All those stunned need to hold your horses

The AJC is reporting that the DeKalb School Board met at a called meeting yesterday and voted to form a committee to discuss the recent letter to Dr. Atkinson from SACS in what many are wrongly interpreting as a closed door Executive Session of the board.

Parents stunned as DeKalb school board bars public

To clarify, at the called meeting yesterday, when a board member asked if this could be discussed in Executive Session, Sutherlin Attorney Bill Wildman responded that this topic absolutely cannot be discussed in Executive Session. Therefore, no Executive Session was held. The board simply voted 8-0 (Bowen was absent) to approve Dr. Atkinson’s plan to address the letter from SACS. Her plan is outlined below:

  • Establish a Special Review Team (SRT) composed of the Board Chair, Board Vice-Chair, Superintendent, legal representatives, 2 senior staff, and communications representative
  • Convene the SRT to review the SACS/CASI letter
  • Prepare recommendations to address SACS/CASE concerns
  • Submit draft response to individual Board Members for review and comment
  • Submit the formal response to the SACS/CASI

That SRT will soon convene, with the Board’s approval to draft a plan of action to present to the Board and then send to SACS within 30 days of the letter.  It’s important to note that the original SACS letter dated August 28, 2012 was written to Dr. Atkinson, and it is her responsibility to respond.  She is the only employee of the Board’s and therefore it is prudent for the Board to approve her actions before she sends off her response, especially in light of the fact that many of SACS’ concerns relate to board behavior.  This entire process puts Dr. Atkinson in a fairly precarious position.

As far as the assumption that the Board met in Executive Session to discuss the response to SACS, Nancy Jester offered this promise, “If somebody tries to meet in Executive Session to discuss this, I will let you know. And I will be outside that door protesting with you.”

In truth, if DeKalb Schools’ financial wheels are coming off, it will look like SACS wasn’t paying attention – that they weren’t doing their job. They were warned by dozens of concerned citizens and employees over a period of years – and took little action. We believe this ‘letter’ is simply an action by SACS to cover their you-know-what.

When Atkinson and the Special Review Team draft the response letter, it will be made available to the public and we will all see the plan of action.  In fact, it would be a wise idea to include AJC reporter Ty Tagami in those meetings so that he can report as they move along. The process should and hopefully will be open, but these detailed discussions would definitely be hindered if done with the full board hashing it out in public—history tells us that never goes well in DeKalb.

The ‘System’ is what needs to change. It is worth noting that most everything in DeKalb schools has changed over the last 5-6 years. Almost the entire staff has been replaced: Crawford Lewis, Pat Pope, Marcus Turk, Jamey Wilson, David Guillory and most top tier administrators as well as the entire board except for Sarah, and yet, the issues of corruption, incompetence and poor outcomes for students remain.  If SACS refuses to take a detailed look into the mechanisms that run the system and help to reset the structure, then we will continue to see very little real change.  And the change we seek is for the benefit of our students, not for the benefit of adults who enjoy employment at the pleasure of the Board.

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93 Responses to All those stunned need to hold your horses

  1. Just me says:

    I think, though may be wrong, that SFA is at Title 1 schools. The premise behind it does sound like it has potential. Scheduling of special ed, ELL, EIP, and other services is a little tricky, since the first hour and a half of the day is SFA.

  2. Quagmire says:

    Vonzia Phillips is gone, not sure about Stacy Stepney, but Sonja Alexander, their sorority sister still is and she gave lots of “friends” jobs in Professional Learning. Now these folks have just been relocated back to school houses with limited space. Schools have to find them an office or “home base” so it can look like they are not central office. They are hardly there, but have an office, and don’t work with children.

  3. teacherwantingachange says:

    Can anyone answer any of these questions?
    1. Is there proof that Dekalb submitted a request to increase class sizes? I know the state allowed districts to increase class sizes if necessary.But if a district didn’t submit the papers, then is it legaly authorized to increase class sizes?
    2. Are there other high schools experiencing crowded classes of 38+ is? We lost at least two teachers in two different departments, but word is the county will not authorize any more teachers until each class meets the maximum number of students allowed.
    3. Has the District been moving teachers around? At the board meeting before school started, Kendra March explained that the district would look at actual enrollment and move teachers accordingly.

  4. Ijustworkhere says:

    @another comment…..
    Your assumption is way off base. There are many paras with “degrees”. So to say that they need to “better themselves” is so 1985. Earning degrees in 2012 will have you in debt for many years, and teachers aren’t making the money to be able to pay the loans back. Many paras don’t want the headaches that the educators on this blog are sharing with us. To say that these jobs shouldn’t be :”terminal” is like saying a nurse shouldnt be satified with being a nurse, the nurse should “better herself/himself” to become a a doctor, A bookkeeper is a real profession that is respected in the “real world” Dekalb’s bookkeepers are used differently. Paraeducators, especially since they are now working with Special Needs students, should be more respected and paid accordingly.

  5. SRO says:

    A good Open Records Act request would be to pull the web logs and see who was working on their online degree’s while they were supposed to be instructing students or working in their office. That why some of the test scores for some of the schools suck because Dr. So and So was going to college while he was supposed to be working. Some people paid other staff to get on the computer and complete the Degree requirements for them….HOT MESS!!!!

  6. Ijustworkhere says:

    @SRO I think we may know some of the same people……lol it’s so true though, sad, but true!

  7. justwatch says:

    teacherwantingachange:
    1. The waiver for class size from the state was a blanket one for all systems. The systems just have to file their plans with the State. No need for additional approval. ;(
    2. I am hearing about high schools that need teachers.
    3.. I know of a couple of teachers that have been moved. However, a few positions have been posted, including one at Wadsworth for a 6th grade science teacher. Anyone know how many students Wadsworth has and if they started the year short this position or if someone left?

    I know of one school that has been told that three teaching positions will be filled, but it is unclear if it will be movement within the system or if the positions will be posted.

  8. September says:

    Please keep in mind that In a lot of elementary schools the bookkeeper is also answering the main school telephone, helping parents, and doing other clerical tasks that keep the school running. You hire a bookkeeper instead of a secretary because most secretaries don’t have experience keeping the books. Tracking spending at the school is very important.

  9. Ijustworkhere says:

    @September…you also have a full time secretary in most elementary schools too, (one is 10month and one is 12 month) I am just propsing a job share of sorts….payroll is a very small part of the job….and the bookkeepers arent accountants….there is no college needed so nah, I am not buying what you are trying to sell. There are no reserves….so every position should be carefully assessed.

  10. John A says:

    The cynic in me predicts this SACS episode will end with pledge letter from DCSS.

    “We pledge to …
    “We pledge to …
    “We pledge to …”
    Yada, yada, yada …

    This episode, unfortunately, is not going to be the hammer needed to reform DCSS.

  11. We encourage you to make this Open Records Request. Before you write it up and submit it, think carefully about what you need/want to know and why. If you know someone in IT who you can trust, find out from that person what kind of usage records are kept, the format they are kept in and how long they are kept. Remember, any information requested under the Open Records Act must already be in a viewable format. Government agencies, like school systems, are not required to produce documentation that does not already exist. If you feel like it is unsafe for you to make the request under your own name, send the written request by e-mail to DeKalb School Watch blog [dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com], and we will submit it from DeKalb School Watch for you.

  12. @John A – that is our point exactly. We have seen letter after letter from SACS. [Check out our history of DCSS and SACS post: https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/dcss-files/sacs/ ] However, under Tyson’s leadership, the same ‘pledges’ were made and ‘updates’ to the SACS requests were made, and we were ‘promised’ that all was well and expectations were being fulfilled. We just find it curious that now, SACS is holding Atkinson accountable (granted, she’s been here a year, but most of these issues were presented while Tyson was in charge – and Tyson was in charge as ‘interim’ for nearly two years!) We are very concerned that this is a set up to fire Atkinson and put Tyson back at the helm. Tyson is a ‘yes’ woman to the Friends and Family and their power would be restored if this were to occur. We would be right back where we were a year ago – searching for a new super with an interim at the helm who already presided over the worst fiscal and student records of all time. And who on earth in their right mind would apply this time?!! If they are allowed to fire Atkinson, we will be banished to Purgatory for a very long time.

    Atkinson has 2 more years on her contract. She should finish it out – with state supervision. The only way to get that supervision is if SACS takes some kind of action. We are not holding our breath, but then again, anything is possible. Obviously, communication from the community is getting through to SACS, so go ahead and bombard them with your requests for investigation. It’s up to everyone who has information to speak up now. It’s now or never.

  13. Oh – there’s a money-saving idea. Outsource payroll. No need to fund a staff with full benefits and pensions to handle payroll when there are global companies that handle payroll for billion dollar corporations all day long. First Data comes to mind – there are others.

  14. @justwatch. The last count we have on Wadsworth was that they only had about 150 students. With a full staff! Great for them…

  15. I hope Stacy Stepney and Sonja Alexander have both been placed as principals. Both were excellent principals and good leaders in their schools. We need more people like them in the schoolhouses!! IMHO, principals should be the highest paid employees after the area superintendents (and AS’ should not be paid much more than principals at all!) Also, principals should report directly to the AS with a direct dotted line to the superintendent if they do not get the support they need from the AS. Quality principals are key!!

  16. Whoshelpingthekids says:

    Per First Class Directory, Stepney is Director, Electives/Instruction and Sonja Alexander is Director, Professional Development. Not seeing lots of change under Dr.Atkinson- just rearranging those chairs on the deck.

  17. Whoshelpingthekids says:

    @teacher waiting for change: March said she would begin moving teachers on Day 11 – after the 10 day warm body count; Monday is day 16 and our schools are still waiting for staff that we’ve been told we’ll get.

    According to the SFA website under teacher link, each school considering SFA has to have 75% of teachers vote to participate. Anyone know if the teachers at schools with SFA were given chance to vote? BOE only approved in May. Would be interesting ORR to see staff meeting minutes on the votes. Good news – SFA requires quarterly formal data reviews and reviews, analysis after every grading period- 4.5 weeks is almost here and by end of semester, there should be 2 official quarterly data reviews per school for all to see how the DCSS $650,000 investment is working.

  18. We encourage you to make this Open Records Request. Before you write it up and submit it, think carefully about what you need/want to know and why. The first thing to know if whether or not staff meeting minutes are kept, the format they are kept in and how long they are kept. Remember, any information requested under the Open Records Act must already be in a viewable format. Government agencies, like school systems, are not required to produce documentation that does not already exist. If you feel like it is unsafe for you to make the request under your own name, send the written request by e-mail to DeKalb School Watch blog [dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com], and we will submit it from DeKalb School Watch for you.

  19. Ella says:

    As long as you have Dr. Walker as chair there will be cover up.
    Some board members interfered and this is why we spent more than their budgeted amount.
    Orson wants to bring in a new superintendent he can control. He wants to bring in his friend. Dr. Walker wants our new superintendent gone because she is trying to do the right thing and follow the law regarding the school board,s job verses her job.

    She really needs the citizens of Dekalb to stand behind her. She needs to be able to do her job without interference from the school board members with all their agendas.

    The letter was sent to her to answer the hard questions. However how can she do this when some of her bosses are the issue and problem? She is between two rocks. She is damned regardless of what she does! She needs our prayers.

  20. Teacher K says:

    No teachers voted on SFA. The board approved it on a Monday, Ms. March said the approval was to allow the process to begin and they would be talking to teachers about it. The books were delivered to the schools on Wed and we were told we WOULD be doing it and there was mandatory training the following Monday.

    There will be NO data from SFA for the 4.5 week period. SFA doesn’t begin until Monday, Sept 10. There were problems with the testing due to inadequate technology in some of the schools.

    SFA in DeKalb stands for Sure Failure Awaits.

  21. September says:

    @Ijustworkhere. We do not have a full-time secretary in addition to our bookkeeper. That might happen at other schools, but not where I am.

  22. Again, this meeting should be recorded and streamed on the internet as well as replayed on PDS 24.

    Emory LaVista Parent Council (ELPC)

    The first meeting of the Emory LaVista Parent Council for the 2012-2013 school year will be held at Lakeside on Wednesday, September 19th.

    Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, Superintendent for DeKalb County Schools, will be the guest speaker and she will present “The State of the System.”

    Refreshments begin at 8:45 a.m. followed by the meeting at 9:15 a.m. Meetings are open to all parents.

    To join the ELPC mailing list, please email

    emorylavistaparentcouncil-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. You can also visit our web site at http://www.emory-lavista.org/

  23. Read about all the high-paying openings on PATS, many with the upper end of the salary range over $110 K, and weep https://pats.dekalb.k12.ga.us/

    And weep more: That damned rumor about not enough money to make September payroll is still alive and spreading. Does anyone have any inside scoop on this? I pray it’s not so, but I can just envision Dekalb scrambling and making desperate deals to try to carry us over just ’til next month. Please tell me these rumors are untrue!!! Is this what prompted the SACS letter?

  24. no name says:

    Whoshelpingthekids @ September 8, 2012 at 4:06 PM – No, teachers did NOT vote on Success for All (SFA)…. nor did the Principals. Instead, Atkinson MANDATED that Principals of Title-I schools waste most of their individual school Title-I funding on SFA…. and March actually threatened Principals who were not behind SFA.

    The SFA program mandates a maximum class size…. but DCS Central office will NOT allow individual schools to have classes that small. In short, Atkinson and March have told the Title-I DCS schools that they must spend all of their money on the SFA program, while simultaneously not allowing the individual schools to do what the program calls for.

    Teacher K @ September 8, 2012 at 5:07 PM — You were not kidding when you pointed out that SFA in DeKalb stands for Sure Failure Awaits.

  25. no name says:

    I see that DCS has a job opening (Posting # 0042-2012) for a Title-I Program Coordinator…. I feel sorry for whoever gets that job because I expect the federal DOE’s Inspector General to come calling. (It’s only a matter of time before DOE starts asking questions, given how much of DCS’s Title-I budget is being funneled to the SFA people.)

  26. Sick and tired of incompetence and little response by stakeholders says:

    As a body created by the Constitution and laws of Georgia, the DeKalb County Board of Education has full authority to control and manage the DeKalb County School District and the public schools within the District.
    The board has no clue how to perform the above responsibilities while adhering to the statement that follow. There in is the major problem.

    The fundamental role of the Board is to establish policy for the District with the focus on student achievement. Day-to-day management of the District is the responsibility of the Superintendent, not the Board. It is not the role of the Board or individual Board members to micromanage the Superintendent in executing his or her duties, but it is the Board’s duty to hold the Superintendent accountable in the performance of his or her duties.
    Except as expressly allowed by law, the Board shall not delegate or attempt to delegate its policy-making functions or any of its other responsibilities.

    I have a final paper to complete by Monday night. My thesis is on the lack of leadership of the school board. The board has longed fear their own employee. , They wrote policy that justifies their fear.
    The reason why SACS has been forever missing in action is its interpersonal relationships with the previous superintendents’ or individuals like Johnny brown. Who played on their fear of SACS It has always been about greed with the board for they own areas and their friends and family. It did not start with black folks either. You only hear about them but many of the white friends and family have retired or of the retirement age. The Monarchy established Georgia as a colony to have a place to send debtors.
    Just when we think it cannot get any worse it does Atkinson. She has outsources 90 of the administrative jobs to her friends. The leadership staffs that were not RIFFING or demoted sit in leadership meeting with Atkinson’s people are treating our leadership like their dummies.
    I have often been the lone crier that the Governor needs to take over and out the whole board and the former acting Superintendent who over spent by 34 million and Atkinson, too.
    Like many are saying if people like Ron Ramsey, Tucker, Thompson, Mosley, Evil Pringle and the new people who don’t know a D…. thing about DeKalb who are making the current staff even those demoted teach them their jobs. Ask the important questions and demand the answers. Why is last year’s budget on the website and we are two months into a new school year.
    My recommendation is that everyone writes to the state and file complaints with the federal govt. Put pressure on SACS by using our government agencies to help us.

  27. DeKalb Observer says:

    Political patronage has a long history. I certainly acknowledge that. But the fact of the matter is now, because competent leaders, teachers, volunteers and supporters have fled this school system en masse, there are no longer enough individuals within the structure of the entirety of DCSD to ensure good decisions are made. An incompetent majority of the BOE selected an incompetent superintendent who will not succeed. She does not have the experience or expertise to lead a system of this size – and let’s face it, she was not successful in tiny Loraine, OH either. She is surrounded at every turn by Friends and Family/NB/Sorority and Frat-connected people who are deeply networked within this system and will be impossible to rout out. The Board continues to ask specific questions about areas that are not their purview because they know she is making poor decisions. Intimating that “supporting” Atkinson against a micromanaging majority on the Board, will lead us out of the morass is a specious argument. We do not have capable leadership on either side. And as many of us argued before her hire a year ago: the system needed a turnaround interim superintendent who could make the tough calls, rout out the corruption, restore trust and base all decisions on what best serves students. APS is far and away ahead of DCSD on that score, thanks to Errol Davis.

  28. whoshelpingthekids says:

    DeKalb desperately needs an Errol Davis. And don’t forget – Dr. Atkinson has ties to NB and the sororities.

    @No Name and Teacher K: if teachers didn’t vote for SFA, that violates SFA requirements – could that jeopardize the grant dcss received from them if dcss isn’t following their rigid structure?
    Dr. Speaks asked staff about SFA – pointed out that a school had used it successfully during her time in Title 1 but that it was very labor intensive. would have to review video but think she shared concern about adding it this year with teacher keyes and common core.

  29. teacherwantingachange says:

    Whoshelpingthekids,
    Tomorrow is actually day 20. And our school still has class sizes exceeding the legal number and our school is still changing students schedules. Crazy.

    For anyone believing that Dr. Atkinson has the ability and interest to turn this system around, please help me understand why she spent 90 days visiting schools and hosting meetings when there were serious problems to solve. And I’m sure there are board members working against her, but the botched contracts in May, the unncessary calendar surveys/committees, and the money invested in scripted curricula, leadership development, and communications seem to be all her doing.

    First, why do we even need a glorified pr department more than more classroom teachers? Other superintendents-Decatur’s and Fulton’s-actually do their own speaking.

    Second, how many more leaders do we need in Dekalb? And if these people are deserving of the big bucks, then how much development should they really need, especially when students are being denied instructional and extra-curricular opportunities?

    Changing the calendar-like changing the system’s name and mantra or changing paycheck distribution-speak volumes about someone who appears to be so disconnected from the real needs of Dekalb’s students and teachers. The students suffering from a purported “brain drain” need more character building opportunities-not more “differentiated instruction” in the classroom. And didn’t Dekalb reduce the work week this summer because of electricity bills? Wouldn’t the air conditioning needs and costs in the last week of May and the first week of August add to our budget problems?

    I’d like to see some of these resources-time, money, and energy-directed to the classroom.

  30. Inatlanta says:

    Having worked at central offices for other school districts, it is not uncommon for central office staff to lie, threaten to sue, fire without cause good employees and hire in friends and relatives. I personally am offended by the actions of black principals in Dekalb who force teachers and students to rise and give homage to the black anthem and I do not support B. Obama’s stipulations for the race to the top money.
    I think Dekalb might lose its ranking by SACS with good reason. Even then, we might not see the change needed. I think the people running DCS are ignorant, have never faced discrimination in their lifetime and are crying over spilled milk of one half a centry ago.

    Howdy1942 you got it right.

  31. Sick and tired of incompetence and little response by stakeholders says:

    Hi Howdy1042,
    I agree with all of your comments. You are very much on target with the issues in DeKalb. Since, everyone accepts that the issues haven’t changed only worsened. Why not support the state in getting rid of this board and Atkinson. Then hire the Associated School Board of South Dakota to come and train the new board and superintendent. They have a training program that can be purchased and self taught. However, it would be more beneficial for the Association to perform the training. South Dakota has one of the leading school systems in the country. Get past the blame game and color barriers white and black folks are guilty of this mess. The children are the ones suffering and they could careless about color.
    People who focus on color are ignorant by birth.

  32. Sick and tired of incompetence and little response by stakeholders says:

    Atkinson is worse then those who came before her. Because she has outsourced our taxpayers job to her her friends.When she gets the boot and she will. I hope her friends know that thier out,too. They can charter a plane back to where ever they came from. This board has no idea how to fuction as a cohesive team. Forget SACS please file compliants with the feds.

  33. Sick and tired of incompetence and little response by stakeholders says:

    I totally agree that Atkinson and the whole board needs to go. I will not accept any of her friend and family staying. The tax paying employees who are employed with the county will let us know who her flunkies are. They are on notice and your right many of our good staff have been recruited by other counties.
    I don’t support speaks because she has never voted for the children in DeKalb who look like her. She is trying to piggy pack on Jester like she road the same horse with Tom Bowen. Wait til Melvin comes on board talk about old old regime. I understand that he doesn’t like atkinson. So I won’t complian to hard about him since he will be effective in getting her out.
    Did everyone know that she said geaduations could not be held in the churches this year? We have to pay more money for the Georgia Dome. Not to mention the dollars are leaving our communities and going to fulton county. I’ve only been to eddie longs church 2 times and that was for my kids graduation. This was the year to negotiate better rated in DeKalb.

  34. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Did you just say Dr Atkinson is worse than Crawford Lewis and Ramona Tyson? What is a cohesive board and how would I know one if I saw it? How is it you expect Ms Jester and Dr Walker to work together?

  35. Leo says:

    To those of you commenting on teacher assignments, at my kids’ elementary school, they just (finally) announced that we would be getting a new kindergarten teacher (even though the warm body count showed high enough numbers during the first week of school). The kicker, they are making the Pre-K teacher the new K teacher (this is great for her since she’s qualified to teach both and got screwed by the county earlier) but now they do not have a Pre-K teacher and are searching for someone to teach these poor little ones who are now going to be so disrupted. And although we were supposed to have music all year, we were just now assigned a music teacher to share with another school. 5 weeks in and we’re still trying to figure this stuff out? I can only imagine it’s worse in the middle and high schools.

  36. John Hope says:

    Leo, this is great for the Pre-K teacher because it may also mean a salary increase. I understand Pre-K teachers will only be paid the state allocation (just under $31,000) meaning they are the lowest paid teachers in the school.

    I can only imagine it takes time for school administration to identify the teachers in the sending schools before they go to the receiving schools. There are many people affected by these changes and we don’t want it to affect student learning.

  37. Sick and tired of incompetence and little response by stakeholders says:

    Thanks for the smile I needed it! There is a new article out about the mayor of Trenton New Jersey arrest by the state federal prosecutor. Check it out it sounds like DCSD leadership.

  38. whoshelpingthekids says:

    @ John Hope: when it is the 5th weeek of school and students don’t have their permanent teacher yet, classes are still being created, student schedules are changing, and they don’t have their text books, it does affect student learning. In high schools on the block schedule, this is equivalent to almost 10 weeks!

  39. justwatch says:

    Lakeside has been told that it must post and hire the remaining teaches (I think science and social studies, but I could be wrong) that it needs. I see Tucker has two science positions posted as well (probably because of all those new affidavit students). However, someone has posted that the system enrollment stayed about the same this year. I suspect that some schools out there have small classes — and the principals weren’t forced to release teachers. That is the FOI request I will be filing in a few weeks. Class size information from a host of schools across the system.

  40. publicschooldad says:

    @ “The last count we have on Wadsworth was that they only had about 150 students”

    It would be interesting to know how many kids pass by Wadsworth on their way to Kittredge every morning. Based on the last map provided by DCSS, I’m guessing there are at least 75-100 kids that travel 1hr plus each day to attend Kittredge over Wadsworth.

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