Moving Forward: Dr. Atkinson’s Separation and the Interim Superintendent
Reprinted with permission from Nancy Jester
I want to be on record as opposing both action items on today’s DeKalb BOE agenda. My observation is that the board, as a whole, does not fully appreciate the reality of our current circumstances. As I told the state board, we have three deficits: academic achievement, credibility and financial. With the actions today, I see no evidence that the board will improve on any of these deficits.
While I am prohibited from speaking about the separation agreement, I can state that I am philosophically opposed to the level of compensation and perks that superintendents routinely receive not only in our metro area but across the nation. The golden parachutes that are also typically given at their exit are equally problematic. Given the state of affairs in DeKalb, I do not believe there is any credible rationale for paying severance to anyone.
Regarding the new interim superintendent, I believe it was a mistake not to engage the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, the Governor’s Office and AdvancED in the selection process of an interim leader. I believe these actions represent insular thinking which will further erode the relationships between DeKalb, these entities and the public.
On a broader note, I have been disappointed with the institutional limitations that have failed to arrest the declination of DeKalb’s school system. The state’s third largest system has been on a precarious path for many years. All along the way, the institutions of our state should have recognized the unsustainable and reckless path that was before us and engaged in increased and more effective oversight of this district. I’ve blogged before about our state’s need to move to an accreditation model based on student achievement results and financial management as is done in many states. Had such a system been in place a decade ago, DeKalb would not find itself in this situation. I will continue to advocate for our state to restructure our state department of education to produce this type of accreditation model. We cannot allow our state to continue investing in failure with no mechanism to identify and solve the persistent and developing problems with education in Georgia. The same state framework that led to our state and DeKalb’s problems is not capable of correcting them.
There are other steps that can help mitigate the footprint of district failure and incentivize DeKalb and other districts to improve their trajectory. Here are my top recommendations for immediate consideration to the state department of education and to our legislators.
- Eliminate compensation to board members in districts that have deficits on their year-end financial statement.
- Eliminate compensation to board members if their districts have achievement levels below state averages.
- Eliminate compensation to board members if their district must request class size waivers.
- Revoke the license of any superintendent that has 2 years of declination in student achievement results in their district.
- Allow portability of per pupil state funding for students who are in districts that have seen declining achievement levels, are operating in deficit or have increased class sizes beyond the state standards. The portability of these funds should allow the students to attend public school in any other district or an independent charter school, should they so choose.
- Should a district be put on probation or lose accreditation, mandate that the district must allow parents and teachers to enter into a contract to self-manage their school or chose an independent management company to provide services to their school. These schools must have full control over their per pupil funds.
- Should a district be put on probation or lose accreditation, mandate that any community organization that wishes to pursue and fund alternate accreditation through another statutorily approved accreditor (such as the Georgia Accreditation Commission), may do so for any school with the full cooperation of the school district.
I hope that you will join me in advocating for these immediate measures to be put in place. If you agree with them, please tell your legislators, the state board and the Governor.
I also encourage parents to support the Parent Trigger bill (HB123) that made it out of subcommittee yesterday and will soon be before the full House Education Committee. Tell your legislators to vote for it.
I think that DeKalb is a cautionary tale for our state. Other communities are also experiencing changes that may lead them to face challenges and conflicts similar to DeKalb. If we can implement a framework on the state level that prevents these challenges and conflicts from festering into system failure, other districts can avoid DeKalb’s predicament.