Board of Education
April 3, 2013
Meeting With SACS, Mark Elgart
Thurmond (Superintendent): [3:00]
Members of the board, I’m delighted, honored really, to have the opportunity to introduce to you Mark Elgart, the CEO of AdvancED. Who’s here tonight to really engage us in a conversation regarding the accreditation review of our district. Since my first day on the job, the number one priority of my administration has been to restore full accreditation back to the district. We have been working diligently with representatives from AdvancED and, by the way, I have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Elgart as well as engage him on at least three occasions about the role that we should play and establishing what I think is a very positive relationship going forward. The board of education is also working as a unified team to address the board governance issues that have been raised. And I want to assure the public and all of our stakeholders and Dr. Elgart, that the DeKalb School District will meet the seven required items. Dr. Elgart’s team, scheduled to visit us in mid May, and looking forward to their visit. At this time I’d like to introduce Dr. Mark Elgart and welcome him back to the DeKalb School District. And invite him to share with us his vision, his thoughts. And get his recommendation as to the best way forward to restore full accreditation to DeKalb.
Elgart (SACS President and Chief Executive Officer) [4:42]
Good evening, Mr. Thurmond, thank you for that introduction. Members of the board thank you for the opportunity to engage you this evening in a discussion around fundamentally four areas. One is I will provide a brief overview of the accreditation process so you understand the context in which these expectations can be met. Number two a brief history related to DeKalb County and its accreditation history over the last decade. Number three, to identify specifically for you the areas of concern. And finally, moving forward. What is it that you must do moving forward to address those concerns. After each segment I want to give you an opportunity to ask questions and gain an understanding and clarity about the process about the history and concerns, moving forward.
So to begin with, the overview of the accreditation process. First and foremost, this is a voluntary process. As such, when you make a commitment as a school system to this voluntary process, you’re making a commitment to meeting the expectations that are affiliated with such a process.
Accreditation has a long history in this country. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS] dates back to 1895. Established here in Atlanta. In fact the first meeting was at Georgia Tech. And through the years, it has grown not only in service to schools. In the South it was introduced, we were the first to introduce accreditation below the high school level. Elementary and middle school sought accreditation. Why would they seek accreditation? It’s been a sustainable, effective process of improvement over the last hundred plus years. The process of improvement is critically important. It’s about educational improvement. How can you improve what you do each and every day for the benefit of the students you serve? And the south for instance, prior to 1965, except for very well to do communities, most communities in the south, their elementary and middle schools, had no libraries in them, had no guidance counselors, had teachers who are not certified to teach. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS] established an accreditation process which these schools sought. In seeking that they were able to provide an infrastructure to add libraries to their schools, guidance counselors, certified teachers. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS], also where it is in DeKalb and in the South and with civil rights, played a significant role in holding schools and colleges accountable for federal and state laws that related to the desegregation of our schools. Systems and colleges were placed on probation if they failed to implement federal and state decisions around desegregation of schools. We have held firm in expecting our schools at all levels to meet their obligations to the state and country that are legal obligations.
Having said that, the primary focus of accreditation, “Improvement”. It is not a process that just focuses on Governance. Governance has an important role and I’ll speak about that role in a moment. But it is about helping you improve. One of the philosophical constructs underneath is no matter how good a school or school system is today, we believe it can be better tomorrow. We have a range of school systems and their performance level. No matter how high they are performing today, we still have an expectation of improvement tomorrow. So as I will be doing at the end of this month, I’ll be leading an external review of a school district in Florida. Thereby Florida accounts as one of the better performing school districts. So I met with them this morning and stated you should expect out of areas that you must improve as a school district. You should not expect us to just come in and tell you what you already know, which is that you are a good school district. Even for the better performing districts, expectation of improvement is a constant. So, that expectation is before you as a school system. The areas in which you’re seeking improvement initially, quite frankly, are beginning points for improvement for you. You have significant long-term improvements that must be made. And as I get into the history of DeKalb, you’ll understand a little bit more about what those improvements are.
Having said that, this accreditation process is about “Performance”. We assess, in a professional way, your performance as a school system. That performance begins but does not end in your leadership as the governing team of this district. Where it ends, and where it should end, is in the classroom. The majority of our criteria, and expectations of what happens in the classroom each and every day. And over half our criteria and half our examination is around teachers and students in classrooms in that instructional environment.
What we do know, is that board governance can play a critically positive or unfortunate negative role in the effectiveness of what happens in the classroom. There is not a district in this country that we work with, so that you know, 32,000 public and private schools and 71 countries. The largest organization of its type in the world. So we come to this with significant experience of every type of school that you can imagine from the largest urban settings in this country to the most rural settings in this country. We have yet to find a school district that has significantly high performance at all levels and a dysfunctional leadership district. It doesn’t exist. Because when there is serious dysfunction at this level, think of any corporation. Some of you are in the business … if the leadership can’t lead what happens to the rest of the organization? It has a negative impact. However, there is a positive correlation. We have seen the highest functioning governing ??? get the best results over time.
There’s a study that came out last week on mayoral appointed boards in urban environments. Mayoral appointed boards over the last 15 years have outperformed elected urban boards. One of the reasons is the nature of that appointment has led to, in each of these cases, a more unified, focused governance leadership team over that urban environment. Secondly, appointed boards in an urban environment significantly spend more money and resources on classroom initiatives than they do on central office administration. Elected boards spend more money in the central office. Appointed boards spend much more resources in the classroom environment. I think that takeaway is going to be a very instructive point for all of you as I get further into this conversation this evening. Because the greatest needs in this system are the furthest point from this board, at the classroom. When we get into the budget, we get into the discussions about strategy and your role and how you can positively impact what happens in classrooms. I want to really engage you in your role in helping that happen. Helping provide the environment on which that must and can happen.
We have an accreditation. 5 areas that we examine in district or school. First and foremost, we understand you through your vision, your purpose, and your direction. What is it you’re striving to achieve? What objectives have you set to reach that vision, that purpose? And, how have you made the plans, the infrastructure, the intentions directed with the community to help cause that to happen?
So, our first understanding is understand you through your vision and purpose and direction. Every school system, public or private, there are nuances in what they are trying to achieve. We see different things in urban environments than we do suburban or rural, public vs private.
The second area is the governance and leadership. the governance and leadership is not simply the board of education, but the governance and leadership which includes the Superintendent and his or her staff. How do you operate as a governance, leadership team? Provide the direction, support, assistance to ensure that what happens in the schools each and every day is in alignment with the expectations that you have established in your vision and purpose. And that you ensure that the resources are available, so that they can accomplish what is expected at the school level in meeting that vision.
Third area where over half the criteria is teaching and assessing for learning. Look at the instructional quality. Half our criteria’s related to what is happening in classrooms. When we do a full visit, we spend most of our time observing students in the learning environment. Happens in the classroom, we are looking for two things. The instructional quality, but also how is instruction modified when you learn about where students are. That’s why the assessing for learning. How do teachers have access to data each and every day to make instructional decisions that will benefit kids and their classroom? What’s the availability of the data? What’s the accuracy of the data? Is there evidence that teachers are using that to modify lesson plans, to modify instructional approach. One of your major areas, which we’ll get to later, is related to this very concern. The teachers don’t have access to the type of instructional data they need each and every day to modify instruction and meet the needs.
The fourth area is resources and support systems. Do you have the resources available to you as a system to provide the educational program. Are those resources allocated to schools and classrooms in an equitable way? ‘Equity’ is not equal. ‘Equity’ is based on where they’re needed. And to distribute resources equally across the district is one of the most unfortunate strategies in school systems ???. Because it does not provide equity. You really need to pay attention to the needs of the process … they’re not equal in every setting. They’re not equal in every school or every classroom. Also, what are the support systems that students are provided? To support them to be successful in their educational endeavors. Some of those support systems are community based that are aligned and connected and integrated with the school system. But, ensuring that each and every child has access to support systems necessary to help them to achieve successful ???.
Lastly, using data to improve. This is more the summit, if you get data on an annual basis. Some of it’s from the state, some of it’s from your own efforts. How do you use that data to improve what you do each and every day for ???. How do you use that data to establish budgets each and every year? How do you use that data to make decisions around recruitment of staff and the type of staff you need. But, we look at the use of data in a summitive way to improve the quality of the system and the schools.
Every 5 years we come in to conduct a full evaluation. That evaluation happened in this district a year ago. Those are on our regular cycle. We expect at the end of that five years, within two years of that visit, you will satisfy all the required actions that came out of that evaluation. You have up to two years to fully complete those required actions. If in the event we learn that there, and through a variety of mechanisms I’ll get into later, that there are concerns that there’s a possibility that you’re not meeting standards between those five years. We can, as we did in DeKalb, launch an independent investigation to ensure that you are meeting standards. When you’re not, hold you accountable to meeting those standards. Although you’re within that 5 year window, doesn’t guarantee you there’s no interaction between us.
We monitor very closely, as large as we are, 32,000. We have 41 offices across the United States and abroad. We have nearly 18,000 thousand professionals who volunteer their services to us each and every year. We have state staff in every state that monitor and work with the volunteers in that network to ensure that we are providing you personal attention related to the work that you do to improve. Not done from the central headquarters where I work each and every day, here in the metropolitan Georgia. We have a state office in Kennesaw, that works closely with staff here on the accreditation process.
I want to stop there and give you the opportunity to let you ask any questions relative to understanding the accreditation process. The expectations of that accreditation process before we move into specifically your history in the area.
Mayfield (Board of Education): [18:44]
I did have one question regarding observations made during the evaluation process when governance is an issue. Can you describe for us what your observations have been when there have been what I’ll describe as transitions, either in the community or even within the system. Some of the timeframes that you’ve seen, where governance or the system was not aligned with the community that was transitioning.
Certainly we see a lot of that, especially in urban environments where over the last twenty years there’s been significant shifts on the makeup of that urban environment. And there are challenges to ensure that the elected board truly understands its new community. It may be elected by a community that it knows, but there are new communities that emerge in urban settings that act actually have yet to participate in that process. They are either not represented or under represented. And, so one of the challenges that boards have is to know their community as it evolves. Where we see problems that are the greatest is where that board is effective in understanding the total community that it’s serving. And sometimes they limit their understanding to those who are most closest to them who voted for them that they have a relationship. That isn’t their total community. I think that’s actually one of the challenges here in DeKalb. This community is far more diverse. It’s not just African American and Caucasian. You are an urban school system. You’re not a suburban school system. Look at the characteristics of an urban environment. You have growing minority populations other than African American and Caucasian. This is not an issue just between Caucasian and African American. And if you treat it as that, you’re gonna miss it … what you’re trying to accomplish. You have a whole Asian quarter. You have a whole Latino growth. You have other languages. You have refugees from other countries. They’re the kids that are going to your schools every day. Quite frankly, many of those kids are the kids who the schools are failing. They’re not reaching them. So, as a board, your community is not the constituency that voted you in or appointed you to this board. You really want to understand your community, go around your neighborhood and see how it’s changed. I’ve been in this area twenty years. I’ve seen major changes, not only in DeKalb, but Atlanta, Gwinnett, Fulton, Cobb, all of them. But what we have noticed, just in this area, is some boards adapt better to emerging new communities than others. Because they acknowledge that they exist. I think part of the struggle here is, do you know who your community is? Understand how it’s emerged in a very rapid way. So the problems that you’re facing are far more complex. This is not a North/South issue, we’ll get into that a little bit later. That’s been the other thing in DeKalb, that’s it’s been North vs South.
Coleman (Board of Education): [22:04]
If you’re going to get into this later, definitely, let’s defer it to that time. But, I was interested when you went through the criteria you look at for teaching and assessing for learning. Just getting a little more context in understanding of the way that teachers are getting data and modifying their approaches in the classroom based on that and exactly what you mean by that. It’d almost be good to have a picture painted of what you consider best in class. They are what you consider kind of really successful system for that.
OK. What I’d like to do is get into that a little later in the required actions to really understand what you have available to you and what you need to move to. But, that’s a great question. It’s part of the required actions, so we’ll make sure we’ll get to it.
Alright, let me go over briefly the history that brought us to today, before I talk about the current concerns. The challenges facing DeKalb County today were not created just in the last two years. I’ve said that from day one. I said it to the state board. I’ve said it to the prior board. I’ve said it to prior administrations. These have evolved over at least a decade. If we just go back a decade. In 2004, this system was on probation for governance issues. With a significantly different looking board than the one that was in December vs even the one that is today. And, there is some underpinnings as to why even governance ten years ago was a problem. Part of it is the operating environment. Some people want to use the word ‘culture’. I use the word ‘operating environment’. But, has emerged where there’s been practices that have not necessarily been written down. But have been carried forward through board member to boards as they … unintended orientation.
For instance, visiting schools. The day you were appointed or elected to this board, your ability to walk into a school changed. Whether you were a parent before then. Whether you were a educator before then. As soon as you were elected or appointed as a board member, your ability to walk into a school and the way you walk into a school dramatically changes. I have two daughters in high school. I cannot walk into that high school as a parent. I can declare myself as a parent, disassociate myself from what I do, but the bottom line is that everybody in that building will not look at me as a parent. It doesn’t matter. I have to walk differently than other parents. I have to engage the professional staff differently than other parents. When you walk into a school and what’s been carried on from board member to board member, boards to boards, and I have seen this over the last fifteen years. Is rather than taking away what your prior role as a parent or just a community person of interest. You’ve added to it this position of authority. Even though by law, you have zero authority individually, the authority only is vested in this board when you meet in a publicly, legally constituted meeting. None of you has any authority as an individual. But, when you walk into that school, you are a board member.
First and foremost. And when you start to engage staff, it’s just … you’re engaging somebody who the staff views as ultimately one of their bosses. That conversation is very different. Think about it. When you, in an environment where you have to address your boss, when you’re talking with your boss, when your boss gives you his or her sense of things, when your boss gives you his or her sense of maybe something should be done differently, or that. What has been part of the practice, the operating environment, is that individual board members should be in the schools if they are to be able to do their jobs effectively they gotta be in the schools regularly. In what, quite frankly, with the amount of in the schools the boards have done over the last ten years. Has not been functionally advantageous to those schools. It has created a sense of instability, insecurity, and has created a lack of direction. Because, do I take my direction from my principal, my board member, my Superintendent? Who do I take direction from? One of the things that we noticed, over the last ten years … and it was there …
I went through and read everything ten years ago. Was the volume of communication between board members and individual staff members. Why do you need to communicate with individual staff members as a board member? You’re on the governing body of an organization, and I’m on several by the way. I know what it is to be in your seat. I also, just so you know, I was the student representative to the board of education in the community in which I grew up in. At the same time, my mother was the chair woman of that board. We had a house rule, we could not discuss board matters in the house, in the car, on the way to the board meeting, only when we were at the board meeting. And, I was not always in agreement with my mother and the governing body there. But at any rate, the point of this is. Those emails, no matter how well intended, those phone calls no matter how well intended, cause tremendous disruption in the operations of the school. It is not your job. Your job is to govern. Your job isn’t to … OK. Quite frankly, if I’ve … I’m pretty straight forward. You should only be going into schools when you’re invited to go into schools by principals because they have a function they want you there for as an honorary guest. You should not be dropping in, dropping by, or well I’m driving by, trying learn something.
And it should be in that manner. You have to govern at this level. When you bring yourself down into the school level, you actually lose sight of your governing responsibility. You have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire school system, not the schools you’ve been visiting for the last three years. We have ten years of history of board members. Goes from one board to the next. That this is one of those things we must do. Must be intimately involved with the day to day work of a school system. One of the things I tell boards is to monitor whether you’re governing at the level you should is most of your activity and interest. If you have two columns on a piece of paper that says ‘Day to Day Operational Issue’ or is this a ‘Long Term Future Issue’? Put a check mark every time you’re engaged in a conversation or an activity that is something day to day. Put a check mark in the column when you’re talking and engaging something that is future. Mr. Thurmond and his staff, they’re the left column. My left side. They’re the day to day. The day to day operations. That’s why you hired him. You may not know that. That’s why you hired him. On the right side is you, the future direction of the system. So, over the last ten years, governance has been a significant issue. But I don’t blame it on just a small group of people. There’s no blame actually to the people. You’ve been part of an operating environment where you’ve just fallen into from group after group saying well this is the way it’s supposed to be carried out. If you look at it, there’s been an inconsistent application of training. So, how do you learn how to be a board member? Well, you look to your senior board members and see how they do the job. Follow suite. So, it’s been carried on.
Secondly, you have challenges associated with how to deal with the barrage of phone calls, or the barrage of emails. People want you to solve their individual problems. You want to help. The problem is, individual problems, there’s a whole process that policy through staff and all they way up to Mr. Thurmond, that’s where it goes. You get yourself involved in solving their individual problems, once you solve one of them, you’re going to have to solve 100 more. It doesn’t stop. Once again, it will bring you into the day to day operations. And it’s hard for you to say to somebody, listen, I understand your concern but I’m not … this is not the right process upon which this individual problem can be mitigated. You must go back to your principal. This person, the Superintendent. Don’t say to them, I’m going to pass your concern on to the Superintendent and have him look into it. Because, then you just became a carrier to help solve the problem. You actually … and it’s a hard thing to do … Is to bring back to them and say, You need to go through the process. Don’t own their problem for them. They have to own their problem. And, I know that’s hard. Because, some of you, three of you at least have been voted in here and you want to be responsive to your constituents. But you also want to be responsible. It is more important to be responsible to the overall system.
That’s the second part of this operating environment that has pervaded every board for last decade. Is a significant involvement in trying to help solve people’s individual problems. Then what I’ve seen, and I’ve witnessed it directly. Board members pitted against board members to determine whose individual problem has more merit. Whose individual problem is of greater priority. And board members started getting into discussions about these individual matters, and I sit there and I listen, and I wonder, why are they even talking about this, this is not their problem to solve. I’ve heard and I know directly prior board members who have gone in and tried to advocate for maybe a student who might want to attend a school that was expelled, or a student who might want to go to a different school for their athletic program, or a student who didn’t get the grades they wanted. That’s not the role of a board member. As soon as you walk into that conference, the principal believes they have a boss in front of them they have to respond to even if policy dictates that they don’t do what the board members ask them to do. And that breaks the integrity of the system when it starts to make decisions that policy doesn’t define. Or policy doesn’t support.
But then you look over the last ten years, another area. The area is the use of financial resources. Remember we work with school systems of all shapes and sizes across this country. In fact, the fifty largest urban school systems in this country, we work with over thirty of them. So, we understand the environment in which you operate. You have the financial resources as a system that are in the upper tier of financial resources in this country for a system this size. You’re not in the short end of financial resources. Yet, today you are operating a system with debt. It did not happen overnight. Once again, it happened over a period of ten years of decisions that were made on an individual basis and we’ll get to my fourth point in a moment about direction. But today you are operating a system where you are spending far greater dollars on central office resources than an average system your size. You’re spending far less money on the classroom than a system your size. Your student achievement results, not surprisingly, have been stagnant over a decade. You have more attorneys and more attorney’s fees than three systems combined your size. Three systems combined your size spend less money in aggregate than you spent as one system. You need to significantly reduce that. You don’t need, and I had my associate general counsel me today, you don’t need the number of legal advisers that you have. It is one of your most glaring areas of need that you must address in this next budget. Is to significantly reduce this area of cost. Example, budget for legal fees for the last five years average budgeted amount was $1 million dollars. The retainer fee, not the expended fee, the retainer fees of two law firms exceeded $2.5 million. Want to ask me why you would only budget a million when you had a contract in a retainer that required you to spend at least $2.5 million. That’s not what you’re spending. You’re spending far greater than that. There is no other urban school system in just 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. Where should these be resources? Well, classrooms. I’m a former administrator and teacher. Give me a million dollars. I can do a heck of a lot more with a million dollars than give it to attorneys. All respect aside to attorney who are in the audience. That’s where this system needs it. It needs to be redirected.
The last area over this ten year period. There’s been no community elaboratively developed strategic plan that galvanizes and focuses the effort of this district towards improving student achievement. Collaboratively, community based, strategic plan that galvanizes and focuses the effort of this district to improve student achievement. There have been plans produced. But, anybody … we could sit here tonight folks and I can produce a plan. But, it’s being the community in a collaborative way in galvanizing a focus on improving student achievement that doesn’t exist here throughout this system. We walk into schools. Every school has different understandings of what’s expected. There’s no galvanizing, clear direction on how to achieve it and what you’re expected to do. That has been a concern of our for ten years. OK. For ten years. It has an impact because one of the things, your financial responsibility is one of your key responsibilities, the other as a board is setting direction. That strategic plan is the key document to setting direction. It’s a document that’s key to you making decisions around who should be Superintendent, to how you’re organized, to how you direct resources to support the operation. Budgets are being developed without the benefit of being guided by that strategic direction. It’s a critical point.
So this history, over a decade, has led to today and this evening. We realize that you will not in one year fix ten years of accumulated deficiencies. We also believe it will take at least three if not closer to five years to turn an urban school system around. You cannot turn an urban school system around even in a year. This is a significant challenge. But our commitment to all of you is over the next three to five years and longer. It’s one of the advantages of working with an organization like ours is we will be with you the entire way to help guide, support, advise, monitor, reinforce, give you feedback. Because it’s that external set of eyes that are so critical. Internally, you may … you’re gonna have blind spots, there are going to be blind spots the things you do well that you don’t realize and there’s going to be blind spots the things you’re not doing well. Our contribution and commitment to you is helping you see the full picture and bringing in professionals to help support you. I’m going to stop there with the history before we get into the current concern. Are there any questions?
I don’t know if this is a major one, but this is certainly one I’ve been curious about. Specifically as it relates to the budget, and perhaps frameworks or benchmarks or best practices around those. You refer to the legal issues obviously which is a stand out. What I’m curious to know is there a standard for percentages of allocation on line items from AdvancED’s perspective?
What we would do, and we would help you identify is we would try to find like systems, urban systems with similar budget size and student population and give you, there are benchmarks. We would encourage you to look outside the state of Georgia, because there are other systems similar to you. Jefferson county, which is in Louisville Kentucky. Look at their allocations as it goes and to see where per pupil expenditures are from central office down to classrooms.
So, it’s more of an art than a standard that you have?
Right. Because we recognize, working across the board, it’s difficult to set a finite number. However, you can contextualize it. The other piece to this is that as you approach this budget, which is one of your first most critical priorities, is you have to build budgets from the inside the classroom out. Not the top down.
OK. Areas of concern. There are three areas of primary concern. The first, and they are in priority order, the first and foremost is student achievement. Can this district demonstrate the capacity and actually get the results to improve student achievement. This will also be the most complicated and complex one to achieve. And it will take you the longest. Second, can you get your fiscal house in order? You are going to face and extraordinarily tough budget preparation for next year. You’re going to need to make some significant decisions. And you need to do that and we’ll talk a little bit about a process there, but you’re going to really need to disengage yourself from the subjectiveness that you’re going to receive from individuals who are going to lobby for their piece. You have to establish the budget in the best interest of all the students of DeKalb county. It’s easier said than done. Third, is demonstrate effective governance.
We recognize that it’s going to take time in all these three areas. We have eleven required actions that further call out each of these areas of concern. Ideally, if this were September I would tell you that the first thing you should do is establish a strategic directive before you even develop a budget. Unfortunately, we don’t have that ideal situation. It’s April 3rd. You must develop the budget. So, what we expect because of this, and Superintendent Thurmond and I have talked at great length, is the first and foremost activity that you should engage in is the development of next year’s budget. Through that, you can begin to build your capacity to govern as a team. You should infuse in that not … you don’t have the time to dedicate as much, but you should start to have conversations about what is important. What are the important elements as we go forward that we must think about addressing? Those should be projected. They may not be the exact wording or exact expectations when you do establish a strategic direction. But you have to have some guide posts. What are you seeking to achieve? So you’ll have some preliminary discussions with the understanding that when you go through a true strategic planning process that is facilitated and community based, that may get modified for the long term. But in the short term, what are the major objectives for next year’s budget that you must achieve? Superintendent Thurmond and his staff should be giving you some ideas there, should be giving you some direction for you to consider. But you need some guide posts around which you are going to make budgetary decisions. At the same time, to begin the process of training. Which will help you become a cohesive team. And then later in the year, after the budget, you should launch into a strategic planning process. So, by December, we’ll leave May out of this. By December, we don’t expect that you’re going to be able to demonstrate improving student achievement. We will expect a balanced budget for ’13 – ’14. We will expect a plan that been enacted and followed and I know you have a budget deficit plan. But we are going to expect evidence that you actually followed it. We will expect that you’re actually demonstrating the ability to align your resources with the needs of this district. Demonstrating an ability to understand equity at that the distribution of resources is done equitably, not equally. And demonstrate the ability to improve through the resources available the opportunities for teachers and students in classrooms to succeed. So, in that budget we’re going to look for evidence of those pieces. Don’t expect that you’re going to get improvement of student achievement, which you … can you start to set the frame upon which that improvement can occur in the future. At the same time in December, either nearly complete or complete will be a community based, collaboratively developed strategic plan for your future. Cause you don’t want to go into next year’s budget without that. December … by December.
Johnson (Board of Education): [47:30]
Commenced at that time or completed by that time?
Either nearly completed or completed. In other words, what we’d like is by the time you get into budget season for next year, that budget gets developed on a completed, committed, focused, strategic plan. So that future budgets have that benefit. Community based. Members of this board of … DeKalb County Board, your first and foremost responsibility is service to this community. Schools are a community investment. And this plan deserves, and I’m talking all the communities, go back to Thad’s comment earlier. Not just African American or Caucasian communities will form this plan. The communities of DeKalb County, and you have multiple ones to ensure they have an opportunity. So, there are eleven required actions. There was a semblance of an action plans to address these. I would actually encourage you first to organize around the three areas. Improving student achievement, fiscal house in order, and effective governance. Put each of these into one of those buckets. Can you … you actually start to identify short and long term actions you are going to take. We do not expect the eleven required actions to be completed by December. But we want to see, and what I said it to Superintendent Thurmond, and I’ll say it to you publicly tonight. You’ve lost at least three months in this process that was designed to take a year. We will not penalize this board for that. We will understand and expect that there should be progress. But not the progress we would have seen in a year. So, by December, first off, it will not result in you being fully accredited. You will probably either remain on probation or possibly warned. You will expect that you will have continued expectations of improvement. They will be there for at least three years. And we’re committed to ensuring that you fulfill these eleven required actions. These eleven, quite frankly, once they are fulfilled, the one area you’re still going to be short of is a sustainable track record of improving student achievement. Sustainable ???. One year of improvement of student achievement is not improving student achievement. We actually want to see three to five years. You’re probably a year or two away from really meaningfully starting to do be able to do that. Because you have to right size your budget, you have to reallocate resources, you have to recruit and retain the quality staff you need to improve instruction in your schools. You have to give them the proper direction and assistance and support through a carefully constructed strategic plan. All of those things have to happen first before you can meaningfully start to improve instruction, so students will benefit in the long run. At the same time, kids are coming to school every day.
And to end this before we get into an open period. The issues here were performance based issues. I want to commend all of you for your commitment tonight to meeting … to willing to meet the challenges this district faces today and tomorrow. If you stay focused, and if you understand that you’re not going to solve every problem overnight. And you don’t try to solve every problem overnight. And you stay balanced in the fact that each and every day you have to allow the system to do the best it can for kids. Give yourself the latitude that over time, you will improve what you do for kids. You will get there in a much shorter period of time. But if try to heroically achieve over it night, you’ll cause more problems than you will achieve.
I was just going to start by asking a couple of questions about the strategic planning process. I know we’ve gotta short term focus on the budget process, but kind of looking forward. A couple of things that came to mind that I’d love to hear you elaborate on a little bit more for me is. First, when you say community involvement, a collaborative process for developing a strategic plan, it’d be helpful to me if I kinda heard a little more context about what that looks like when it’s done very well. What you mean by that. And secondly, I think kind of part and parcel of that, how this board can help initiate that process without micromanaging. So, what are the reasonable ways in which we can initiate that process so that it is community based. The staff are taking care of the things they can take care of but we’re leading in a way … setting direction in the right way.
Great question. The first thing the board must do is define the process with the help of an outside expert. I really do believe … even our organization, who is experts in strategic planning, I hired an outside resources to go through our strategic planning process. We’re in the middle of that right now. So, the boards role in that is to define the process that you’re going to follow. Not with any determinance of what that process will result in saying, here’s our process. And we … you’ll make a decision on what is the external expert that you’re going to help facilitate.
Typically, in a process like this, the very first thing that happens is your external facilitators do an entire environmental scan. And that environmental scan starts way away from this board table. It goes out into the communities. It tries to understand all the various communities that DeKalb County schools support. It will engage parents, students, teachers, all sectors of the community. All ethnic, racial groups, nationalities within the community. They will then gather all that information, and we’ll start to engage professional staff throughout the organization. Professional staff, rather than administering this process, should become participants in the process. That’s one of the benefits to getting external resources is the voices of the staff are equally as valid as a voice of a parent, or of a student, or of a board member. So, all of you want to become participants. During that environmental scan, you’ll be … they typically will talk to all of you on either one on ones, or in smaller groups. They’ll engage you in exercises to help understand your vision, your philosophy, your expectations, your hopes, your fears that you have relative to the school system. Their role is to take all of that environmental scan and bring it back. Which you want to establish is a core planning team. In a core planning team you have a couple of representatives from this body, a couple of representatives from … Superintendent Thurmond and his staff, representatives from the schools, representatives from the parent groups, representatives from students. It cuts across everything. In that core planning team is the face of DeKalb County as an urban school system, if you took a picture of it, is it a picture of the true county? Make sure that planning reflects that, OK.
So, the outside facilitator works with that core planning team. That core planning team is the carrier. They start to assemble, with the help of the outside facilitator, the results of the environmental scan. They’ll start to put together vision statements, mission statements, core values, and these things will periodically be shared with all of you and reshuffled back through the community. So, the community gets to respond to them. So, a draft vision statement might come out. It isn’t just come to you to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They actually will go back to the community and say what does this vision statement say to you. Based on this vision statement, what would you expect tools to differently tomorrow than they are doing today? They test, they check it. They go through this process until eventually you end up with a strategic plan that goes from vision, mission, core values, strategies, and objectives with specific actions to be taken. Usually the areas that you’re going to focus on are generally, depending on who you get as an outside facilitator, 3 to 7 areas. Probably with an urban system like this, you’re going to be really challenged to get it below 5. It’ll be 5 to 7 or 8 areas, major areas with specific actions.
And, eventually that plan gets presented to all of you as a board and you vote. Once you vote, that becomes the doctrine. That becomes the doctrine that guides every decision you make, from policy development in adoption, to board … budget development in an adopting, to recruitment of professional staff, to the organization chart the Superintendent operates, to the distribution of staff throughout this district. It is a guiding document. It doesn’t exist. There’s been documents in the last 10 years. You will hear staff say, oh, we’ve had that. But it’s the process upon which that’s been developed that has made it null and void because it’s not community … it’s not galvanized this community to act. Prior boards, plural, boards have been 9 independent legislative bodies who have fought for their voting district, or their constituent groups to act. That’s been the strategic plan of DeKalb County. It’s been a competitive, political environment. You’re a governing body of a school system. You’re not the Georgia Legislature. There’s an entire different set of skills that are needed.
Dr Joyce Morley (Board of Education)
I have a question. And my question is, how did this go along for 10 years and there was no intercession for someone to be able to say at some point, we’ve got to stop. As a member of DeKalb county, a parent, former parent of students in DeKalb County System, and knowing that this was taking place and we’re looking at tax payers’ dollars and watching this all happen. But it was allowed to take place for a period of 10 years and there was nothing that was done in order to stop it until just recently.
Great Question. First, what you’ve lacked over the last 10 years, is a unified leadership in both the board and the Superintendent. There’s been a lot of series of unfortunate events. Go back over the last 10 years, the number of Superintendents, changes on the board, and there’s been no unified structured, stable leadership. There is, and it’s clear throughout this country, urban school systems that have performed the best over the last 20 years have a had the most stable, effective leadership. It’s matching … the people who are around this table, Superintendent and this board to operate a governance leadership team. If you get the right leader, I mean you’ve had, what, 5 Superintendents in 10 years. So, clearly you haven’t found the right leader yet, for the long term. And I’m talking long term is more than a 3 year contract. Getting the right members on the board of education, and over time, that stability …
That’s one of the intangibles I was going to talk about later, but it’s perfect right now. That stability is absolutely critical. You cannot have the Superintendent position be a rotating position. You cannot have it constantly going in and out, based on political differences and political … If you have the right person, you need that person in place for a long time to make a difference in a system of this magnitude and complexity. You need a stable board. One of … it’s a professional concern is potentially, all this changes in November 2014. That’s not stability. That’s 18 months away. And I’ve talked very clearly with the Governor’s liaisons as well as Superintendent Thurmond, that I have a professional concern that you can do great things in the next 18 months. And there’s an election in November 2014, and everything changes again. That’s a real, deep concern. Systems need stability. They need the right leadership and you haven’t had it, so all those unfortunate events have actually helped the problems they met. Because every time you get a new leader, the people get, what … hope. Things are going to change, they give time for it to change. And it doesn’t change. And then you’re on to the next leader. Hope again here. So, those series of events have actually extended this way beyond critical. This should have been dealt with a long time ago.
The second piece to that is, which goes back to a statement I made earlier, you’ve still been treating the system as though it’s a North/South, African American, Caucasian problem. It’s far more complicated. The DeKalb you’re serving today is not that … The DeKalb you’re serving today is more like Cincinnati Ohio, New York City, Boston Massachusetts. Any other urban environment, Louisville Kentucky. It is not your DeKalb of 30 years ago where you have an African American community and a Caucasian community. What it leads to is, one of the things you have here. You have parts of this community who have great capacity where schools are actually doing well. They have capacity and they’re doing well. You have, in those schools, not a significant incentive to improve because they’re doing well. It isn’t as though the whole system isn’t doing well. You have areas where schools are doing well. Capacity’s there, but there is no incentive to improve. 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.
Part of your 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. Everybody would be galvanized to improve. But, what has happened is 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. What I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve watched variations of this board, they’ve been battling that dynamic of capacity vs incentive. And they’ve been battling at this level. You can’t battle this out at this level. You have to model who we have to ensure capacity extends across this whole district and everybody shares in the incentive to improve. If you model that in your decision making, you model that in your governance. You can help change part of this culture which believes you must compete and fight for resources. Those who don’t have it, it should come from that do. Those that do have it would like to retain it. That has to stop. That’s one of the fundamental problems that have been there almost ten years.
Actually, I think the first three have to do with both the timeline and the strategic planning, or the planning components actually that go beyond strategic planning. With respect to the 11 requirements. And I have a set of questions really that fall under that. You mentioned that there may be some extension, if you will, in the amount of time beyond the 12/31 deadline. But you also mentioned that one of the elements would have to have a three to five year timeline, academic performance specifically. Does that mean that even if the 11 are addressed at some period shortly after 12/31 that the district does not get removed from probation until that three to five year period expires?
No. They can get removed from probation. There is different levels of accreditation. There is advised, warned, or probation in the sanction levels. And then beginning next year, where districts can actually achieve distinction in excellence. But, you’ll move in that ladder based on the progression of the work you do. So, it will take you probably a good three years to get to accredited. What can also happen, is we will start to, as you move forward, and you start to address these 11, we will give you further direction on the next steps associated with some of them. There are next steps.
One that we talked about earlier … One of the required actions from the full evaluation, and I’m going to apologize up front. These reports were written by educators, for educators. They’re not written necessarily for the general public. This is a process, a professional engagement. So, educators in the audience will understand what I’m saying. If you don’t, I will try to restate it. One of the things that’s missing from the system is required action 6: Ensure a robust district diagnostic assessment program which includes universal screener, progress monitoring, benchmarks that is systematic in a regular component of the district’s comprehensive assessment system including a variety of formative assessment tasks and tools to monitor progress and provide school personnel access to the state longitudinal data system.
So, what’s missing is there’s no system wide structure for this to happen. Which ??? across the district to the schools, to the principals, to the teachers in the classrooms. So, that there’s benchmarking where I can walk into a classroom and a classroom teacher, no matter where they are in the district, not that doesn’t say there are some classrooms in some schools that have this. But, I can walk into any school in this district and ask a teacher, how do you know where every one of your students is related to the third grade standards for the state of Georgia in mathematics? How do you know where each one of those students are related to that? Every teacher in this district who teaches third grade math should be able to say ‘yes’ and show me exactly where they are. That actually is a standard that most of the country, especially large systems with the resources, those teachers have that information at their finger tips. They know it every day. They live it every day. What’s remarkable about a system this size and the financial resources. That doesn’t exist across this system. It should have already existed. That’s one of the characteristics of systems your size is your use and deployment of technology solutions to give teachers access to data is usually far ahead of the rest of the country because you have the financial resources to put in a system like that. Because it costs a lot of money to do that, a lot of resources and you need a lot of capacity to do it. It doesn’t exist here across this system.
So that came as to one of the things that we’re looking for. Getting that in place is just the first step. It doesn’t improve student achievement. But, if you don’t have that, you don’t have knowledge and information to improve. That’s the first one, then you would expect us to come back and say, OK, now provide teachers with the instructional development to use the system to make decisions regarding lesson planning to enact individual student education plans to help students at risk. How do you monitor it? How do you improve it? How do you show results with it? That’s the next layer. And then you’ll start to see progress.
Along with that, I’ve got four questions that are related to that. And then I want to come back to the strategic and I don’t want to dominate the conversation, so if someone else needs to … With respect to the deliverables regarding the eleven action items, does AdvancED have a template for what the content or the categories of responses need to look like?
Elgart [4:38] [1:09:45]
We give a general template, it’s not complicated. We’re going to ask you to assess your progress in each one. Give us evidence of what you’ve done. But, a precursor to that is, you designing and identifying actions steps you intend to take. Then, as you take each action step, don’t just tell us you did it, actually give us evidence that it made an impact. Don’t just tell us that the board went through training. OK, that’s pretty easy, we did training on these 5 dates. What was the impact of that training? What behaviors, what actions, what improvements and where’s the proof that did? Give us evidence. It’s like Mr. Thurmond asked whether I have confidence in him yet. I said, not until you produce results. I have hope, but there’s not evidence yet. I want evidence in those areas. … [banter between Elgart and Thurmond]
In those areas, do you have criteria along with that performance level, or that level of evidence, is there a benchmark that you have for what that quantitatively needs to be?
Quantitatively … we do. And what I would do is tie it to our existing rubrics and indicators. So, we would take a required action like the one I just read, and actually give you the indicator. Indicators that best describe this specific. And, in those rubrics there are performance levels, and in the performance levels there are expected behaviors and actions.
So, and this really related to the third one, and that is how will you determine whether or not the deliverables that we give you December 21st actually meets your expectations or the rubrics? Is it possible for us to get a copy of the rubrics so that as we’re building this we’ll know …
We’ll give that to you, absolutely. And then of course, once your provide all this to us, we review it before we come on site. But, then we physically come on site again to look for our own additional evidence.
OK. And the last two actually have to do with the discussion regarding the strategic plan. Do you have a list of best consultants that would give us this process in the shortest, most cost effective way.
I’ve shared some possibilities with Superintendent Thurmond. It is not something that we will do, because we have a different role to play here. But there are other avenues in the metropolitan Atlanta area that are very good and, in fact, some are exceptionally good. And I think could be very useful to the system.
OK. And then, finally, just based on my experience, having an effective business or action plan that supports the execution of the strategic plan. You didn’t mention that and I’m just curious as to know where you’ve seen effective strategic plans developed. What’s been the success rate, minus a business plan?
Well, actually, I didn’t mean to omit that, but I actually break down business plans into annual or shorter term objectives. Because they’re tied to resource allocation, so you need to break it down. So, if strategic plan is your next 5 or 6 years, then each year there is a definite business plan associated with the priorities that are aligned with the objectives …
Would that be the Superintendent’s responsibility to develop the action plan?
Well, it’s both. It’s the staff and the board. Because, ultimately you want that to help guide your decisions throughout the year. You should have input into that.
I’ll ask another question, obviously the shortest term thing that we are going to have to deal with and produce evidence for is the budget process for 2013 – 2014. So, the process we are about to go through. Could you talk a little bit about the evidence, or the outcomes there that would lead you to be comfortable, that we have handled that process effectively in an evidence based.
OK. The first thing I mentioned earlier is I think it’s very important for you up front to establish in your discussion, it should be in public. What are the high level objectives you want to achieve in next year’s budget, but at a very high level? OK, You’re absent a strategic plan. So, what are those high level objectives that you want to achieve? The second is, how are you going to approach this budget? And you’re going to give … that gives direction to staff. Staff should be developing the budget for you to review, to question, to eventually adopt. For instance, one of the things that we’ve heard a lot of districts do, especially in the last 5 years, is budgets cuts will come furthest from the classroom. The first series of budget cuts will be furthest from the classroom. The very last budget cut we’ll make, and we will avoid impacting classrooms. And there are districts who have said, OK. The non-negotiable in this budget process is we will not raise class size. Another non-negotiable, will be we will not reduce classroom allocations for resources. And those guide how the staff then goes about their work. You have the financial resources. Put aside the deficits that you must satisfy. But you need to reallocate and redirect those resources. In order for the staff to know how to do that, you have to give them some parameters. But, you need an open, honest discussion with each other about what those parameters are. So, you have your high level and you have some parameters. You don’t want them coming back here and say we’re gonna cut 150 teachers and raise class size by .5 students across the district. Or, we’re gonna cut all para professionals working in classrooms. You have said, cuts must come furthest from the classroom, then they’ll know we’re not coming to this table with classroom cuts. Quite frankly, you’ve gutted the classrooms, if you want my profession opinion in DeKalb county. One of your challenges is to restore the type of resources and support, and direction, and assistance the classrooms need to be successful. And you need to invest in making sure you retain and recruit the very best teachers that you can. Cause, I will tell you that the success of your school system, you can set the direction, but if you don’t have, we know this, if you don’t have effective leaders in your schools, and effective teachers in your classrooms, you’re not going to get there. That’s one of those non negotiables. You have the resources, if redirected. To compete for the very best teachers and to compete for the very best principals.
One of the issues that I think is very challenging, the discussion about capacity. You didn’t really get to the relationship to the whole governance. Mr Thurmond has undertaken governance from top to bottom his governance ??? board level. Or even at the central office, but the relationship within the central office and the school house. And, one of the things, and I guess I would just love to hear your thoughts on this. Is that on one end of the spectrum is the turnover of Superintendents and then some board and the instability there. And sort of the opposite effect is the long time maintenance of a bureaucracy. Basically the central office. So, if you have lots of turnover on a board and you have bureaucracies that stay there forever. And there tends to be a bureaucratic inertia to change. What I’m concerned about and would love to hear your experiences where, because I agree, I think capacity is a very significant issue for those schools that are underperforming most dramatically in those areas where the socio-economic restraints are greatest. But, there’s been, I think, a culture in our system, not to actually address the capacity issue. And you talk about there’s a great yearning to build capacity, but it’s almost impossible to build capacity where you have no capacity. So, the connective tissue should be, you scale down but right size central office to equitably allocate resources to build stuff like that. But, there’s a long history that goes back, as you pointed, more than 10 years, but 30 years of not really addressing that kind of inequity that manifests itself in the inability in those that don’t have resources to build capacity in a way to then to build those resources the way that delivers results for students.
Great question. One of the things that a Superintendent must do in any district is establish the organizational infrastructure upon which the district operates. That’s presented to the board of education and have concurrence across the Superintendent and board of education. That has to be done here first. One of the things I often tell school leaders, is create that chart with no one person in mind. Take the people out of the equation. Think about the operation and identify your perfect organizational structure. And bring it all the way down. There is logic, and we a lot of experience, and there are a lot of systems that you can go to help right size this. You can just go to some of you neighbor’s systems. Help right size an organizational structure from Central Office down to your schools that makes sense. But you can’t do it with people’s names in those boxes, because it compromises your objectivity, alright. So, that needs to happen first. Now, then you have to decide how quickly can we move to that structure? Cause then it’s the movement into that structure that becomes very challenging. A board of education plays a fundamentally, critical role as you restructure. You ultimately have to make decisions to support that, but you must allow the Superintendent to deploy it. Don’t get involved in the deployment of it. Provide the leadership, the authority for it to occur. But do not try to deploy it, or him or her, or whoever’s that. Do not start to get involved in, while I think this person would be best in that position. Then you’ve taken an objective process and made it critically political and subjective. There is no more difficult task when you’re leading an organization as a CEO, or president, or Superintendent, or owner of making personnel decisions. Your job is not to influence those decisions, because you make it a political process, not a professional employment process. So, it’s really important that Superintendent Thurmond needs to objectively take a blank piece of paper. Get you engaged in an objective discussion about the design of this district, not the assignment of personnel. Once you agree on that design, then charge him with the responsibility of transitioning to it and making the employment decisions based on his professional opinion of who belongs in the best place. It won’t happen overnight. But he needs a design to move to. That is where your role must be. But I can’t say it enough. You have to stay out of the administrative responsibility and prerogative to deploy that design. You help with the design. You approve the design. But then let him deploy it.
Dr. Elgart, would you give us your input on … we talked about student achievement. We talked about a strategic plan in order to …. a strategic plan drives the curriculum. From your experience, how can we best correlate the strategic plan and the curriculum to ensure that we improve student achievement.
The beginning of your whole strategic planning process, there usually are two or three galvanizing purposes. Certainly one of them, your core business is what … educating students. It better be heart and soul. Then the question becomes, what values are you going to hold true to accomplish educating every student in DeKalb County. And then you start to identify through needs analysis, what not, where are the areas of greatest need where students are not being educated. For instance, you have populations that are being successful. Well, why are they being successful versus populations that are not? What is it that this county is not providing? And you’ve got to remember that you’re an urban school environment in the 21st century. You’re not a segregated school system, Caucasian, African American, in 1970. You’re an urban school system in the 21st century. Use the technology, the availability of technology, all of these pieces play into educating students today. So, what strategies are you going to deploy for today and tomorrow’s students to be educated. We have a growing number of schools and school systems that have adopted a bring your own technology to school. And then we have others that have said, no, we can’t ask them to bring their own. We have to provide everybody the exact same thing. We have that dynamic going on. The use of technology is actually a gap there, a growing gap in our schools today. It’s important. Yet, it’s an integral part of the children in which we educate. Our kids, this is their world. Every kid you have is what I call a digital native. They have grown up in a world, where all they know is the internet and technology. Any kid born after 1995 is a digital native. Everybody in this room is a digital immigrant. We adapt technology. We grew up in a world that didn’t have it. And now we’re adapting. We’re learning how to use it. And, I know the Mac Book is over there, but I can take the average 12 yr old. And the average 12 year old can use the Mac Book better than anybody in this room. But, technology is an important part of their world. And yet, it is also one of the greatest strategies to reduce the inequities that our kids come to school with from all different walks of life. So, if you say bring your own technology to school, how much of your population can do that? Part of it. You’re committed to educating students and you learn, you’ve got to know what your population is. Well, 70% of them can do that. Now, how do you help the other 30%? And quite frankly, that’s a more rational way to go about it is to try to provide those that need. This is what I mean by about equal vs equity. Equity is, I’m going to give more to the 30% that don’t have it than the 70% that do. Equal, which has paralyzed people in districts this size, say unless we can give everybody exactly the same even if student A doesn’t need it, but student B does, then we can’t do it. So then you don’t do a lot of stuff because, how do you give everybody, 100,000 kids an iPad vs 20,000? We don’t have the money for 100,000. So we’ve got to put that off for another year. Well, the next year … what … we still don’t have the money. So another year comes by. You keep, because you’re trying to give everybody the same when everybody doesn’t need the same.
So, this whole piece on educating students. One of the things that is very helpful, and one of the things that we want to see, is are you having conversations at this level? Not conversations about students in district two vs students in district 9. About students across your whole system and how we can ensure equity and how we support them to be successful in the educational process. And what can we do at this level to allocate resources to help those who need it while continuing to support those who may not this specific support strategy. So, it’s that type of conversation that we want to see more of at this level. Conversations that are about all the schools of DeKalb county, about how you can use the abundant of resources and there is an abundance even though you are in deficit. If you use them right, to meet the needs of this school system. Those are the conversations we are going to look for as evidence that you really understand your primary focus, consistent with that strategic plan, is educating students. If we just see educating students, and we never see on the board you discussing what that looks like in policy, what that looks like in budget development, what that looks like in allocation of resources, we’re going to say, wait a second, what does that mean to you? You don’t even discuss it, yet it’s your primary purpose.
I just have a quick question about the operating environment. To get back to the least important, shortest term issue that we’ll address outside the budget, governance. You had talked about how the operating environment here had been negative over a period, a long period of time where we were engaging in inappropriate with the different stake holders in the system. That be staff, or parents or staffing schools, students. It’s obviously a challenge when the community is fairly accustomed to being able to access you etc … What I heard was you stating almost to error on the side of caution here. Risk being less engaged than people have in the past than you should rather than kinda continuing those habits. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit from the governance perspective about what that might look like for us with regards to each of the stake holders.
I think what it … one of the first things you may all design and agree to is a standard operating procedure to receive phone calls and emails. What is it that you do, and almost and I’ve seen some districts do this, is you give every board member a script. It gets down to that level of detail. To help guide you through a very difficult conversation if it’s on the phone, or an email exchange. Because inherent in most of those interactions is a lot of emotion on the other side. Because somebody has been wronged or feel they’ve been wronged, or they’re upset, there’s an emotional … and it’s driven them to reach out to you and they want you to fix it tonight. And that’s really hard for you as an elected, or appointed official to respond to.
So, the first thing is agree on a standard operating procedure. Then really talk about some of the scenarios that either you have faced, or that you believe you may face. To really talk through this. This is part of the training that I think right away could be very helpful to you. From budget development to engaging your community, and the best way to respond to that. We can certainly help you with the standard operating procedure. Or the school board’s association, but you need to agree on how you’re going to handle those. The community needs to be respected in their view but you don’t need to solve all their problems. In fact, their problems can be addressed, just you’re not the vehicle for that to happen. There’s a … how many staff do you have? You have enough staff. There’s 9 of you and there’s 14,000 staff. Who do you think has more capacity here?
Dr. Joyce Morley: [1:31:00]
We’ve talked about capacity and incentives. And we’ve talked about there is no differentiation between the North and the South, there is no North and South. We’re looking at the totality, and I believe that we all believe in that precept. 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. We look at communities. We look at where the communities are and for that economics coming about. Taken into effect that we most certainly have to consider that there is a larger spectrum going on here when we begin to look at the county commissioners, we begin to look at everything else that is taking place in order to help build that capacity. Also, I think looking at everything that’s going on, for 10 years and more that I’ve seen of what’s been taking place here is a mindset. And so it’s beginning to change that mindset about capacity, incentives, but we have to be realistic, would you not say that, when we looking at South DeKalb, there’s a total difference when you’re talking about the economic capacity and being able to build it to that point of portability of being able to impact. And giving people incentive. So, I think there are certain areas that, not only maybe capacity, or incentives but both that might be lacking. Most certainly, would you not agree, that that’s something we are going to realistic look at.
Absolutely. And I think my point there is that, do not look at this as 9 districts that have to have equal distribution. You do have areas of this county that have more significant need, both in capacity and incentive. And that, as a board, you have to pay attention that if there is in district X more need that it shouldn’t be from another district say, well, I have to have my equal or I’m not going to support them. I’ve heard that from boards of the past. That has to go away. That’s part of the operating environment that just has to disappear. Cause then it’s a competitive exchange. We’re going to negotiate with each other. You give me this and I’ll give you that. That’s not the way to govern.
Erwin (Board of Education):
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.
He’ll present it to you. You need to give him feedback and eventually agree that this is it.
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?
That’s one of the challenges here. Quite frankly, as we get deeper into this, we’re going to need to strategize how to address that challenge. Stability … one of the intangibles going forward for this district to be successful is stability. Quite frankly, if you determine, cause you’re not the board that hired Mr Thurmond. But, if you determine that Mr Thurmond is the right person. You need to reach an understanding that allows him to be a stable leader to see this through. I’ll use APS as an example. Erroll Davis was brought in as an interim, but that interim disappeared in 90 days because that board believed they had the right person. They knew they had a long road ahead. They’d been on a process of recovery. But what has enabled them to move forward is they’ve been unified as a board and Superintendent moving forward which is critically important.
I, professionally as I have said, I have deep concern right now for November of 2014. If this board is the right board to move things forward, then we must pay attention to it. I don’t know what the vehicle can be, but I really do believe that this district’s best chance to really move this forward is a stable leadership around this table that is effective. Not just stability for stability’s sake, it doesn’t work. If you are the right people doing this job and in an effective way, then you need to stay in place long enough to see the result that that infrastructure can provide.
Just another brief question about capacity and just following up with Dr Morley and what you’ve said. I think it would help … I think we are sort of getting trapped again defining capacity by economic resources and I think it’s a broader issue and to get your thoughts about what are the components of capacity that we really need to address long term in order to be successful in those communities which may not have the same capacity as we would desire.
First off, capacity, if you treat it simply as an economic issue, you’re gonna fall way short. The design feature I’m talking about, the organization design of DeKalb County, actually helps with capacity. Recruitment of the right people, so I have a job that’s a $70,000 dollar job. It’s not an economic problem, I have the money. Capacity comes from assigning, and recruiting and retaining the right person for that $70,000 dollar job. But if you have people that have jobs here, but don’t have the skill to do those jobs, that’s were capacity hurts you. It’s not an economic issue. So, that’s going to take time. That’s one of the reasons why you need a stable environment here upon which those employment decisions can be made over time, to ensure that you have the right people in the right place. That you may have economics in the right place, but not necessarily the right people. Capacity comes more from people than it does from money.
McMahan (Board of Education)
Dr. Elgart, you had talked about board training and we’ve got that lined up for June at GSBA, new board member. But dealing with the budget process, can you give us some, maybe a timeline or expectations on other types of training that we might need for June?
I think one of the things is, and it’s going to end up being on the job, between your … everything’s on the job with all of you right now. With regard to the budget, certainly you have staff here, but maybe to look to some other local counties who have done an effective job. And learn from them some of the strategies they have implemented to manage their budgets over the last 5 years. And I know I’ve referenced Gwinnett before, but Gwinnett has actually managed through the recession actually better than virtually all the systems. Not only in the state, but systems of their size in the country. And one of the reasons is, they didn’t take the cut and hope strategy, which is we are going to cut and hope that things recover. They actually assumed 5 years ago that it wasn’t going to recover. So, we need to restrategize on how we use our resources. They restructured around, not hoping, that they said this is our new reality. In 2008, they said this is our new reality. We can’t just cut every year and hope it returns. So, they’ve made far few financial cuts. They’ve made reallocation and redistribution of resources. They’ve abandoned some allocation of resources that really they had been doing for years. They asked themselves, well why are we still doing that? Well, we’ve been doing them for the last 20 years. Well, why are we still doing that? And they started to abandon some of those to free up money to allocate towards the need. So, it’s a recognition that, and I tell school systems …
I was just in D.C. a couple of weeks ago with sequestration and the projected funding for education over the next 7 years. The projects right now from D.C. down to the state level is there will be … the rate of inflation, you will fall far behind the rate of inflation as far as increased financial resources to operate in the next 6 years. The budget cuts, the sequestration went through without a, even a, outside of the president and some people in his administration. Congress left town 48 hours before the deadline, had no interest in being ???. Because they know they have to right size their budget. It’s not an easy decision. But over the next six years, you will not have a significant influx of new money from the tax base. But you have to strategize going forward in a very different way. One thing we are starting to talk to districts about is, ok, you can expect flat or limited funding from the tax base over the next 6 years. How else can you generate revenue, cause you gotta operate. You can’t just continue to put teachers on furloughs, you can’t continue to flat line their salary. You can’t continue to cut. You’re not going to survive the next 6 years. You’ll be further behind the 8-ball 6 years from now than you are today. So you have to restructure, you have to look at other revenue sources. You have to start to, for instance, Cobb county is looking at generating distance learning opportunities to expand it beyond kids in Cobb county. To actually offer this to kids outside of Cobb county. To generate, take their very best teachers, and offering distance learning courses. Using their technology to provide that and generate revenue for the county school system that goes beyond the tax base. Because the tax base in this country cannot support public education any longer in an adequate way. And there’s no strategy going forward in the next 7 years for the federal government that will change that. We have to accept that reality and start to plan accordingly. You cannot get through this just by cutting.
I’m glad you made the last points that you did. When you think about DeKalb’s situation. And looking at the two governing tax authorities, local tax authorities, what strategies have you seen successful where county government as an example and/or the school district, the taxing authorities here in DeKalb have been successful in managing their relationship towards economic development to help expand and diversify the tax base?
First, what we’ve seen is they actually develop shared commitments in the long term. And, along those shared commitments is, you know, we want X, Y, and Z in our community over the next 10 years. And the school, and the county or whatever the community is, whether it’s town based, city cased or county based, agree on the essential improvements or desired objectives.
Secondly, when county governments, in this case it’s county and county school systems. Up north it’s town based. But, in this case, when county governments and county school systems start to identify ways in which they can share resources. There is duplication in delivery of sources between county government and county schools. When you start to share resources, you start to free up money on both sides of that equation. For instance, support systems ??? other support systems connecting the county’s infrastructure, transportation. How can transportation systems, both county based and school system based, can you start to do some things. Purchasing power together. There are ways in which you can reduce your overhead if you work smart with the county, but you have to have that relationship. And part of the struggle right now is there are issues at the county government level as well as the county school system level. At some point in the future if those can be reconciled, and you can start to work smart together, you actually can free up resources. That’s what we see. We see a collaboration there. And, there’s a business model to help them move forward.
We’ll note that Commissioner Johnson, from the county is here. Raise your hand, let’s give him a hand.
Dr. Elgart, you have discussed the time for addressing the required actions. My concern is, right now, to develop a strategy by which we can communicate to our stake holders, the length of time it will take us to go through this process. Based on your experience, 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.
OK. This document that I received in February, actually, it started to … it’s the 11 required actions and it has completed action items. Actually, what it really needs to first have is, here’s a plan for each one. There needs to be a plan with a timeline for every required action. That timeline can extend, in some cases, there are steps that should be done in the short term between now and December. Steps for next year and each year that extends for some of these, what’s your plan over the next few years. That can then be put into a communication tool with your community at large, where you don’t just share. This would be a very technical … it’s really 11 business plans, right. I’ve seen some districts say, well here’s our 11 items in this case and they have a timeline that’s sort of a … and they have a bar of completion, you know, we’re 30% there, we’re 40% there. And they give some real highlights of their progress. They promote the steps that they’ve actually done, not what they intend to do. Because people may read this … first they read your plan and say, well they’ve got a plan. But ultimately people want to know what you did. So, you actually, you’re very transparent on your website say, here’s our progress and our plan along each one of these continuums. But this is lacking a business plan for each action item, for each required action. And then under that you start to identify the steps you actually implemented and the results that were achieved by doing it. What improvements were made.
I was going to ask you define equity or equitable.
Equity is directing your resources based on need. So, the areas of greatest need would get the greatest resources. It’s a specific targeted distribution of resources and support based on need.
My last question for you is kind of … we’ve got a formal timeline for engagement with AdvancED with the review process for our accreditation. Informally, what’s the best way in which we can draw on you? You mentioned several ways in which tonight from benchmarks and thinking about comparable school systems, to think about consultants, the right protocols for behavior. What are ways in which we can kind of productively engage with you, or your organization?
Well, first you have the benefit, and some may not classify it as a benefit, that we live in your backyard. So, my availability to do this … I will continue to engage Superintendent Thurmond on a regular basis. Key members of his staff as needs me to. The governor’s liaisons, to stay part of this process. You have my commitment to that.
Secondly, we have staff that will engage staff for Mr. Thurmond’s and really documenting your progress in making sure that you’re in a position to share your evidence so that you’re well prepared for that.
Third, and we’ll do it privately, cause we’re not in a public endorsement. Where there are areas where you need external assistance like strategic planning. We certainly, based on what we believe … we will only provide names of organizations or entities that we know can provide this. We will give a short list of … but that list is not binding. You have the right, and responsibility, and authority to do whatever you want. But, for instance, Mr. Thurmond asked me about strategic planning. I gave him a short list. Whether they come from that short list or someplace else, what I did was say we know these three organizations are credible. We know their track record. We know they can do this job, cause we’ve seen them do it. So you have all of that.
So, the other is, I would encourage this board, to the degree they are comfortable, to continue to engage me as you did tonight. Because, I want to commend all of you for your thoughtful questions, the fact that you really listened intently and tried to understand your responsibilities. And I think we should continue to build on this. Because ultimately, this district’s future, both short and long term, is highly dependent on the effectiveness of leadership that happens around this table. And, I’m willing to be part of this, to help guide you in ways in which you need guidance. But, support you in ways in which you need to move forward. What we can bring to this conversation is experience that goes well beyond the borders of DeKalb County. And that’s the best contribution we can make. We have a perspective that goes well beyond the border here. That cuts across this country and other countries that can help you understand.
First off, you’re not the only school system in this country that has some of the dynamics your dealing with. You’re not the only school system in this country that’s in debt. You’re not the only school system in this country that’s struggling to improve student achievement. But, we’ve seen school systems with those struggles in the past and we’ve seen those school systems make changes so their future was far better.
If there are no more questions, I just have a final comment. I’ve mentioned about stability. And that’s really important. The second piece to this for all of you, is focus. Focus on what needs to be accomplished and stay focused. That takes discipline. You’re gonna have a lot of people, the general public in your schools, a lot of people from all over including media who are going to be distracting to that focus. Stay focused. Stay disciplined, ok. Third, you will achieve incremental results. Incrementally you will achieve results that are meaningful and long lasting. Don’t expect results over night. Don’t try to fix every problem overnight. But, stay diligent to expecting and pursuing incremental results over time that are lasting. You want it to last way beyond your tenure. And, so you have to go at it incrementally. I commend you all for wanting to take this challenge. Those that were appointed, that was completely voluntary on your part. In my view, professionally, you’re here because of your commitment to this community as a example of your community service. For those of you who were elected in November, please take that responsibility with a significant amount of humility, humbleness and unite yourself with the other six. And act as though all nine are appointed tonight. Set a new path for DeKalb County. Establish a new operating environment. Be willing to make the right decisions for all the children of DeKalb county. Not just those that have voters in your district. And work with your Superintendent in establishing a vision for the future of this system. And remember that vision will more than likely last well beyond all of you. So make sure the vision is right for kids, not that are just walking through the door tomorrow morning. But are going to walk through the schools 5 years from now.
Dr. Elgart. We accept that charge. Certainly on behalf of the entire board, I’d like to thank you for coming out tonight and giving us direction. Giving us answers to questions that we had. And I’d like to thank the audience, and listening, because you’re the stake holders. You are the ones that will help us communicate exactly what we discussed tonight and we want you to be a part of that.
Mr. Chairman, what I’d also like to recognize the chair of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce is here who is playing a significant role in the relationship we are building. And I want to thank Dr. Elgart as well for his very sobering but very exciting presentation. We have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to fashion and mold a extremely successful and 21st century public education system here in DeKalb County. I think the steps have been ordered and truly it’s a blessing for us and all who are engaged here to have this unique opportunity to get it right for the children of this county. Thank you Dr. Elgart, and I look forward to the challenge. Mr Chairman, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak.