DeKalb school chief: Our progress will save us from state takeover

Dr. Steve Green says DeKalb welcomes a partnership with the governor to improve struggling schools.

Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District face the greatest risk of losing schools to Gov. Nathan Deal’s state takeover district, which voters have to approve in November as it requires a constitutional change. The affable wording of the amendment assures passage.

Based on Deal’s inspiration, the New Orleans Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District, urban schools are more likely to be taken over because they allow coordination and maximizing of resources, oversight and staffing.

While Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has attempted to beat the state to the punch by hiring charter operators to take over some of her failing schools, DeKalb is taking a different tack to counter the threat of the Opportunity School District.

Here is how DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green intends to ward off state takeover.

 By Dr. Steve Green

A constitutional amendment on the November ballot, if passed, would create a statewide Opportunity School District. 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 in the DeKalb District believe 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,” Gov. Nathan Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.

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.

Progress? Absolutely.

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 Gov. Deal, from OSD takeover.

We have taken a strong step in the right direction.  Our progress will continue.

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
Cere
Cere

"Our progress will save us from state takeover." This is known as "magical thinking". Google it.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Shall the U.S. constitution be amended to allow the President to take over the schools in states that the congress determines to be failing states?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

One thing I will say about Dekalb--they seem to be looking for real, long-term solutions, unlike APS which seems to want to paper over their problems by closing schools and diluting poor schools with higher-acheiving students, plus passing the bucks (literally) to charter entities.  Does anyone really think the Drew Experience can be replicated here?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

What APS is proposing might be called window dressing.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

(1) "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."


(2) "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."


(3) "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."


(4) "Finally, we must maintain high expectations for student engagement and learning."


"We have taken a strong step in the right direction.  Our progress will continue."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Dr. Green, I have no doubt, whatsoever, that with the follow-through of your total plan - especially the four points which I have highlighted above - the DeKalb County School System has "taken a strong step in the right direction" and that your "progress will continue."   Moreover, because of your model and commitment, I believe that the DCSS will not only free itself from state takeover status, but will become - once again - the model school system for the state of Georgia. Having been a teacher and instructional leader within the DCSS for 29 years before my retirement, I was impressed, from the beginning, with the choice of you for the present DCSS's Superintendent  of Schools.


The DeKalb School System, by being successful with this educational model, may become the savior of public education in Georgia, and, thus, throughout our nation.  I shall be watching how your model unfolds in time and how accepting Georgia's leaders will be to an excellent instructional/community model, such as yours.  Thank you very much for your vision and commitment to the children of the DCSS, the children of Georgia, and to public education, itself.

Cere
Cere

@MaryElizabethSings "The DeKalb School System, by being successful with this educational model, may become the savior of public education in Georgia, and, thus, throughout our nation."

Wow. Really? [No. This is deluded.]

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Talk is cheap. Let's see what DCSS is like in five years. Of course, by then Dr. Green will be long gone to his next post up the Ed Biz career ladder.

Starik
Starik

Segregated schools can't be quality schools - see Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. DeKalb is now a segregated system.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

He got in a nice little dig at Meria!

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@Wascatlady In Dekalb, the individual schools exist to support the Central Office and its agenda.  There is a big bureaucracy protecting the Superintendent from having to be accountable for individual schools.


In Gwinnett, the Central Office exists to support the individual schools.  There is minimal bureaucracy separating the Superintendent.  If (God forbid) something horrible ever happens at a Gwinnett school, the community is going to hold Wilbanks accountable for it... and I think he knows that.


Carstarphen is taking Dekalb's model up to another level.  Instead of having a big central office to protect her from what goes down at Atlanta's poorly performing schools, she also will have multiple organizations (charter operators) between her and the individual schools.  If the charters do well, she gets credit.  If the charters fail, she gets to blame the charter operator(s) while keeping her job and reputation.  

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@dsw2contributor @Wascatlady

“Instead of having a big central office to protect her from what goes down at Atlanta's poorly performing schools, [Carstarphen] also will have multiple organizations (charter operators) between her and the individual schools.  If the charters do well, she gets credit.  If the charters fail, she gets to blame the charter operator(s) while keeping her job and reputation.”

This nicely captures with in Systems Thinking is called “Shifting the Burden.”  Where Carstarphen in Atlanta will or has shifted the burden to charter operators and other outside entities to impose symptomatic solutions, Dr. Green in DeKalb proposes that DeKalb be transformed to allow fundamental solutions to emerge, or come forth.

Thus Carstarphen’s way is but a way to reinvent status quo all over again, a way to perpetuate needing to come up with ever more symptomatic solutions.  She, of course, believes otherwise, which is understandable because her actions so clearly demonstrate her competence is limited to a transactional style of leadership that is inherently mechanistic and reeks with grandiosity.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I sure hope that Dr. Green's prediction proves to be correct about the DeKalb schools.

Astropig
Astropig

Kudos to Dr. Green, the state legislature and  Governor Deal for effecting a bipartisan approach to fix failing schools.Big shout out to the voters that will empower the amendment that will make it happen.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig Just FYI - the Republicans in power seem to be afraid of ballot clarity and integrity, and you have several times stated that the voters really know what will happen, so they have blocked a truth in advertising measure to fix the OSD ballot language. What voters really are voting on should say:

( ) Yes Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an

( ) No  appointee of the Governor to take over local school operation,

    buildings, and control of all federal, state, and local funding if a

     school has low scores on standardized tests for any other reason a

     future legislature may allow?"

Why are they afraid of putting this language on the ballot? Heck, a future legislature could state that the “failing” threshold is anything less than 90 on CCRPI, or any school that allows a student to be retained for failing a class, or a school that isn’t painted blue on the outside, or any school that enrolls a child of Astropig. Voters need to be informed, and the General Assembly is being sly trying to get this horrible language – especially the confiscation of local tax dollars for the purpose of running a state-wide district. I live in DeKalb. My local schools aren’t on the governor’s naughty list, but my tax dollars are at risk. That is not the way things are supposed to be.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s

read my response to Legong.... I will not say something doesn't need to be done, but this is not the right thing.


dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s I will. You should too. Get us reform that actually works. I'll even help you figure that out. Something does need to be done, but seeing how the process has worked in 3 other states should leave you scared to vote yes.

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


Here's another thought-The proposed targets of the OSD agree that their schools are not getting the job done and are implementing the reforms needed while there is still a little time left.If this is such a non-starter,why haven't they just ignored the problem? (they're usually pretty good at that).


Simple-they know that the voters and parents are fed up.Even if excuses and rationalizations worked in the past,they won't work now.You're seeing the bipartisan consensus for change that everyone loves in the abstract,but doesn't like when they're on the losing side. You've got 242 days,11 hours and 30 minutes to change people's minds about this, so you better get cracking.

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


"What voters really are voting on should say:

( ) Yes Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an

( ) No appointee of the Governor to take over local school operation,

  buildings, and control of all federal, state, and local funding if a

     school has low scores on standardized tests for any other reason a

     future legislature may allow?"


"Why are they afraid of putting this language on the ballot? "




Because it makes absolutely no sense,is couched in incomplete sentence fragments and appears to have been written by someone that speaks english as a third or fourth language.


Other than that, it's fine.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s That was the copy and paste. Since you couldn't put it together, I will....

"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow an appointee of the governor to take over local school operation, buildings, and control of all federal, state and local funding if a school has low scores on standardized tests or for any other reason a future legislature may allow?"


Again, truth in advertising. That is what the actual proposed amendment is saying, not "intervene."

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


But the proposed amendment doesn't say that.It says what it says.If Democrats don't like the wording,maybe they'll run some candidates in the future that will word it the way they wish.I like the wording just fine.This is just sour grapes because the status quo can't win on the merits of this issue.They have to tell voters how stupid they are for wanting what they want.


Again- you don't like the wording? Vote no and try to make your case to the public at large.Maybe you'll convince taxpayers to vote for keeping poor kids in failing schools.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s I don't like being lied to and misled by the General Assembly. You haven't answered my question - if the writers of the OSD are truly in favor of it, why did they have to write the ballot language the way that they did? 


And actually.... the real amendment does say this.... (copied directly from the actual legislation)


Paragraph VIII. Opportunity School District. Notwithstanding the provisions of Paragraph II of this section, the General Assembly may provide by general law for the creation of an Opportunity School District and authorize the state to assume the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which have been determined to be failing through any governance model allowed by law. Such authorization shall include the power to receive, control, and expend state, federal, and local funds appropriated for schools under the current or prior supervision, management, or operation of the Opportunity School District, all in the manner provided by and in accordance with general law." 


SECTION 2. The above proposed amendment to the Constitution shall be published and submitted as provided in Article X, Section I, Paragraph II of the Constitution. The ballot submitting the above proposed amendment shall have written or printed thereon the following:  "

( ) YES 

( ) NO

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?" All persons desiring to vote in favor of ratifying the proposed amendment 



So, the ballot language and amendment are very different things. If you don't believe me, feel free to check out the legislation yourself: http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20152016/SR/287  


Your General Assembly is deceiving you.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Astropig @dg417s


While I don't disagree with the concept of education reform, anything done without also providing assistance to the community will be doomed to fail.  Over 95% of the students at McNair Discovery Academy are on free or reduced lunch.  Using that as an indicator for possible poverty, family structure, and household employment in the community, how will this reform help the children and their families when the children are not in school?

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


The General Assembly is the peoples representative body. Vote them out if you don't like them.I'm voting for the amendment and a LOT of my fellow Georgians will join me.I'll put you down as a no vote and try to convince my neighbors that are persuadable.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @dg417s

And one other thought.... Looking at the list, there are schools in Dublin, Randolph County, Talbot, Sumter, Colquitt, Twiggs, Taliaferro, Macon Counties.... Why do I feel that not a single one of these schools will actually be taken over - oh wait.... there's no money. This amendment is not about the children. It just isn't. It's about controlling money - and taking my local tax dollars and giving them to someone who is not accountable to me. That is just not the American way.

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s @Astropig


I.Don't. Care... If the voters think that they are getting free beer for voting yes.These kids need help and it was never going to happen with the status quo blocking needed reforms.Voters are smarter than you appear to believe.


It should be embarrassing to the status quo that voters trust the governor and the legislature more to fix things than the people in there now.

Legong
Legong

Parents and other voters will approve the Opportunity School District in November not because of ballot wording, as you suggest ... but because they know that needed education reform will otherwise not occur.

Astropig
Astropig

@Legong


I think that its a little simplistic (and lacking nuance) to just assume that every voter that approves is a dunce that doesn't know any better.Of course, that attitude is why we need this amendment anyway.

dg417s
dg417s

@Legong Again I ask you - is the state that is currently 48th in the nation really the best supervisor of schools? This method of "reform" is on the verge of being shut down in Tennessee, and has failed miserably in Louisiana and Michigan. I'm not saying we don't need change, but you're wrong if you think that this is the method that will solve the problems we're facing.... and just "trying something" (especially this something that has proven not to work) isn't fair to the children.  If we work to strengthen the communities, we'll solve the issue.

Legong
Legong

@dg417s @Legong 

Can school districts which have failed to find answers for half a century really be expected to find them now?

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

"Many of us in the DeKalb District believe 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."


Mr. Green, with all due respect, that sentence is complete crap.


The children from 180 nations speaking 144 languages are NOT ATTENDING YOUR FAILING SCHOOLS.


Your problem is Region 5.  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF DEKALB's REGION 5 SCHOOLS ARE FAILING.


Here are last year's  College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI scores for REGION 5 SCHOOLS:


Cedar Grove HS     61.6

Cedar Grove MS     54.3

Cedar Grove ES     57.5

Oak View ES        51.0


Columbia HS        55.8

Columbia MS        62

Columbia ES        49.1

Snapfinger ES      55.7

Toney ES           47.5


McNair HS        43.9

McNair MS        45.5

Clifton ES       46.2

Flat Shoals ES   49.5

Kelley Lake ES   55.4

Meadowview ES        52.9

McNair ES Dis. Ac.   42.2


Towers HS    55.8

Bethune MS    53.5

Canby Lane ES    47.4

Knollwood ES    53.8

Midway ES    47.4

Rowland ES    52.8


Region 5 is twenty of your twenty-four failing schools.   


FIX REGION 5 AND YOU WILL FIX DEKALB SCHOOLS.


dg417s
dg417s

@dsw2contributor Just a small thought - what if the group that was going to charter the East Atlanta charter school that was denied invested their time and effort and enrolled their children in their zoned school (I believe it's McNair Discovery Learning Academy).... I would bet my livelihood that McNair DLA would suddenly be a successful school because the community around it would be successful. The schools aren't the problem - look at region 5.... high rates of transient students, high rates of poverty, lower parental involvement. If we work on fixing the community, that will solve the problem.

NikoleA
NikoleA

@dg417s @dsw2contributor This region has the highest rate of homelessness, students that have experienced severe traumas and lack stability in their personal lives. You can't learn if your essential needs aren't met.Community schools with wrap-around services are the answer in communities like this. Now will the Governor pay for that?

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@dg417s @dsw2contributor Transient students, poverty and lower parental involvement are NOT Region 5's problem.


There are schools in Dekalb's other four regions that have the same problems but are not failing.