DeKalb school chief: With defeat of Opportunity School District, let’s work on real problems

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

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green discusses the emphatic voter rejection of Gov. Nathan Deal’s state takeover plan and what needs to happen now to help struggling schools.

By Steve Green

The people spoke. Loud. Clear. Overwhelmingly.

Georgians want schools focused on partnership, not politics.

The emphatic rejection of a state-sponsored school takeover plan leaves no doubt that Georgia citizens want schools to remain locally controlled, with the partnership of all stakeholders – teacher and administrator, parent and caretaker, community and commercial enterprise.

It was gratifying to see voters show confidence in the efforts of local school districts. We are thankful for such good faith, and we’ll work tirelessly to keep earning that trust.

With a divisive political issue behind us, it’s now time for Georgia leaders to address the real problems that stand in the schoolhouse door: Poverty. Broken homes. Discrimination. Unemployment. The usual socioeconomic suspects.

The negative impact of poverty on education is hardly breaking news. Study after study shows the connections between social issues and student performance.

We invite … better said, we welcome … Gov. Nathan Deal, with state and federal governments and other parties of interest to join us at this point of common understanding. In partnership, we can now help school families overcome the real barriers to effective education. It’s time to bring together resources … and resourceful collaboration … to support socioeconomic improvements that boost schools and students.

Last May, I met with Gov. Deal and his staff, and I felt a willingness from the governor to consider added assistance. We discussed big-picture problems, including constant challenges to school families that must be solved if students hope to have a fighting chance in the classroom.

Here’s one example of the challenges school families face: The DeKalb County Watershed Department recently cut off water to an apartment complex (Creekside Forest Apartments) that chronically rated below health code. This action forced evacuations and disrupted the lives of dozens of school children and their families. Our school district mobilized resources to support these students … first working to simply keep up with them, then laboring for days to set up safe transportation so they could continue studies at their home schools.

Problems like these happen outside the classroom … but they have everything to do with student success inside the classroom. With 135 schools and 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages, our district deals with extracurricular problems constantly. To help school families with socioeconomic problems, we simply need more social support services – “wrap-around services” – encompassing everything from basic transportation to family counseling.

Why? The connection between good family situations and good test scores is undeniable.

During its takeover campaign, the state labeled as 26 DeKalb schools as “failing,” based on standardized test scores … tests that will never be able to fairly take into account or accurately measure the unbelievable complexity of education and learning in a district like ours.

Even so, we are clearly on a path of improvement and success. Of the 26 schools, 15 now test within five points of being removed from the target list. We allocated $6.9 million last year and $2 million this year to schools most at risk, with funding now focused on the 10 lowest-testing ones. (We call these Horizon schools, not ‘failing’ schools.) Our turnaround model is based on successful experiences in Kansas City and New York City.

The key elements in our transformation? Rigor, relevance, and relationships – especially the relationships with parents and caregivers. Teachers and principals may come and go, but relationships with parents and community stand in stone.

I am hopeful that contentious situations will now give way to collaborations. Again, we welcome a partnership with our governor, state and federal governments, and other organizations to strengthen our schools by strengthening our school families.

We have a long way to go. The work is ongoing and deep. This is transformation, not transition. Results won’t be immediate, and anything that disrupts our focus – like school take-over legislation – affects the morale of students, parents, and our valued teachers.

Still, as we partner to get this right, DeKalb County School District and the state of Georgia can stand as a national example for how to transform low-testing schools … and fulfil the potential of every child attending one.

Reader Comments 0

25 comments
kaelyn
kaelyn

Bull dookey! As an actually real life, FED UP DeKalb parent, this piece is just another regurgitation of the county's "necessary talking points."

Rigor? On the football field or basketball court, but certainly not in most classrooms. With the exception of the kids in AP/STEM/IB classes, rigor doesn't exist. Need proof? Compare grades to EOC results. Who gets an A in the class, but can't get a 70 on a basic exam that covers the same material?

Relevance? Nowhere in his piece did Dr. Green mention discipline. Yes, let's continue to dance around the real issue of lowering behavioral standards so the numbers look good. The result is the majority of kids who want to learn are stuck in schools with kids who disrupt learning and wreak havoc in classrooms. That's not relevant?

Relationships with parents? Please. While my sister's school in another county is busy writing thank you letters to parents who raised money for subsidized SAT prep, my DeKalb school turns away parent volunteers because they're not organized enough to know what to do with them.

DeKalb doesn't need to partner with the governor. They need some common sense people leading their schools.

insideview
insideview

@starik you don't work in Dekalb. Ask any teacher. It's all for show.

Starik
Starik

@insideview "With the exception of the kids in AP/STEM/IB classes, rigor doesn't exist" What makes you think there's rigor in these classes?  They're harder than regular classes, but what percentages of these kids pass, for example AP exams? By school please. 

I like Mr. Green, he's the best superintendent in many years, but he inherited a mess. 

Babycat
Babycat

DeKalb Schools used to be one of the top systems in the nation.  Now look at it.  no-comment showed one reason why.  In a lot of the classrooms, the students are smarter than the teachers!  Meanwhile, Obama continues to dump more illegal children into the system.


PantherWin
PantherWin

@Babycat except for the tiny little fact that Obama has deported more illegal immigrants under his watch than any other US President. So there is that.

Starik
Starik

@PantherWin @Babycat Illegal children are the problem?  Pity the non-English speaking kids stuck in a segregated system.

no-comment
no-comment

Lots and lots of kids leaving Dekalb County Schools for private schools.  Losing more and more of the best and the brightest kids will only further deteriorate Dekalb schools.  Attending the academic bowl and hearing Dekalb County Principals and Vice-Principals try to read the questions aloud was embarrassing - it was so poor that they actually confused the kids.

Paying Dekalb school taxes and then private tuition on top of that is awful, but the alternative is decidedly worse.

pay4play
pay4play

Three out of four black children grow up without a father in the home. As recently as the 1960s it was one out of four.

"Racism" is a too convenient excuse for failed bureaucrats.

Starik
Starik

@pay4play There's likely a father of some of their many half-brothers and sisters around most of the time.

Astropig
Astropig

More unicorns.More rainbows.That's the promise from Dr.Green!


The people that are down-and-out in DeKalb don't need "assistance".They need good jobs that will support a family.That intact family will do more to improve quality of life than anything coming out of Atlanta.

redweather
redweather

Horizon schools? In my view the education establishment, and I'm including the school choice crowd in this, place way too much emphasis on catch phrases and labels that often conceal nothing but an empty idea, if not an outright lie. Stop playing word games. 

Annie
Annie

I wish Dr. Green and the employees of Dekalb County the best as they improve the conditions for their children to learn.

Starik
Starik

The problem in DeKalb is a low-testing district.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings


Not so slow, at all, if the educational methods used are developmentally sound, and the methods espoused by Dr. Green are developmentally sound in fostering student growth, with substance.  Those successful methods have nothing to do with segregation nor with race.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Improving the quality of life for communities will improve test scores over time.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings


I have believed that the integration of public schools has been a first step in breaking up the stereotypes, in the minds of the unenlightened, which were unfairly cast upon people who had to endure slavery and Jim Crow in America.  I have believed that integration of our schools was the first step in making America true to its original tenets of egalitarism of all people on earth.


And, I have spoken for the integration of the (formerly) segregated schools in Georgia from the time I attended and graduated from a segregated white high school in south Georgia in the late 1950s.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings


P. S.  The Supreme Court of the United States made the right call in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.  


Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation, insofar as it applied to public education. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." (Wikipedia)


And, those segregated schools WERE inherently unequal.  I spent my educational career, helping those who had been left behind in America to reach their God-given potential, whatever their race.



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Absolutely beautiful in vision and in implementation to improve Georgia's public schools in a substantive way that will continue improving our schools well into the future.  Dr. Green is a man of penetrating insight and deeply-felt care. 


Georgia and the DeKalb County School System, where I had worked for 29 years of my 35 years in public education, are blessed to have him in a leadership position for the students, families, administrators, and teachers of this state.