Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


By Jacob Pierce

If annexed into Atlanta and APS, Druid Hills High School would lose some of the communities that now call the school their own.

If annexed into Atlanta and APS, Druid Hills High School would lose some of the communities that now call the school their own.

There’s no point in sugarcoating it: Annexing Druid Hills into the Atlanta Public Schools District is a very bad idea.

If Druid Hills is annexed into APS, nearly 80 percent of the current students at Druid Hills High School would find themselves without a school to attend, and they are disproportionately black, Latino, and international students. This means Druid Hills would suddenly be without one of its greatest assets: diversity.

Druid Hills is now a majority-minority high school — more than three-quarters of the students are non-white – and, as such, it is home to incredible diversity.

The students at Druid Hills come from all corners of the globe, from the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal to the Latin American country of Nicaragua to the newly independent country of Kosovo. Having students from almost every continent allows all students to increase their own cultural awareness and understanding of the world around them.

Exposing students to diversity at a young age is important because it enables them to hear from those who have different perspectives and experiences. This, in turn, permits students to become better innovators, and prepares them to tackle the difficult problems confronting the world today.

Some in the Druid Hills community were unhappy the DeKalb school board narrowly defeated the attempt to establish a Druid Hills Charter Cluster. In an attempt to “stick it” to the district, some cluster proponents have instead elected to push for annexation.

I understand many are frustrated with DeKalb County. Their frustration stems from a central office that seems to ignore the needs of the students, so to some extent that frustration is justified.

But it’s important to remember who will be impacted most by the potential annexation: the students in the Druid Hills cluster schools. Some students will lose a high school, and others will lose an opportunity to be in a multiracial environment.

Where will those kids who will not be annexed go to high school? What will happen to the teachers now at Druid Hills? These are just a few of the things that need to be considered as this push for annexation is being made.

I see annexation as a zero-sum game. Druid Hills gets annexed into APS but at the cost of destroying a community and robbing a school of the diversity that makes it special. What pains me most about a possible annexation is that my sister, a freshman, and her friends might not experience the sense of cultural immersion that takes place at Druid Hills.

Our high school is a microcosm of American society; so many different cultures call the school home. I would hate for my sister and other students to be denied this experience because of a vendetta a few parents have against the district for denying their charter cluster.

The proponents of annexation subscribe to the notion that by being a part of APS, their children will be better off. I reject this notion because these kids will not be better off in a homogeneous school.

They will not be better off in a school where all they hear is English spoken in the halls and where they are surrounded by people who are culturally similar to them. They will not be better off in a school where everyone looks like them.

Moving Druid Hills to APS will not mitigate the frustrations of many parents, but simply move them to another school district. If those pushing for annexation were as zealous about reforming the DeKalb school district as they are about leaving it, they could make real change in DeKalb, change that would benefit all students, not just a few.

When I graduate in May, I will be more than prepared for the real world because I’ve been exposed to people of different religions, nationalities, and cultures during my four years at the school. This has made me a more tolerant and open-minded person.

Don’t deny other kids this learning opportunity by annexing Druid Hills.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Questions Asked By Howdy on DeKalb County School Board Watch

First, what would you propose to do about the court case involving the teachers seeking the restoration of their TRA contributions that the DeKalb School Board voted to terminate?

As a school board member, I would encourage a settlement with the teachers because procedures/guidelines had been put in place by the previous school board to protect its’ employees from a situation like this happening. The school board disregarded their own policies.

There was a serious situation with funds at the time the school board made the decision they did due to mismanagement and a big drop in funds from the state and federal government.

As a school board member I would encourage the school board to go back and pay social security or TRA contribution. We must provide salaries and benefits that are competitive to attract quality staff.

Second, what specifically would you do to address the bloat in the DCSS administration that has been documented by the AJC and others as far exceeding the administration/teacher ratio of neighboring counties?

I would encourage an audit of positions at the county level, and restructuring of jobs as needed. There must be reform of funding and the emphasis of state and federal funds should be directed into the classroom.

Third, what specifically would you propose to rein in the expenses involved with the so-called “parent centers” that seem to be concentrated in specific areas of DeKalb County and not others?

As a school board member, I would encourage doing away with the “parent centers.” Parent involvement is essential for improvement of students’ achievement in the DeKalb County Schools. However, as a school board member, I had prefer to see money spent on a social worker, and a student support employee at every school in DeKalb to help deal with the social, educational and family needs so that the students can focus on learning. I would like to see efforts made to coordinate meetings and students’ individual plans for every child that needs a team approach to improve achievement. This team must involve parent involvement.

Fourth, what specifically would you propose to rein in legal expenses? What would you do to insure we ended the practice of duplicating employment of both “white” and “black” law firms when only one is needed?

The school system has too many legal firms they pay by the hour. I would like to see a law firm on retention if possible.
I would like to see a more effective legal team in the county office to handle matters. I would like to see a law team in-house that specializes in educational law issues. I feel it would be more affective to have a legal team who advises the school board, principals and administrative team before decisions are made that the school system in so many legal battles.

Fifth, what specifically would you do to reach out to communities that feel that they have been ignored for too long, such as Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and Lakeside?

I understand that the Dunwoody, Tucker, Brookhaven and Lakeside areas feel ignored. I understand their frustration as I became political active because I taught at a school in one of these areas and I live and own rental property in these areas.

I respect the city movement and realize that these areas do not feel they are receiving the services, compared to the amount of taxes they pay. This movement appears not to totally be a movement regarding schools from what I have learned by talking to the legislators and supporters of the city movement.

As I have in the past, I would work cooperatively and listen to all the members of the community in the DeKalb County area and when making a decision as a school board member, I would vote to represent all the citizens in the county. I will always vote with my first thought being: “What is best for the students, business leaders and taxpayers of DeKalb County?”

We have a problem in DeKalb County. People do not want to move into the county because of our school system. This needs to change so our county can be a good place to live and families, businesses and our schools can thrive.

Sixth, what would you to restore the trust of the people of DeKalb County in the DCSS?

I would encourage better communication, transparency and accountability in achievement of our students. We did not get in this cycle of poor communication, poor transparency and accountability in a few years so we must make steps to getting the achievement level back at the levels we feel acceptable.

In improving our schools, improving our communication and transparency we will began to put trust back in our community.
I also feel it is important that when searching for a new school superintendent that a national search is done and that no decision is made on race but instead on the most qualified leader to lead our school system into the 21th Century.

Seventh, what specifically would you do to get the priority on the classroom and not on administration?

I would encourage an audit at the county office level to ensure all jobs are really needed. I would encourage a restructuring of jobs in the county office. Fulton County Schools recently did this and many administrators are now back in the classrooms or back in the schools as administrators.

I am extremely supportive of a social worker at ever school in the county that has a significant need and also a RTI/Student Support Chairperson at every school who would work with the parents of students who are struggling at school. I believe that when the parent, teachers and a social worker becomes involved and work together the student’s achievement level may improve. If it does not then an evaluation needs to be done to determine why the student is not achieving.

I would like to see more mentoring/tutoring programs where community members are actively working with the teachers to overcome deficits in our children in DeKalb.

Eighth, what would you propose to do about initiating a search for a new, permanent superintendent?

I would support a national search for a school superintendent. If you look on my blog you will see a blog regarding what I feel are the characteristics of a good school superintendent (Georgia Schoolhouse Blog).

Ninth, would you undertake to initiate a full independent forensic audit of the DeKalb County School System? If so, would you insist that the results be made public without any modification by anyone?

As a school board member I would encourage a full independent forensic audit and I would encourage that the results be made public without any modifications.

Tenth, what would you propose to insure that the school board and administration listen to and truly consider what the public has to say?

I would always be willing to listen to different views as a school board member. I will take into consideration every email or conversation I have received, before I cast every vote.

I would encourage school board members to have community meetings in their district that would give the taxpayers an opportunity to speak directly to the school board members and administrative leaders. This is done regularly in other counties in the metro area.
Eleventh, what is your position on new ideas such as that presented by the Druid Hills Charter Petition? What new directions would you propose to change the status quo at the DCSS and give all of us a new comfort that such charter schools, new independent schools, or other such programs are not needed and that the DCSS will take a new course of improvement that is measurable to convince us that it is serious and can be trusted?

I do feel that the Druid Hills Charter Petition may have made some eras in preparing their petition according to conversations I have had with the teacher’s union representative. However, I do support Charter Cluster if the Charter Petitioners can show that they intent to improve student’s achievement.

I work at a Charter School, in a Charter System, so I am supportive of Charter Schools and Charter Systems because they can offer flexibility and more parent involvement. Becoming a charter school system will bring additional funds to the school system. However, becoming a Charter may not change anything at all. Changing a name does not assure that changes occur in the schoolhouse that improve students’ achievement.

I am not opposed to city school district eventually having their own school system if this means improved achievement results.
Twelfth, what specifically would you propose to get administrators out of the way of teachers and to get teachers into a fully accountable position?

I understand the issue all too well. Teachers are the key to educating our children. However, there is a need for administrators in the picture to assure the students are receiving the best education they can receive. Teachers are needed at the schoolhouse to fairly evaluate teachers’ performances.

I do believe that we need fewer administrators at the county office and more teachers in the classroom. I would like to see more equipment and materials in the classroom and less administrators at the county level.

I would like to see smaller class sizes. Too many of our classrooms have too many students for a teacher to manage.

Thirteenth, are to comfortable with the current budget preparation, presentation, and approval process? If not, what specifically would you change?

First of all the budget preparation must start with making sure the top priority is the classroom.

and monthly statements of spending are not very easy for the public to read so they can become informed taxpayers. I would like to see better software used that is friendlier to the public to view so they can understand the budget.
I would like more transparency in the spending of taxpayer’s money.

I would like data to assure the programs being used in the school system to improve achievement are actually being effective. If there is no data of improvement then the programs should be dropped.

I actually would like more teachers’ input into the programs that are purchased. As a school board member I want to see the recommendations of the teachers who reviewed the product before the product is purchased by the school system.

Finally, what specifically would you propose to end teacher furlough days and to begin to restore their full compensation with some allowance for annual raises?

We must put our focus on restoring the teachers’ full compensation with allowances for annual raises. We must focus on returning the TRA to employees or we must pay social security for our employees. We must focus on putting great resources and quality teachers in the classroom.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

So True About Differentiated Instructions By Maureen Downey

Differentiated instruction as a reform model: Magic bullet or magical thinking? 

Do you believe in the magic of differentiated instruction? (AJC File)


Differentiated instruction is the coconut oil of education: It can reduce cholesterol, moisturize your skin and meet the needs of all students, no matter where they fall in the performance panorama. (And make a tasty pie crust, too.)

During a chat in Atlanta today, Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn raised the issue of differentiated instruction and its perceived medicinal value for whatever ails the classroom. A former professor of education at Vanderbilt and a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Finn has advised presidents and governors and worked at the  Brookings Institution and the Manhattan Institute.

I will write later about our discussion including Finn’s concerns over Georgia’s plan to go it alone and on the cheap with its new Common Core-aligned tests.
I wanted to share an excerpt of a blog Finn wrote this week on differentiated instruction.
I’ve noted on the AJC Get Schooled blog that differentiated instruction is the go-to reform in Georgia. Ask about the children in the class who are struggling, and the solution is differentiated instruction. Ask about the ones who are bounding ahead and differential instruction is touted as their springboard.

Yes, it’s harder now with 33 students in the class, but I am told it can still be done effectively.
I have my doubts. So does Finn as his blog shows. This is an excerpt. Please read the full piece before commenting:
It looks to me as if one of the most acclaimed reforms of today’s education profession—not just in the U.S. but also all over the planet—is one of the least examined in terms of actual implementation and effectiveness. How often and how well do instructors, whose administrators and gurus revere the concept of differentiated instruction, actually carry it out? How well does it work and for which kids under what circumstances? So far as I can tell, nobody really knows.
I’ve been roaming the globe in search of effective strategies for educating high-ability youngsters, particularly kids from disadvantaged circumstances who rarely have parents with the knowledge and means to steer them through the education maze and obtain the kind of schooling (and/or supplementation or acceleration) that will make the most of their above-average capacity to learn.
As expected, I’ve found a wide array of programs and policies intended for “gifted education,” “talent development,” and so forth, each with pluses and minuses.
But almost everywhere, I’ve also encountered some version of this assertion: “We don’t really need to provide special programs, classrooms, or schools for gifted children because we expect every school and teacher to differentiate their instruction so as to meet the unique educational needs of all children within an inclusive, heterogeneous classroom.”
A thoroughly laudable goal, say I, but how realistic is it? How well is it being done? And does it really meet their needs, or is it ultimately a politically acceptable excuse for not doing anything special for high-ability children?
An array of ideological and budgetary considerations that reject tracking, ability grouping, “pull-out” programs, and other forms of educational separation (often including both acceleration and grade repetition) on grounds that such practices are morally wrong, socially and educationally undesirable, politically imprudent, and just plain unaffordable.
In response, “regular” teachers are tasked with customizing, tailoring, and individualizing their instruction so that administrators and policy types can declare with straight faces that their classrooms are diverse and inclusive and that every child’s singular education needs are being satisfactorily met.
To equip teachers with such remarkable pedagogical prowess, all manner of courses, books, in-service programs, itinerant experts, and summer workshops are available. (Google “differentiated instruction” and “professional development” together and you will get half a million hits.) Organizations such as the ASCD devote much energy to promoting this approach to education. In short, it’s quite a big deal.
Unless, it appears, you are actually the teacher of a heterogeneous class that contains children with many different needs, different levels of prior achievement, and different “learning speeds,” at least in whatever subjects you are responsible for teaching them. That teacher, it appears to me, is being given an all-but-impossible assignment, akin to presenting a general-practitioner physician with twenty-three patients who manifest different symptoms, differing degrees of illness, and, upon examination, very different ailments. Some might benefit more from an oncologist, an orthopedist, a cardiologist, or perhaps a dietitian, personal trainer, or podiatrist. It’s unlikely that any given doc will do an outstanding job with all of them. Indeed, the most valuable thing he could do for many would be to refer them to the appropriate specialists.
But teachers are expected to be all things to (almost) all youngsters. And most of those I talk to about this mandate acknowledge that, while technology and small classes surely help, they do not feel like they’re differentiating all that well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Increasing Parent Involvement in Schools By Leah Davies, M.ED.


Schools Need More Parent Involvement to Improve Achievement (Ella Smith)

 Since parent involvement relates positively to student achievement, parents are encouraged to participate in their children's education in a variety of ways both at home and in school. At home they are asked to read with their child, provide a quiet place for homework, supervise assignments, monitor television and internet use, and promote school attendance. Schools request that parents attend teacher conferences, "open houses" as well as academic, art, drama, and athletic events. Parents are invited to volunteer in classrooms, serve on advisory committees, and support fund raising for special projects. Yet, many parents do not participate.
Educators should not assume that if parents or guardians are uninvolved, they are disinterested. There are many reasons why parents do not become active in school life:
  • Too little time/work schedule/single-parenthood
  • Lack of resources/transportation/child care
  • Language barrier/cultural isolation
  • Social isolation/low educational level
  • Not knowing how to contribute
  • Feeling overwhelmed, intimidated or unwelcome
    These barriers need to be considered and overcome if schools are to promote parent participation. What are some of the actions school officials can take to increase parent involvement?
  • Staff Training
    Training on being positive during conferences, home visits, phone calls and other parent interaction fosters participation. When educators are considerate and sensitive to a parent's ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, communication and cooperation can occur. Parents need to hear that their involvement will increase their child's academic performance and that there are no educational requirements for participation. Listening to parent's concerns about their child and/or their thoughts and ideas on ways the school could improve demonstrates concern and interest. If parents feel welcome, useful, and respected, they will respond.
  • Information
    Provide a parent handbook of clear, practical information including rules, procedures, and specific ways parents can be involved in the school. If many parents speak a language other than English, have the handbook printed in both languages. Notes and newsletters are an important way to keep parents informed; however, phone calls, one-to-one meetings and home visits will enhance support.
  • Time and Location
    The area served by the school needs to be taken into consideration when planning parent involvement. Being flexible with the time of day and location of meetings and activities will allow all parents to take part at least occasionally. Consider meeting in community centers, apartment buildings or other facilities located near where families live. Try to schedule special events that will not conflict with other school or community activities.
  • Parent Conferences
    When parent conferences are scheduled, offer an interpreter if needed, or if appropriate, have their child act as an interpreter. Make sure you begin with a positive, encouraging comment about the child (see Guidelines for Educator-Parent Conferences Concerning Angry Children). At the conclusion of the conference, ask each parent to complete a survey form that includes questions about his or her occupation, hobbies, talents, interests, and work schedule that will assist in future scheduling. Provide space where parents can write concerns and/or their specific needs. If completion of the form appears to be difficult for the parents, an interview may be necessary. Collect the forms, and if possible, address their concerns before they leave.        
  • Child Care and Transportation
    Whenever possible provide childcare and transportation so that the majority of parents can be included in various conferences, meetings, and activities.
  • Volunteers
    Invite parents to provide classroom enrichment activities such as discussing their occupation, hobby, or talent. They may also provide art, music, or a cultural awareness program. Ask them to assist as a helper or tutor, accompany field trips, or perform a variety of routine administrative duties such as answering the phone, helping in the library, or keeping other parents informed.
  • Parent Room or Resource Center
    Establish a comfortable place in each school where parents feel welcome to come with their young children to learn or work on school projects with other parents. These are often staffed by a parent advocate or family resource coordinator who links families with schools and community services such as medical treatment, child care, job training, mental health facilities, shelters, food stamps, parenting classes, literacy programs, libraries, English language classes, emergency assistance, clothing, or school supplies.
  • Accessibility
    Share school facilities with other agencies such as Parks and Recreation to offer children's after-school programs, as well as adult computer, language and other training classes. Family recreation opportunities could be offered in the evening or on weekends.
  • Parent Training
    Sponsor workshops to improve parenting skills. Provide childcare, food or other incentives. Stress the importance of modeling positive behaviors and ways to help children learn at home. In addition, recruit parent leaders who are representative of the student population to attend conferences and training. Promote parent involvement in advisory councils or committees that plan together and make decisions regarding school policies.

Parents differ greatly regarding their preferences, capabilities and time available; therefore, schools must offer a variety of ways parents can become involved. Helping parents feel they are valuable partners in their children's education takes time and effort, but the results will be better home-school cooperation and increased student success.
(Also see "Inviting Parent Involvement through Survey Forms" and "Ten Ways to Involve Fathers in Their Children's Education" under Teacher Ideas at www.kellybear.com.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Questioned Answered By Ella Smith for School Board

What experience do you bring to the job and what is your motivation to serve as a school board member?

With 34 years of experience as a special education, biology, and health and physical education teacher, I possess a vast amount of knowledge regarding the inner workings of our schools. I have a B.S. in Health and PE, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and an Ed.S. in Educational Administration.
 As an advocate for change in the DeKalb County School System, I have been actively involved for over 16 years as a parent, teacher and stakeholder.  My year of experience as an educator and an advocate, coupled with my deep love for DeKalb, motivates me to make the DeKalb County School System the top school system in Georgia.

If elected, what would be your three (3) top policy priorities and how would you work to achieve results?

My top priority is to provide each child in DeKalb County with the opportunity for a 21st century education.  Better enforced discipline policies, quality teachers, and learning community opportunities are essential.

My second priority is to work with other school board members to assure full dual accreditation of our school system.

My third priority is to improve communication with all stakeholder groups in DeKalb County.  I would encourage the school superintendent, principals, and staff to communicate and demonstrate to all stakeholder groups that the success of the public school system is a shared responsibility and that input from parents, students, teachers, and business leaders is necessary for success.

In your opinion, what is the single biggest weakness in your school system and what will you do while in office to address it?

The single biggest weakness I see involves the financial responsibility of the DeKalb County School System.  There is too much money spent on administration and busing our children all over the county.  As a school board member, I will advocate the need to restructure the county office, stop spending millions of dollars busing our children, and make sure money is put back into our classrooms to provide every child in DeKalb County with an optimal learning environment.
If elected, which of the 17 pathways being developed by the Department of Education would you support putting in your district school and why?
The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) has developed 56+ Career Pathways in areas of Career and Technical Education in preparation for a seamless transition from high school to post secondary training at a college or technical school. As a school board member I will encourage strengthening our technical schools in the north and south sides of the county in order to offer each strand that is currently not offered in the high schools. I would encourage the school superintendent to work closely with the DeKalb Technical College to enable our high school students to take strands of classes through programs like joint enrolment and “Move on When Ready.” I would encourage the school superintendent to have strong Science, Math, Technology, and Work-Based Programs in every high school in DeKalb County.
Which educational reform idea do you believe has the most promise for your school system?

 Taxpayers have invested considerable resources in the DeKalb County Schools.  Ever-increasing funding of Education has not led to improved student performance.  Federal, state, and school board policymakers should implement educational reform designed to improve resource allocation to the classroom, instead of simply increasing funding for public education. Teacher involvement will improve this resource allocation and in turn boost students’ performance.

What is the appropriate relationship between the state and local communities regarding their contribution to school funding?
It is important that the relationship between the state and local communities continue to stay positive.  However, in DeKalb County there is dissatisfaction with the current series of formulas established by the 1986 Quality Basic Education Act.  Now is the opportunity for the state policymakers to re-evaluate the state’s approach to funding and reform its financial system so that it gives all school systems the funding they need, and to provide positive incentives for districts and schools to spend smarter and gain better achievement outcomes.