When did we stop focusing on children in DeKalb Schools?

A reader sent us the following essay. It got us thinking — this school system is so hyper-focused on construction, budget cuts, jobs for adults and putting out “fires” that it has completely forgotten to focus on the students. There have been hideously few press releases showcasing the truly wonderful things many of our students do in each school every day. There have been ridiculously few reports on the ordinary, everyday, American events happening in our schools. Our PR department should know that the best defense is a terrific offense and should be pushing out the good news rather than constantly reacting to the bad. Our schools are cornerstones in our communities. There should be a district-wide calendar of school events on the website. The community should be encouraged to attend. There should be a place to read about the wonderful students in DeKalb. The “Kaleidoscope” should once again be resurrected and the good, old-fashioned focus on students and learning should be the order of the day. Students need to know that they matter. They need to know that what’s important to them is important to their community and their leaders. They need to know that they are loved, treasured and supported. We need to stop worrying about the adults in the “system” and start focusing on the children. They are the future.*

Read on:

Tonight I experienced both the best and the worst of the DeKalb County School System. A friend told me that Towers High School was performing a play, A Touch of Grease at 6pm (for free). She had gone the night before, and thought my kids and I would enjoy it. So, at 6pm, I Googled the name of the play and “Towers High School”… nothing. I went to the official Towers HS website and still, nothing.

Okay, I was starting to wonder if I had my information wrong, but still, I packed up my kids, ages 6 and 12 and headed towards the high school that is less than one mile away from me. Upon arrival we went inside, where an enthusiastic young man offered us drinks and snacks for the reasonable price of 50 cents apiece. After spending a grand total of $2.50, we settled in our seats for the show.

After a few minutes, the show began. It was a delightful musical with a cast of about 15 students. The props were well-made, the script was well-written and the performance featured extremely talented young men and ladies that kept me laughing the whole time.

The best scene was Born to Hand Jive and included a high energy dance scene with great choreography and a cameo appearance from the Towers High marching band. The performance wrapped up with cheers for all the cast members.

Then the guest of honor was introduced, Tommy Ford, best known for his character “Tommy” in the syndicated FOX sitcom Martin. He came to the stage and gave a motivational speech directed to the cast of students. Here’s the sad part….when I turned around from my seat in the fourth row (the first two rows were kept clear for the performance), I saw a sea of empty seats. If there were 100 people in the whole auditorium, it would surprise me.

At this point, I couldn’t stop the tears from coming to my eyes. There was such an incredible energy and talent present in this room, yet no one in the community cared enough to come see it. I’m guessing that 90% of the audience was the family members of the student actors and actresses.

My kids and I stood and walked out of the auditorium. As we left, I heard shouting. In the lobby were ten to twenty teens running and charging at each other. I watched them for a moment, trying to decide if they were playing or fighting. I pushed my children out the front door. The scuffle followed us as a group of students formed, punching and running at each other. All bets were off…males charged at females, and vice versa. I looked at the children in the scuffle, one by one. None of them were in the auditorium during the performance.

My tears are for the cast of this show, the few students that are flourishing despite the bleak conditions that surround them. They are the best of DCSS. They don’t deserve what they are getting. They are getting the worst of DCSS. This is the very reason that I get up an hour earlier than my neighbors and drive my children to a public charter school. Wake up, citizens of DeKalb! You may think that because this is not your neighborhood, this is not your problem. The same children that were fighting in and in front of the school will grow up and leave, and they may end up in your neighborhood next.

*Update: As a poster pointed out in the comments below, this was interpreted to mean that we don’t need teachers. That is the farthest thing from the truth. The blog has always and will always put our #1 value on the teacher in the classroom. That is what is meant by focusing on the student. We apologize for the lack of clarity. We want everyone to rest assured that when we say “adults” we mean those who do not have direct contact with students. Most are expendable in our opinion. Quality teachers are the only employees who make a critical difference in the life of a child.

About dekalbschoolwatch

Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
This entry was posted in Student Information, Superintendent Cheryl Howell Atkinson, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to When did we stop focusing on children in DeKalb Schools?

  1. Dekalb voter says:

    @GTCO – ATL
    Can you ask the BOE explain what the educational use of a cell tower would be? Wouldn’t they have to disclose their plans under the Open Records act? If they have plans, they must be made public. If they have no plans, then there is no educational purpose.

    Also, why don’t you contact Jim Walls at Atlanta Unfiltered (he used to be an AJC reporter and still has articles in the AJC). He might be interested in this story. Jim is the one that wrote the stories on the 2004 “missing” compensation audit DeKalb taxpayers paid $344,000 for. He obtained boxes of information the audit had produced (showing pretty much what this new audit showed) by using an Open Records request:

    He is looking for newsworthy stories:

  2. momfromhe11 says:

    I just finished a post-graduate course project (for library & information science certification) proposing a collaboration between the DeKalb School System and the DeKalb Public Libraries. In the course of researching the project, I determined that:

    1) There is a considerable (at least 50%) overlap between what the Parent Centers offered in terms of computer classes, ESOL classes and test preparation.

    2) There is a DeKalb library branch within under 2 miles of every Title I school except one – that one is three miles away.

    3) All DeKalb libraries are on a MARTA bus route.

    4) Several branches have more test prep material than the Parent Centers.

    Space might be at a premium at some branches, but not at all of them.

    CAVEAT: One big problem is that the libraries are understaffed – they are operating at a librarian to patron ratio far lower than the state of Georgia prescribes, and the opening of the new Scott Candler branch wll stretch them even further. The libraries have seen their funding drastically reduced in the last several years, and they have just been told to reduce their budget another 2%.

  3. Raraavis says:

    With the money they spent on Parent Resource Center employees and benefits (to hire friends and family) they probably could have bought everyone that visited there a printer with 5 cartridge replacements, a laptop and three years of dial-up service. Give me a break.

  4. GTCO-ATL says:

    DeKalb voter – thanks for the information and interest. It is helpful to have others to brainstorm on this issue which is why we have encouraged the schools to work together and not let the board divide them into competing factions on this issue. If a tower goes up at even one school then it sets a precendence in our county for allowing the commercial use of public land.

    I think you misunderstood my bullet points above. These are not my words, they are the words from the SPLOST IV list of projects.

    We do understand about the difference between “wireless” on a cellular network and using a wireless router indoors that uses a secure connection. However, Walker, Cunningham, Dr. Speaks and Womack have all stated that it isn’t about the money, it’s for the wireless communications needs of the county, and especially Lakeside High School (which is now the only school on the cell tower list without a contract from the school board or a permit from the FCC. Lakeside insiders likely knew this all along and THEY were interested in the money for the Valhalla group.

    It’s likely that they want to be able to let kids take home an iPad that allows them to access the Internet from home, but you can’t do that if a lot of your kids are in poverty and do not have equal acesss to the Internet. So, the towers would ensure that all homes can get the 4G technology which is mainly an upgrade to better video tehcnology and game playing in real time. To send large amounts of data such as videoconferencing over a network in addtion to the already existing users on the system, it is likely the schools would need 4G. And, the palace now has 7 towers near it, so it is likely they will be equipoed to broadcast from there.

    However, when the community near MLK High School confronted their board member, Cunningham, regarding the cell towers, he mentioned that they needed them “for the wireless.” He and another person whom I believe said she was the PTA President from Flat Rock Elementary both discussed with the group the fact that they have laptops in the school that cannot be used because they don’t have adequate cell towers. Then someone in the audience mentioned that Flat Rock is getting a tower right across the street and the woman replied that it “wasn’t the right type that they need.” She went on to say that they would also be receiving tablets that they cannot use if the towers are not able to go up. It is a long meeting, but you can listen to the whole thing for yourself on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/_BrYQJ2S3jg

  5. Anonymous says:

    here are a few more items from SPLOST IV: Safety/Security Systems Upgrade http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/splost-iv/index/detail/item/16

    Modifications and upgrades to security and life safety systems for existing buildings and facilities, including but not limited to, camera installation, lighting, intrusion alarm systems, fire alarm systems, closed circuit television, and video recorder installation.

  6. Rae says:

    Further evidence of the lack of PR…just saw on FOX5 that Towers won a national award for their band…
    Grants Awarded to 18 Top U.S. Public High Schools for Music Excellence Including 11 Enterprise Awards Granted to Economically Underserved Schools Supported in part by Best Buy, Campbell’s Labels For Education Program, the Ford Motor Company Fund, and Gibson Foundation Special GRAMMY Signature Schools Community Awards Given Throughout The Year In Partnership With Best Buy Mobile

    SANTA MONICA, Calif. (April 2, 2012) — The GRAMMY Foundation® (www.grammyfoundation.org) today announced that 18 schools nationwide have been selected as GRAMMY® Signature Schools (www.grammyintheschools.com) for 2012 and have been awarded cash grants totaling more than $100,000. Created in 1998, the GRAMMY Signature Schools program recognizes top U.S. public high schools that are making an outstanding commitment to music education during an academic school year. GRAMMY Signature Schools are made possible in part through the generous support of Best Buy, Campbell’s Labels For Education program, the Ford Motor Company Fund, and Gibson Foundation.


    In August 2010, the GRAMMY Foundation launched the GRAMMY Signature Schools Community Award, a new extension of the GRAMMY Signature Schools program in partnership with Best Buy Mobile. To celebrate the opening of new Best Buy Mobile stores, the GRAMMY Foundation identified deserving public high school music programs to receive the award and a $2,000 grant. During the past year, approximately 100 schools have received the GRAMMY Signature Schools Community Award, and total dollars granted were in excess of $200,000. For a list of schools, visit http://www.grammy.com.


    “Our GRAMMY Signature Schools program is making a real difference in the lives of young people in public high school music programs across the country,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy® and the GRAMMY Foundation. “With the generous support of our partners, we’ve been able to grow this program’s reach, and further the GRAMMY Foundation’s commitment to fostering excellence in music education.”


    Each of the 18 GRAMMY Signature Schools will receive a custom award and a monetary grant to benefit its music program. The top six schools are designated Gold recipients. The best of the Gold recipients is named the National GRAMMY Signature School. The National GRAMMY Signature School will receive $15,000, and the five remaining Gold schools each will receive $5,000. One remaining GRAMMY Signature Schools recipient will receive a grant of $2,500 to benefit its music programs. In the Enterprise Award category, which recognizes efforts made by schools that are economically underserved, 11 schools will receive a grant of $5,500 each.

    2012 GRAMMY Signature Schools:

    2012 National GRAMMY Signature School ($15,000)
    Douglas Anderson School of the Arts — Jacksonville, Fla.


    2012 GRAMMY Signature Schools Gold ($5,000 each)
    Flower Mound High School — Flower Mound, Texas
    Green Valley High School — Henderson, Nev.
    Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts — Las Vegas, Nev.
    Prospect High School — Mount Prospect, Ill.
    Westwood High School — Austin, Texas

    2012 GRAMMY Signature Schools ($2,500)
    Jeffersonville High School — Jeffersonville, Ind.

    2012 GRAMMY Signature Schools Enterprise Award ($5,500 each)
    Bartlett High School — Anchorage, Alaska
    Billings Senior High School — Billings, Mont.
    Chazy High School — Chazy, N.Y.
    David Douglas High School — Portland, Ore.
    East Anchorage High School — Anchorage, Alaska
    Ewing High School — Trenton, N.J.
    Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center — Columbus, Ohio
    Hialeah Gardens High School — Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
    Pahoa High & Intermediate School — Pahoa, Hawaii
    Philomath High School — Philomath, Ore.
    Towers High School — Belvedere Park, Ga.


    The selection process for GRAMMY Signature Schools begins each year in August when the GRAMMY Foundation mails notification to more than 20,000 public high schools from districts large and small, urban, suburban, and rural, requesting information about each school’s music program. Applications are completed and submitted online in October at http://www.grammyintheschools.com. After the applications are scored, finalists are identified and asked to submit additional documentation, such as recordings of school concerts, sample concert programs, and repertoire, which is then reviewed by an independent blue ribbon committee of top music educators and professionals to determine the schools that merit GRAMMY Signature School status.


    The GRAMMY Foundation was established in 1989 to cultivate the understanding, appreciation and advancement of the contribution of recorded music to American culture — from the artistic and technical legends of the past to the still unimagined musical breakthroughs of future generations of music professionals. The Foundation accomplishes this mission through programs and activities that engage the music industry and cultural community as well as the general public. The Foundation works in partnership year-round with its founder, The Recording Academy, to bring national attention to important issues such as the value and impact of music and arts education and the urgency of preserving our rich cultural heritage. Campbell’s Labels For Education program is proud to be the official education partner of the GRAMMY in the Schools programs. For more information, please visit http://www.grammyintheschools.com. For breaking news and exclusive content, please like “GRAMMY in the Schools” on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/grammyintheschools.

  7. Dekalb voter says:

    To provide low income DCSS students with technology access has always been a problem because someone must pay for the computer (or ipad nowdays) and then pay for access to the internet. Possibly, if there are enough SPLOST IV dollars (which looks less and less likely since they have to go back and fund SPLOST III since they made that opps – we forgot o pay the $40,000,000 bond rate interest), the students may get ipads (some students). The problem is that internet access is required if they want to use them from home. SPOST dollars can be used for equipment, but no for service. Who will pay the monthly access fee for internet access – at least $30 a month per household. DeKalb does not have enough money to pay its teachers. We only budget 55 cents a year per student for science equipment and supplies. How on earth do they propose we pay $30 a month in internet access ($360 a year) for thousands upon thousands of students? Not going to happen unless we take it out of the general operations budget which is already 91% committed to personnel salary and benefits. This would be a multimillion dollar annual expenditure.

    Additionally, videoconferencing like you mention takes up a tremendous amount of bandwidth. Companies like ATT are not giving unlimited bandwidth for that $30 a month. They charge the account at a very steep rate when users go over their allotment.

    I have been in DeKalb too many years and heard of plans that are impossible, too expensive, and have little planning and foresight. Look no further than eSis ($4,000,000), School Net ($7,000,000) and the Promethean ActivBoards ($6,000,000)

    Ask for their plan. I’ll bet they have no workable plan to do this. This is just an excuse to try to get these cell towers installed.

    Jim Walls at Atlanta Unfiltered is a great person to contact. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain if he is interested in this story of back room dealing.

    Look at this article on Walker and the DeKalb Development Authority:



    If the AJC had not reported on this, a backroom deal would have cost the county and particular the school system tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

  8. Rae says:

    Good points….however, Comcast offers Internet to low income families for $10/month, as part of some sort of settlement, I seem to recall. I believe there is a surcharge on all CC accounts to subsidize this service.

  9. Dekalb voter says:

    Yes. I’ve read that. And most of that is through the existing cable service (physical pair of wires that every home already has).

    However, DCSS has NO coherent, practical, affordable plan to use these 9 cell towers for iPad access from a student’s home. Take a look at the 2012-2016 DCSS Technology Plan required by the state.

    Click to access DCSS2012-2015TechPlan.pdf

    Nothing is mentioned about cell phone towers or the need for additional infrastructure in the cell phone realm.

    Look at what they define as the DCSS Infrastructure Gap (need) Analysis on page 13 and 14 – not ONE mention of cellular technology – only about the private network WAN DCSS owns:

    “2.3.2 Infrastructure
    To adequately provide support for future DCSD instructional and business objectives, 4 components of the wide area network (WAN) and local area network (LAN) infrastructure need to be upgraded. For example: proliferation of instructional tablet devices, additional voice over IP phones, and increased video conference use, will require upgrading internal LAN/WAN switches and security components.
    Wireless accessibility throughout all buildings within the district is not a luxury, but a
    necessity. With the growing acquisition of handheld devices for students, teachers and administrators, better access is a must in order for these devices to be used as they are intended–anytime, anywhere for anyone. Currently, every school’s media center is wireless; only 20% schools are completely wireless. In accordance with this acknowledgement, a repetitive theme has been the need to open the filtering system to make teaching web tools more available to masses. There is a need to have the most open access possible, while protecting our students and without violating any security policies and procedures.”

    The BOE has stated they will not be allowing more than these 9 cell phone towers since the uproar has been so great so this handful could not be part of a comprehensive plan anyway.

  10. Anonymous says:


    Thanks for sharing this! I would suggest this be sent to the principal of Towers, Walter Woods or someone in the Central office.

    I recall a few years ago finding out about a recognition for Redan HS that no one in the PR department was aware of. I sent the information to the Redan principal and others in the Central Office. A press release was generated shortly thereafter. I should point out that my children do not go to Redan HS but as a DeKalb citizen, I saw it as my responsibility to ensure others are aware of this. The principal of Redan HS still thanks me to this day.

    I could sit back and wait for someone else to ensure good news about DCSS is shared. I decided to take it upon myself to relay the information. If they already knew, so what? If they did not (as was this case), they were able to turn it around quickly so others could become aware. Considering all the cutbacks in the PR department, there is no way they can know of all the good things happening in DCSS unless someone tells them. They rely on citizens like us to help.

    My two cents….

  11. pscexb says:

    The post above was left by pscexb. I thought I was logged in…..

Comments are closed.