Continue to ask the tough questions; the children are counting on you

Some questions to pose at the upcoming ELPC and Tucker meetings:

Although it is encouraging that we have a new, albeit interim superintendent and a mostly new, albeit temporarily appointed Board of Education, there are still many reasons to stay vigilant in our focus on the details of their actions. Our students need us to be asking more questions.

For example, how many documented miles do regional superintendents drive each day to warrant a vehicle? How does this compare to private business employees and the “real world” that taxpayers live in?  Where is a spreadsheet calculation that shows the cost-effectiveness of providing a car instead of reimbursing for mileage?

Has anyone examined how many teachers have used their own computers, paper, or printers when doing work at home, especially with no work days? Does anyone care how much personal money teachers spend on supplies for their students?

Our leaders are wasting precious resources on administrators, “coordinators” and “specialists.” Last year DeKalb and Gwinnett each employed the same number of instructional specialists–567. But DeKalb paid many $90,000-$100,000 salaries or double the number of $80,000 salaries to those specialists. In order to see why these specialists were more highly compensated than contracted teachers, we went to the Georgia Professional Standard Commission’s website. What we discovered is that such specialists often have the same qualifications as teachers. Some have doctorates; others have master’s degrees. But these specialists made $20,000 to $40,000 more, annually, than teachers whose workload routinely includes: (1) creating daily lesson plans for as many as four courses; (2) differentiating instruction; (3) grading assignments and recording grades for as many as 180 students; (4) communicating with those students’ parents or guardians; (5) creating and giving make-up work to so many students; and even (6) tutoring students before, during [planning periods] and after school. We even found that physical education teachers lacking advanced degrees were paid $80,000 to $82,000 by DeKalb County Schools as instructional specialists.

If we could find this information in an hour and half on open.ga.gov, then surely DeKalb “leadership” has access to this information and could do their own research. Further, why was this not pointed out by the auditors during the recent salary audit—or was it? A lot has been lost in the smoke-and-mirrors and many shuffles of late.

We also discovered that some of these instructional specialists’ salaries have increased annually over the past 5 or 6 years.  However, contracted classroom teachers’ salaries have remained the same for the past 5 or 6 years. In fact, those salaries which pre-date Promethean Boards, iPads, and Twitter, have actually been reduced due to furlough days.

Class size isn’t solely a budget item—it is an instructional decision. Before our Board approves any class size changes, they should request the data evaluating the impact of this year’s class size increases on discipline and course offerings as well as the implications for differentiated instruction, lesson plans, grading, and tutoring.

Too many decisions and policies seem detached from the reality of the classroom. Too many administrators have little-to-no experience in the school building or in the classroom. And too many decisions are made by our Board and administration with virtually zero direct input from classroom teachers.

More findings on compensation:

  1. Last year Dekalb also employed 139 instructional supervisors — that is  52 more than Gwinnett’s 87. (And Gwinnett has 65,000 more students than DeKalb!)
  2. Last year, Decatur’s highest paid instructional specialists made no more than $65,000.
  3. The highest salary a Ph.D.-holding teacher in DeKalb has made or will make is $80,520.
  4. DeKalb’s January 2012 evaluation audit of curriculum and instruction (see documentation below) — as well as DeKalb’s continuing decline in student academic achievement — makes the amount of money spent by DeKalb on instructional specialists, coordinators, and supervisors particularly disturbing:
  • “There was no evidence that the coordinators are stretching beyond the state standards in order to implement additional depth and rigor.”
  • “There is a lack of understanding of the attributes of a model lesson plan versus the attributes of a sample plan.”
  • ” Sample lesson plans do exist but these do not contain the specificity, differentiation, rigor, and integration that are evident in a true model plan.”
  • “Content coordinators use resources from the Georgia Department of Education to provide sample lesson plans.”
  • “The resources developed by the curriculum department show little
    evidence of interdisciplinary integration.”
  • “Both schools and central office staff rely on the pre- and postdiagnostics provided by vendors to assess whether a program is effective. If an independent program evaluation is conducted, it is typically informal, primarily utilizing qualitative data.”
  • “Schools correlate program effectiveness with CRCT scores; however, there is little, if any, evidence showing a direct link between these programs and student achievement.”

Recommendation:
All academic programs on the approved list should clearly indicate the target audience served and should be:

  • Updated continuously, including ongoing cost analysis as it relates to student achievement and per pupil expenditure;
  • Research-based;
  • Inclusive of total cost of implementation:  textbooks, required technology and equipment, professional learning, software licensing and “annual updates,” consumable supplies; and
  • Evaluated consistently with formative[1] and summative [2] student achievement data.

[1] Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes. http://www.ccsso.org/documents/2008/attributes_of_effective_2008.pdf

[2] Summative assessment is commonly referred to as assessment of learning, in which the focus is on determining what the student has learned at the end of a unit of instruction or at the end of a grade level (e.g., through grade-level, standardized assessments). Summative assessment helps determine to what extent the instructional and learning goals have been met.                                  http://www.education.com/reference/article/formative-and-summative-assessment/

Questions: How did DeKalb use this or other recommendations? What, if any, formative and summative student achievement data does the curriculum and instruction department have for SFA or Academic Data Coaches? Didn’t Kathy Howe, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, explain to our new board that she was getting qualitative data for SFA even though the audit cites qualitative [3] data as inferior?

[3] http://www.umich.edu/~icls/proceedings/pdf/Fasse.pdf

There are many areas in the budget that need serious re-alignment. Much research needs to be done by Thurmond and his Board. Our new superintendent promises that his budget will show the seriousness of his plan for “saving DeKalb schools.” We certainly hope he means saving the students’ educations and not simply saving the bricks-and-mortar facilities to protect the jobs of adults.

*The audit does recognize that the district was in the process of creating curriculum units. But we would love to know how much RTT money the county spent when paying teachers and coaches to create these. We’ve looked at some and didn’t see any coordinators’ or supervisors’ names, just teachers and coaches. So if you consider this audit’s findings, what do these instructional higher-ups making so much more than classroom teachers actually do?

This information should bother you, since Elgart and Thurmond are acting as if DeKalb is now back on track. If you compare the audit findings to the 2012-2013 school year practices, they don’t seem to have changed much. And if Thurmond is serious about restoring competent and effective instruction, then why isn’t he putting these certified educators back in the classroom as paid teachers with direct student contact? Elgart stated in his comments at the April 3, 2013 Board meeting that the Board and Thurmond need to essentially rebuild the school system and its budget from the classroom out. This is the only way to get this system back on track and ensure that students are served to the best of our ability.

Time is a-wasting—and we’re not seeing much action yet.  This new budget will tell the story – will they focus on students and completely rebuild the system or will they simply play another shell game and move the deck chairs around once again? We are not yet convinced that this group has the ability or knowledge to do what needs done. Hopefully, they will follow Elgart’s advice and employ the services of a renowned education planner who has been successful with a school system very similar to DeKalb’s.

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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"
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26 Responses to Continue to ask the tough questions; the children are counting on you

  1. DeKalb County interim schools superintendent Michael Thurmond will speak to a parents group Wednesday, April 17 about the state of the school system.

    The talk with the Emory Lavista Parent Council starts at 9:15 a.m. at the Coralwood School, 2477 Coralwood Dr., Decatur. For information about the group, go online to http://www.emory-lavista.org.

    +++

    Interim DeKalb County schools superintendent Michael Thurmond is scheduled to speak to parents in Tucker on April 23.

    Thurmond will meet with the Tucker Parent Council at Brockett Elementary School, 1855 Brockett Rd., Tucker. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

    The public can ask spontaneous questions or e-mail them in advance to tuckerparentcouncil@gmail.com

  2. TracyW says:

    Mmmmm. How many more students does Gwinnett have for the same number of specialists?

  3. Embarrassed Employee says:

    Thurmond has had at least a dozen meetings. Are we paying him for his gift of gab?

  4. H.A. Hurley says:

    I have spent 40 years as a teacher and the last 25 years in various administrative positions in several metro districts. Dekalb is so top heavy with administrative, and admin. support personnel with high salaries. Layers of jobs most districts do not utilize. The most successful systems, Fulton and Gwinnett put more $$ into the schools, to teaching and kids. Their administrative structure reflects way less bloated admin. positions. Dekalb is the most bloated and costly system with little to show for. Only fat cats have been superintendents, their cronies, families and all the lawyers needed for endless litigations. Wasted our $$ and kids paid a high price!
    The local schools are void of support personnel, teachers have furlough days, tech support personnel need to be in the schools if we are ever going to regain some level of a well functioning school system. And, yes, teachers are spending huge amounts of their own money to teach their kids. Many resent it when they see the waste and bloating at the Central Office. Disgusting, the $$ thrown around, but not going to kids and their teachers. We also serve many ELL families and translators are needed regularly. Not available to pay them.
    Please study administrative structures, and push many support personnel back into the classroom and to the school level. Get them out of their ivory towers and educate our kids. Many will probably leave, because they’ve had it very good. But, that’s OK! We need educators who are there Only to educate kids, not to protect their cushy jobs.
    Let’s get back to work!

  5. walk to school says:

    I am just wondering, is there any info available about how many teachers signed their contracts. This could be very informative. hmmmmm? I feel very lucky that my daughter has had a great educational experience this year. I’m a little worried about next year.

  6. concernedmom30329 says:

    I heard 93 percent. However, they have until June 1 to back out no questions asked…

  7. concernedmom30329 says:

    The 93 percent was on an eblast sent to teachers

  8. concernedmom30329 says:

    Don’t know if anyone watched the called meeting tonight about the budget. New BOE did a great job with questions and staff did a pretty good job with answers. BOE continually challenged staff when staff was unsure information could be retrieved/developed/not sure right word. We want this information was the clear message.
    Thurmond said Central Office too big.
    Really impressed with Board.

    Revenue is projected to be down 4 million dollars but expenses are projected to be up 16 million. New charter school (Globe) will cost 2.2 million, rest of costs related to state increase in teacher retirement and heath cost.

    The reason Globe is expected to cost 2.2 million is that is the revenue they will receive. If enough students in the same grade leave one school so that a teacher is lost, then some of that lose will be offset. However, as Perrone said, these kids don’t come in neat packages of 25.

  9. dekalbteacher says:

    Re: teachers signing contracts–I and another colleague both told our principal that we plan to move on. He asked that we both sign the contracts and “think about it” for a couple of months. I have no idea why I would be asked to sign, knowing full well that I don’t intend to stay. Is there some SACS deadline approaching, at which time the system wants to be able to tout the 93% figure? I know of nine teachers who are leaving my school–four in one department–but not one of the jobs is posted in PATS!

    BTW we both submitted letters of resignation rather than signed contracts. Enough foolishness!

  10. Babamay says:

    Central office is top heavy. Too many directors.

  11. FROM DCSS HR:

    From: Postmaster Tuesday, April 16, 2013 9:10:26 AM
    Subject: DCSD Annual Teacher Career Fair
    To: News Flash

    ====================
    INTEROFFICE MEMORANDUM
    ====================

    To: DeKalb County School District Contractual Employees
    From: Dr. Tova J. Davis, Director for Employment Services
    Through: Dr. Tekshia Ward-Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer
    Subject: DCSD Annual Teacher Career Fair
    Date: 16 April 2013

    The Division of Human Resources is proud to announce that 93% of school
    based employees signed a contract of employment to return to the DeKalb
    County School District for the 2013-2014 school year! This is a
    remarkable rate for our first year of eContracts!

    In an effort to fill anticipated vacancies, the District will host our
    annual Teacher Career Fair on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at Lithonia High
    School from 9am- 12pm. This fair is for non-contractual individuals
    holding professional teacher certification. This career fair is not for
    current contracted teachers; only those seeking a teaching position, who
    hold a valid teaching certificate.

    Our goal in is to employ quality personnel for all positions. We are
    dedicated to providing quality staff to meet the needs of our students!

  12. I missed tonight’s meeting. (My nephew had a fabulous concert — online!) Glad to hear the Board is unified in pressing for information.
    Question: The Globe Academy will essentially cost $2.2 million in total? Or $2.2 million more than it would cost to educate those same children if they stayed in their home schools (with classes of 30 or more!) Thurmond and the staff need to keep in mind that people would not apply for programs like Globe if they were pleased with the situation in their home schools. Class size is a major issue. And it’s causing a huge divide in the allocation of resources — sort of a self-perpetuating prophesy.

  13. dekalbite2 says:

    “s there some SACS deadline approaching, at which time the system wants to be able to tout the 93% figure? ”

    That means an attrition rate of 7% while the average teacher attrition rate in Georgia over a decade has been 4% a year. It’s hard to believe they would think this is an acceptable attrition rate.

  14. Do they count ‘retirees’ and people who leave for understandable reasons like taking a better job or moving away?

    BTW, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to follow that principal’s advice. A contract is a contract. What is written is written. When you sign it – you are bound – no matter what someone ‘tells’ you verbally. It’s a sticky situation.

  15. concernedmom30329 says:

    Re Globe — it is the money that they will be sending Globe. And yes, you are right. Sort of. The problem is this — say 3 first graders from school a leave for Globe. This change isn’t enough to impact the number of teachers School A needs. Economies of scale. Does that make sense?

    If I find time today, I am going to call the PSC, the body that regulates teachers contracts and find out the reality with school systems and teachers’ contracts. In GA, the recourse systems have if a teacher walks out on their contract is to file a complaint with the PSC and have a teacher’s certification revoked. Several years ago, I checked about DCSS and they hadn’t ever done it.
    Today,, I will recheck as well not just about DCSS but about the entire state.

    State law/polity sets the date when teacher contacts become binding. This is because for the last so many years the state has struggled with its budget with the legislature sometimes meeting into late April. Somewhere along the way, the state stepped in and made a rule that allowed teachers more flexibility as salaries couldn’t be set.

  16. @concerned: Thanks for the clarification. It’s another part of the ‘vortex’ of self-perpetuating decline. If schools like Oak Grove didn’t have to offer classes of 26+ kindergartners with one teacher (no para) – then Oak Grove parents and others like them at other schools would stay at their home schools… that’s just my point. Kindergarten should only have 15-20 students tops – with a teacher and a para. This class size increase idea (two years in a row!) has been like cutting of their noses to spite their faces. Worse place to cut ever! That Board should have told Ramona NO – go back and find another place to cut. But they allowed it – and then fought to spend millions on bus transportation for specialty and magnet programs (this is costing us millions) and they failed to monitor cuts to administration – which as far as we can tell, were never actually made for the most part. Thurmond is wrong, wrong wrong when he claims that 600 administrators were cut from the CO. They were simply re-coded to schoolhouses – where they never actually set foot. He needs to start spending a lot more time with his nose in the books with the CFO. He also needs to hire a highly experienced, professional (corporate trained) HR director – ASAP! Can’t wait to see his “budget” — we’ll see if it’s just another list of ‘cuts’ as in past ‘budgets’ presented to the board… (that’s not a budget).

  17. Newsworthy Note:

    As we all mourn for the people of Boston – think about picking up on this idea:

    In the wake of the attacks, people have jumped on to the random acts of kindness idea suggested by the Twitter hashtag #26Acts2.

    The idea began in December, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn, when TV news personality Ann Curry suggested people use the hashtag to honor the 26 victims of the mass shooting. She and others encouraged people to commit to performing 26 acts of kindness.

    Find someone who could use a random act of kindness at your school – a teacher, custodian, bus driver, cafeteria worker, school secretary or nurse – and do something for them – to honor the wounded in Boston and to show the world that light beats darkness every time!

  18. Concerned Citizen says:

    Thank you, DSW! Always insightful. I think the 93% is pure BS, as you say. Can it really be that these two ladies in HR don’t understand their figures. But, at least we know that principals were told to press for contract signing, asking teachers basically to lie. So, underground there’s lots of contact between the central office and the administration. BTW, could anyone tell me why Tim Freeman is on the list of witnesses in CLew’s case?

  19. It was very careless and irresponsible for that principal to encourage a teacher to sign a contract that they might later wish they hadn’t. If you signed, you are most likely stuck. If I were a teacher and my principal had encouraged me to do that (which is definitely not in my best interest) I would no longer trust that person’s judgement or their truthfulness or ability to stand up for his or her staff.

  20. Concerned Citizen says:

    As we’re too much aware, the pressure on a principal to tow the line and do as told is so great and so tied to further promotion that good people can be tempted to do bad things. I have seldom seen a principal in DeKalb take a stand for doing the right thing. Too many of them do as told.

  21. concernedmom30329 says:

    I know teachers who signed who are actively job hunting in other systems as well as other fields. They fully expect not to be returning next year. But they HAVE to have a job so they weren’t secure enough to quit.

  22. Thank you for posting the video. very interesting indeed.

    Anyone in Tucker, please attend April 23, 6:30 p.m, Brockett Elementary and hear Thurmond respond to my rants… (I hope)…

  23. H.A. Hurley says:

    Teachers typically sign contracts while looking.They have a while to break the contract.
    We should not be angry at teachers who are looking in other systems.Dekalb has nothing but treated them unprofessionally, refused to give them raises, endless furlough days, impacted retirement income, asking them to make it work with nothing. All the while, superintendent and their posse, BOE and litigations have bled the DCS dry.
    My advice to teachers in DCS, go look and better yourself. You have put up with enough nonsense and you deserve better.
    Yes, we need good teachers, but we cannot use a contract to chain them to a sinking system.We retain teachers by treating them with respect and dignity. We also pay them, especially, when the $$ was always available for the many many many many layers of Directors. Unheard of!
    We have to do better for everyone and not make some more equal than others.
    I wish them well!

  24. concerned citizen says:

    I like the way you talk, Hurley. Great comments. The teachers of DeKalb have been badly treated. I truly resent the memo sent from HR with every sentence an exclamation. I would never advise any teacher to apply to DeKalb mainly because they might be hired. There will be many, many vacancies shortly. The tone of HR’s first letter about signing contracts was so threatening and intimidating and then this “Look how great we’ve (HR) done.” (tempted to put an exclamation point)

  25. I_Am_Superwoman says:

    The principal of my school, which hasn’t made AYP since he was hired, told the teachers to sign the contracts ANYWAY because it was easy to back out of later. When the teachers retorted with horror stories about PSC certification reports, said principal assured them that it was untrue. The principal also printed out a list of teachers that did not sign and begged them to return! Even the last two TOTY had not signed. I am 100% sure that what he told the teachers is untrue, because he tried to go after my certification just last year. You can SMELL the fear in our building from all of the unhappy teachers bound to contracts that they wish that they had never signed. Sometimes I feel like signing a contract with DeKalb is like signing a deal with the Devil!

  26. H.A. Hurley says:

    The principal is wrong. The teachers have no guarantee that the DCS decides to refer them to the PSC. The PSC does not come after them, the county has to refer their case to the PSC for breaking contract. That said, if DCS is suddenly swamped with teachers breaking contracts, I would predict that they will go after each and everyone of them. Mean spirited all the way. All one sided for years!
    If teachers are members of GFT, GAE or MACE, have them look over your contract. If there is no language about window of breaking the contract, ie. June 1, then it may be best not to sign and be a free agent. Remember, loyalty is DCS is a one way street with very punitive consequences.

    Teacher respect and professional treatment, all over the US, are in jeopardy.Big $$$$ Corp. related to Race To The Top are demanding unbelievable mistreatment of teachers and kids.
    Arm yourself with information, document, document and get all statements in writing, especially from that threatening principal. Sounds like he is CYA for himself. Chaining teachers to his school is not a good place for anyone.
    Although, these are hard times economically, each of us has the power to decide our OWN destiny.
    Best of luck!

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