What on earth is all this talk of flexibility?

gumbyActive parent, Kirk Lunde has posted two blog posts in the Tucker Patch. They are worth reading. He is talking about these ‘flexibility’ meetings that have been going on around the county.

Post #1 is called, “What We Have Here Is a Failure To Communicate

Let me start by saying that Title 20 of the Georgia Code was passed by the legislature in 2009. Title 20 gives school districts the option of contracting with the GA Department of Education (GA DOE) to operate with one of six models; Status Quo, IE2, Strategic School System, Charter System, System of Charter Schools, or System of Charter Clusters. (This post is not about those options.)

The DeKalb County School District is rapidly approaching the conversion deadline, June 30, 2015. In fact, several of the options are no longer available because the process for converting to them can’t be completed before then.

The first meeting of the Flexibility Advisory Committee was in early December, 2013. On January 9, a memo was posted on the DCSD web site announcing “The DeKalb County School District has an opportunity to completely change how the district operates, how its schools are governed, and what accountability measures are appropriate.” There is a series of five Community Engagement Meetings in this month. “Anyone interested in learning more about these flexibility options and providing input into the decision-making process are encouraged to attend these sessions.” Superintendent Thurmond is scheduled to make a recommendation to the Board of Education on March 3.

I have attended two of the Community Engagement Meetings and the frustration with the “same old” style of meeting has raised my blood pressure. The only handout available at the meetings has been the meeting agenda, no notes or copies of the presentation. Before Thursday, Jan. 23, there was no information explaining what School System Flexibility is or what options are available. It was only after parents & teachers at Towers & Lithonia High Schools asked for it was anything posted and at first it was just a timeline.

Only after Twitter users started linking PowerPoint presentations from other districts did DCSD feel the need to post the PowerPoint presentation used for the Community Engagement Meetings. That presentation provides no details regarding the implementation of the options presented. I described the meeting at Lakeside High to a friend as “a weak presentation followed by 2 hours of people asking for details.”

One of my comments at the Lakeside High meeting was, “We can not give you intelligent feedback or input without information about the options.”

The facilitator said the district isn’t looking for feedback specific to the options, these meetings are to provide feedback on guiding principles. There are three questions which the Flexibility Advisory Committee want answered.

What priorities are considered to be crucial to continuing to improve the district and its schools?

How can the governance of the district and its schools improve?

What is currently working in the district and at local schools for highlighting and replication district-wide?

Disregard the recently approved strategic plan which supposedly used community feedback to define those very things and allow me to ask how can the administration not know those things? Stakeholders have been answering those questions nonstop for years.

The only way for those to be legitimate questions is if DCSD employees & BOE members have been ignoring all the public feedback they have gotten before now.

That leads me to question if there is any chance of any future feedback being considered.

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Then, blog post #2 continues with, “Never Stop Communicating“. In part:

There are three questions asked during the Community Engagement Meetings occurring right now. I will share my answers with you.

1. What priorities are considered to be crucial to continuing to improve the district and its schools?

My top two priorities are reducing class size and resolving the TSA lawsuit/resume contributions to the teachers’ retirement fund.

2. How can the governance of the district and its schools improve?

This is the hardest one. The easy answer is, remove all the friends and family, but that isn’t practical. So I will say, change the internal financial system to comply with GAAP and state DOE guidelines. Also, create some sort of cross-reference guide between different versions of the budget. By this I mean, something that explains how the Budget Detail relates to the Budget Summary and how those relate to the Consolidated Budget which the BOE approves.

3. What is currently working in the district and at local schools for highlighting and replication district-wide?

Look at the theme and magnet schools. They have the highest test scores and graduation rates. They also are the least overcrowded. Stop overcrowding the school buildings and classrooms. I have looked at the data long enough to know that after parent engagement, the biggest influence on measurable achievement is the density of students in a school or classroom. We do not need to replicate the themes or use expensive programs. We need to replicate schools where the teachers can teach.

Those are my answers.

Please email yours to Trenton Arnold who will pass them along to the Flexibility Advisory Committee. Trenton_J_Arnold@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us

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There are only TWO more of these meetings scheduled. Please plan to attend one of them and try to make your voice heard.

Region III
Stephenson High School
January 28 @ 6:30 PM

Region I
Dunwoody High School
January 29 @ 6:30 PM

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*This blog post does not represent the positions or opinions of anyone other than Kirk Lunde.

And From The Patch: This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you’d like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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28 Responses to What on earth is all this talk of flexibility?

  1. More info on the subject >>

    Here is a much more in-depth explanation of the Flexibility decision which needs to be made.
    http://images.pcmac.org/Uploads/MontgomeryCounty/MontgomeryCounty/Sites/DocumentsCategories/Documents/School%20System%20Flexibility%20in%20Georgia%20-%20Overview%20and%20Comparison%20-%20Montgomery%20County%20-%202013-02-18.pdf

    Also, here is a link to DeKalb County’s school improvement plans. Regardless of which option is chosen, these documents will be the basis of the measurements the state will make. http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-improvement/consolidated-school-improvement-plans

  2. Maggie says:

    I went to the one at Towers HS. I thought it would have been helpful to explain to the community how we are currently operating and what waivers..etc we are currently using. People were awful nervous about the “new” choices, but I want folks to understand what the ramifications are if we choose the status quo option (which people can certainly feel comfortable choosing). It’s just hard to see the whole picture when you don’t explain what we’re currently operating under. Essentially, if we stop taking waivers, we will finally have to solve some issues like class size, but where does that money come from? More taxes? What else gets cut? (I’m not disagreeing with lowering class size either….I just want folks to really understand what each choice really means).

  3. midvaledad says:

    The current class size waiver is posted here. https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=4054&AID=467368&MID=31840

    The current class sizes are posted here. https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=4054&AID=467366&MID=31840

    This guy is really Captain Obvious with the observation that the Palace doesn’t listen to what community members say. How many times do people have to be ignored and lied to before they figure it out. Either he hasn’t been “engaged” as a parent or he is a really slow learner.

  4. howdy1942 says:

    The only hope that I see for the Dekalb County School System comes with the next vote to elect a new Dekalb County School Board. That vote will come in either May or July – I’m all ears for finding out that date! More than any election in my lifetime, I will get all of the people that I can to vote and will even offer to take them to the polls. This is a very, very important vote – the very future of almost 100,000 school children hangs in the balance and perhaps even the stability of our Dekalb County. We simply cannot continue down the same path that we have been on for the past 10 years – the tax base in Dekalb County stands a good chance of just fading away.

    How many times has the County government and the Dekalb County School System had these meetings where they want to “listen” to the public? As Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that been working out for your?” If these so-called “Fexibility Advisory Committee” meetings were of any substance at all, these committees would have made preparations and developed topics to actively engage those in attendance. They would have some very specific ideas of thoughts under consideration as well as some of the details. I doubt that there is one scintilla of thought about ever incorporating anything anyone says in these meetings into any new direction of this school system. The needs are very, very clear:

    Focus the energy and tax dollars on the classrooms – teacher moral, classroom technology, student resources.
    Settle that Teacher Lawsuit – that is a lose/lose proposition for the DCSS. If by some stretch, the DCSS wins, they lose because the teachers lose!
    Really truly, honestly focus on improving community relations. Just read this blog – for the most part, it shows utter contempt for the DCSS administration and governance while showing strong support for our teachers and students. Conduct an open, ethical search for a superintendent and, for goodness sake, maintain confidentiality with the candidates. It is simply contrary to good public relations to select a superintendent behind closed doors to be an interim, to have him promise to be an interim, and then to make him permanent without even initiating any search at all! If I were asked to name a better way to lose the confidence of the public, I could not have thought of a better way than that demonstrated by this school board and administration.
    Conduct a full financial audit, at a minimum, and present the results to the public at a school board meeting – that should be the first time that they are presented. I simply do not understand how we can draw any conclusions about the DCSS budget until such an audit is completed. There have been unplanned changes in the Chief Financial Officer and too many unfulfilled promises made to believe otherwise. Besides, it all is well, that should be welcome news by all parties on all sides and should serve to build support from the community.
    Find the money to give our teachers some raise and to eliminate ALL of the furlough days. Review the size of the central staff which, by all measures, is still the bloated staff that has so often been described in the AJC and SACS. Review the length of bus routes and see if they can be reduced at all.

    I’m pleased that the DCSS is no longer on probation. Did anyone read the article in today’s AJC about State oversight of the schools? Very clearly, SACS was under enormous pressure. The Governor had appointed the new Dekalb School Board and SACS must have been under pressure to give its stamp of approval. True, this is a different school board that, with one exception, has been “nice”. But there have been some really bad decisions by this board and perhaps the worst was its decision to deny the Druid Hills Charter without even giving it even the first chance to succeed!!

  5. Frustrated Dekalb Parent says:

    I was at the Lakeside meeting and most of the questions did relate to getting details on the very abbreviated info that was posted. I found info on the state DOE site most helpful.

    With a charter system, the way I understand, the county basically gets blanket waivers on anything it requests throughout the term of the contract (5 years). You don’t have to know exactly what you will need before you get into the thick of the program. With the IE2 plan, the district has to request a limited number of specific waivers that will be in place for the term of the contract. I don’t remember how many it could request with IE2 but it did not seem like that many. That means they have to have enough information and insight during the petition process to know which waivers it will need for all the schools in this diverse district for 5 years. When asked about this waiver selection process should the county choose IE2, Mr. Arnold was vague but did state that the county did plan to get more community input on this process. However, given the district’s track record, I believe the waivers decided by just a few that we will be stuck with for 5 years.

    It was asked if it was possible for different schools to have different waivers under a charter system, since each school has unique needs. This did not seem too likely as Mr. Arnold said the district would need to consider the decision-making process in granting different waivers. In other words, it could not appear that one group was getting any kind of favoritism over another.

    A charter system also has the potential to bring in more money to the county in supplemental QBE funding per student.

    Putting together a charter system plan and petition will be significantly more work for the county and honestly, I just don’t see them having the initiative to go through the process. I think they will take the path of least resistance in the IE2 and they will select the waivers without taking into account community input.

    On an added note, Mr. Arnold did say that the district was not considering the charter cluster option, just the charter system.

  6. Stan Jester says:

    After hundreds of interviews and “community engagement meetings” and spending an untold fortune on our forthcoming Strategic Plan, it’s incomprehensible that the district still doesn’t understand what we want.

    Whether it’s Strategic Planning, School System Flexibility, or any other community engagement meeting, we always want the same things:
    1. Push money into the classroom (no furlough days, no class size waivers)
    2. Local control

    Even though our message to the administration is loud and clear, they have decided to remove the only two School System Flexibility options that could give us what we want.

  7. howdy1942 says:

    @Stan – good post! That’s why I think that electing a new school board is so critical. And you know, those in South Dekalb should be the first to support a new school board because this one and those of the past 10 years have done nothing for them nor have they done anything for anybody. Vote for a new school board with entirely new members – all seven of them – and who represent the best interests of our kids and who don’t see Dekalb as black and white – and get out of the way and see what happens in Dekalb County. I am going to vote for change and encourage others to do so also.

  8. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Why do areas keep electing bad/crooked representatives? I was as perplexed as anyone until this guy named Eddie told me his story.

    Now Eddie was in politics a long time. Early on, he too couldn’t understand why these communities were electing crooks for representatives. So, one day Eddie went down to a town hall meeting in an area that was electing this one crook. He sat down next to one of the residents and asked, “You know this guy’s a crook, right?”. The resident responded, “Yes”. Naturally Eddie followed up with, “Then why do you keep electing him?”. The resident responded, “Because, he’s my crook.”

    Here endeth the lesson.

  9. concerned citizen says:

    Strategic Planning and Flexibility are bs terms which mean absolutely nothing to anybody except those of us who are trying to figure out what’s in them for teachers and students. So far, I see nothing or less than nothing. bs at its peak. I’m not impressed with what we’re getting told by the extreme supreme bs supt and the so bs board and the gross PALACE minions. Gag me with a spoon. I cannot sit through another bs meeting with any of them.. Why are any of them still here? I asked them before ,nicely, to resign but so far no response.

  10. Teachers matter says:

    I have been to many BS meetings in this county, from Teacher Forum to Dr. Atkinson’s “fireside chats”. They make you think that your input matters, but it does not matter to them-not even a little. Those in charge truly are shameless!

  11. I hate to say it, but I have come to completely agree with Teachers matter. We have been down these kinds of paths so many times, only to have our suggestions and input tossed in the trash. I think these are all diversions to keep us busy and make us think that our opinions are valued. They have not been yet to my knowledge. That includes Blue Ribbon Task Force, Citizens Task Force, Calendar Committees (in fact, Michael Thurmond publicly admitted that he changed the calendar because his neighbor told him to), SPLOST Oversight Committees (what is the current one doing by the way?), Charrettes, Fireside Chats, Listening Sessions, blah, blah, blah. It’s a ruse. I have found that the best thing to do when they tell you to look right, is to look left. That’s how you find out what’s really going on.

  12. Mozart says:

    Take a look at that class size document and tell me why any self respecting band director would stay in this county. I know this blog cares much more about what it refers to as “core” subjects than the arts, however in any oppressed society the arts are always the first to feel the pain of corrupt leadership!

  13. @Mozart: Our comments about core teachers have been taken out of context in reality. We deeply value teachers of the arts and other non-core subjects – however, the point is made that class sizes in core classes are too large for teachers to get the job done — their job is tested. They have to answer to the test scores for AYP. That’s all. It is reprehensible that a band teacher should have so many student at once — in fact, we were very supportive of the band teacher who was (in our opinion) wrongly fired when students in his enormous class acted up and posted videos of their own dirty dancing in class while the teacher wasn’t looking.

  14. Mozart says:

    All classes have testing. All teachers administer SLOs. In music classes, each individual student must perform alone and be recorded. No equipment was provided for this. We are observed as other teachers, and expected to post as many grades, have evidence of student work, and show assessment.

  15. Understood. We really did not mean to offend.

  16. howdy1942 says:

    I went out and completed the survey posted by the Flexibility Advisory Committee. Three multiple choice question along with a section for comments. I provided those comments and listed 1-2-3 the things that I think need to be done by the school board, the administration, and by Mr. Thurmond if our school district is to improve. The first item is to build trust in the community. Second is to give new, refreshing ideas such as the Druid Hills Charter Cluster at least and opportunity to succeed or fail. By squelching such ideas at the starting gate, we’ll never know and the very narrow vote of a majority of school board members denied what may have been a very good example for us to follow. Moreover, killing such ideas from the public, the school board signals a very resounding “NO” to the public and leaves us with a “WHY TRY” attitude. Third, we need to get that teacher lawsuit settled. Teachers vs. DCSS is the definition of a house divided. Fourth, we need to find the money not only to eliminate ALL teacher furlough days but to provide our teachers with at least a small raise. We can sharply reduce lawyer fees, review school bus routes to see if they can be shortened and gasoline saved (and hence money), and we need to review the size of the central office staff and certainly not to grow it any further. Fifth, we need to fund a full independent audit of the entire school system. Because we have had so much turnover in superintendents, chief financial officers, and other key personnel, I am baffled to believe that anyone can have any confidence in any of the financial numbers we are hearing.

    Let’s hope that the Flexibility Committee, the school board, the superintendent, and the administration will start listening. When I worked in business, we completed annually a survey about the company’s management which were analyzed by an independent firm and the broad results shared. Wouldn’t it be interested if the same were done by all of those who pay taxes supporting the Dekalb County School System?

  17. midvaledad says:

    howdy1942,

    What survey? I looked at the new web page http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/flexibility-options and didn’t see one.

  18. howdy1942 says:

    @midvaledad

    Here is the link. The three questions don’t ask much, but they do allow you to enter your comments. Look at the link title and let me know if you are amused as I am!

    https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DCSDCalendarinput20142015

  19. midvaledad says:

    Oh, the calendar survey.

  20. concerned citizen says:

    The site with the survey is “closed,” That was another stupid idea – to put “monkey” in the title! Hilarious!! So appropriate.

  21. Formerdekalbteacher says:

    Survey Monkey is a website that is used to create online surveys–that is where the ridiculous name came from. I guess we don’t have anyone in the organization who can create a three-question survey and post it directly on the school system’s site. Sad.

  22. Another comment says:

    don’t be fooled by a district wide charter. The one in Fulton is a joke. It is being used as a tool by Avossa to get rid of teachers and principals with experience, so he can hire his mindless followers. They get $1 per student. Say no to 100,000 student school districts in any form.

  23. concerned citizen says:

    So right, former DeKalbteacher. But, still, wasn’t it stupid to use “monkey,” under the circumstances.? I really never have heard of ‘monkey,” but I thought they did it deliberately. That would be a typical DeKalb move. And I seriously doubt there is one person at the Palace who could put together a three-question survey and put it on the site! If you’re not equipped with brains, well, what can you do? Fly off to San Diego? They should be sending the teachers for a vacation! Let them come in the schools and try to run them for a few days! Now, that’s funny. Quick smart, there would be big changes.

  24. FWIW – Survey Monkey is an online resource that conducts online surveys for a small membership fee.
    https://www.surveymonkey.com/

  25. concerned citizen says:

    Why should DeKalb pay any membership fee when the survey could be done “in house’? All these big and little dollars have added up to a desperate situation for teachers and children in DeKalb. Every expense must be monitored, apparently. If you give the Palace any wiggle room, they explode with confidence and start spending on themselves. I don’t like seeing them get away with every single action they take.

  26. @concerned – The survey monkey’s not a big deal – really. It’s like a software program. It actually is a great buy – The pro plan is only $25 a month! I’m sure it would take a lot more money and manpower to build an online survey from scratch.

    https://www.surveymonkey.com/pricing/?ut_source=direct_to_pro&t=012014_FeatureUpdate

    Now – this Title 1 trip is yet another issue — reminds me of the one they took to Hollywood when Lewis was in charge.
    http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/02/americas-choice-sucking-up-stimulus.html

  27. howdy1942 says:

    @DSW – you are probably right! I can only imagine how much money it would take for IT in the DCSS to write such a program! We would probably have to shut down those “parent” centers just to fund this effort and then it probably wouldn’t work!

  28. Read this very interesting recent article by Mark Elgart of AdvancEd/SACS.

    It’s Time to Abandon Our Rube Goldberg Accountability Contraptions
    A Rube Goldberg, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.” We can see these contraptions in operation in school administration in the fetishizing of strategic planning, which has become something of an end in itself, and particularly in how we determine the effectiveness of our schools and their impact on student success. Today’s accountability systems fail to identify the root causes of underperformance and therefore fail to enable actionable strategies for improvement. We have made improvement and accountability of our schools a complicated process with limited impact on student success.

    A wealth of empirical evidence confirms what common sense suggests: Students do better in school when teachers make frequent efforts to check on students’ progress and, if students are floundering, to help them get back on course right away. Simply put, the approach that educators call “classroom formative assessment” works. It can play a powerful part in teachers’ efforts to improve student learning. Less-widely recognized, though, is the role that this strategy can play in the improvement of entire schools.

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