09/09/2013 – Tapestry Charter – DeKalb Schools Board Meeting


Board Meeting Analysis

Tapestry Discussion Analysis
Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond captured the Tapestry discussion saying about charters in general, “We don’t have the understanding or capability to offer you an objective analysis.”
The DeKalb Board meeting appeared to recreate the debate of last year’s charter amendment. Some board members used this time to learn more about charters and the laws that govern them. The interim superintendent suggested the board’s negative reactions were a function of not having a strategic plan – “Now that we are into the strategic planning process, we have to look at how we evaluate and approve charters going forward.” The district hired the GSBA for $300,000 to help develop a strategic plan. The funny thing is, they already did that last year. You can read Nancy Jester’s blog “Strategic Churn” and learn all about that. Mr. Thurmond and the Board may want to review the current strategic plan (just penned by the GSBA in 2012) and stakeholder engagement sessions. The first item noted as an area of “greatest agreement” in the summary of the community engagement sessions states, “Alternative learning environments – DeKalb’s community likes having options for where to send children to school….”. So, DeKalb voted overwhelmingly to approve the Charter Amendment and has specifically told the district they want more options. OK.
The Usual Conversation
I was struck by this question asked by Dr. Morley, “If we are getting all this money for these students, why can’t we meet those needs?” That’s a terrific question and it took a charter petition for this question to be raised. Had the Tapestry petition not been presented, would anyone have asked about the effectiveness of our services and meeting students’ needs? I advise Dr. Morley to examine the various academic metrics to see that DeKalb has done a very poor job of meeting students needs. This charter school petition just inspired self-examination that may lead to improvements for students. Just think what potential innovations the actual school will generate.
Implicit in Dr. Morley’s question was the view that children produce a revenue stream. The usual questions were asked that imply that somehow approving a charter will hurt someone else. They fail to understand the concept of the balance sheet. While funding for the students in a charter would flow to that charter’s account, so do the liabilities for teaching that child. Yes, a district loses revenue but it also loses costs. In some cases the costs are greater than what the district is reimbursed, so it’s possible to be a net gain for the district. And the district should be happy to have a laboratory for innovation that could develop a way to deliver high quality services at lower costs. So why do district leaders not seem happy about this? Could it be because they are confused about what the mission of a school system is?
The next part of “the usual conversation” was to express concern over the quality of teachers that may be hired to teach at Tapestry. First, I invite you to read the bios of the founding board for Tapestry. Highlights from the bios are: 3 PhDs in psychology, Professor of Practice in the Department of Psychology and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory, a tenured professor from The University of West Georgia, an experienced fundraiser, a special education coordinator with a master’s in special education, a company president that holds a patent and specializes in complex project management, a cognitive therapist with advanced degrees, the founder of a foundation to raise autism awareness, a speech therapist, a CDC Branch Chief, 2 lawyers, a CPA, an assistant attorney general, an engineer entrepreneur, and a special education teacher. Oh, and by the way, they all have autistic children. Does anyone believe that they are going to hire or retain poor quality teachers?
Let’s also clear up admission (there was some confusion) into a charter school. The rules are outlined in O.C.G.A § 20-2-2066, “All such applicants shall have an equal chance of being admitted through a random selection process”. Unless the student is a sibling of an existing student or child of a member on the governing board, autistic children may not be given preferential enrollment over neurotypical students.
Laurence Warco, an attorney with SAB, accurately stated, “Most of the concerns raised here seem to be generally broad based, bigger policy issues rather than pointing out a specific thing in the petition. That doesn’t mean you can’t vote against it. The statute provides that it is your decision as a board member to decide whether or not you think this petition complies with the law and is in the public interest. That language is in the statute. If you don’t think it’s in the public interest to approve this, you are legally able to vote against it.”
All of the objections to approving this charter are distractions that don’t hold up to a review of the facts. The “public” in DeKalb have signaled with their vote in November and their voice during the last strategic planning sessions that they want choices. So, unless there is a serious flaw in this petition, the board should vote to approve this charter as it is clearly in the public’s interest.
Let’s hope the DeKalb Board approves this charter at their called board meeting tomorrow.

One response to “09/09/2013 – Tapestry Charter – DeKalb Schools Board Meeting

  1. Thanks for the post. I hadn’t heard of Tapestry before. It sounds amazing. Praying it goes forward, and i will let the school board members know I’m a fan as well. Yes, disappointing that the 2012 strategic plan and results from prior community engagement sessions are not being used well.