Letter to Thurmond: Why So Many Special Education Vacancies?

The following is the personal opinion of Kirk Lunde, not necessarily the opinion of the DeKalb Council of PTAs. Reposted from “The Patch”

Mr. Thurmond,

On Oct. 7, Dr. Ward-Smith requested I communicate with you if I have any inquires regarding the Division of Human Resources. Respecting her wishes, it is to you I ask my questions.

How come Title 1 teachers have a separate classification in PATS and the Monthly HR reports, but not in the salary ranges reported on the county’s website?

Also, is anything being done to investigate the number of teacher vacancies in the Special Education Department? I looked through PATS this morning and there are 31 openings for full time SPED teachers if you include gifted, Reading Specialists, Occupational Therapist, and Speech Language Pathologist. That appears to be an inordinately large number of positions for a department that serves less than 10% of the student population. This morning there was a total of 49 full time positions listed.

Mr. Coleman has asked at least twice for the teacher turnover percentage to see how DeKalb County Schools compares to other districts in the metro Atlanta area and nationally. Can Dr. Ward Smith verbally include in the monthly HR report a summary of the previous school year’s, or previous fiscal year’s, teacher resignations and those comparisons?

Thank you for taking the time to address these questions and I look forward to a reply before the BOE work session on Monday.

Kirk Lunde
Tucker, GA

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15 Responses to Letter to Thurmond: Why So Many Special Education Vacancies?

  1. DES Parent says:

    Amen. My son is at DES and it took 6 weeks for his teacher to be replaced after his original teacher left less than 3 weeks into the semester

  2. H.A. Hurley says:

    Do we really need to ask that question?
    Systems chew up and spit out teachers quicker than universities can adequately train and graduate highly qualified teachers. DCSS used to have a top-notch special education program. GA State Univ. worked closely with DCSS and placed many of their teachers for student teaching and they often stayed to become teachers in the system.
    When seasoned teachers are treated as if they can be replaced at any time, that they don’t need anything unless the Super & BoE & CO funnels pennies to them, and long-term substitutes are OK with the system, and many parents tolerate this, then we will lose even more. SpEd teachers can go to other systems easily, and they should go where they are treated with respect.

    I know you may be angry with my comments, but things will not get better because the Shysters in Power haven’t a clue and don’t care! Bad, Bad combination.
    These vacancies tell us that we cannot attract new teachers unless they have no knowledge of GA, DC, DCSS. Teach For America will fill that void and leave when their little rich feelings get hurt and daddy tells them to pack up and come home.
    I am extremely concerned about the future of DC & DCSS. No appropriate emotions and reactions coming from DCSS, BOE, Super & CO!

  3. Idabelle25 says:

    This district administratively does not seem to care about the teachers. It appears that we spend a lot of money in so many areas but forget that teachers, paras etc…are not volunteer servants but are people who want to see economic growth in their own lives. We want a clear path of promotion and affordable benefits just like everyone else. I honestly believe that teachers particularly good teachers are abused by this district and no one deserves to be held down by an abuser. Why are teachers abused? You see, good teachers who love children and want the best for their kids and families will work long hours and provide a great education for children no matter what you pay them or take away from them. The only thing it might effect is how often they take money out of their wallet to buy one thing that their kids just got to have because they know how it could benefit. Many of us can’t pay our college loan payments but we have a child that has Autism in our class and we need to go to Micheals to get velcro for their feelings chart. The district knows this but instead of finding some way to restore upward mobility of any kind, they ignore teachers and their needs and never speak of restoration to our severely cut livelihoods. As a teacher, I never expected to be financially rich but as a college graduate and graduate school graduate along with other add on classes and certifications you have the reasonable expectation to be able to pay your bills and not live the same as people who never invested a dime in education and training but yet I find myself struggling along side them even as the economy picks up for most. The system does not seem to care. You gave us one fuRlough day back and I don’t see any hope for the future. So why not leave the disrespect and go somewhere where I can afford to lead a decent middle class life. Special Ed. Teachers , Science and Math teachers are highly sought by all districts and Dekalb can’t compete and the sad part is that they don’t even try to and the kids suffer as those who don’t even directly touch the lives of kids get richer. I am sorry but I have to speak the truth. This system needs to focus on building morale something they haven’t cared about for teachers in a long time. If anybody who has worked hard in school for years and doesn’t capitalize in improving their lives and their family’s lives and possibly decreasing their hours doing part time work, they would be considered foolish not to take that opportunity.

  4. Niah says:

    But the strange thing is……even the new teachers they just hired are leaving in grooves. At my son’s school 3 new teachers resigned within the last month.
    The district is doing nothing to retain quality educators, even the loyal teachers and educators pay check shrink year after year, but you go next door and make $10,000 more dollars in APS. yes 2+2 is 4 and the employees are leaving this sinking ship because of folks in HR.

  5. Kirk Lunde says:

    The original email was sent on Oct. 29.
    I sent the following to Mr. Thurmond on Nov. 1.
    Mr. Thurmond,

    I was wrong in assuming Dr. Ward-Smith had not verbally reported FY 2013’s teacher resignations at the October 7th, Board of Education work session. She had, but I did not watch the video of the work session until after I sent this email. I attended the business meeting and that information was not included.

    I want to thank Dr. Ward-Smith for following up on the Mr. Coleman’s requests. I want to also thank Mr. Orson for his comments regarding going beyond what is required by policy when asked to do so.

    Hopefully, when you and Dr. Ward-Smith discussed future Monthly HR reports you directed her to provide the BOE with all the information they request. I am assuming you had that conversation since she said, “I will take your recommendations to the superintendent and if directed, add that information.”

    I want to apologize to Dr. Ward-Smith for assuming she had not provided the BOE with that information. I was wrong to do so.

    Please allow me to recap the verbal portion of the HR report in order to verify I got all the information correctly.

    7 of the 49 vacancies reported were Title 1 positions.

    In FY 2013, 852 teachers resigned, in FY 2012, 684, and in FY 2011, 540.
    If my math is correct that is a 58% increase from FY 11 to FY 13.

    Also, Dr. Ward-Smith alluded to the school district having 6300 teaching positions.
    Using that number, I calculate a 13.5% turnover rate. 852/6300

    The State DOE comparison of teacher turnover for the metro Atlanta region will not be out until December.

    If any of those observations is incorrect, please let me know.
    Thank you very much.

  6. Kirk Lunde says:

    While I am here, I want to let everyone know about the three surveys the DeKalb Council is going to share in November. I have not seen them in Survey Monkey yet, but have been told they are ready.

    One survey is for anyone who is interested and asks about what “special needs” topics parents would like to see presented at the resource fair scheduled for March 1, 2014. It is not limited to parents of students with IEPs because the DeKalb Council exists to support all students. So if there are parents who need help with reducing homework stress, or any other issue they need help with, please take that survey. Many of the questions won’t apply, but at the end there should be a box for comments.

    One survey is for teachers to identify areas where they need help. There are no identifying questions so it is truly anonymous.

    The last survey is for the parents of student with IEPs and 504 Plans. It is very important to get as many parents to complete that as possible. Again, there are no identifying questions. We are not looking to identify schools or individuals. The goal is to see which issues are of concern to the most families.

    Donna Dees is sending the links to these surveys to the local PTAs and it is up to them to put the links in their weekly emails and on their web sites. The survey will close at the end of November.

    Circle March 1, on your calendars. That is the date of the Education, College, Transition and Resource Fair for students with special needs.

  7. Kim says:

    just an aside on Teach for America teachers … I claim no special knowledge on the macro subject but I have had direct experience with four such teachers – two in my personal network, one in my work with the CK Foundation, and one add as a classroom teacher for my son. Three of the four I would characterize as the complete opposite of Hurley’s description. They are highly competent and dedicated educators with the type of passion for education one must have to put up with our public system. In the case of my son’s teacher, she was A++ in every respect and a huge blessing to our family. In the case of my personal friends who are TFA, one is from a wealthy background and the other is from a low income Buford Hwy Viet family. Both are highly dedicated to education and had prepared for a teaching career throughout college with TFA being their chosen route out of altruism.

    Perhaps I’m running into s better quality of TFA teacher than its the norm but based on my experience they are an enormous asset and not “short-timers” by any means.

  8. midvaledad says:

    Teach for America typically can not fill special education positions. If I had a child in special education I would not feel comfortable with his/her teacher only having one summer of training.

    The HR department got approval from the BOE to use international temp agencies to help fill vacancies. Currently there 35 teachers working in the district from two agencies. I am told about half of them are working in special education.

    The county is paying an $11,000 premium for these teachers on top of their salaries and benefits. How can that be a responsible use of money?

  9. H.A. Hurley says:

    Kim ~
    TFA hires smart and personable people, but the jobs they are hired for require much more than that. The complexity related to all that is required in American education today: data collection, content knowledge, IEPs, IDEA, discipline issues, behavioral techniques, overcrowding, poverty, ELL, LEGAL REQUIREMENTS, documentation, curriculum requirements, TESTING….

    I have worked with numerous TFA folks and the amount of work along with this long list above, is often extremely overwhelming. They are mostly placed in high-needs schools. 5 weeks of inservice does not cut it! Cosmetologist require more. Research tells us that many of them leave once loans are paid off, or in the middle of the year. It is not fair to them, and definitely not fair to kids.
    As to foreign organizations providing teachers: some of the same issues. The legal maze and discipline severity in many of our schools is a deal breaker for many. They leave shortly, too. They also require so much training at the school level, which is rarely provided. Then they leave.

    Why don’t we just keep our own good teachers? Cheaper in the long run and better for everyone. Oh, yes, we would need skilled folks inDCSS at the HR & CO level. Oops, forgot! Easier to keep buying more. Not their $$. Always more where they came from?

  10. Bucky Rogers says:

    I love to point out the ways that DeKalb mismanages nearly everything, honestly I do, but I feel compelled to point out that the State of Georgia has underfunded public education by 1 BILLION DOLLARS every year that Nathan Deal has been in office. DeKalb has certainly failed in the way that it has allocated the radically reduced funds that it receives, but let’s not forget that the state is also to blame. I really hope that the next election cycle throws some light on this issue– hopefully the Republican state school superintendent’s gubernatorial campaign will get at least a little press.

  11. True Bucky. But we do collect quite a lot of money for education. It’s over half the state’s budget and over 60% of your local property tax bill. Honestly, if given $1.2 Billion a year to educate just under 100,000 students, I think many qualified people would be able to get the job done.

  12. concernedmom30329 says:

    HA Hurley

    I know that it doesn’t make sense, but on the whole TFA teachers have better success than their non-TFA peers at least in math at the secondary level.

    Here is a recent study validating what I am saying —

    Click to access 20134015.pdf

    Essentially secondary school students who have TFA and other similar programs teachers achieve the equivalent of 2.6 months in math.

    While I don’t think TFA work well for most special ed (if any at all), the reality is that the competitive teaching programs attract a very high caliber candidate, who maybe only teaches for two to three years, but in that time can have a tremendous impact on their students.

  13. Dekalbite2 says:


    “I know that it doesn’t make sense, but on the whole TFA teachers have better success than their non-TFA peers at least in math at the secondary level.”

    Reading the ExecutIve Summay of the study you reference does not say that. See below excerpt from the study you cite:

    “Teach For America (TFA) and the Teaching Fellows programs are an important and growing source of teachers of hard-to-staff subjects in high-poverty schools, but comprehensive evidence of their effectiveness has been limited. This report presents findings from the first large-scale random assignment study of secondary math teachers from these programs. The study separately examined the effectiveness of TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers, comparing secondary math teachers from each program with other secondary math teachers teaching the same math courses in the same schools. The study focused on secondary math because this is a subject in which schools face particular staffing difficulties.
    The study had two main findings, one for each program studied:
    1. TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference. This impact is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.
    2. Teaching Fellows were neither more nor less effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students of Teaching Fellows and students of comparison teachers had similar scores on end-of-year math assessments.”

  14. dsw2contributor says:

    Why are there are so many Special Education vacancies? It’s probably because Mr. Thurmond has failed to complete the required “Exceptional Children Course” required by the “Permit Certificate” in “Educational Leadership” issued to him by the Georgia Professional Standards Commissions.

    I decided to check Mr. Thurmond’s certification status, after Jeff Bragg pointed out (https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/revised-notice-of-dekalb-board-of-education-meetings/#comment-28758) that we could do that by going to http://www.gapsc.com (the Georgia Professional Standards Commission). At the top of the home page, just left of center, you will see the “Certification” tab. Click on it, then on the next page click on “check certification”.

    I plugged in “Michael Thurmond” and the GPSC’s website said that Michael Lamar Thurmond, PSC Account Number 1356891, has a “permit certificate” in “EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP (P-12) [FLD704]” that was first issued on March 8, 2013.

    The page also says “The educator’s certification level is 6 effective 02/01/2013″, “Overall Ethics Status/Action: None ” and “EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN COURSE: NO No” (in red). At the bottom of the page, GPSC provides this explanation about his “permit certificate”:
    Permit certificates are issued at the request of an employing school system to individuals who meet certain certification requirements but do not qualify for Clear Renewable certification. Permits are issued initially for 2 years and may be continuously renewed in 3 year increments by completing a school system approved Individual Development Plan. Please refer to Rule 505-2-.10 for information on Permit requirements. This Permit certificate is a non-professional certificate. Requirements to convert a permit to a Clear Renewable certificate (except JROTC) may be obtained from the Professional Standards Commission.

    You must satisfy the following requirements (described in detail in separate correspondence) during the validity period of this certificate: Exceptional child course; Individual development plan; School system request; Subject-area content assessment.

    So, Mr. Thurmond has been on notice since March 8, 2013 [EIGHT MONTHS AGO!] that he needs to complete the “EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN COURSE”, but has not done so. “It’s about the kids!” let me know (https://dekalbschoolwatch.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/revised-notice-of-dekalb-board-of-education-meetings/#comment-28859) that this exceptional children course is about all students with exceptional needs with most of the focus on special needs students.

  15. Teachingmom says:

    Just cannot believe that we are now saddled with a super who has NO experience in educational leadership, one who does not even hold the basic credentials to work in a school. I mean really, how does it make sense that we have such an unqualified person in charge of turning this monstrosity around????

    SACs should not have ignored the board moving him to this job permanently without a search being conducted for a more qualified candidate. Losing any hope here…

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