More bad news: State releases list of lowest-performing schools

According to yesterday’s AJC, “The Georgia Department of Education released a list of the state’s 78 lowest performing public schools Tuesday as part of its still-developing accountability system.”

These are the DeKalb schools on the list:
DeKalb Transition School (achievement)
DeKalb Alternative School (achievement)
Elizabeth Andrews High School (graduation rate)
International Student Center (achievement)
Indian Creek Elementary School (achievement)
Toney Elementary School (achievement)
McNair High School (school improvement grant)
Clarkston High School (school improvement grant)
Towers High School (school improvement grant)
DeKalb/Rockdale PsychoEducation Center (achievement)

Despite having 10 schools on the priority list, DeKalb school officials embraced the new designation system. “We see them as necessary and helpful,” said Walter Woods, chief communications officer for DeKalb schools.

Our question: When will the school system stop labeling and relabeling schools and get around to improving them? Some of these schools have already spent years on the NCLB “Needs Improvement” list. It takes focus, understanding and a willingness to be the best stewards of the public’s money as possible to really set schools up for success. We do not have those qualities in our current board. We continue to suffer the woes of a reactive method of leadership rather than proactive. Their focus continues to be “correcting” the mistakes of the past and promising not to do them again. Basically, they put out fires, but the smoke is so thick that they simply cannot focus on the future.

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32 Responses to More bad news: State releases list of lowest-performing schools

  1. As Dunwoody Mom shared on another thread,

    This was “tweeted” out by ajcschools if anyone is interested:
    Looking for Atlanta and DeKalb County Schools parents. List of specific schools too long. hit me at for more details. Thanks

    Feel free to contact Ernie about your school’s concerns.

  2. Woods also made this comment,

    Woods said many of the schools in DeKalb that were pegged as priority schools have taken on difficult challenges such as teaching students who are new to the area.

    “We have a large, diverse county, and we have to serve all of the students in this district,” Woods said. “There will be extra help provided to these schools.”

    That is a very prejudiced statement. It is terrible to shift the ‘blame’ of failure solely onto immigrants. Not only that, he is wrong. For one thing, you don’t see Cross Keys on that list – and they have more immigrants than most of our schools. However, Clarkston, with 34% English language learners, is on the list as well as the International Center with virtually all of their students non-English speakers. (Of course, this school is supposed to be specially designed to serve that population.) Clarkston has been on the “Needs Improvement” list for nearly 10 years now! The latest move the board made was to promote the daughter of a high-ranking DCSS staff person from Asst Principal at Chamblee to Principal at Clarkston. Clarkston needed a highly experienced leader, yet they were given a rookie insider.

    Below is the actual data from the state DOE website:

    DeKalb Transition School: (Since this is a school for middle school juveniles transitioning from the legal system, they are difficult to track. Also, with merely 37 students at reporting time, there are too few for the state to publish the AYP data.)
    There is no published data for DeKalb Alternative School, which usually has around 600-700 students in grades 4-12.
    However, there is for DeKalb Alternative Night School (located in a different facility): There are only 95 students in this program. 94% of them are black. 0% are ELL
    Elizabeth Andrews High School: Of the 534 students, 85% are black, 10% hispanic, 2% white with 10% ELL (English Language Learners)
    International Student Center: 216 students: 55% Asian, 33% black, 8% hispanic, 3% white, 100% ELL
    Indian Creek Elementary School: 873 students: 39% Asian, 53% black, 3% hispanic, 4% white, 66% ELL
    Toney Elementary School: 433 students: 99% black, 1% multi-racial, 0% ELL
    McNair High School: 774 students: 96% black, 2% hispanic, 1% white, 1% ELL
    Clarkston High School: 1,069 students, 64% black, 25% Asian, 5% hispanic, 5% white, 34% ELL
    Towers High School: 935 students: 96% black, 2% hispanic, 1% Asian, 3% ELL
    DeKalb/Rockdale PsychoEducation Center: (no data available)

    One big common denominator for these schools is poverty. All of these schools have a vast majority of their students on free and reduced lunch.

    FWIW, as a comparison, Lakeside High School with over 1,800 students, is 40% white, 35% black, 17% hispanic, 7% Asian and 1% multi-racial. They are also 11% English Language Learners – BUT – only 37% Free & Reduced Lunch. (Most of the above listed schools are well over 80-90% F&RL.)

  3. Be very careful if you go to the AJC. My wife and a group of concerned Moms did go to the AJC. They gave the old beat reporter, Kristina Torres, folder upon folder of information. In just three days, Crawford Lewis had all the folders on his desk and a list of every woman that spoke with Ms. Torres. Ms. Torres then wrote a column about the “loud and vociferous” parents in DeKalb. Clew was successful in marginalizing these parents and it took an additional 3 years to find out that these Moms were right all along.

    I would however like to state, Ty Tygami, has done excellent work following the system since he took over the beat. All I ask is that you make sure and tell Mr. Suggs NOT to reveal his sources like the old beat writer did. It’s hard to know who to trust, but like a poster said on another thread, all one has to do is try to find the articles about DCSS on the AJC website. For several hours they’ll be on the front page and then it disappears into the abyss called the AJC archives. Several AJC articles, over the past week, have been tough to link to and find. I wonder is it just a simple oversight or is the AJC complicit in hiding the truth about DCSS? I really hope it’s not the latter.

  4. Dunwoody Mom says:

    What is of concern to me is that several of these schools have been in “state-directed” status for several years with little academic improvement that I can see. I will be curious to see his progress fairs under the new GABOE guidelines.

  5. justwatch says:

    International Student Center is a place where students just stay for a while, so I am unclear as to why it is on the list. This is where non-English students are sent when they first arrive in GA and they spend some time getting basic skills. I suppose the Center is judged, but I am not sure that is even valid.

    Of the remaining 9 schools on the list, 4 serve troubled children or severe needs special ed kids.

    Clarkston, Towers and McNair are high schools that have had millions poured into them. If you recall, the principal of Clarkston is a friends and family appointment who had never worked at a Title 1 school. Go DeKalb! At some point, something drastic needs to change at these schools. Clarkston is highly transient because of the refugee resettlement in the community. These students, many who are older teens, have often never been to school. The federal government requires refugee youth to be in school in order for their families to receive full benefits. It is beyond complicated.

    Indian Creek has long struggled, not just because of its ELL population but because of how impoverished the population is. By the way, Donna Edler mentioned that Indian Creek doesn’t have lighting that is adequate and that this is one of the projects that will go away in the SPLOST III mess. No knowledge about Toney.

  6. Miss Management says:

    Woods should have conducted research on our failing schools before making a public statement fed to him by DCSS staff and board. If I were Woods, I would surely conduct my own research and not just parrot to the press what I’m told by the staff. He is paid really big bucks to do what he does. As a taxpayer, I sure hoped for more insight, understanding and honesty. We haven’t had that since Julie Rhame was on the job.

  7. Teacher Reader says:

    We can no longer blame race and poverty for our failing schools. These are excuses that do not let the public look at the real elephant in the room. The real reason for our failing schools is the poor management of the school and the school system, and the poor management of funds from sources like Title One that are not used to benefit the students to the best of the district’s ability, but instead are used to create jobs. Do these schools have principals who have experience in the classroom motivating children? Do the principals have experience of bringing students up in their real ability level? Have these principals taught long enough to really understand what it takes to be a good teacher-at least 15 years in a classroom?

    My questions from a teacher/parent stand point is the following: We are not holding students to high enough standards, and need to stop making excuses for a child’s upbringing and family social status. It’s too easy to get a C, which is average, or at least was when I was growing up. We are not using Title One funds in a way that is really prudent in helping students achieve their greatest potential. Are we looking at what the students are “lacking” when they get to high school? Can we trace things back to figure out what is really happening? Is there a break down in the elementary or middle schools? Do the elementary and middle schools that feed into the three high schools also have poor management? How much teaching experience do the schools have, where, and in what? Where did they obtain their administration degree? How long were they assistant principals before receiving a principal appointment?

    The International School, takes children with limited to no English and gets them reading and speaking English. They work to get kids back into their home school as soon as possible. I don’t understand how they could be on the list, as kids that attend this school are not here for years and years. From a teacher perspective, I have only experienced positive results.

  8. Around the Water Cooler says:

    The International Student Center is really two programs housed in one center: LAB and Intensive English. All students are ELL and are newly arrived immigrants and refugees, mostly refugees. You have a school that is 100% ELL, and almost 100% free/reduced lunch.

    The Intensive English students have had formal education in their home countries, but do not speak English. They are in grades 3 through 12. These students take Intensive English at the IC until their English proficiency reaches a certain level. Some students test out in only 8 weeks, others may spend more time there. The Intensive English students are always “assigned” to their neighborhood home schools, and come to the IC in the morning. They go back to their home schools for the afternoon.

    The LAB program is a two-year program for newly arrived non-English speaking students who have missed 6 or more years of formal education. These students range in age from 13 to 20. Many of these students do not even know how to read and write in their own language! The system, in its wisdom, decided to assign these students to the 7th and 8th grades, even though they don’t know any English. On top of that, because they are “assigned” to the IC, and because they are officially in 8th grade, they have to take the CRCT! Can you imagine having the education of a third grader, being in a new country, learning a new language and culture for only a year, BUT having to pass the 8th grade high-stakes tests?? Some of these students do in fact pass portions of the CRCT, but never enough to offset the NCLB mandates. They need much more than learning about the rivers of Georgia, or the horrors of sentence fragments. Unfortunately, those are the subjects that the “powers that be” have decided they must endure (in hopes of passing the CRCT.)
    How is this right?

    The students at the IC are amazing — very grateful to be in this country and eager to learn. Many of them have endured unbelievable and horrific circumstances before arriving here. The strength of the human spirit is alive and well there, despite the label “lowest performing” or “did not meet AYP!”

  9. momfromhe11 says:

    Druid Hills High School has an enrollment of 1,484 with 23% white, 49% black, 11%Hispanic, 14% Asian, 3% multi-racial, 16% ELL, 52%F&RL. Of course, DeKalb can blame the satisfactory achievement on the Asians…

  10. Here’s some more info on the Alternative School (no data is available from the state’s website)

    The DeKalb Alternative School serves 4th through 12th grade students who have been expelled from their home schools. DeKalb Alternative School employs a staff of 72 people, including a faculty of 43 certified teachers who average thirteen years instructional experience.

    The Alternative School provides a supportive, content-rich environment, and offers assistance and support to those students who are transitioning back to their home schools, college, or career. The school offers a comprehensive curriculum that is aligned with that of the DeKalb County School System. Students are prepared to return to the home-school having received competitive academic standards as well as remedial assistance as needed.

    … Unique Assets
    DeKalb Alternative School has the privilege of maintaining a small class size. The student-teacher ratio is kept below one to fifteen in the majority of its classes. This allows teachers to instruct and evaluate students on a very individual level. The emphasis at DeKalb Alternative School is upon academic success; instructional time is protected though many programs designed to help students resolve external and internal conflict disruptive to their learning.

    So … Something ain’t workin’ here.

  11. The Deal says:

    I’ll take it one step further. I agree with everything you’ve said. At this point, there are schools and school systems elsewhere succeeding with high percentages of free/reduced lunch, minorities, whatever. DeKalb has failed all of its students with its poor management. But not only is it poor or bad management, it’s management that doesn’t care. There is no one in a high position who truly cares about the students. If they cared, they would either do something or step aside and let someone who does know what they’re doing make it work. Instead they are intent on collecting a huge paycheck and making excuses.

  12. Poster says:

    A friend’s son got expelled from his home school and is at the Alternative school for this semester. He is doing extremely well and actually likes it. His teachers seem to really care about him, maybe because he is not be typical of the students they see there. He is motivated to do well in school, although was not doing well at his home school….too many distractions, bad attitude. He’s passing all his classes with A’s and B’s and was failing at least 4 at his home school. I’m sure a lot of the students they see are not motivated at all. At the Alternative School, they wear uniforms and really try to keep discipline. Students are kicked out for small infractions like having a cell phone on campus. His mother is worried about him going back to his home school with the same distractions, lack of discipline, etc.

  13. Numbers Game says:

    Dunwoody Mom;

    I believe a bit of a paradigm shift is in order to fully understand the mission of schools like Elizabeth Andrews and to some extent Dekalb Alternative. These types of schools should not be measured in the same way as traditional high schools because they do not serve “traditional” students. It is quite well known for example: that Elizabeth Andrews basically serves as a safety net for other schools to shuttle off “problem” students (those with poor attendance, less likely to pass standardize tests, behavior problems, basically zero home support). NOW…should these schools be expected to continually improve…of course! Measuring that improvement with same yardstick as traditional schools and then failing to understand why the problem persists is just plain wrong.

  14. joey54 says:

    I was one of a group of 5 professional-level women who put together reams of substantiated documents and provided them to the AJC/Kristina Torres, and the same thing happened to us. We began working with another reporter and he “disappeared.”
    The level of corruption is truly frightening.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The Alternative School has very small class sizes and a high degree of discipline. The teachers have always been very enthusiastic about their jobs. Small class sizes, enthusiastic and caring teachers, and a very structured have been life savers for many of the students who go through the Alternative school.

  16. Seems like they have the right formula. But according to this ‘list’, it’s not coming up with the results. Go figure.

  17. Anonymous says:

    This is off the Georgia DOE website regarding the DeKalb Alternative Night School:
    “There are not enough students in this school for the AYP determination to be
    statistically reliable, therefore an AYP determination has not been made for this
    school. These students are included in the District and State AYP reports.”

    The Transition School operates in the same facility during the day, this is what the Georgia DOE says on their website:
    “There are not enough students in this school for the AYP determination to be
    statistically reliable, therefore an AYP determination has not been made for this
    school. These students are included in the District and State AYP reports.”

    The students are not the same year after year. Students in the school one year may be completely different the next year. You can’t measure growth over several years time for students in either of these schools because they are not there for several years for the teachers to teach them. Students are there for a short time in order to transition them back into their home school. It’s really too bad that many students who work well in these small classes get shuttled back into the general school population where they were not successful to begin with.

    DeKalb Schools needs to reinvest in the classroom and put many in the vast army of non teaching certified personnel back to directly instructing students. Eliminating over 600 teaching positions in two years time (and how many more were eliminated in the 2011-12 school system – that was not even published) has driven student achievement into the ground.

  18. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Good points. So, let’s take away the alternative programs and the programs with a majority of immigrant students with limited English skills and the PsychEd school. (Although I am inclined to keep Elizabeth Andrews on the list as it’s an actual school with hundreds of students.) That leaves this list:

    Toney Elementary School (achievement)
    McNair High School (school improvement grant)
    Clarkston High School (school improvement grant)
    Towers High School (school improvement grant)

    How much are the school improvement grants?
    How have these schools used the grant money?
    Why is it not helping?

    What’s Woods excuse now?

  19. Ned says:

    Just to clarify–the International Student Center (ISC) and the International Community School (ICS) are two ENTIRELY DIFFERENT entities. It’s ISC on this list, not ICS.

  20. Teacher K says:

    The school improvement grants were applied for under the USDOE plan to target the bottom 5% of high school nationwide. The applications, like everything else in DCSS, were full of “suggestions” made by county office personnel. I believe Southwest DeKalb has one of the grants. The “Instructional Change” Coach is one of the positions.

    The “staff” input is usually limited to reviewing the draft with the county suggestions and then saying “okay”. Under the former leadership, anything else was pointless.

    Hopefully, this will change with Dr. Atkinson and real improvement will be seen.

  21. momfromhe11 says:

    One of today’s Get Schooled postings:
    Emory to Atlanta school chief: Reconsider decision to close Coan Middle School?
    As you may know, Coan is the site of Emory’s most ambitious university-community-school partnership, and the culmination of more than 15 years of Emory’s collaboration with APS and a wide range of community partners in the Edgewood neighborhood. Emory University has a long history of partnering with Atlanta Public Schools to enhance educational opportunities and improve learning outcomes. Our faculty, staff, and students are currently engaged in many APS schools at all levels throughout the district. Our partnerships include a wide range of activities including student mentors, a nationally acclaimed urban debate program, teacher enrichment and professional development to improve math and science instruction, and the placement of pre-service teachers and teaching interns in APS classrooms, to name but a few:

    Emory is in DeKalb County. Wouldn’t this sort of involvement have been great for DCSD? Darn shame Emory has never been able to get DCSD to work with them…

  22. Ned says:

    In reply to DSW: actually Clarkston High–and Indian Creek elementary–have a higher than average percentage of immigrant and ELS kids.

    In reply to Teacher Reader, above: In fact poverty is an issue as long as AYP is measured by current methods. The only thing CRCT scores reliably track to is socioeconomic status. That’s not saying “failing” schools correlate with poverty and only poverty–it’s saying that failing schools as measured in this way far more often than not are schools with lower SES students. Which is part and parcel of why CRCT/AYP is not a valid measure of teaching –it measures the students (and their familes), not the teachers in comparison with teachers in other schools with different students (and families) or even in comparison over time. You can’t validly comparatively test one thing (teaching) without controlling a second variable (students).

  23. Is it Friday yet? says:

    @ dekalbschoolwatch

    There was no option about Towers, Clarkston, and McNair being on the list. They are SIG grant recipients. The state had already said that all SIG schools would be on the Priority list, no matter the gains they had made. As long as they are under the grant, they are going to be Priority Schools. Indian Creek and Toney? Yes, they need the support.

  24. justwatch says:

    I didn’t know Towers got one of the SIGs. Is it being used the same as McNair and Clarkston?

  25. Is it Friday yet? says:

    Towers is a SIG school. The state has been in there helping all year. All three schools have different plans, approved by the state, specifically designed to fit the needs of the students/schools. Them being designated as Priority Schools just helps ensure that they get as much support as they need. The SIG grant can only do so much.

  26. Teacher Reader says:


    Too much teaching towards CRCT happens in most schools. If schools focused on providing students with a quality education that included ensuring that every child could read and read well (something that is not Rocket Science and mandatory for anyone to make it in the world), taught problem solving and thinking skills, required students to learn and know basic math facts (no counting on one’s fingers), and had discipline, than the schools would not be in trouble. It’s also important for teachers to make learning enjoyable, and to be life long learners themselves and share what they learn with their students.

    As a teacher, I took 38 first graders who were all in poverty-receiving free lunch and all Black at least one grade level and most a year and half to two years of progress my first year of teaching on Chicago’s South Side. Each of my kids had a story, all but one came from single parents, and often grandparents were raising the children. I never cared about the stories or what happened at home, I focused on what I could do at school and made kids enjoy reading and writing. I brought them experiences that they wouldn’t have had otherwise and they loved my sharing of the books that I read and experiences that I shared. I treated each child the way that I would want to be treated and received the same in return. My school needed renovations. The paint was pealing from the walls everywhere and we often had to get down during lunch because of gang gun fire. I also had NO text books, computers or smart boards, but my kids learned to read, loved to write all different genres including essays and poetry, and really enjoyed learning for the sake of learning.

    This was not a one time experience but happened each year I taught in Chicago. I was not forced to teach to tests. I was able to hold my students to a higher standard, and push them as far as I could. My kids too had to take tests and receive a certain score in 3, 5, and 8th grades. They were held back if they did not receive a certain score, something that does not happen in DCSS. I did have a principal who was supportive, even when parents complained that I was trying to make kids white. He wanted the kids to learn and succeed.

    I say that we need to stop teaching to the test, and actually work on teaching. If teachers spent as much time teaching to the test as they did focusing on the standards and holding students to higher standards of learning, the test scores would come regardless of a child’s background. I feel that we do our children a disservice by focusing on a test and not worrying about the big picture, what our children really know.

    What I did could take place at all of our schools if the focus was no actual learning. I am tired of hearing excuses.

  27. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Gotcha. Thanks for the clarity.

  28. Watching... says:

    Emory HAS worked with the International Community School. In fact, the double-wide trailer that has housed the 2nd grade for the last 6 years was a gift from them–it used to be located at the site where Emory’s new business school building is located–it was a temporary office for some of their buildings folks and had to be gotten rid of before they could put in the new building. Emory has had many volunteers come–including a group from the nursing school that came and weight and did Body Mass Indexes on all the kids. And folks that helped with nutrition education. And they did a parent survey…etc. Those are just the things I remember. They are a great asset. Marney Mayo

  29. Ned says:

    @Teacher Reader
    We are actually in agreement, I guess I’m just not being clear.
    I too taught in a system that required teaching to the test (this was overseas) and saw how it detracted from learning, especially for the kids who knew they were never going to do well on the test.

    My point is this–as long as we use a measure (CRCT/AYP) that is totally driven by the invalid idea that testing different students in Clarkston and Dunwoody with the same test will measure the efficacy of those schools and teachers the only result we’ll come up with is that kids from lower SES and greater ESL backgrounds tend to do worse on such a test. This is not a causative effect of low SES (high ESL, maybe) but correlative: SES correlates also with parental education level, which is known to correlate also with student achievement. But we already know that, without wasting education time teaching to a test.
    What I’m saying is that it is totally unfair, and scientific inavlid, to judge teachers comparatively when they have very, very different populations of students whom they teach.
    So yes, let’s stop teaching to the test. It’s worthless anyway.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Clarkston has poor Leadership that needs to be CHANGED AND IMMEDIATELY!!!

  31. Mey says:

    Dunwoody Mom: Thank you. Thank you. You said it better than I could have. I am a teacher at Elizabeth Andrews High School. We work hard. Our principal is a great leader. We are highly qualified professionals. We have highly effective teachers…I promise! What you said is right: the population of students we serve are “unique.”
    EAHS serves teen moms, three and four time drop-outs, unmotivated students, students under court orders, students in and out of jail, older students (ages 22-32). Our school helps other schools make AYP! Let’s keep it real. Those councelors from other well performing schools round up their “undesirables” every year and “recommend” with a slight boot in the pants, that they attend EAHS. Let’s keep it real ! You can thank us for your “achievements” Cross Keys…Chamblee…and Tucker…and all the rest of you.
    But when you send those lovely students to us… we do our best! Small class sizes, strong leadership, a zero tolerance policy, and dedicated teachers have made a place in Dekalb County that, I promise, functions better than most schools. I have to brag on my school because those lists and tests scores don’t tell the whole story. This county needs EAHS….why do you think it has been around for 20+ years? You do the math!

  32. Numbers Game says:

    Amen Mey!

    Few people outside education have a clue…………..

    Almost anyone can “teach” kids that come from stable environments. In reality; they can and often do teach themselves when provided with the resources. Students that come from homes with supportive, stable families and a home culture that values education are very different from those on the other end of the spectrum.

    It takes really special teachers and admins to work with students with socio-economic challenges.

    We all want these kids to succeed as they are just as much the future of a America as the kids from Lakeside and Chamblee. We can’t hold them to a lower standard (nor does anyone want to) but in order to keep them in school so that they have a fighting chance; something big has to change. If we are going to keep using the same yardstick to measure their progress then in fairness we should at least find a way to address their core social issues.

    I believe that a massive paradigm shift is in order. If I were the “Queen” of the Race to the Top money heap; I’d open some single gender boarding schools in the wilds of North Ga and pull as many of these kids out as I could.

    What would you do?

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