Success For Whom???

Fair-testingDeKalb School Watch received this essay from a concerned educator, currently working for DeKalb County Schools.  As always we exercised our right to edit whatever we publish, while taking care to maintain the tone and the point of the essay.

We are publishing this essay with the hope that we will hear from other DCSS employees — particularly those who work with SFA — and parents regarding the concerns brought up in the essay.

 As many of you are aware, DeKalb County has adopted a reading program for many of its lowest performing schools.  The program carries the acronym, SFA – Success for All.  As it is highly questionable as to whether or not the program delivers on its promise, the program is met with criticism for a number of reasons:

 First, the Roots (1st grade) level is riddled with phonics errors (“g” says “geh”?).  Educators utilizing this program in their schools are incessantly reminded by the powers that be to execute this program with “fidelity.”  This calls into question the “fidelity” with which DeKalb County School System and SFA reviewed this program before educators were required to implement it. 

 Secondly, this SFA program features Dr. Ruth Westheimer as a “word personality” (Dr. Ruth Wordheimer) on the “Between the Lions” video segment of the program.  In case any of you are unaware of who Dr. Ruth is, she had a talk show titled “Sexually Speaking” in the ‘80s.  She is a nationally recognized authority on sexual matters and methods.  She remains an active contributor to sex education in written and video form.  For example, she has a plethora of YouTube “how to” videos on various sexual-related activities. 

 If a student were to type “Dr. Ruth” into an Internet search engine (i.e., Google, Bing, etc.), he/she would be exposed to many inappropriate (for children), X-rated, adult materials.  In fact, nothing found in a general search even mentions Dr. Ruth as a recognized child or educational expert, so why has SFA (and DeKalb County Schools, for that matter) deemed her as such?

 Additionally, at least one DeKalb County SFA school (if not more) is encountering a troubling trend with the practice of remediating students but not accelerating students who are ready to move on.  This custom seems to be an escalating epidemic in DeKalb – focus on the struggling students but not the striving ones.

 Ostensibly, the aim of SFA is to place students on a reading level at which they are functional, but challenged to grow.  Student placement is based solely upon reading assessments provided by the program, which determines a child’s reading level.  The ritual at one particular DeKalb SFA school is to place students below grade level if they test below grade level, but NOT place them above their current grade level, even if they tested above.

 For example, a 3rd grader can be placed in a 1st grade level reading group (below), but not in a 4th grade level reading group (above), even if the administered test determines them capable.  Why would that be?  Do we not want our students to be advanced?  It certainly is not the fault of SFA , as I am convinced they did not intend such prejudice.  This school, for one, has been told by its SFA facilitator that this is a DeKalb recommendation.  No acceleration.  No challenge for the highest students.  No surprise. 

We have long had concerns about Success For All — particularly the close, possibly financial, relationship between Cheryl Howell Atkinson and SFA.  Her doctoral dissertation was specifically on SFA and much of it reads like it was written by the SFA public relations staff.  Bringing in SFA was one of the first things she did Lorain, Ohio (the Lorain school system was recently taken over by the State of Ohio).    SFA was the first major move Atkinson made as DCSS superintendent, before she even really knew much about DCSS and our students — especially our Title I, lowest-achieving students.

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73 Responses to Success For Whom???

  1. AmyP says:

    I had one daughter who was dyslexic and was reading on a second grade level in second grade, but needed remedial education. My other daughter was reading on a 7th grade level in second grade. Neither got any attention. This was 18 years ago, and I see it’s getting worse instead of better.

  2. dekalbteach says:

    I’ll have to check at our school if students are placed at levels higher than their actual grade level. I’m not a homeroom teacher and my SFA group is at the Roots level (1st grade)- I’ve taught 1st-3rd grade students at this level. One of my concerns is that students are being moved up through the SFA levels to show “progress” even if they aren’t ready, or didn’t test for that level. We have also discovered errors when the SFA assessments were given (every 8 weeks), which placed students at higher levels than they should be in. Another concern is the grading system DCSD selected for Roots students at level 4. DCSD counted student homework as 25% of the student grade in SFA reading despite the fact that DCSD grading policy states that homework counts for 5% of a grade. I really wonder how that tidbit got through the multiple layers of approval to become policy. There is not a lot of support in the building at all from SFA. The national people come every month or so, but spend it meeting with our coordinators. The coordinators don’t come in to model lessons, observe, cover classes without a substitute, or give suggestions.

  3. Coralwood parent says:

    Drop the silly Dr. Ruth alarmism — focus on whether SFA is any good, and follow the money.

  4. no name says:

    Several DCS elementary schools were identified as SFA “Ambassador Schools” during Monday’s leadership retreat (a day-long meeting for the principals and other administrators). “Ambassador Schools” are how SFA gets school districts to do the dirty work of marketing the SFA program to other districts, as shown by this September 2012 Success For All Newsletter:

  5. SMH says:

    The SFA Reading program and DCSD do not correlate AT ALL. At the beginning of the year, when we were trained, our staff was told that the ideal SFA class should have no more than 15 students. At my school, there are classes with 28-30 students in them and, in some cases, the teachers do not have a para or other helper. Initially, admin thought that all certified teachers in the building would be teaching a class. They thought that they would be able to use the Music, Art, PE and other special area teachers for classes. They later learned that only teachers that were certified in reading could teach an SFA reading class. This greatly affected the number of students that would be in each class as there were not as many teachers available to teach classes. When students were given their initial tests for placement, no care was taken to ensure that students would not cheat and copy answers from the person who sat next to them in the computer lab when they were taking the test. When students were placed, you had Discovery students sitting in the same class as students who were retainees and/or Level 1 students. When admin was informed of this, they said there was nothing they could (or would) do. Another problem was that no one expected for most of the students in our school to test on a 2nd grade level. SFA can be used with the Storytown books that we were already utilizing at our school, however, there were not enough second grade books to go around because so many students were on that level. When it came time for progress reports, we were informed that the only scores that we were to use were three scores that came strictly from tests (in the Wings program). Why would the powers that be only count tests for a grade. When grades are calculated for math, science and social studies, we include participation, tests and quizzes, homework and projects. As a result of only using tests for grades, many of the students received Fs. To make matters worse, no one, not even the SFA coordinators could answer any of the questions the teachers had regarding SFA. Also, the 90-minute block for uninterrupted reading has disrupted so many things. It affects field trips, it cuts down on the time we have to teach other subjects, I have no time to work with students who need extra help. We are always being told that admin and the people from the SFA program are watching us to see how many times we are going into the SFA Member Center where team scores and test grades are entered. I won’t get into the program itself. I’ll just say that it is written way above the students’ heads and 90 minutes is not enough time to teach all that “the script” says you should teach. It is also very redundant and the students get bored easily. All in all, SFA causes a lot of problems and I don’t think the students are learning much.

  6. dekalbteach says:

    DCSD decided the appropriate placement exam for all 2nd grade students would be a fluency test. So, the students were given a passage to read in 60 seconds and if they scored below 50 words correct, they were tested and placed in a Roots (1st grade) level. So, based purely on words correct per minute, students were placed in a reading group- not a single comprehension question asked of them. One more thing, our school has students unable to identify consonant sounds, much less words, as moving through the levels in Roots.

  7. dekalbite2 says:

    Why are the Instructional Coaches not modeling lessons, taking on a few classes and providing the support that is needed. This is exactly what happened when Audria Berry oversaw the Instructional Coaches. Who is overseeing them now?

  8. Bernie says:

    @SMH….And this why things don’t work in DCSD. They buy into programs, but never implement them appropriately. Instructional Coaches are a throne in the side of teachers, rather than an asset.

  9. dekalbite2 says:

    Why are art and music and all of the teachers in the school not teaching reading? That is at the heart of this program. Without this leeway, the program falls apart for students? Isn’t it supposed to be about students? You do not have to be certified in reading to teach reading in Georgia. You can teach a certain percentage of your school day “out of field” – i.e. out of the field in which you are certified. It sounds like the music, art, etc. coordinators are telling Dr. Atkinson and the principles that their personnel cannot teach “out of field”. That is correct if they are asked to spend the majority of their day doing this, but there is a great deal of latitude if they do not teach “out of field” over 50% of their day.

    Counselors, Assistant Principles, Instructional Coaches, Discovery teachers, ESOL teachers, etc. can teach these classes as well. They just don’t want to. They feel they have enough to do without taking on additional responsibilities. However, they should be pitching in since NOTHING is as important as direct instruction of student and student achievement. Perhaps Dr. Atkinson can lessen the responsibilities of the Counselors, Assistant Principles, Instructional Coaches, Discovery teachers, ESOL teachers, etc. so that they can concentrate on instructing students in order to meet the parameters of this program.

    We are spending millions on this program at Dr. Atkinson’s request. She needs to ensure it works like it’s supposed to work. She can direct ALL staff to do what is necessary to get those class sizes down and insist that EVERYONE in the building who is is a certified personnel instructs students even if they can only dedicate less than 50% of their time doing so.

    Parents need to be contacting Dr. Atkinson if their children are in reading classes that are over 15 students and asking why the rest of the certified staff are not being asked to teach a legally determined percent of their day “out of field” in order to meet the pupil teacher ratio that is suggested as the foundation for success of this program. NO EXCUSES. Doing this program without the parameters being met will ensure children are not given the opportunity to succeed.

  10. Ella says:

    The School Superintendent is the most powerful person in most counties. Decisions like this are made depending on who has given the perks to the school superintendent or the school board members. This positions are very political regardless of what they are supposed to be and our children suffer.

  11. Bernie says:

    @SMH…This is why things don’t work in DCSD. They buy in to programs but never really implement them. And heaven forbid that anyone would check with a teacher for suggestions

  12. dekalbite2 says:

    I suspect Dr. Atkinson has had some powerful resistance from Directors and Coordinators saying their area (music, art, ESOL, gifted, administrative, counseling, etc.) is just too busy and not qualified to teach reading. Yet pulling in every certified employee in a school building to teach reading is the foundation of the program. If the foundation has cracks, do not spend millions of tax dollars on it and do not ask students to depend on a program that is not being properly implemented. Where is the concern for students in all of this? It sounds like Dr. Atkinson is like so many administrators that went before her. I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts and top down and totally ignorant of the teachers and students beneath her.

    Where are Dr. Atkinson’s published benchmarks and dates for meeting those benchmarks if we are spending millions for this program and depending on this program for moving our students forward? By benchmarks, I mean Dr. Atkinson should be saying where our students from their participation in this program and the dates they will meet those objectives. The outcome for students should be quantifiably measured. Continued contractual obligation should be based on meeting the quantifiably measurably objectives. That’s good business and good for kids. Has anyone seen this? NO ACCOUNTABILITY is what Dr. Atkinson has instituted if she refuses to publish benchmarks so that taxpayers can see if our money is giving us a good Return on Investment in terms of increased student achievement rate.

    This is exactly how we spent close to a hundred million on America’s Choice, High Schools that Work, Springboard, etc. No specific objectives and no dates when those specific objectives will be met. Is it any wonder our students are falling behind other districts in terms of student achievement?

  13. educator90 says:

    If I am not mistaken, if SFA were implemented properly, ALL teachers would have received instruction that would have made them qualified to teach the program. I’ve seen it work in other parts of the country, but ALL adults in the schools, aides, counselors, APs, Principals, gym teachers, music, art, language, etc were all involved. The three years I taught in DCSS, I had the worse teacher training for any of the programs implemented, and was thankful that I had used them elsewhere and received proper training. Not one of the programs purchased during those years were implemented properly either. DeKalb SChool district knows better than those that researched, created, and train the programs. Their paid for doctorate degrees say so.

  14. Another DCSD Teacher says:

    Special area teachers do not have even ONE class in reading instruction during their educational preparation. They are content specific degrees. While by law 49% of the day can be taught out of field, why do you want these teachers instructing reading? That doesn’t make sense! Don’t get me wrong. These educators are intelligent and capable of teaching a great deal of topics to a diverse set of learners (they teach every child in the school!).

    If reaching children is truly our focus, smaller class sizes and creativity must be returned to the schoolhouse! Scripted plans don’t inspire teacher or student! Allow some of our top teacher to give honest feedback and suggestions. Then listen. Think. Act. That would solve a heck of a lot of the problems in DCSD.

    The whole point here is that SFA doesn’t work. It’s the program on which the superintendent wrote her dissertation. That’s the only reason it has been implemented here.

  15. Does SFA not at least provide some internet tutorials you can view? I don’t think I learn anything new these days without some kind of internet webinar or training online.

  16. educator90 says:

    Another Teacher, it does work much better when it is implemented properly. When implemented properly teachers are given instruction in it from the SFA people. ALL teachers and adults teach reading to the kids. I’ve seen even the janitors working with kids in schools. The groups are small and the focus is helping the kids move ahead and make progress.

    All too often people in DeKalb are quick to say that this or that doesn’t work, when in fact it doesn’t work because DeKalb did not implement it properly. This was the case with the math program that we adopted when I taught in DCSS. The training teachers received was awful!!! In another state, I received a weeks worth of training from teachers who used the program in their classroom and had other trainings throughout the school year.

    I am not saying that SFA is all that and a bag of chips, but it could be much better for the kids if it was implemented properly, the way it was intended, which just isn’t done in DeKalb, because those with PhDs think they know better and are smarter than the program.

  17. dekalbite2 says:


    So true of so many programs. DeKalb should not be purchasing programs that it cannot implement correctly. Does anyone remember the millions spent on Read 180? The Office of School Improvement had millions left over in Title 1 funds one year and the Language Arts Coordinators (not the teachers – just the highly paid non teaching instructional staff) pitched that it be used for Read 180. One of the components of Read 180 were computer stations as students rotated in and out of activities enabling the Reading teacher to work with very small groups. Unfortunately, the Central Office personnel didn’t do their homework so they didn’t know they needed dedicated servers for those Read 180 computers in the schools.No servers were bought so the computers and the very expensive software were useless. A necessary part of the program was missing. No funding could be found for the servers. All the money had been spent. What a terrible waste. It was a financial and educational disaster. This is very typical of DeKalb. Arrogant administrators who think they are visionaries but cannot be bothered with the details at the classroom level. This was true of SchoolNet (which we just sunk another $3,000,000 in this month. after sinking $7,000,000 the last 5 years) and also of eSis ($4,000,000 and counting). You wold think they would:
    1. Involve real teachers who teach real students in the decision making process
    2. Ensure EVERY component is able to be in place that is necessary for the program
    3. Establish quantifiably measurable objectives in terms of student achievement.
    4. Set benchmarks tied to student achievement and dates for those benchmarks to be met to assess the outcomes from the program
    5. Make additional funding decisions based on that quantifiable data

    1. Someone well placed in the bureaucracy in a meeting thinks something is a good idea.
    2. DeKalb buys it.
    3. They halfway implement it.
    4. No one looks to see if it works for DeKalb students
    4. The BOE never asks for data.
    5. Eventually that program fades away as someone comes up with another “good” idea.

    And round and round the taxpayers, teachers and students go.

  18. Educator says:

    At the beginning of the year we were told that class size doesn’t factor into sudent achievement. The only real variable that impacts achievement are the teachers but yet we have been told to teach new curriculum with no materials and no real understanding what they really want the students to learn. I am thankful I am not in a SFA school. I can’t do scripts and canned teaching. Just keep telling yourselves it is all about the kids and maybe find a way to sneak in some effective teaching in other content areas.

  19. bettyandveronica1 says:

    While I am no educator, I am a parent ho has been in a few schools. It doesn’t matter much who is doing the reading to me, but I would think it would be so chaotic for the kids to have so many reading tutors. They need a fair amount of predictability to their days. They thrive in an environment where they know what is coming next. Involving so many people, putting such a huge focus on one subject something else will be lost. I don’t know the program but I do know this county stinks at bringing in a new toy. Anyone remember math expressions vs ga math just 5 yrs ago? Typical of dekalb, bring it in based on some lame research done in California, keep the implementation a secret from the teachers, and go full steam ahead. Math mountain anyone?

  20. 10s1dach says:


    I’m glad my Coordinator was looking out for my students and their instructional time. You mention the Directors and Coordinators must have complained we were too busy to teach SFA. Explain to me how I have time to take on one more “teacher role” when I have nine and ten classes a day with no planning except for lunch and split between two schools!! I teach over 1,000 students and know each one by name. You, like many other administrators, have no idea how stretched thin most Art teachers are in DeKalb! We have consistently done more and more with no money, little support from Principals and no time to teach and plan. Our instructional time has been watered down to barely 30 minutes once a week! Step in my room and try to identify who is Level 1 or gifted and who doesn’t speak any English. Art is a universal language that ALL children can learn from and feel good about themselves. I’m blessed to have a job where I can design creative lesson plans the students will enjoy while teaching the standards. All this testing has virtually eliminated creativity in reg ed classrooms. Sure the texbooks have plenty of extended learning activities but there’s no time to teach them when teachers have to “stay on track”. Art teachers teach Common Core in their lessons and can consistently relate projects to Science, LA, Math and Social Studies yet we have to plead for Promethean Boards and technology that works. I guarantee my K-2 Art classes will comprehend more of a story when I’m using it as a basis to create an Art project. My 3rd graders can tell you more about Egyptian culture than what’s covered in one chapter of social studies. My 5th graders can explain how one point perspective uses math and precise measurements. Sitting down reciting words over and over won’t work for all. Art teachers take the stories and make them so visually stimulating they can’t wait to get started and read more!
    I know we have many students struggling in reading and math but it infuriates me to see all this money wasted on programs that are doomed from poor planning.
    You’ve heard it before but I know many teachers that can’t wait to get out of DCSD! How can we teach a quality Art or Music program with NO money for supplies. The county doesn’t provide ANY money at all for our programs. We are forced to have our own fundraisers or beg PTA to help while so much money is wasted on useless programs.
    I’ve always put my students first…it’s time for DCSD to do the same!!

  21. dekalbite2 says:

    The purpose of my post was not to “rope” art teachers into teaching reading. The purpose was to question why DeKalb continually spends millions on programs that they can’t, won’t or don’t know how to implement.

    Did anyone ask the grade level teachers who are responsible for the math, science, language arts and social studies content mastery if this program was the most effective one for their students?

    Only blithering idiots would say a teacher can give individual students who are having difficulty in a content area the same amount of attention in a large class as they can in a small class.

    Only blithering idiots would purchase an educational program without “buy-in” from the teachers that are expected to implement it.

    Only blithering idiots would fail to establish quantifiably measurable objectives for an expensive purchase of an educational program.

    Only blithering idiots would fail to set benchmarks for those measurable objectives to be met.

    Only blithering idiots would continue funding expensive programs that have not produced academic results for our students.

    Why the BOE would approve such a large expenditure when we cannot supply our students with enough teachers that would allow for decent class sizes without asking for quantifiably measurable objectives and established benchmark/timeframes to meet those benchmarks? These purchases shows why this BOE is not been a good steward of our money and needs to be replaced with some folks that understand how to plan for and measure a Return on Investment.

    ” You, like many other administrators, have no idea how stretched thin most Art teachers are in DeKalb”
    FWIW – I am not and never have been an administrator (absolutely zero desire to be one), but I have taught every subject and every grade – literally thousands of students. I know exactly how stretched thin most teachers are. I also know that unless the teachers are involved in the decision making process for the children in their specific classroom, our rate of achievement will continue to decline.

  22. hopespringseternal says:

    Just a little dose of “know where you’ve been so you know where you’re going”. Seems an eternity ago, but circa 1998-99, an audit was commissioned by the then-BOE in DeKalb, courtesy Phi Delta Kappa. That audit uncovered many deficiencies in the school system – notably board governance issues and the lack of a curriculum (to include inequities in learning opportunities across schools in the district). Actions thereafter included the formation of committees to tackle each of the deficient areas. Those committees, which included administrators and lay citizens, were charged with assessing the audit findings and developing action plans for correction. As a result, policies were developed or amended, and a staunch effort was born to develop an actual curriculum for the students. Teachers were engaged and excited to be a part of that development; at least that is my perspective based on my own experiences. Then – the brick wall. One day I entered my child’s school only to be met with a frustrated teacher who pushed the new material, which she helped develop, in my hands with this comment: How can we teach this great material we spent time developing if we don’t even have the computers that we can insert the CD into?? It was my first introduction to the left-hand right-hand shell game. Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Therefore no real implementation, therefore no measurable outcomes.

    An aside: we’re now at the point where most or all of our students are suffering. But back then, it sure would have been great if support for those audit deficiencies had the attention of the entire county. But the support wasn’t there, because those students really hurting were concentrated in the southern end of the county. This is completely rhetorical and not intended to any contributor of this blog, but how many times have I lamented – where were you when we needed you? And now everyone is hurting. Hopefully this is a lesson in how we shouldn’t let one part of the district flail about while another part mostly gets what it needs.

    Now – fast forward to today. You can see that the habit of throwing up solutions, paid for by us and with no sound implementation plan, is long-ingrained and predates the last few superintendents and boards. As we look to the future of school administration, no matter how it looks, we HAVE TO demand accountability for measurable outcomes. We also need the ability to read the tea leaves. That effort several years ago was abruptly interrupted by the A+ Education Reform Act, a.k.a. HB1187, then by NCLB. Suddenly the state, the feds, everybody was hopping on education reform. And it had the effect of derailing the district’s efforts. Sounds a little like what the teachers are going through nowadays with common core, teacher keys, RTTT, SFA, integrated math, Kathy Cox, Arne Duncan, blah blah blah. No one has time to breathe. Least of all students.

    @dekalbite2: Your willful insistence on going after investment in, and measurable outcomes of, all this “stuff” is admirable. Keep at it. It has been necessary for longer than you think. And if you keep up with your one song that you’re singing, maybe one day a superintendent’s administration will see that it has to account for what it brings to BOEs for approval – and then prove it. On my own job, I would have been let go a long time ago if I couldn’t prove ROI. Then maybe we’ll get a real board which will see the advantages of looking for ROI.

  23. teacher 20+ says:

    Excellent essay.

    Additional areas of concern:

    Its a dictated program that requires teachers to read ready made scripts rather than utilizing their own professional knowledge of what works for their own class.

    Teachers must spend many extra hours reading these scripts in advance if they are going to modify anything to meet individual needs of students.

    Planning times are being wasted making and acquiring the necessary materials and being trained on “how to teach”. We have professionals that have college training and acquired many years experience. Why are we wasting all their planning and prep time in meetings.

    And what is up with all the extra “administrators/academic coaches/instructional coordinators/ SFA facilitators etc” constantly observing and meeting to critique each teacher’s use of the program? If we had all these extra personnel teaching to lower class sizes or handling student discipline, we would probably have much more success with the program.

    Rather than spending so much on training teachers on new expensive programs, we should be spending more on title one schools towards smaller class sizes, Language/ESL resources and community /parenting classes. These schools have so many socio-economic issues that unless you communicate with parents to take their responsibility to help with attendance, academics and discipline, there is only so little a school can do for their child. There is no chance for “success”. It is time to quit blaming the schools and teachers.

    Most of these kids are beginning Kindergarten with no language skills and no Pre-K experience. They do not even know what the pictures are on the alphabet posters, much less, letter names or sounds. Try to teach kindergarten or first grade children the “a” sound when they can not name the picture as an apple. It does not matter how many training programs you put teachers in, those children will not be on grade level at the end of the year. Also, the very FEW on grade level can only receive very little of teachers time to excel. There needs to be more solutions than training/evaluations on teachers. That is not the solution.

    Teacher- 20+ years experience

  24. Someone should check into the trip to China that Donna Edler reportedly took recently. There is a lot in the news in other areas about a New York Times investigation and Attorney General inquiry about the Pearson Foundation paying for educrats to take trips to other countries to study their education systems. They then come back and suddenly select Pearson’s new program for curriculum and testing. Reading that we already have ties to American’s Choice which is a Pearson product and a F/F connection, it would not surprise me to hear that her trip was akin to a lobbyist paying for legislation to be passed.

  25. Very. Nice. Perk. That trip to China…

    GETtheCELLout — you could be that “someone” to check into the trip Donna Edler reportedly took to China recently. You are very good at investigating and you have a lot of good connections. Please let us know what you find out. Send the information you discover, along with your documentation and, if we can confirm it, we will print it. This would be a good time to do this, as Edler is frantically campaigning to be the next Board chair.

  26. dekalbite2 says:

    “And what is up with all the extra “administrators/academic coaches/instructional coordinators/ SFA facilitators etc” constantly observing and meeting to critique each teacher’s use of the program?”

    EVERY administrator/coordinator/coach in the Success for All program or any other program should be modeling lessons for classroom teachers. Refusing to let the Coaches model lessons for teachers was what the former head of the Office of School Improvement did. Has nothing changed? Modeling lessons while teachers observe is the single most effective way to deliver staff development training.

    Here are some of the reasons that all of these program administrators/coordinators/coaches should be modeling lessons some portion of their day (and Coaches shold be modeling lessons no less than 50% of their day):
    1. It enables the trainer to understand the environment the teacher and students are in so the trainer can make or recommend adjustments to better meet the needs of the students in their school.

    2. It gives the staff development personnel the credibility they need to instruct teachers. Trainers should not ask others to perform tasks that they have not demonstrated that they can perform successfully. Credibility is paramount when training others.

    3. Modeling lessons in front of the teacher places the teacher in a stress free environment so he/she can take note of how the staff development person is managing the class and the content delivery. The teacher can be the observer, and later the trainer who modeled the lesson can point out techniques he/she used and why he/she used them. Most teachers are much more enthusiastic when they see someone model a successful lesson with their class. Teachers enjoy seeing success in their class.

    4. It places the teacher and the staff development staff member in a collaborative mode. The staff development person has just as much at stake in manageable class sizes and administrative support if they are being asked to teach lessons that the teacher is being asked to teach with the same student mix and class sizes that the teacher deals with.

    5. It allows the principal or director of the program a chance to see their trainers in action. In addition, they have direct reports who can make concrete suggestions to make the program the best it can be for students.

    5. It ensures only the best staff development personnel are hired and retained. If the staff development staff member has poor classroom management skills or doesn’t really want to interact with children, he/she will not be applying for or be retained in a job where they are modeling lessons 50% of their day.

    It is unconscionable that Dr. Atkinson and the employee over these staff development personnel including the coordinators and coaches are not asking them to model lessons.

    BTW – who is over all those Instructional Coaches since Ms. Berry left the Office of School Improvement? If he/she is not asking these administrators/coordinators/coaches to model lessons for teachers a significant part of the day, he/she is shortchanging the school system and ensuring the program will not be as effective for teachers.

  27. dekalbite2 says:

    ” If he/she is not asking these administrators/coordinators/coaches to model lessons for teachers a significant part of the day, he/she is shortchanging the school system and ensuring the program will not be as effective for teachers”

    Should read:
    ” If he/she is not asking these administrators/coordinators/coaches to model lessons for teachers a significant part of the day, he/she is shortchanging the school system and ensuring the program will not be as effective for STUDENTS”!

  28. educator90 says:

    @ Betty and Veronica, The Math Expressions/Math Georgia math is a great example of how the district screwed the kids over. First Math Expressions is a GREAT math program when used the way it was intended. DCSS did not use it the way it was intended. The program spirals and only works if it is done as it was created. Teacher training should have been a week at the beginning of the year and then throughout the school year for a full day several times during the first year at the very least. This is what happened in another district that I used Math Expressions, and in DCSS I barely had 2 hours of training. You can’t mix Math Expressions/Math Georgia as they are very different math philosophies. Also it should have been adopted in K and 1 and 2 tops and have another grade added each year, as kids were instructed in the way of Math Expressions, as it is a very different way of teaching and learning math and both the teacher and child learn why you do things the way you do in Math Expressions, so if done properly our kids would understand math better and be better prepared than they currently are. This seems to be the DeKalb way when programs are adopted. Spend lots of money first, worry about training and implementation second after the money has already run out.

  29. dekalbite2 says:

    Unfortunately, the staff development personnel who train other personnel have little experience in using these programs in a classroom setting. This has long been true in DeKalb. Often principals treat the schoolhouse staff the way they were treated by their principals when they were teachers – not as thinking professionals upon which rests the burden of student achievement, but rather as underlings or “tall children” who must be told what, how and when to perform certain tasks handed down from above. Experience in the classroom is seen as a task to be performed for the requisite amount of time (shorter and shorter until it has been compressed into as little as 3 years in most instances) until their promotion is achieved.

  30. sam123 says:

    Math Georgia and Math Expressions. Every year we have heard different mesages on which one was more important. Then we were told that they were only resources and the Georgia state standards came first. Some years we received a Math Expressions worksbook, other years Math Georgia and most years neither one. Some years there were benchmarks, others years there were none. Teachers never knew what to expect. We felt like we were floundering and we had little leadership from school and the county level. The best thing going for the students if they had a teacher that knew the standards for their grade level and taught their students appropriately using best practices.

  31. September says:

    Those of you who think that school counselors, media specialists, art, music, and PE teachers have NOT been drafted to teach SFA are mistaken. I suspect that the decision NOT to use special area teachers may have been made at the local school.

    As it was explained to me, everyone teaches. The program is scripted, so you don’t need to know how to teach reading. It does tell you what to do and say, but it doesn’t tell you what to do when a student isn’t getting the skill after you taught it. It doesn’t tell you what to do for the students who are placed in your class without the needed skills to do the work.

    SFA is taught in place of reading. It doesn’t change the classroom teacher’s schedule that much. Unfortunately, when special area teachers are asked to teach SFA they lose their planning time, have an additional class to plan for, and must do all of the work that goes with teaching that class. 90 minutes is a lot of time on the school schedule. It is harder to schedule elementary specials because you can’t schedule any other classes during SFA.

  32. Kim says:

    Teachers I have spoken with about SFA have mixed results. They have reported positive gains in actual reading and comprehension performance with students who were already reading at their grade level. The clear deficit is with the younger and/or challenged readers who struggle with the format of reading to another student and having the other student attempt to express in their own words what they just heard. In all cases, teachers are once again stretched to the limits to cram the mandated program content into an already packed instructional day.

    I suspect that educator90 probably is close to the heart of the matter. It is how well these type of programs are implemented that is failing more than anything else. Schools will succeed or fail depending on the leadership in the school house since the system fails to effectively manage the programs. The teachers at Woodward are doing a yeoman’s job of delivering the SFA program and the principal seems to be soberly managing the balance between programmatic mandates and actual success.

    As far as the implication of impropriety or even corruption being involved in the selection of such programs I have to say: do we really need more evidence to make the general case for corruption in DCSD? For one, I tire of the examples as one is enough to condemn the leadership. I am waiting on Governor Deal to make an example of the current Board to begin the process of sanitizing DCSD. In the meantime, la plus ça change …

  33. educator90 says:

    @dekalabite2 The company will provide trainers, so we wouldn’t need to have DCSS trainers. These trainers from the company are usually people who have used the program. The train the trainer who trains trainers at the school level to train teachers model sucks!!!! I’ve taught in much larger school districts than Dekalb and have never seen this model anywhere but here.

    It’s obvious that the DCSS training staff needs to go. It would be more cost effective to pay trainers to come in and train teachers during teacher development days or even non-work days and provide teachers a stipend, than the current model. This would be more beneficial for teachers, provide them with better training, mostly likely be better for the children, because the teachers would have better training, and be more cost effective for the district-saving the district money.

    Too many of our principals have too little time in the classroom. One does not become very good at the teaching craft until about year 8-10. Three years is hardly enough time to even get one’s feet wet even teaching in the most difficult of circumstances. Principals and Aps should be the best teachers, and their focus should be running the school, but also helping teachers improve their teaching. I realize all of the paperwork educators at all levels are dealing with, and most of it is truly worthless and time wasting. Focus needs to be on teaching, making sure that all of our students are being reached and stretched and growing.

    A quick Google search finds this company in Georgia that provides workshops for teachers: This is much cheaper and has got to be better than the trainers DCSS now employs.

    Oh and in good school districts principals attend the same workshops the teachers do, so that they themselves understand what the teachers are to be doing.

  34. dekalbite2 says:

    @educator 90
    Staff development in DeKalb has long been a place for family and friends. I agree with you that when implementing programs, it is often better to bring in the trainers from the companies since they are generally teachers who have successfully used the program. Even if you have to pay for extra training, the school system comes out better financially since there are no benefits to pay out or high paying jobs established for permanent non teaching employees.

    Staff development used to be very different in DeKalb. Most of the staff development dollars were allocated to the schools, and principals and teachers decided what training they needed and could contract it out to outside sources. Thus it was more oriented to the particular needs of the schoolhouse. Lewis and the Office of School Improvement moved those funds in house as they created highly paid staff development personnel and Instructional Coaches and Coordinators. This was a smart political move as many new positions were created with that money – but not so good for taxpayers and students. The schools lost the ability to bring in outside staff development people who brought with them a variety of techniques and ideas and often were the best in their fields. The replacement was whole new groups of highly paid DeKalb Schools personnel costing literally tens of millions of dollars a year who never taught a single child. If you wonder where the teacher pay went and why class sizes are so large, this is a good place to start.

  35. 10s1dach says:

    When you make a statement like “Why are art and music and all of the teachers in the school not teaching reading? That is at the heart of this program. Without this leeway, the program falls apart for students? Isn’t it supposed to be about students?” you hit a “sour note”. I completely agree with you about all the blithering idiot decisions that are made without input from teachers and concrete data that these programs work towards student achievement. We are all weary from being on the front lines everyday fighting for our students with no voice and no support. I can only hope to see change before I retire in a few years. I’ve spent my entire career in this system and hate to see what it’s become! Our students deserve more but I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel as much as I try.

  36. dekalbite2 says:


    If the program requires all teachers in the building to spend time teaching reading and that works great for students, then I’m not averse to that. Mastering the content of math, language arts, science, and social studies is the reason we send our children to school.

    That’s not to say that the other special area subjects are unimportant. Many students live for band, music, art, sports, etc., I lived for band in high school so I understand the importance of the Arts, and after many years teaching regular ed, I spent many years as a special area teacher. However, IMHO – what moves students forward academically must be everyone’s priority and responsibility from the custodian to the superintendent to the bus driver to the personnel in the Finance office. That is the reason the school system exists. Students must read, write, compute, understand the natural world and be literate citizens. That’s why mastery of the content areas is so critical for every child’s success in life.

    My complaint is the lack of input and buy in from all teachers – art, music, grade level, counselors, coaches, etc. as well as the absence of quantifiably measurable academic objectives for DeKalb students that can be directly linked to this program.

    Not a dime should have been spent without teacher input and buy in and the establishment of those quantifiable objects and the dates/benchmarks that assess if the objectives have been met.

    DeKalb has spent hundreds of millions on programs that had no teacher input and buy in, no quantifiable objectives and no proof that they move students forward. Most of those programs were poorly or incompletely implemented because the decisionmakers lacked the competence and foresight necessary for success. The only difference is some last longer and spend more millions than others.

  37. whyaminotsurprised says:

    They voted in a ‘balanced calendar’ that doesn’t even fit the research definition of balanced calendar. They approved a set of goals that includes retaining teachers and then moves/lays off teachers and parapros with minimal/no notice. They say they are offering special programs and then remove funding for the programs. And now, they put in a reading program without full support and without following the way the program is set up. This would be why my username is what it is.

  38. @dekalbite2: “BTW – who is over all those Instructional Coaches since Ms. Berry left the Office of School Improvement?”

    Good Question. We wouldn’t know. We have submitted an Open Records Request (months ago) asking for an organization chart with names filled in. It has yet to be produced.

  39. Just another day in Paradise says:

    When the instructional coaches’ salaries were moved out of the central office at the end of June and back into the schoolhouse (Atkinson’s way of reducing the central office staffing numbers), the responsibility for training and monitoring the coaches moved to the building principals. There is no one from the central office monitoring them anymore. There used to be a coordinator in the Office of School Improvement who did have the responsibility for providing professional development and performing observations, but the coaches are school-based employees now, so everything falls upon their immediate supervisors, the principals. Even though the salaries may still be paid out of the schools’ Title I dollars, the coaches are no longer central office staff, so they must obtain their professional development just like any other teacher, through the district’s PL Department or at trainings provided by Curriculum & Instruction. There is no centralized Instructional Coach training anymore. If you wait for the Brass at the Palace to answer this question, you may be waiting until the spring thaw 😉

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