Most school chiefs dodge Opportunity School District debate. Not Steve Green of DeKalb. Calls it predatory politics.

Steve Green of DeKalb says the Opportunity School District is a similar power grab to what he faced in Missouri, which consisted of “powerful, ambitious officials exploiting a political situation rather than working with local school systems to address root causes of underachievement and provide what schools needed to succeed.”

Very few district superintendents have attacked Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, following the example of Gwinnett school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks.

Last week, Wilbanks said while he has an opinion on the contentious referendum that would award the governor the power to take over schools deemed failing, he wasn’t going to discuss it.

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green is breaking from the pack, issuing a strong denouncement of the plan and citing his own battle with a similar takeover effort in Kansas City.

 By Steve Green

Been there, fought that … and won: Why the attempted state takeover of public schools is personal for me.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again now: I am opposed to any state takeover of local schools no matter what it is called.

For me, the state of Georgia’s effort to take control of 26 DeKalb County schools … and schools elsewhere … is déjà vu all over again.

When I became superintendent of the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools in 2011, my team and I found ourselves in a desperate fight for survival and for control of public education. An appointed Missouri state employee was attempting to take over the school system under a conspiratorial smokescreen – by creating a special statewide district for low-performing schools.

Sound familiar?

In Georgia, the state wants control of schools it has stigmatized as “failing,” based on standardized testing. This takeover effort comes despite strong evidence that standardized tests can’t fairly take into account … or accurately measure … the extreme complexity of teaching and learning in a district like DeKalb County, with 135 schools and 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages.

We fought … and won … the battle to keep schools in Kansas City under control of parents and professional educators and out of the hands of politicians. I am probably the only school superintendent in the state of Georgia to lead a system through this unique experience. Key members of today’s DeKalb schools leadership team also worked beside me in Kansas City. These academic professionals are battle-tested in holding onto local control of schools.

Striking parallels can be seen between the struggle in Missouri and ours in Georgia.

The real issue in Kansas City involved powerful, ambitious officials exploiting a political situation rather than working with local school systems to address root causes of underachievement and provide what schools needed to succeed.

It was ruthless aggression – like predator and prey. A rapacious state political system wanted to take over the weakest, most vulnerable schools.

Georgia feels painfully similar. We see racial, socio-economic, and political parallels. The names are different, and the titles of the people who want to take over are different, but the goal is still the same – seize local control of public education.

The Missouri Education Commissioner attempted her takeover as soon as my predecessor left the superintendent’s post. This predatory commissioner perceived me, my team (the cabinet, principals, and teachers), and the school board as new and vulnerable. The state considered inconsequential the positions of parents, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, and other organizations knowledgeable on the advantages of local school control.

Still, we fought the takeover.

We knew how high the stakes were. We’d seen the failed results of state takeovers of local schools in New Orleans and Memphis.  (After being unable to take over schools in Kansas City, the Missouri commissioner did manage to take over the school system in nearby Normandy. That state-controlled education experiment failed miserably – students performed more poorly under the state regimen than under local control.) It was also abundantly clear to us that too much power and secrecy concentrated in the hands of a detached, uninformed, faceless state bureaucracy would ultimately fail students, schools, and society.

Media investigated the Missouri state takeover effort. They found hidden plans and bid-rigging concerns in state dealings with schools. The Missouri Education Commissioner eventually retired, suddenly and sensationally, following a scandal that involved a contract to overhaul public schools.

Local control doesn’t mean loss of quality. In Kansas City, all we needed to fix our problems was time and the support of our stakeholders. Within two years, our district score jumped from 22.5 to 84 points on the Missouri Annual Performance Report, with the highest statewide gains in college/career readiness, attendance rates, and graduation rates. Our overall academic achievement rose nearly 43 percent. The following year, our Missouri Annual Performance Report scores soared even higher – to 94.5 points. We shed the shackle of being unaccredited, and we regained respect.

This progress came by design – our team made strategic, systematic, intentional, student-by-student improvements. The key? We built a foundation of trust and a sense of purpose among parents, school leaders, teachers, and the community.

Here in DeKalb, our own progress in just two years using this same model has already earned national and international attention. Of the specific 26 DeKalb schools targeted for takeover, 15 are within five points of the 60-point threshold. Ten others need more intensive support, and we’ve launched strong remedial measures. In all schools, we’re laser-focused on the classroom experience, where any lasting improvement in education must start.

There are no quick fixes, no short cuts. Turning around schools takes deep, hard, intimate work. It means fighting poverty and all that it brings. It means helping new arrivals to our country anchor lives and hopes to our communities and country. It means giving special needs and pre-school students and others among our most vulnerable the schooling, security, and stability that allows them to be their best.

That’s the kind of work going on right now with our most challenged schools and at others all through our system.

We stand for something in DeKalb County – education with rigor, relevance, and relationships. Our goal is nothing less than to be recognized nationally for academic excellence and for world-class service to kids, caregivers, and communities.

In my opinion, you’ll look far and wide before you find a politician in Georgia who goes to bed at night and gets out of bed in the morning with this same ambitious goal.

In DeKalb, we have 15,000 teachers and staff who work 365 days a year to reach our goal of excellence. We are professional educators … not predatory politicians.

Who do you want teaching and looking out for our children?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The current state run schools - The State Charter Commision schools are mostly failing or close to it. If the OSD had a plan, they would use it on the state run charter schools. Instead they hide the OSD style state charter system spending from the public while the state run schools continue to fail.

Starik
Starik

How about local control for north DeKalb? 

Chanda RobertsWhite
Chanda RobertsWhite

I see a job opening in DeKalb coming in the next 18 months. How dare he speak vocally about the corrupt creation called OSD. Schools just decided to change to IE2, traditional or charter districts, but the governor is STILL pushing for this new change.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

A couple of things ...


1.  Take a close look at HIS WORDS:  ..."my team and I found ourselves in a desperate fight for survival and for control of public education."  


Therein lies the issue - the focus on CONTROL rather than STUDENT OUTCOMES. 



2.  Here's an article:  http://www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Kansas-City-Schools-Avoid-Takeover-7351174.php


Note that the Kansas City Schools AVOIDED takeover by getting their acts together and making academic gains.  One would hope every district would do so, and thus, takeover by the OCD would be a moot point.


3.  He's the leader of DeKalb County. Yes, you have 102 schools, but that is what you wanted .... you avoided alternative opportunities to engage parents and to change school structures, etc. to better meet the needs of the communities and to provide local school governance (Druid Hills Cluster comes to mind), so you can't now complain that its "too complicated."  


Address the issue, educate the kids, and takeover is a non-issue.

Astropig
Astropig

"When I became superintendent of the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools "...


Yep, fighting for "local control" by roaming the countryside looking for high paying education jobs. You can't make this stuff up.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Astropig Yep, keep that head down and buried in the slop trough and never mind the reality swirling about.


(A recent visit to my hometown reminded me of when, as a youngster, slopping the hogs was a chore of mine.)

scrappy-22
scrappy-22

Bravo & Spot on!  Hope this gets read by many, and changes votes. 

Local control should not be given away to the state, especially with no plans, no oversight, and no accountability. 

These 'opportunity school districts' have not been proven effective in other locations, there is no reason to believe they will be good for GA. 

This is a blatant grab for power and money, which will unfortunately likely pass due to the 'conservatives' in this state that rubber stamp anything the GOP dominated legislature does. 

Hey 'conservatives' - how do you justify this with the belief of a limited & fiscally responsible government when this is neither? 

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@scrappy-22


How do you define "local control?"  Let me point a few things out and see if we're on the same page with our understanding...


First, our General Assembly is LOCALLY ELECTED.  You have individuals sitting there representing you and approving enabling legislation and laws related to schools.  


Secondly, you have a direct vote in who our governor is, and that man is Mr. Deal.  Our state school board is appointed by our elected governor, and they make all decisions regarding education in our state, and yet, no one is fussing about their decision making impacting tens of thousands of students, and if we did, we should lobby our General Assembly to change the law.


You have a locally elected district board of education (who, by the way, has little to no requirements for qualifications for running a multi million dollar public enterprise) who APPOINTS a superintendent, just like the governor will APPOINT an OCD superintendent to oversee achievement.


Most importantly, if the state takes the schools over and turns them into charters, by law, the governing board will be LOCAL boards of parents and community members.  


I guess I don't understanding your argument.  Can you please explain?

newsphile
newsphile

@CharterStarter_Too @scrappy-22   Only a couple of local people must serve on the board of a for-profit charter school and they don't have to be actively involved in the process.  It's a "lend us your name" in a for-profit managed charter school with which I am familiar. 

Bob Fuse
Bob Fuse

...I could have freed a thousand more if they knew they were slaves...Tubman.

BleachBit
BleachBit

Article after article after article being run here in opposition to education reform. Parents meanwhile are being ignored.

But the Opportunity School District will pass and these ineffective time-clock punchers will finally be swept out.

BleachBit
BleachBit

@ErnestB 

The National PTA leadership is in the pocket of the unions.

And what a joke it is to hear "accountability" talked about by the anti-reform crowd. Their opposition to testing and to holding schools accountable for poor test results is at the very heart of the issue.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@redweather @ErnestB @BleachBit


I don't understand your point.  We are all held to the same standards for achievement.  The schools he seeks to take over are PERPETUALLY FAILING schools.  Why would anyone want to allow students to continue to fail - whatever district they are from.


The state has a Constitutional mandate to provide an "adequate public education."  If they continue to allow failure, they are not meeting their Constitutional mandate.  Education levels drastically impact both local and state economics as well.  The state NEEDS to do something to get these districts off their duffs to do some actual reform (like APS is attempting and hopefully will succeed in doing).

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@CharterStarter_Too 

The State Charter School Commision has a state run failing school system that hides it's spending from the taxpayer. You must stand to profit if you want the OSD to pass. If not, please explain the plan, and please don't say "more state run failing charter schools that hide their spending".

ErnestB
ErnestB

@BleachBit

How are parents being ignored?  The Georgia PTA Leadership has come out against the OSD.  At least two statewide teacher's organizations (that include many parents) have come out against the OSD.  I agree it will be hard to defeat because of the way the ballot language is written and it will probably be at the end of the ballot. I think that as more citizens grasp that this is a 'tax grab' by the governor to redistribute tax dollars with little accountability and oversight, more will come out against this.  It will be a challenge to make a real impact over and above what has already been done without addressing the communities that some of these schools are located in.

Dr. Green should be applauded for providing this op ed piece.  He is the only employee of the DeKalb School Board (which recently came out with a resolution against the OSD) yet still felt it would be helpful to provide additional insight from his personal experiences.  I hope he doesn’t' get any repercussions for providing this perspective.

redweather
redweather

@ErnestB @BleachBit One way parents are being if not ignored at least minimized at the local level is that they are up against a statewide constitutional amendment. Why, for example, should voters in Camden County have a say in how the schools in Union County are run? The only way this makes sense is if you view schools from one end of the state to the other as identical and interchangeable. I'm afraid that's how the governor sees local public schools.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@redweather @CharterStarter_Too @ErnestB @BleachBit


And there's the first assumption that is erroenous, that Deal's goal is hiring companies to do this.  If the schools go charter, a local charter school board (by law) will be will make a decision about use of a management company or not.  The governor has no power to do this himself.  We have very few EMOs in this state, mainly because the state charter division requires autonomy by the boards and is tough on the management companies.  Any that actually ended up hired would be held to a high bar.  

Dianne Medlock Joy
Dianne Medlock Joy

Great editorial by Dr. Green. It takes courage to speak up like he did. His credibility goes to his going down this path before and seeing how it did NOT work.