars. These two systems that are much closer to DeKalb in demographics than Decatur and Clayton have exemplary student achievement results as compared to DeKalb or even compared with the metro systems comprised of mostly affluent households.

    It’s not a coincidence that Rockdale’s Sam King (who BTW the DeKalb BOE would not even grant an interview for DeKalb’s superintendent position) was Georgia’s 2011 Superintendent of the Year and Marietta City’s Emily Lembeck was Georgia’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year.

    DCSS can still offer remedial services during the summer with a balanced calendar. Have you looked at the dates of the balanced calendar proposed?

    Regarding your comment on other summer activities that students in DeKalb may miss on a balanced calendar:
    “As has been discussed on other forums, there are other children who benefit from a longer summer for things like TIP, athletics, and travel camps. ”

    What makes you or posters on other forums think that Rockdale and Marietta City Schools’ students who are on a balanced calendar don’t participate in TIP, athletics, and travel camps? Or are you just opining without looking at the data?
    Look at this press release from Marietta City Schools:
    “Marietta, GA – Ten Marietta Middle School (MMS) students have earned state level recognition in the annual Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP). The ten students will be recognized at the Duke TIP State Award Ceremony held Saturday, May 14 at Southern Polytechnic State University.”

    And look at this article regarding some TIP students in Rockdale:
    “Students participate in TIP program”

    Just setting the record straight and using verifiable data.

    IMO – the “big picture” of reform in DeKalb Schools should not be obscured by resistance to smaller ancillary steps toward improvement. We can use all the help we can get.

    You have your opinion, and I have mine, and I’m sure posters and readers have their own. I just want to put some data out there with my opinion.

  33. Anonymous says:

    The problem with Dekalb is that its admin works against teachers. Not with or in support of. But against. Teachers are just hubs in the wheel or balls in the bearings.

    Just think, if class certification is granted in the lawsuit brought to restore our TRA, teachers will be adversaries in litigation against the Board. Not a good place to be.

  34. Anonymous says:

    In fact it seems to be an untenable position. The Board should give back the TRA.

  35. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    Yoh, anonymous, what is TRA? Googling it a couple of ways does no good.

    I too am neutral about balanced calendar. Much of what Anonymous says makes sense. OTOH, I would like to see a laser focus on trimming the central office. And now, I’ve been reading Dekalb School Watch long enough to start on conspiracy theories. Balanced calendars are a known hot issues and might be a good way to distract the voting public from central office trimming. So, maybe best to support Atlkinson…

  36. Anonymous says:

    @ Brook-Dekalb Parent

    I’m not that Anonymous, but he/she is referring to the Board TSA (Tax Sheltered Annuity) which took the place of the Board contributions to Social Security when DeKalb “opted out” of Social Security in the mid 1970s. Lewis suspended the Board contributions to the teachers’ TSA to balance the budget, and then Tyson kept them suspended as well. Every other system in the metro area pays into a Board TSA or they pay Social Security (depending on if their system opted out in the 70s) with the exception of Atlanta Public (which pays around $4,000 a year more in salary for teachers than DCSS). This not only has negative financial implications for DeKalb teachers, it also makes DeKalb less competitive for teachers in the marketplace. This is one reason DeKalb needs to “rightsize” the pay and number of non teaching personnel. We are having a very difficult time attracting teachers since our compensation package is lower than other metro areas, particularly for schools that have a substantial number of at risk students.

    All of this is set to the backdrop of many of our NON teaching personnel salaries being ABOVE marketplace value. Under DCSS superintendent Johnny Brown, an $341,000 audit was done by Ernst and Young in 2004 showed that DeKalb Schools was overpaying 2,500 non teaching personnel by around $15,000,000 a year. The findings were presented to the Board by Ernst and Young consultant Jim Landry at a BOE meeting April 1, 2004. Shortly thereafter, Brown was fired by the BOE and Lewis was hired. Lewis refused (in BOE meeting minutes 12/02/05) to change any salaries and the findings of the audit were buried. No minutes of the meeting of that April 1, 2004 BOE meeting are published on the DCSS Board. An Open Records request yielded little. It took a more or less constant push from the last two years to get another audit. This recent compensation audit that is still ongoing is the result of taxpayer and voter “pushback” from the stonewalling the DCSS administration displayed towards requests of the 2004 audit. Just think what $15,000,000 a year in salary overpayments for the last 7 years would have yielded – $105,000,000.

    Dekalb Watch:

    AJC article:
    “Study: DeKalb schools overpay workers”,E&p_text_date-0=04/01/2004%20to%204/2/2004)&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no

    Atlanta Unfiltered:

    Atlanta Unfiltered:

    More than you wanted to know.

  37. It is TSA, not TRA. TSA means Tax Sheltered Annuity. The TSA was established in 1979 as an additional benefit to educators and an alternative to Social Security. It is separate from the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and is paid into individual employee accounts, tax sheltered until withdrawn. The contribution from DeKalb County School System makes up about 6 percent of each employee’s annual salary – approximately the amount employers are required by law to pay into Social Security. (DeKalb County School System opted out of Social Security in 1978.)

    Retirees who receive a pension from an organization that is not part of Social Security receive a reduced amount of Social Security, even if they have previously worked the minimum number of quarters (for organization[s] who are part of Social Security) required to qualify for Social Security payments. The TSA (Tax Sheltered Annuity) is to make up for the loss of a portion of Social Security because DeKalb County School System opted out of Social Security in 1978.

    When the DCSS BOE “temporarily” ended the TSA in 2009, they did so to “balance” the budget on the backs of our already underpaid teachers. This enabled the BOE to keep the overpaid, under-talented employees in the friends-and-family program, instead of appropriately cutting the payroll of support personnel who don’t.

    Also, I seem to remember that the BOE elected to continue payments to the TSA for the superintendent (Lewis) and other senior administrators. Can anyone confirm this?

    For more information:

  38. “When the DCSS BOE “temporarily” ended the TSA in 2009, they did so to “balance” the budget on the backs of our already underpaid teachers. This enabled the BOE to keep the overpaid, under-talented employees in the friends-and-family program, instead of appropriately cutting the payroll of support personnel who don’t. ”

    Whoooo did that? Could it be….. Ramona Tyson? Why, Yes! Ramona Tyson sliced and diced the budget on the backs of teachers. She said “We have to go after the big nuts”. She really said that. She wanted some big easy ways to cut enormous chunks from the budget. But , uh, of course, she herself was given a raise, a $2000 a month expense account, a big fat increase in pension and a new car!!!!!

    And now she’s been named, what is it? Head of accountability???

  39. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Yeah. Ramona Tyson is a piece of work. And I’ll bet the DCSS contributions to Tyson’s TSA account never stopped just like DCSS never stopped contributing to Lewis’s TSA account.

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