DeKalb schools’ leaders heading to Harvard

From the DeKalb Schools Newsletter sent out July 3:

DCSD to Participate in Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Program

DCSD will participate in the Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Program (PELP) July 7-12, 2013. Through collaboration between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this leadership development program was established to assist leaders from urban school systems drive improved performance by applying proven management concepts to the unique challenges of their districts.

Participants will explore how to develop, communicate and implement a strategy that achieves excellence across the district by drawing on in-depth analysis of management and leadership best practices in successful districts, businesses and non-profit organizations.

The following individuals will represent DCSD:

  • Michael L. Thurmond, Interim Superintendent
  • Dr. Melvin Johnson, Board Chair
  • Jim McMaHan, Vice Chair
  • Dr. Karen Carter, Board Member, District 8
  • Trenton Arnold, Regional Superintendent, Region 3
  • Stacy Stepney, Director, Curriculum & Instruction
  • Pam Benford, Principal, Cedar Grove High School, Region 5
  • Donna Priest-Brown, South DeKalb Parent Council Co-President

Before arriving at Harvard, every team attending PELP is asked to identify a strategic problem of practice that the team will work on during the team time built into the daily schedule. Additionally, the team is required to work with an assigned Harvard Professor to refine the problem of practice prior to arrival.

Upon return from the program, the DCSD Team will provide a full debriefing to the DeKalb Board of Education and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, which has generously donated to off-set the costs of the trip.

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36 Responses to DeKalb schools’ leaders heading to Harvard

  1. Don't give up hope says:

    Not a classroom teacher there. Not even maybe a “teacher of the year’.” I would think that would be important. Some may argue that a principal will be there but even the best principals sometimes lose touch with classroom struggles and while the good ones listen and relay information , but lets cut the middle man . Even a teacher leader would have been vital to maybe contribute to the discussion or ask probing questions, I had college professors and Education dept. heads who knew all the theories and pedagogy but never had real-life application as an educator but this shows how much the classroom teacher is respected as a professional in this district even though we are in direct contact everyday with who matters the most, THE CHILDREN. We may not be well paid department heads but our input needs to be recognized in how we manage this district to serve the needs of who matters the MOST. I don’t mean to be a picky complainer because as a habit I try offer solutions rather than just whine and I applaud the fact that they are going and I hope the money is well spent and truly beneficial but this is just something they should consider in the future

  2. September says:

    I’m glad they are going, but I hope this isn’t just an exercise to reinvent the wheel. Does anyone know which “strategic problem of practice” they will be working on?

  3. Good point Don’t give up… We also found it interesting that the rep from the south Parent’s Council was included, but not a rep from the Emory Lavista Parent Council (northside). We’re not sure why a parent council rep was included at all. They have no real knowledge of the inner workings of the administration, and can do nothing about it. In fact, the Board can’t do much about it either. They really should have sent more administrators/principals/etc. At least they sent the curriculum leader and one principal. Sending both Jim and Melvin as well as board member Karen Carter, seems like a waste. It will be a very, very short term return on investment. We predict that most of these people will not be a part of DeKalb schools in January, 2015. All in all, it’s a very strange mix of people and we predict will have little impact on the school system operations.

  4. concernedmom30329 says:

    Parental engagement is what they are working on… It was Karen Carter’s “find” thus I guess her inclusion?

    From the AJC article:

    The joint program between Harvard’s business and education schools will search for solutions to identified problems. DeKalb wants to develop parental engagement because the district and schools have been “inconsistent in developing an inclusive culture,” according to a district statement.

  5. Mildred says:

    Why is Pamela Benford going? Won’t it interfere with her DeKalb County School System-paid studies for her doctorate?

  6. Another comment says:

    It looks like Jim McMahan is the token white getting to go to Harvard. This is absolutely ridiculous that we have an Interim Supt. going. Then 3 board members going. Melvin spent 30 plus years more in the district, what more can he learn, other than having Harvard on his CV. This Carter women a short timer for sure, is all about her self, and CV enhancement. She is one of two that didn’t want dual accreditation, so she is one that need to be voted against should she run. McMahan is clearly going to face a great deal of push back at the next election for his turn coat actions in voting against those who put him in office by voting in favor of Marvin, funding Walker and the former boards fight to stay in place. He and Marshall will find that they have shown their true colors and are one and done.

  7. concerned citizen says:

    Of course, the idea is preposterous! A nice boondoggle! Waste of our money, but what’s new?

  8. concerned citizen says:

    Sorry, forgot to say that are we sure this is a real Harvard Professor? This just is hilarious!!!!!

  9. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Would love to read those strategic problem of practice. Probably something real basic like: We need to communicate better or We need to figure out how to run our school system (meaning do what we want) without those pesky parents screaming at us when we mismanage our bazillion dollar budget.
    How in the world did this group come up with including a parent council rep from the south side? It is completely ridiculous not to have included one teacher. In fact a teacher from the south side should be there. Read the last line, the chamber is paying for it!

  10. AdvocateforEd says:

    Speaking of parent engagement.as a part of a strategic plan… Of all the new principal assignments announced last week, has Michael Thurmond introduced or offered to introduce the new principal to parents at any of the other schools? Why would this be something that he feels that his regional superintendant can’t effectively do and therefore want to do himself especially when the newly appointed principal is a former assistant principal? Perhaps to cover up not including stakeholders’ input in the selection process of the principal from the beginning of the process and later sending regional superintendents to “appease” the stakeholders.

  11. howdy1942 says:

    According to CBS Atlanta, the Dekalb Chamber of Commerce is picking up half the expense and Harvard is picking up the other half. I’ll give them a break and hope that they all learn something that will help Dekalb enhance its possibilities of getting off probation. However, I fear that the best efforts of this appointed school board will most like not get us off probation if I read the latest SACS findings correctly. SACS is looking for an end to the turmoil and looking for some stability. Most likely, that will not happen until after July 2014 when we elect a seven-member school board. Hopefully, we will elect a competent, qualified school board that will place its priority on all of the children in Dekalb County and hopefully it can work with SACS to address its concerns.

  12. Tired Mom says:

    The program is not set up for teachers…it’s set up for administration. I think we can all agree that the challenges within the classroom are not identical to the challenges that superintendents and board members face.

    There are other Harvard summer programs for teachers to encourage innovation within the classroom–those are ideal and wonderful for teachers. How to motivate an entire district, successfully implement needed changes within a district, successfully change the financial culture of a district…I’m glad to see that members of DCSS are headed to Harvard to work with some outstanding researchers in these areas. You can fight over who gets to go…but the program is clear about what representatives they would like to attend–including superintendents, parent reps, board members, and others. Only 8 people are allowed per district. Perhaps those who have issues with the 8 chosen could choose a different 8…but then someone else will have issues with them.

  13. Nikole says:

    The parental engagement piece is a serious issue in our struggling districts. That may be why a south Dekalb parent is attending. I’m encouraged by the district’s plan to finally address the unique issues in each individual district. Struggling areas can no longer hide behind areas that are doing well.

  14. idabelle25 says:

    @tiredmom
    I can appreciate your comments and I understand your sincerity in what you are pointing out about teachers not really needing to be there but as a teacher of many years and parent who loves children and making positive impacts on their lives, I am telling you that my wanting teachers to be there is not coming from a point of view of just wanting to be respected and have a ” seat at the table” (I clearly did not become a teacher for the money or professional respect) but more from a problem-solving point of view. I have witnessed countless administrators and district leaders go to a conference and come back with ideas from there that impacted the teaching and learning of students and to put it simply, worked out poorly for the students but by the time they realized it, we were millions of dollars in the hole in cost for it. I’ve often said that if I really wanted to make serious money with my credentials, I should package a program put my name and experience on it and sell it for millions of dollars to school districts around the country and I am telling you that this happens all over the country with people and companies who have far less experience with children than I and others have. Trust me, you are more investigative and scrupulous with people who you have working on your home than some of these school boards around the country with millions to spend. All so a politician or leader can add it to their resume or salary review as something that they brought to the district without any regard to how it negatively impacted rather than helped. That is why I didn’t just mention any teacher but an accomplished respected proven teacher leader that may could prevent poor decision making and remind people what is the best teaching practices and practical for our boys and girls and when that knowledge is respected by good teachers, our kids will make gains. Everything from the top eventually trickles down to our babies and we (teachers) see the effects good or bad. I am not making disparing remarks about the people who are going or the Harvard program for the name alone requires respect. I’d like to think that all of them have the best intentions but I am speaking from experience and I don’t make a practice of trying to repeat mistakes but learn and improve and that is all I want for this county.

    By the way it shows that I am idabelle25 but I am also don’t give up hope(, the first comment) I am writing under my other logged address.

  15. Exactly Isabelle – in fact, most of us are probably suspicious of this trip due to the history of ‘trips’ with the stated purpose of ‘improving education’ that never included teachers, never downloaded anything new, never made one iota of difference for student outcomes – they simply served to send a certain group of chosen people on a free trip. (One particular ‘trip’ to the Ritz at Lake Oconee comes to mind…) You’ll have to excuse us longtime system watchers – we are really quite jaded. It will take some really big, very serious moves of the ‘hard work’ variety to impress most of us. A trip to Harvard is not one of those moves. It’s obviously just another resume boost for a select few. Smoke and mirrors, IMHO.

    It’s not been all that long ago that we discussed the “Hollywood” trip:

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Dr. Crawford Lewis discusses funding of Hollywood trip for DCSS Employees

    Talley Defends the Hollywood Trip

  16. Tired Mom says:

    DSW–Harvard Ed and Harvard Business school jointly created this program. I think it’s exactly the type of program that our DCSS administrative teams should be attending, combining educational theory with sound fiscal policies. IMHO, it’s more than a resume boost. I understand the caution with which anyone long involved with this school system would approach such a program…but it’s a program that requires application. The faculty involved are stellar. I’d encourage you to read about the PELP before you slam it as “smoke and mirrors.”

  17. I’m actually glad to hear they will be participating. Thurmond is in a great position to improve our system as someone not involved in education, but a good student of the process that has failed us, I hope he learns something from the “best practices” and is able to apply it here.

    By the way, is he committed to staying until THIS December or December 2014??

  18. @Tired Mom: Not slamming the Harvard program as smoke and mirrors – slamming the fact that they are sending several irrelevant people – really, will it seriously help to have both Jim McMahan and Melvin Johnson attend? How about Karen Carter? Three board members and the super? PLUS – a rep from a Parent’s Council? The only people on the list who could possibly benefit are the super, the area supers, principals and perhaps HR/finance/transportation/procurement reps — people who perform business-like functions. IMO, more than half this list should not be attending. And in fact, we wager a bet that probably 5 of the 8 will not be a part of DeKalb schools two years from now.

    Here are some topics:

    Building capacity/resource allocation
    Creating systemic reform
    Developing leaders and improving teachers
    Improving education inequality
    Involving business in public education
    Managing with data
    Other

    The program goal is to “test and refine new management theories and practices aimed at improving teaching, learning, and student outcomes.”

    If some administrators with some long-term power and an understanding of the classroom, who can implement new ideas were attending, we might be encouraged. But, IMO, the group Thurmond is taking will not be able to translate what they learn into any kind of action. We can only agree with the choices of Trenton Arnold, Regional Superintendent, Region 3, Stacy Stepney, Director, Curriculum & Instruction, Pam Benford, Principal, Cedar Grove High School, Region 5 (although we’re not sure why they chose this particular principal…) and the superintendent. And just maybe, the board chair, who can download what he’s learned to the rest of the board.

  19. John Hope says:

    Great comments by Tired Mom. You are correct in that some will have issues with anything that is done to help improve the school district perhaps unless it directly impacts them. This is a program developed by the #1 university in the US and some still questioning the participation.

    The website for PELP seems pretty clear what the goals and objectives are. Everyone should hope that the participants bring back information and strategies that will ultimately help the students.

    http://www.hbs.edu/pelp/

  20. Sadly, we’ve just seen this kind of thing wasted again and again in DeKalb.

    Attending is one thing – sharing, training and implementing what was learned is quite another…

    “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” — Albert Einstein

  21. concerned citizen says:

    There is simply no way MJ can translate anything he’s learned to the Board. If he takes a video of the entire program back to the board and the board plays it and studies, then maybe… Don’t all of us know how these noble kinds of programs fall on deaf ears? If Harvard truly has something to offer, they would sell it.

  22. DCSS for Dummies says:

    I wonder if they will come back with any ideas on 1) How to hire experienced teachers (check PATS for further information), 2) How to retain experienced teachers (check PATS for further information), 3) How to close the achievement GAP (check PATS and standardized test scores for further information), 4) How to increase teacher pay, (check PATS for further information), 5) How to improve teacher morale (again, check PATS for further information)….I could keep going…..

  23. concerned citizen says:

    Has anyone checked PATS to see the huge number of teaching and other positions open? What happened? We were told by HR that almost everybody signed his/her contract, and principals were told to get those contracts signed! So, what happened? I don’t think it’s possible to fill these positions in the time left. Actually, the teachers should already be in place. We had a horrible ending of the school year and now it certainly doesn’t look good at all for the beginning of the new year. But yet the interim supt flies off to Harvard, not a care in the world – flying high on his huge salary and with his huge ego. Are we going to use subs to start the year as we used subs to close the year from Feb-late May? The answer is yes; it’ll whittle the budget some more. What about the students? Who cares?

  24. Dr. DeKalb says:

    Wow, I wish some of the posters here could hear how they sound from an outside perspective. You currently live and / or teach in a state ranked consistently at the bottom of the charts for education. The claim to fame ion 2013 is that we recently graduated under 60% of the students who entered the halls of our schools as high school freshmen. And yet here we are …. raising a skeptic’s eyebrow to Harvard University? HARVARD? You have got to be kidding me.

  25. AGAIN – Dr. DeKalb and others: Please read for content. We are NOT criticizing Harvard. We are very concerned about the people DCSS has chosen to SEND to Harvard… and the fact that more than half the people attending most likely won’t even be part of DCSS in two years or less. We are not confident that what is learned will be implemented.

  26. Dekalbite2 says:

    How can DCSS say if is focused on leadership when it installs principals that have had their licenses suspended for ethics violations?

    I agree with Maureen Downey. Mr. Simpson should have been fired, not promoted. Evidently, the Professional Standards Commission felt Mr. Simpson’s actions were unethical. They suspended his educator’s license for ethics violations. This is on his educator’s Certificate (look it up online). It would appear that because Mr. Simpson is politically connected his friends wanted to make sure he was reinstated in a high paying position of authority. Who even thinks Ms. Tyson would have demoted him or sent him to the PSC if the AJC had not published their articles on his unethical behavior.

    The fact that Mr. Simpson engaged in unethical behavior is not debatable. The PSC already determined that. There are many good candidates inside and outside of DeKalb to be the principal of Towers – ones who have NOT engaged in unethical behavior. Iris appointments like these that lead taxpayers/parents to believe that Mr. Thurmond was chosen to keep the status quo and ensure the politically connected personnel who have done such a poor job continue to collect their pay and maintain their power.

    How can they be spending money for this leadership training when their actions say they are intent on continuing business as usual?

  27. concerned citizen says:

    Outstanding remarks and content, DeKalbite. How will the parents of Towers allow this is happen? Well, I can tell you for sure that most of the parents are nonexistent. That’s why Thurmond would dare to do such a truly scandalous thing as make Simpson principal. I bet he’s saying to his buddies, “Oh, those poor little Towers’ students and their parents are too stupid to notice and if they do, we’ll say, “Well, everyone deserves a second chance.So I’m saying Thurmond is planning to make Simpson a hero as a “second chance” mentality goes! I believe that Simpson was placed at Towers as a very serious move to show the students that anybody can make it. Isn’t this ridiculous???? He should have been fired 3-4 years ago, not demoted slightly and then promoted. Is there a clearer example in DeKalb of terrible judgment and outright ignorance? Just this one example is all anybody needs to say, “Oh, Wow, they are really crazy in DeKalb.”

  28. Confused Former Teacher says:

    Concerned Citizen, great comments but one question remains if the new principal deserves a second chance will this hold true for everyone who have been dismissed in Dekalb. If one deserves a second chance shouldn’t all?

  29. concerned citizen says:

    Hi, Confused Former Teacher – I really meant “second chance” sarcastically because I don’t believe in second chances for M Vick or a principal who would steal or for many other of the big bad things people have done in DeKalb. No, I think anyone who was dismissed for good and proper cause, should ever be given a second chance! But, you know, I don’t know of anyone who has ever been “dismissed.” That’s most of the problem. I know tons of administrator-types who should have been dismissed and weren’t!

  30. Confused Former Teacher says:

    What does Michael Vick, have to do with anything Wow. So should the teacher at Cross Keys keep his job, this would be his second chance.

  31. Word Wall says:

    Boston is nice this time of year, brunch at Harvard Square, Cambridge for dinner, maybe a Red Sox game at Fenway. Politically correct discourse in the nice Harvard classrooms. What a joke! What a slap in the face to furloughed teachers with no social security or step raises!

  32. SRO says:

    lol @ word wall….

  33. FWIW, apparently, the cost of this program is $40,000. But Harvard gave DeKalb a 50% discount, due to our situation. The DeKalb Chamber paid the $20,000. Not sure about airfare, travel, etc. No word on how it went…

  34. FWIW, Harvard does identify those who would likely benefit from their program:
    http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/pelp/Pages/default.aspx

    Who Is Right for the Program

    The Public Education Leadership Program is designed for teams of eight participants, including district office personnel, school principals, and regional supervisors, who are responsible for urban school systems with at least 30,000 enrolled students.

    http://www.exed.hbs.edu/programs/pelp/Pages/participants.aspx
    Typical participant titles may include, but are not limited to:

    Superintendent
    Other central office administrator
    Principal
    Union president
    Teacher leader
    Community liaison
    School board member

    They went kind of heavy on the school board members, in our opinion. How about another of the Area Superintendents? How about a teacher leader? Jim and Karen should have been replaced.

  35. How Will My School District Benefit?

    Going far beyond the basic transmission of skills and theories, this offering provides applicable lessons within the classroom that can be implemented successfully across your school district. The program is designed and taught by Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) faculty who are leading authorities in their respective fields. As recognized thought leaders on crucial management issues, they maintain dynamic relationships with the highest-performing urban school systems, nonprofit organizations, and corporations worldwide. Moreover, you will find yourself immersed in learning with a diverse and collaborative group of public education leaders whose insights and perspectives will contribute to your learning both during the program and well beyond. You will have access to a valuable professional network of PELP participants. Additionally, you will return to your school with the tools, skills, and confidence to refine your management model, develop new strategies, and improve the performance of your school system.

  36. Core topics include:

    Making Strategy and Coherence Concrete

    Apply a framework to help district leaders understand how their cultures, systems, and environments reinforce one another and support strategy implementation across all schools
    Build a coherent organization that enables people at all levels to implement their piece of the strategy
    View districts as integrated systems with interdependent parts that directly link to the work of teachers and students in the classroom
    Establish a collaborative process for designing a plan that principals and teachers can use effectively

    Attracting and Retaining the Best People

    Develop and manage human capital
    Recruit the best people for hard-to-staff schools
    Align the recruiting process with the district strategy
    Improve leadership capabilities at all levels

    Managing for High Performance

    Build strategies for effective, long-term administrative performance
    Apply performance data to guide decisions and measure accountability
    Allocate resources to align with achieving strategic goals

    Creating a Culture of Performance

    Establish a culture of performance that values results more than efforts
    Analyze data to improve performance
    Motivate the best teachers and administrators to take on the most challenging assignments

    This is a big HR task – and no one from HR attended. We really need to hire a highly experienced, competent HR person. Can’t we just get a small team of these Harvard professionals to come in and do a big old re-org for us?

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