Friday, July 15, 2011

DeKalb Superintendent Search

this week's column

A Dunwoody View: DeKalb schools superintendent position demands attention


By Rick Callihan

A self-imposed deadline for hiring a new superintendent for the DeKalb County School System has now passed with no results, aside from giving us more of the same — the ‘same’ being a three month extension of Ramona Tyson’s contract as interim superintendent.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the southeast’s school accreditation association, has given DeKalb until October to hire a full-time superintendent.

I’ll be polite and not give the school board an ‘F’ on their assignment quite yet, but will instead issue an ‘incomplete’ grade. Instead of hiring an impressive candidate from a large school district in Texas, our school board remains deadlocked, while the city of Atlanta, Cobb County and Fulton County school systems all successfully hired new superintendents in time for the start of their school systems’ fiscal year.

Recently Dunwoody Sen. Fran Millar suggested Brad Bryant become our new superintendent. Bryant served on the DeKalb board for 12 years and more recently served on the state’s Board of Education. The problem with Bryant is that he is a DeKalb insider and has no classroom experience. If a person like Bryant is hired, he needs to quickly surround himself with experts in curriculum.
It’s no secret DeKalb has a bloated central office and a new superintendent is needed to clean house. Much of this bloat was started when Bryant was on the board. Also, Bryant is very familiar with the problems in DeKalb schools. Why did he do nothing regarding DeKalb while he had his power position on the state Board of Education?

Our next superintendent needs to be from outside of Georgia. We need fresh ideas and a new set of eyes and ears in DeKalb.

Dr. Robert Duron of San Antonio, Texas, is the candidate I’d like to see hired by DeKalb. He is from a large district, a district that resembles DeKalb more than other districts in metro Atlanta.
Duron has demonstrated results in a school system like our own, something our previous superintendent and current interim have not done. The school board has four members strongly behind Duron, yet a fifth is needed, needed desperately.

Two weeks ago the state released Criterion Referenced Competency Test results by district. I’m a firm believer that parents needn’t ruminate on system-wide test data and should instead focus on their child’s personal progress. But some systemic problems just can’t be ignored.

In reviewing CRCT data from eight metro Atlanta school systems – DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton, Clayton and Gwinnett county systems and the city systems in Decatur, Marietta and Atlanta — the results are embarrassing for DeKalb. The school testing data is surely not something local Chamber of Commerce offices will be printing in brochures to lure new residents and businesses to DeKalb.
In comparison of test data from third, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth grade DeKalb students to their peers, DeKalb comes in last or next-to-last in 23 of 25 categories. Categories include reading, math, science, social studies, and language arts (for each grade level).

That’s right, the folks in Clayton County, once the poster child for state intervention, have bragging rights over DeKalb. Hats off to Clayton County. They had to hit rock bottom before making changes. No doubt there are many great students and teachers in schools throughout the DeKalb system, but the system as a whole is broken. Parents, business owners, and taxpayers alike need an outsider to right this massively bloated ship.

By not choosing a well-qualified candidate, the school board is setting itself up for a huge defeat in November when a vote on extending the penny sales tax (the special local option sales tax, or SPLOST) is on the ballot. How can the school board expect us to vote to tax ourselves when the system has not demonstrated the ability to use its funding to do more than build itself an elaborate central office complex?
END of Column
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Not In the Column, but worth mentioning:

I have no problem with State Senator Fran Millar suggesting a specific person for superintendent.  I'm actually glad to see some state folks taking a close look at the mess we have here in DeKalb.  I wish Mr. Millar would just look a little further than our own backyard for new leadership.  Mr. Millar bailed out the school system a few years ago, salvaging millions of  state dollars the school system failed to secure due to ignorance.

Although I am for local control of schools, I don't consider 100,000 kids and $1.5 billion budget (more than the DeKalb County budget, including police, fire, sanitation, etc.) as "local".  I propose Mr. Millar (and Rep Tom Taylor) work on legislation that eliminates these mega school systems.  Gwinnett County will soon (within 10 years) be in the same position we are now.  Next time the General Assembly meets I hope a Constitutional amendment allowing charters and new school districts is the main topic. Perhaps legislation that allows for new school districts to be formed in cities that have MARTA.  Or maybe allow new school districts to be formed (divided) when a district exceeds a student population of more than 65,000 students.

In regards to SPLOST, as of now I am against it.  The SPLOST thing started 20+ years ago in Georgia.  The original intent of a SPLOST was for voters to vote themselves a penny tax to pay for a special project.  Once the project was paid for, the SPLOST was gone.  Now, the SPLOST (for schools) is being used for standard budget items like school maintenance, sports fields, fancy chairs and catered meals for upper management at the DeKalb central office.  Before voters approve a SPLOST for DeKalb schools, let's see some significant cuts at the central office.  Tyson or Bryant aren't the ones we need to make significant cuts.  Tyson has done nothing to trim the excess fat off the pig of a bloated school system.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sixth Graders in Trailers at PCMS

Four new 'learning cottages' were trucked onto the grounds recently at DeKalb's Peachtree Charter Middle School.  The trailers will house a team of 6th graders. Currently the middle school has 6th grade teams with easy-to-remember names: Red, White, Blue, and Gold.  No news yet on the 'color' of the new team.  I suggest green or brown for the 5th team.  Since the kids will be outside all day 'green' is a good option. But the grass will soon turn brown, and air quality in those trailers is always an issue so maybe 'brown' is a better choice for the new team.

The choice to house incoming 6th graders in trailers is excellent and well thought out.  This group of 6th graders are used to 'change' and 'learning cottages'.  This group of kids, bred at fine learning institutions across Dunwoody have spent much of their academic careers in trailers (or 'modulars' as the old Vandy Posse called them).  These rising 6th graders know they can sip an ounce of OJ in the morning and swig two ounces of fruit punch at lunch and never have to use the bathroom all day.  These special DeKalb learning cottages don't have running water.  But this is 2011 in the USA - who needs water!  Science teachers can easily have science experiments without water.  Bathroom use and hand washing?  Not necessary.  Just "hold it" until you get home.  Nothing wrong with a growing kid avoiding liquids for eight hours a day, 180 days a year.  Kids are very sensitive at this age and will not want to ask permission daily to use a bathroom.  They will just avoid drinking water.

This 6th grade class would be successful even if their new trailers were attached to a Thomas the Train engine and constantly making laps around the school.  After all, this is the 'Academy' kids.  These kids grew up in trailers at their neighborhood school, then were pulled from the nearby school and sent to the 'Academy' for a couple of years.  Stability means nothing to this group.  They have proven they can overcome anything and everything.  Maybe for 7th grade we can pull together and find yet another way to disrupt make change for this group of kids - maybe a 7th grade Academy hosted on the campus of the GA Perimeter College.

The school system planners have told us of this middle school bubble that will pop in 2015, then trailers will not be needed after that.  Look for 16 trailers at PCMS by 2015..... and beyond.  We've heard for ten years now that Austin and Vanderlyn population booms were bubbles.  Those bubbles must be made of some secret NASA material because there are no signs of these "bubbles" bursting at the elementary level, and don't believe the middle school bubble ends in 2015.  The Dunwoody cluster continues to grow in population, and this growth includes kids who, believe it or not, will go to middle school.


The school board and planners have recently said Dunwoody needs another elementary school (more seats).  With DES at 900+ and a new Austin projected to be at 900+, wheres does DeKalb think these kids will go for middle school?  Or, is the school system encouraging relying on Dunwoody parents to pull their kids out of the public schools by middle school?

In an effort to make these 6th graders feel as comfortable as possible, one trailer from each of the feeding elementary schools was pulled from the elementary schools to the middle school.  The hauler was to open the windows on the trailers during the move to 'air out' these learning cottages, but the haulers learned the lone window in each trailer was actually a fake.  The 'windows' were actually framed artwork (from the 1978 4th graders) created to look like a real window.  Pretty crafty if you ask me.  In addition to 7 boxes of tissues, two pair of scissors, and a $10 School Box gift card, Team Green/Brown students will be asked to bring in an air freshener. 

No word yet on who gets to inhabit these innovative learning cottages for the school year, but I'm sure someone is working on that as we speak.  If you have a rising 6th grader slated to attend PCMS, you are encouraged to attend a meeting at The Branches clubhouse.  See here for details. For those new to The Branches club house, plan ahead.  The Branches can be a tricky neighborhood to navigate.  My rule of thumb when lost in The Branches is to keep make alternating left and right turns until you find Spalding or Mt Vernon.

On a slightly more serious note, don't let your kid get lazy over the summer.  Here's a link to MATH stuff for rising 6th graders. For those of you who choose not to speak or read English, the Summer Math program is available in Spanish.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11 Dunwoody Council Meeting

Watching the meeting online, but got a late start due to Monday at Moe's $5 burrito night and a quick trip to Publix.  I tuned in just in time to see the parks bond issue deferred.

Parks Bond
On Council's agenda the parks improvement bond ($33 million) and the land acquisition bond ($33 million) were lumped together as one (and would have been two choices on the ballot).  I think it was Robert W. who first suggested it be split apart for council's vote, allowing council the option to vote 'yes' for one or both parts.  Good idea and it looks like the language will be modified a bit.

Paving
A discussion on a contract to resurface some roads.  Heneghan suggests a joint venture whereas Dunwoody would continue to use the Doraville police dog, and in exchange Dunwoody would pave the part of Tilly Mill that touches PIB.  That piece of Tilly Mill is in Doraville.  The idea had some support from Thompson, but Wittenstein, Shortal, and Ross, in a rare sign of agreement, disagreed with Heneghan.  All three emphasized that too many Dunwoody roads need paved and no way should we pave one foot in Doraville.  City manager agreed with Heneghan and said although the road is Doraville, the adjoining properties are in Dunwoody.  Sorry Doraville, pave your own road.  Don't be surprised if the Doraville dog is suddenly unavailable next time the request is put in for its services.  Perhaps Dunwoody should stop buying Segways and four-wheelers and buy a trained Belgian Malinois for a willing officer.  Probably less expensive. On a side note, if the city wants to do an IGA with Doraville, they should have investigated the Doraville 911 system in more detail than partnering with ChatComm.

Special Land Use for Piano Teacher
The next 'chicken' issue.  Danny Ross opened things up by stating that PianoLady is okay and this needs approved.  Most on council agree that the process (Special Land Use Permit) needs modified.  Look for PianoLady to win in two weeks at next meeting.

Wide Sidewalks in da Vill (Dunwoody Village)
Design Review Committee and Planning Commission and Community Council bickering over the width of future sidewalks in da Vill.  City staff and Community council say 12 feet, Planning Commission wants 8 feet wide.  Wittenstein mention planting fruit trees (he was part of the pear posse).  Then we heard a brief discussion of permeable surfaces, blah blah blah. Shortal makes a good point that fruit trees may not be best option for da Vill. 

Some guest speaker took to the mic and spoke about bike paths and ideal pedestrian walkways.  He mentioned Silver Comet trail and other bike trails.  He needs to be careful using those words in Dunwoody.  He agreed with 12-15 foot sidewalks.  I like how the speaker kept saying "Main Street", referring to da Vill area.  DunwoodyTalk was first to suggest renaming Chamblee Dunwoody Road to Main Street.  All it takes is one property owner on Chamblee Dunwoody Road to bring the issue to council.  Come on, someone owning a home on Chamblee Dunwdooy Road needs to bring this issue to council.  Council needs something interesting to discuss this summer. Main Street should be from GA 400 down to '285'.

Imagine if a 12 foot sidewalk was planned for the horrible drive-thru (thanks DeKalb County for that wonderful zoning - a drive-thru with a two car queue at Dunwoody's busiest intersection) at Dunkin Donuts.  I think Dunkin' Donuts should move across the street to the old Blockbuster site.  The sidewalk discussion for da Vill is getting painful to watch, almost as boring as sign ordinance discussions.  The speaker is talking about some photos he has, but the city's online viewing (SIRE Public Access) is a one camera option.  I was hoping the $4 million spent on cameras and microphones that us online viewers would have a better experience.  Once I finish my public access TV show (nearly done with the pilot) maybe I'll contract with the city to do live TV broadcasts with Comcast.  BloggerBob can do the commentary and Sustainable Pattie (with a tripod) can operate a camera. 

Zoning Hearing Policy and Procedures
I had to top-off my Crystal Light Lemonade and Sky drink so I skipped this.  I doubt it matters to anyone.

Illegal Signs
"Dunwoody Singles", "We Buy  Houses", "Gutters Cleaned".  Dunwoody has an 800 page sign ordinance yet our streets and utility pools are littered with garbage signs.  These sign folks know they can put anything on a street after 4 PM Friday and it stays until Monday.  I think the city needs to deputize me and about 100 others and allow us to remove illegal signs (after a training session with Tom).  Warren mentioned that "street sweeps" will happen on Saturday mornings. Mayor mentioned that residents can dispose of illegal signs in the right-of-way. I still want deputized by Tom, just to be safe.


Crosswalk on Tilly Mill
Heneghan plugging for crosswalk on Tilly Mill and Binghamton Drive.  King John talked as to the unsafe nature of the area.  On a side note, kids need to beware of crosswalks.  They can present a false sense of security.  Advise your kid not to cross until cars stop. There is one on Chamblee Dunwoody Road near Redfield and no cars (except those living in the immediate area) stop at the crosswalk.  Crosswalks are great, but drivers rarely stop at them when a kid is waiting to cross.  The tale spun by Heneghan can be applied to dozens of streets across the Smart City.  As soon as you leave the subdivision streets, it gets very dangerous for pedestrians all over the city (except the PCID, who has done a great job with sidewalks).  If Heneghan wins this battle, I'll be bugging District 1 guys (Shortal and Wittenstein) for a lighted crosswalk at Chamblee Dunwoody Road at Spalding.

Tomatoes
Farmer Bob has been bragging all over town about his tomatoes.  Good for him, he deserves a good tomato now and then after his dismal tomato season last summer.  The HOPE bed is thriving with hot peppers, soon to be plucked (note to food pantry posse, wait until they turn color before picking).  You have something that has four legs instead of two legs eating your tomatoes?  Most likely a chipmunk or squirrel. Take a look here to a post from nearly one year ago. Hopefully a DunwoodyTalk reader will share the tomato love this week and save me from the Return of the $5 Tomato.  Pest control is easy if you have the right tools.

Unless something major happens this week my next post will center around gardening.  I'll also discuss why conservatives should be promoting the Sustainability issue (hint - go check out a copy of Backwoods Home magazine from the Dunwoody/DeKalb library.