In April last year, Governor Deal signed the Opportunity School District(OSD) legislation to bring forth a referendum this November allowing the state to assume management and operations of failing schools. 24 of the 141 failing schools in the state are in DeKalb.
Almost half of Atlanta Public Schools(APS) have been identified as failing and are on the OSD list. Last August APS hired Erin Hames, the architect of Deal’s Opportunity School District, to advise the district on how to avoid losing schools to the OSD. Since then APS has decided to close, consolidate and bring in charters to operate many of the failing schools.
Last October, DeKalb’s superintendent presented his plan to address failing schools. The plan consists of professional learning, family engagement, wrap-around support and various other curriculum and organizational enhancements.
DeKalb’s Superintendent sent this op-ed out with the message, “Taking the OSD target off our back begins and ends with improving classroom instruction and outcomes.”
Op-Ed on Opportunity School District
Dr. Stephen Green
Superintendent, DeKalb County School District
A Constitutional amendment on the November ballot, if passed, would create a statewide Opportunity School District (OSD). The OSD would allow state authorities to take control of schools they determine to be underperforming.
They’ve targeted 24 educational institutions in the DeKalb County School District – schools deemed “failing” by the state, based on standardized testing.
Many of us here in the DeKalb District believe that standardized tests may not fairly take into account … or accurately measure … the extreme complexity of education and learning in a district like ours, with 135 schools and 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages.
Whatever the measure, at this time 24 DeKalb schools wear the OSD target on their backs … as do 30 Atlanta Public Schools. In Atlanta’s system, the possibility of OSD take-over spurred a major overhaul and restructuring. We hope it brings the desired results for young people in that system.
“I think efforts like the Atlanta public school system is making will indicate that their schools should be shielded if they are making progress and if they’re trying to make progress,” Governor Nathan Deal told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an article on March 4, 2016.
In DeKalb, we’re making progress too. But we’ve chosen a different approach.
We believe the answer to boosting performance lies in a most obvious place – the classroom. We see no single, magic answer … just a laser focus on raising the quality of instruction and learning.
We’ve already gone through our own restructuring, a result of the devastating impact of the Great Recession. Until 2013, the DeKalb district operated at a deficit. At one point, authorities placed us on probation, one step before losing accreditation.
Today, after much work, we have finances under control with fiscal integrity … and we can even point to a modest budget surplus. We have a solid plan and a commitment, though our system remains at a crucial stage of recovery, needing resources for aging classrooms, teacher pay, safety, and support services.
Why have we chosen our ‘best-of-class classrooms’ approach instead of closing schools and combining classrooms?
Our approach validates and affirms our confidence in our greatest educational asset – our DeKalb teachers and administrators. We strongly believe their abilities and talents will be what it takes to bring students to achievement levels that rip away the OSD target … and its stigma.
Our approach involves an inside-out … not outside-in … examination and action plan. The DNA of effective instruction begins inside the classroom. It takes rigor, relevance, and relationships … with relationships most important.
We’re counting on classroom relationships … and investing heavily in them … to turn around academic metrics. No outside agency, governmental or otherwise, can provide the care, nurturing, and emotional support needed to inspire our students to higher achievements. Only student relationships with superb teachers and principals can do that.
We see these relationships, this foundation, already firmly established in our most challenged schools.
We now will build on that foundation. To support our students and our strategy, we’ve taken a number of steps, and we’ve already seen quantifiable progress.
First, we partnered with the Georgia Department of Education and the Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency to help our system create leaders of teaching and learning. Our joint focus on making curriculum, instruction, assessment, and accountability the top priorities in DCSD can surely be considered a successful start for the improvements we need.
We created a tiered system to support principals in addressing critical issues that may arise in their schools. We support teachers and administrators in those schools with a strong, data-driven dashboard system that monitors student progress and performance. Think of it as a
‘scholastic stethoscope,’ closely examining every vital sign needed for growth and progress in student outcomes.
Since 2013, we’ve seen a 103-point increase in SAT scores. We’ve made a return to full accreditation too, and we’ve given across-the-board teacher and principal pay raises so that the talent in front of classrooms stays competitive with that in other metro Atlanta districts.
Since 2013, we’ve seen an 11-point increase in graduation rates. From 2014 to 2015 alone, we increased the high-school graduation rate from 62.6% to 70.9% – a strong one-year showing by any measure.
We shifted resources to support the 24 schools most challenged with academic achievement (and others), and we focused efforts on improving classroom attendance. We want to make sure that students get the full academic and social benefits of the classroom each day.
We can show progress in these and other ways. We also see challenges, however, that threaten the long-term success of our efforts.
First, we must retain qualified and effective teachers. To build the best schools, we need the best teachers. Our pay and incentive raises will help, but keeping and attracting great teachers takes a combination of compensation, benefits, and the support of our communities.
So that’s a second challenge – continuing to build partnerships among school leaders, teachers, students, and parents. Great education starts with engagement. Aligning the full energy and expectations of all the individuals who play roles in the education of a child gives us our best shot at creating a whole citizen for tomorrow.
Finally, we must maintain high expectations for student engagement and learning. There’s no substitute in education for holding kids accountable. And there’s nothing in education more valuable than learning that one reaches lofty goals through hard work.
We’re confident that our energetic and focused efforts to get schools off the “failing” list will be successful. Our own ambitious goals say it best:
• In 2016, the number of schools qualified as OSD-eligible will decrease … to zero.
• All targeted schools will meet state standards.
• Targeted high schools will have a graduation rate at or above the rest of the state.
Taking the OSD target off our back begins and ends with improving classroom instruction and outcomes.
Based on the progress our students are showing – their scholastic results, their engagement in our schools, and their growth as responsible and accountable individuals – we strongly believe that our “schools should be shielded,” in the words of Governor Deal, from OSD take-over.
We have taken a strong step in the right direction. Our progress will continue.
As I posted on the AJC Get Schooled blog about this OpEd>>
This is another disappointing laundry list of excuses with little substance and no specific action plan other than to have ‘laser’ focus on the classroom.. yada yada… this is why I quit writing my blog. The same old issues just won’t go away. I found I was rewriting things I had already written 2 and 3 times. For example – that word, “laserlike” makes me cringe. Dr. Lewis and Ramona Tyson both used that word and both failed miserably (and both are still pulling enormous paychecks from the system). Using this same tired, global verbiage shows that we may be in just another short round of rhetoric by a another short-lived superintendent.
Second, as someone already mentioned, the failing schools are not due to immigration and ‘language issues’ as many of our current leaders would like to use as an excuse. Yes, immigrants struggle with the language barrier to learning, but they actually manage to keep up and very often surpass our generational residents. Many of these issues lie in the family structure (single mothers who themselves are un- or under-educated) and a pervasive cycle of poverty. Those who are able, flee their neighborhood schools for transfers to better schools in the county (often losing their Title 1 funding, as those dollars do not follow the child.)
Read another old post if you are interested in the fact that over 3,000 students have transferred out of those failing schools in south DeKalb (yes, mostly district 5) – leaving their neighbors to deal with a school in an unstoppable downward spiral. Read about that data here >> http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/north-vs-central-vs-south-whats-deal.html
Unless you also address these issues, you will miss the mark. There is so much more to educating than just teaching. Our blogging group once composed what I found to be a timeless “2020 Vision” – which FWIW, is less than 4 years away. A few items have been addressed, but far too few, given the time and money spent. Read it here if you choose >> http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/2011/02/without-vision-people-perish.html
I just want to know how it is possible to teach a biology class with out one student ever staring down a microscope, no hands on dissection, no smell of formaldehyde. It just doesn’t make sense to have kids read an article, answer questions and do some ridiculous virtual experiment and call this a lab. There is something to be said for hands on learning. The kind that worked for many many years. Looks like virtual learning leads to uninformed children in this respect. How can it be that a child can make it out of a 9th grade high school Biology class and never touch a frog? How can a school’s microscopes all be broken? Amazing and sad.
Dr. Green’s Op-ed raises several concerns. He mentions the rise in SAT scores – it is easy to get a rise when the district required all juniors take the SAT in 2013. That caused a drop in scores – one needs to look further back to see if and how much our SAT scores have truly increaesed.
Dr. Green mentions restructuring. Other than adding a layer of executive directors and changing HR to Human Capitol, it is unclear what restructuring has been done. He has hired some additional staff but the staff they replaced, for the most part, remain. The same CFO, Chief of staff and COO remain that have at best been questionable in their ability to perform without controversy. Can you shed more light on restructuring?
I am baffled by Dr. Green’s comments that classroom relationships are critical and that progress has been made when I read the report about the excessive out of school and in school suspensions – it doesn’t sound like those classroom relationships are working very well. In addition, he mentions the progress students are making in their engagement in our schools and their growth as responsible, accountable individuals – what metric is he using to make that statement? The OSS and ISS facts seem to contradict those statements.
Dr. Green also mentions his confidence in our system’s administrators and teachers. We have many strong teachers and a few strong administrators but again, the OSS and ISS data would suggest we have many weak building leaders which has been an ongoing concern among stakeholders for years. What is being put in place to build excellent leaders – the “new principal training” that’s been used in recent years has not yielded the hoped for results. What metrics are used to determine their leaderships abilities? Are there 360 evaluations done at the local schools, CCRPI data, professional standards eval tools, etc? How many principals and APs does our district have on PDPs? What is the “tiered system” Dr. Green references as a support to building leaders and what is the “data drive dashboard system” – what should school councils be seeing with the tiered and data driven dashboard?
As Cere says, it’s a lot of words that sound good but we’ve heard them for years and there are not many specifics.
Whatever, What do your school council, principal and science department have to say about hands on vs virtual biology?
I can’t speak for Dr. Green, but I can provide you with some data points. He speaks regularly with the public. If you want to know why he said these things you should go to one of those events and ask him.
SAT – Here are the SAT scores dating back to 2013
ReOrg – Here’s my latest ReOrganization Update. People like Thurmond, Ramsey and Thompson are gone. People like Ward-Smith, Boza and Beasley have been moved out of central administration decision making. There have been numerous comments on this blog about Williams and Bell. I encourage Dr. Green to get the right people on the bus so to speak.
Oliver Lewis is our new Executive Director of Professional Learning, Leadership Development, and STEM Program, Curriculum & Instruction. He hasn’t been here very long, but those questions should go to him.
Thanks for the SAT score data. I looked at 2013 and 2015. When you total the 22 schools for 2013, you get 28,741. Divide by 22 and the average SAT score is 1306.4. When you do the same for 2015, the total is 28,684. Divide by 22 and the average SAT score is 1303.8. Dr. Green appears to be incorrect in stating that the SAT scores have gone up. If he was given this information by his staff, he may want to speak with them about providing him with accurate facts so he doesn’t look bad.
I hope Dr. Green will heed your advice to get the right people on the bus. There is a reason Williams, Bell and Tyson appear regularly. Hopefully Dr. Green will figure that out sooner rather than later. As for Dr. Boza – he was a scapegoat just like Perrone and Howe. None of them were allowed to do their job – they were all told what to do.
Reviewing your reorg update, I do not actually see any reorganization – I see some new names in positions that already existed and I see another new middle layer of management has been created (exec. directors) that adds a layer between the schoolhouse and central office rather than streamline it. I’m impressed with the new legal and charter governance staff. As for Oliver Lewis, he has been in DCSD since 1993, is rumored to be related to Crawford, his wife is principal at Briarlake and he was the director of professional development before becoming the exec. director of professional learning.
I appreciate the information about meetings with Dr. Green and hope to attend some of them. However, it seems many of these questions should be questions the BOE has already asked or should be asking when he makes these statements in the media and when he presents individuals for hire and thus be able to provide answers to constituents.
I am one who has been sharply critical of the Dekalb County School System in the past, especially during the time immediately preceding the near loss of our accreditation, the school board at that time, and the last four superintendents. I’ve been very troubled by excessive legal expenses, outright hostility between teachers and administrators, by student performance in the classroom, by the actions of a dominant administration to impose its thoughts and actions on the very residents they were supposed to serve, and by the endless drumbeat of negative reports by the Atlanta news media and the embarrassment those reports caused all of us living in Dekalb County. I was concerned about the growing hostility between the school system and the community. I was also very concerned about the process followed by the school board to select the most recent superintendent. But Dr. Green was chosen and whether that was a good or not-so-good choice remains to be seen.
I am encouraged that he has taken some steps that have long needed to be taken. Perhaps the biggest step that he has taken is to replace the leadership of Human Resources. He has also made leadership changes in some other key departments that also needed to be made. He is addressing the awful conditions in Cross Keys. When he first came on board, I decided that I would support him for at least one year and I am going to stick with that. I am in favor of giving him the ball, letting him run with it, and seeing whether he scores or not. For now, he is running.
AB, As far as SAT and graduation rates go, while easily credited to logistics and not academic achievement, at least the Superintendent was accurate. As I explained in this CBS 5 interview while graduation rates are up, we should not strain our arms patting ourselves on the back. In my post on 2015 Graduation Rates I said, “There is no doubt, the biggest reason for the significant increase in the graduation rate is social promotion combined with the elimination of the GHSGT (Georgia High School Graduation Test).”
I’m not the Press Secretary for the Superintendent or the administration, so I don’t speak for or defend what he says. But, I can give you my thoughts and take the administration to task on these things when I can. I won’t have another meeting with him until April. I think the best course of action is for you to ask him directly. Just the other day he was at Dunwoody High School with what seemed like the entire central office. He and his staff were ready to have one on one conversations or group conversations and go into great detail about whatever people wanted to talk about.
Superintendent Evaluations – I’m glad you brought up evaluations. The chair met with the Superintendent when he came on board and setup preliminary first year goals. The next step in the process is to have board created and approved goals which should be completed by June. I will try to do a post on status and direction of the superintendent evaluations.
HR – The board has one employee and we hired that one employee last year. I feel your pain with getting the right people in the right positions. It’s been a long time coming and I would like it done yesterday, however the role board members play in HR decisions is limited by state law and SACS. Also, Dr. Green has only been here 8 months and it’s challenging to find and hire the right people mid year.
The graduation rates may be up (and could be the result of reasons such as you suggest rather than true growth) but Dr. Green is not accurate in his statement about the SAT growth as I proved with the data you provided – those are slightly down between 2013 & 2015.
Related to evaluations: can you explain the reason only the Board chair worked to develop preliminary first year goals. I’m pretty sure the community expected their elected reps to participate in establishing the expectations for the first year for the superintendent just as we expect our aboard member to be an active participant in BOE operations. Did the BOES vote on the first year goals and is there a list of those goals posted some where for the public to evaluate first year success? In the past, when Lewis was the superintendent, an outside agency was hired to perform 360 evals on the superintendent. I would urge the BOE to do that going forward with Dr. Green as well as to set measurable goals for him that are published for the public to see. After all, it is their money paying his salary.
It is challenging to find the right people mid-year. We will be watching to see what his cabinet looks like July 1. Hopefully the wrong people will be gone and new people will be sitting at his right hand.
Superintendent’s Evaluation Process – To be exact, Dr. Melvin Johnson, Chair of DCSD BOE, worked with Dr. Sheneka Williams, an independent consultant, back in July ’15 when the Superintendent started to help the Superintendent with his goals for the 2015-16 school year. Dr. Williams also setup the process for the board to create goals for the Superintendent.
The next steps of the evaluation process : The superintendent and board will agree on conditions of the evaluation, including refinement of the timeline, goals, evidence (data), and documentation necessary to demonstrate the superintendent’s proficiency or lack thereof. Once there is agreement between the superintendent and the board, then the remaining steps will occur. All steps of the evaluation process are to be completed by June 30, 2016.
This is disturbing if I understand you correctly. The BOE did not set goals and expectations for their one employee for his first year? Do you have a copy of the goals/expectations he set with Dr. Johnson and the consultant? If so, would you please post them? Were measurable goals identified? The district has a history of developing goals with no measurable indicators.
In the July-August time period, the Superintendent is supposed to come to the board with their goals for the year. The board and superintendent are supposed to come to a consensus on the goals and action steps toward accomplishing those goals.
I’ve been working on a few posts regarding the Superintendent’s personal goals, the process and where we are now. I’ll try and get those out over the next few days.