04/03/2013 Board Meeting With SACS

Board of Education meeting on April 3 and 2013
Meeting with Mark Elgart for a SACS Update

Four Areas

  1. Brief overview of accreditation process
  2. DeKalb County School District’s accreditation history
  3. Areas of concern
  4. Moving Forward

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS]
SACS started in 1895 in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. SACS was the first to accredit schools below the high school level. It’s about educational improvement and how you can improve what you do for the students. By holding schools and colleges accountable for state and federal laws, SACS played a significant role in desegregation.
Accreditation is about “Improvement” and not just “Governance”. Accreditation process is about “Performance”. Performance begins in “Leadership” and ends in the classroom. A majority of the criteria are in the classroom. Governance is critical. There doesn’t exist a high performing school district at all levels with dysfunctional leadership.
According to a study, mayoral appointed boards outperform elected boards. Appointed boards are more unified and spend more money in the classroom.
SACS Accreditation – 5 Areas
1. Vision
2. Governance and leadership of the board and administration.
3. Teaching and assessing for learning.
4. Resources and Support Systems
5. Using data to improve
What is the school’s vision, purpose, direction? What are the objectives set to reach the vision? What plans are created to make that vision happen?
How does the board and administration operate in alignment with the vision?
Teaching And Assessing
What is the quality of teaching and is there instructional differentiation? Do teachers have the data necessary to modify lesson plans and instructional approach?

Resources and Support

Are resources distributed in an “Equitable” way, not “Equal” way.
Equitable: Giving to the people that need it and not to those that don’t.
Equal: Giving the same thing to all people whether they need it or not.
What support systems are students provided?
How do you use data to improve classroom instruction as well as human resources decisions?
Questions on Accreditation Process
Q: Thad Mayfield
What timeframes have you observed for a transitioning system?
A: Elgart
DeKalb is so diverse, one of the challenges of the board is to know their community as it evolves. It’s not just African American and Caucasian. There are emerging Asian and Latino communities.
Q: John Coleman
What do you mean by the way teachers are getting data and modifying their approaches in the classroom?
A: Elgart
We’ll get to that when we discuss required actions.
The problems in DeKalb have evolved over the last decade. The culture, or “operating environment”, has been passed down from board to board.
Visiting Schools
When you were elected or appointed to this board, your ability to walk into a school changed. You became somebody the staff views as one of their bosses. Culturally, board members thought they had to be in the schools to effectively do their jobs. This has created instability, confusion and a lack of direction.
Staff Communication
Why do you need to communicate with the staff. It causes tremendous disruption and is not your job. Your job is to govern. Board members should only go to schools when invited by the principal. Board members should be involved in the “Long term future issues” not the “Day to day operational issues”.
Constituent Communication
Solving constituent issues are day to day operational issues. The administration has a process and policies for dealing with those issues. If a person comes to you with an issue, your response should be “I understand your concern, but I’m not the right person to go to. You need to follow the process and go to the correct person in the administration”. Don’t even tell them that you will pass the issue along, but tell them “You need to go through the process”. They have to own their problem. It’s more important to be responsible to the system than the people.
Financial Resources
DeKalb gets more money than most systems its size, yet are in debt. This county spends more in central office and less in the classroom than other systems this size. There are too many legal advisors. There is no other urban school system in the metro area that has two law firms on retainer. This is an area where we are going to expect significant change and improvement. Because these are resources that should be elsewhere.
Strategic Plan
There’s been no community elaboratively developed strategic plan that galvanizes and focuses the effort of this district around which all decisions are made.
Over a decade has led us here, so it will take at least three to five years to turn this school system around.
Questions Regarding the History
Q: Mayfield
Is there a standard for percentages of allocation on line items from AdvancED’s perspective?
A: Elgart
We have benchmarks, but no finit numbers. We encourage you to look at how similar systems allocate their funds.
Three Areas of Primary Concern (in priority order)
1. Student achievement
2. Can you get your fiscal house in order
3. Effective governance
First develop a budget and get some training. After the budget, launch into a strategic planning process. We don’t expect to see student achievement for a while. By December we will expect a balanced budget, a strategic plan, the equitable distribution of resources and a framework for improved student achievement.
Q: Coleman
What do you mean by “Community Involvement” in the strategic planning process. What is the board’s role in creating a strategic planning process?
A: Elgart
Hire outside experts to help facilitate. The boards role in that is to define the process that you’re going to follow. Typically, you hire external facilitators that do an environmental scan by engaging administrators, parents, students, teachers and the community at large. They bring the environmental scan back where you have a core planning team of representatives from schools, parent groups, students, etc… The facilitators work with the core planning team on a plan and eventually that plan gets presented to the board for you to vote on.
Q: Dr Morley
How did this go on for ten years without intercession from anybody?
A: Elgart
There’s been no unified leadership and a lot of turnover over the last ten years.
Stability is critical. You need a stable Superintendent, administration and board. I’m concerned with the November 2014 elections.
Capacity and Incentive
You have parts of this community who have great capacity and are doing well, but have no incentive. You have other parts of the county where there is little or no capacity, but tremendous incentive to improve. The problem is they don’t have the capacity to do it. The challenge is how to get capacity and incentive to line up. How to get those that have capacity to be able to distribute capacity across this district, and those who have incentive to even distribute incentive. Those who have the incentive to improve and no capacity are fighting tooth and nail every day to get more capacity. Those who have the capacity, but incentive, are fighting tooth and nail every day to protect what they have. That has to stop.
Q: Mayfield
If the eleven items are addressed in a short period of time, does the district get removed from probation at that time?
A: Elgart
They can get removed from probation. You move from probation, warned, advised based on the work you do. You need fomative assessment tools to monitor progress and provide school personnel access to the state longitudinal data system.
Q: Mayfield
Does AdvancED have a template for what the content or the categories of responses need to look like?
A: Elgart
We give a general template, it’s not complicated.
Q: Mayfield
Do you have quantitative criteria?
A: Elgart
I would tie it to our existing rubrics and indicators.
Q: Mayfield
Can we get a copy of the rubrics.
A: Elgart
Q: Mayfield
Do you have a list of consultants we can hire?
A: Elgart
Yes. I’ve shared some possibilities with Superintendent Thurmond.
Q: Mayfield
You didn’t mention a business plan or action plan.
A: Elgart
I didn’t mean to omit that, but I actually break down business plans into annual or shorter term objectives.
Q: Mayfield
Would that be the Superintendent’s responsibility to develop the action plan?
A: Elgart
Well, it’s both. It’s the staff and the board.
Q: Coleman
What evidence are you looking for in a success budget?
A: Elgart
You need a list of objectives you want your budget to achieve. The staff needs priorities on where to allocate resources.
Q: Orson
Capacity is a very significant issue for those schools that are under performing most dramatically in those areas where the socio-economic restraints are greatest. There’s a great yearning to build capacity, but it’s almost impossible to build capacity where you have no capacity. How do you address that kind of inequity that manifests itself in the inability in those that don’t have resources to build capacity ?
A: Elgart
First, there must be organizational infrastructure. Create a chart with no leaders, then let Superintendent Thurmond fill that chart with the right people. You help with the design. You approve the design. But then let him deploy it.
Q: Johnson
How can we best correlate the strategic plan and the curriculum to ensure that we improve student achievement.
A: Elgart
The strategic planning process has two or three galvanizing purposes. One of them is educating students. Use technology to bridge the gap. Technology is one of the greatest strategies to reduce the inequities that our kids come to school with from all different walks of life. Equality will paralyze a system. Equity will allow resources to flow to those that need it and bridge the education gap.
Q: Coleman
Sometimes the community is fairly accustomed to a level of service from their board rep, yet you have said that engagement is inappropriate. Please elaborate, from the governance perspective, what that environment with stake holders should look like.
A: Elgart
You need to design a standard operating procedure for phone calls and emails. Every board member needs a script to help guide you through phone calls or emails. The community needs to be respected in their view but you don’t need to solve all their problems.
Q: Morley
We’ve talked about there is no differentiation between the North and the South. The thing comes down to the reality when we’re talking about capacity and looking at the North and the South and looking at economics that the South may not have. Looking at South DeKalb, there’s a total difference when you’re talking about the economic capacity.
A: Elgart
Don’t look at this as 9 districts that need equal distribution. You have areas with more significant needs which require more resources.
Q: Erwin:
Quick question. So you spoke about the reorganization diagram and slimmed down chart with no names on it that we would provide to Mr. Thurmond.
A: Elgart
He’ll present it to you. You need to give him feedback and eventually agree that this is it.
Q: Erwin:
But, dealing with an elected board that’s going to have turnover. How does the public trust that that’s going to stay in place?
A: Elgart
Stability is one of the challenges here. I have deep concern right now for November of 2014.
Q: Orson
To follow up with Dr. Morley, I think we are sort of getting trapped again defining capacity by economic resources.
A: Elgart
First off, capacity, if you treat it simply as an economic issue, you’re gonna fall way short. Organization helps with capacity.
Q: McMahan
Can you give us a timeline of expectations for training?
A: Elgart
Everything is on the job training right now.
Q: Mayfield
Where have governing authorities been successful in managing their relationship towards economic development to help expand and diversify the tax base?
A: Elgart
A good solution is shared resources.
Q: Johnson
Can you give us some suggestions as to how we might be able to best utilize our communications department so that we can reduce the anxiety and concerns to our stake holders.
A: Elgart
There needs to be a plan with a timeline for every required action. That can then be put into a communication tool. Give some real highlights of the progress. Promote the steps that they’ve actually done.
Q: McMahan
Define equity or equitable.
A: Elgart
Equity is directing your resources based on need and not evenly or equally.
Q: Coleman
What’s the best way in which we can draw on you?
A: Elgart
I live in your backyard. I will continue to engage Superintendent Thurmond on a regular basis. I would encourage this board, to the degree they are comfortable, to continue to engage me as you did tonight.
Final Thoughts
Not only is stability critical, but focus is also important. Don’t be distracted from the special interests. Stay disciplinced. Results will be incremental. Don’t try to fix problems overnight. Be united as a board.

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