DeKalb school chief advises governor: We’re talking about choice when we should be discussing change

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green says new education legislation should provide each student with the foundational elements to succeed. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

In this essay, DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green offers Gov. Nathan Deal suggestions on creating an effective school reform plan.

By Steve Green

Gov. Nathan Deal has told the Georgia General Assembly early in the 2017 legislative session that his administration will focus on education reforms. In coming months, the citizens of DeKalb County and the rest of Georgia can expect a lot of talk about our public schools and how to improve them. Discussions will swirl on standard hot topics: School choice. Vouchers. Use of public tax money for private-school education. Responsible funding, and so on.

The real issue in public education isn’t any one of these flashpoints. Our basic discussion should be much simpler: How do we give students what they need to succeed?

Providing each student – gifted, mentally challenged, expatriated, or burdened by distracting socioeconomic or family needs – with the foundational elements to succeed in schools should be the real issue at the center of new legislation.

We in the DeKalb Country School District welcome Gov. Deal, along with state and federal leaders and all other parties with a role in the proposed legislation, to join us at a point of common understanding.

It’s time to bring together resources … and resourceful collaboration … to support socioeconomic improvements that boost schools and students.

As school superintendent of Georgia’s third-largest district, it’s my strong opinion that a partnership fully locked in on solving the real problem of education – the socioeconomic factors – would do more good for students than school choice legislation.

Last May, I met with Gov. Deal and his staff, and I felt a willingness from the governor to consider new ways of looking at old issues. 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.

Let me give an example.

Late last year, the DeKalb County Watershed Department cut off water to an apartment complex (Creekside Forest Apartments) that chronically rated below health code. That action forced evacuations and disrupted the lives of dozens of families with school children. Our district mobilized resources to support those students, first working to simply keep up with the suddenly rootless families, then laboring for days to set up safe transportation so kids could continue studies at their home schools.

Problems like these outside the classroom 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 constantly deals with a welter of extracurricular problems. To help school families with these serious problems, we simply need more social support services – “wrap-around services,” as we call them – meeting needs from basic transportation to family counseling.

That’s job one for us in DeKalb, along with implementing rigor, relevance, and relationships in classroom instruction/learning in every school, including those deemed underperforming.

School choice is not the real issue in DeKalb. Not at all – we’ve actually pioneered choice in Georgia.

Parents and caregivers here can educate their children in charter, magnet, theme, Montessori, IB, dual-language immersion, tech, career pathways, and arts schools, plus our Discovery Learning Academy. We offer 48 kinds of inclusive learning programs that give panoramic learning possibilities to students with every capability, talent … and challenge.

School choice in DeKalb means a choice of traditional schools, too … these are exactly the right fit for some families, and a ready option for all. One student at Cedar Grove Middle School recently earned acceptance into a magnet school, but made a personal choice to stay in a traditional school. The familiar, comfortable learning environment gave this student the best assurance of classroom success.

So the challenge isn’t choice. It’s change.

We need a transformation in understanding why schools struggle. For kids to succeed, we must shift from politics to problem-solving. Schools face a real and growing need for dedicated services and programs that address the severe problems of poverty (mobility, nutrition, emotional, family instability, health, etc.). These problems affect students in ways that no standardized tests can measure.

We invite … no, we welcome … Gov. Deal, along with lawmakers and other potential partners in Georgia’s possibilities, to visit Flat Shoals Elementary, the school where we hustled to find transportation and other support for students and families made homeless by the apartment condemnation. We invite you to see first-hand the challenges students face there … challenges that were met head on with quality school leadership, staff, or curriculum.

You’ll see how support services far removed from textbooks and blackboards can make a profound difference.

At Flat Shoals, our enterprising school principal started an initiative that is having a big impact on the quality of life for students away from classrooms … and directly affecting the quality of learning inside them. Flat Shoals sponsors a monthly breakfast for students and their fathers, uncles, and other significant men in their lives. The breakfast attracts 70 to 100 men each month.

Those men clearly value partnership above politics.

Gov. Deal, let’s make a really relevant school choice: Visit us before you draft any school legislation.

Your visit will open eyes. It will open minds. It might even open hearts.

Reader Comments 0

81 comments
dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen,

Back when Michael Thurmond was running the Dekalb County School District, the DCSD announced that the Wallace Foundation was giving it THREE MILLION DOLLARS to improve DCSD's leadership. Ty wrote a June 24, 2014 article about it:
http://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/dekalb-schools-get-million-improve-management/GwfMiCErnsQu8EIue0V1rL/
Ty wrote: "DeKalb will spend [the money] over four years on training and increasing the number of regional superintendents."

Also see the June 24,2014 Wallace Foundation Press Release "Wallace Invests $30 Million to Strengthen Supervisors Of School Principals to Improve Their Ability to Lead Schools":
http://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/press-releases/Pages/Wallace-Invests-$30-Million-to-Strengthen-Supervisors.aspx

A year after the grant was announced, Dr. Stephen Green began as DCSD Superintendent on July 1, 2015:
http://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/superintendent/

Very soon after Dr. Green began as Superintendent, the Wallace Foundation pulled out of DCSD. According to Wallace's grantee list, they ended DCSD's grant on November 10, 2015 after spending $500,000:

http://www.wallacefoundation.org/about-wallace/our-grantees/Lists/GranteeList/GranteeDisplayForm.aspx?List=b9f0fd05-d177-41b2-86b3-6999677e5982&ID=4198&ContentTypeId=0x01001E6955A75FECA941A80F52FE7A872C1600B80C6A05F2FC8244BE057359458F6DBC

It is not everyday that troubled school districts lose TWO and a HALF MILLION DOLLARS intended to improve leadership....I'm sure the AJC would find a really interesting story there if ya'll could be troubled to look into it.

FredinDeKalb
FredinDeKalb

@dsw2contributor


Those DSW2 folks are still trying to stir up trouble.  Readers realized that a small group of their supporters spread mostly half truths in their attempts to undermine the school district and county.  We are still waiting on the book one poster talked about regarding all of the misdeeds over the years.  Will you encourage teachers to leave again and harm our students?  You folks give social media a bad name.
Most would trust Superintendent's Green decision as to what was best for DCSD with respect to adding regional superintendents.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Same question, How many K12 schools in Georgia?How many are actually failing? Best numbers I can find 2400 schools 134 failures.


Where is the Pig......he knows everything!



Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 The definition for "failing" is not fixed.  "Worst of the failing schools" would be more accurate.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik @JBBrown1968 Propaganda my friend! The math doesn't lie! If these people were honest about schools and ratings, there would be more than one diploma option. Instead of taking what is left of the education budget and giving it to free lance profiteers. We should get back to teaching reading..writing...and math.

Instead of this nonsense they call math they are teaching. Please don't give me the feel good global junk....when the majority of my globe is in my neighborhood.


Teach elementary classes in elementary school.

Middle school classes in middle school.

High school classes in High school.

College will work it's self out!

AND......get off the electronics!

Starik
Starik

@JBBrown1968 @Starik Teens are affected most by fellow students' approval, not by parents or teachers. If their fellow students are uninterested in education, they'll try to fit in.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

The fact of the matter is that too many dullards are having children they cannot afford and have abdicated any parental responsibility for.  The children of the parasitic welfare class grow up and in turn breed with similar dullards and the cycle continues.  We've endured about five generations since Lyndon Johnson's ill-advised "Great Society" and each welfare generation seems to be worse than the one before.

"Wrap around services" merely focus on the symptom and not the root cause of the problem.  And I would venture to say that having a "monthly breakfast for men"  (really?  That's your great, enterprising idea?) isn't going to help fix the root cause either.


Mandatory birth control for welfare recipients would do more to fix the black, urban school systems than any of the "reforms" published to date.   You are not going to fix the root cause of a problem by tossing money at the symptoms.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Several challenges I saw mentioned below.

1. Poorly educated  parents having children before they can supply basic living needs in terms of shelter, food, clothes, medical care, emotional support, and educational duties of a parent to prepare a child for educational success.


Would you support a human body owners manual curriculum that provided straightforward sex education along with free public access to, at least, barrier birth control?


Would you support a birth-4 education program to try to break this cycle?


2. Lack of match between k-12 curriculum and readiness to live and work in the world.


Due mostly to  technology, and to a lesser extent, outsourcing, there will never again be enough demand for labor to provide self sustaining jobs to all those who want and adequately prepare for those jobs. Just look at your own industry as proof. There are periodic shortages in specific skills, but not enough to absorb the US/world labor force.


This technological sea change may call for a combination of reduced population and reallocation of resources. Without changes, we are headed for a world of extreme haves and have-nots with the current middle class rapidly moving into poverty.


In the meantime, algebra for everyone is foolish especially when a graduate cannot perform simple self-care functions like renting an abode, managing a bank account, filing taxes, understanding loans and interest rates, etc..

otherview1953
otherview1953

@AvgGeorgian unfortunately, public school is required to provide grossly disproportionate time and resources to kids who come from the homes with poorly educated parents or single parents or no parent.  

At some point in time we should acknowledge that we need to prepare the future taxpayers rather than cutting the programs, time and resources that benefit the middle class kids.  All my kids are products of the public school system and I strongly support it.  But, if you're not in the advanced level classes, you're out of luck.  Its a disgrace that many people simply have to build the cost of private education into their housing costs vs. being assured their child will be in safe, secure and environment conducive to learning

creative
creative

Yes school choice would be the best option, but that's not going to happen. The second option is having 2 parent households. That too, I'm afraid, won't happen either. I say we just keep doing the same thing over and over.

ErnestB
ErnestB

As a part of the reform effort, have we looked at ways to provide incentives to parents to help prepare their children for school?  It is easy to say parents should automatically do that but the fact is that some don't resulting in many children entering the schools without a foundation or a zest for learning.  We blame the schools (especially those that have higher populations of less prepared students) and call them failing based on standardized test scores.  What do you expect the results to be?

Starik
Starik

@ErnestB Many of the parents are quite unable to help their children prepare for school.  Neither parents nor teachers can teach what they don't know.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Dr. Steve Green is one of the wisest, realistic, and courageous educators of my lifetime.  I believe that Gov. Deal sincerely wants to help the children of Georgia to fulfill their individual potential, aside from politics.  I hope that the Green/Deal association will bring positive results in education for all of the students in Georgia.


I must say, I always thought that the DCSS would return to being a leader in setting educational standards for this state.  Dr. Green is the leader they/we have needed.  How proud I am to have given 29 years of my educational service to the DeKalb County Schools.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@MaryElizabethSings I know several educators in Dekalb who are much wiser and far more courageous than Dr. Green.   It saddens me that you have not met any of these amazing people during the 29 years you have spent in DCS.

Dr. Green is a good guy, but c'mon, writing a letter to the Governor isn't anywhere as courageous as the teachers who are working with gang members without any security details.  Dr. Green hasn't demonstrated any courage like I've seen in the front desk receptionists who prevent domestic violence from coming into our schools.  Etc., etc., etc.

kaelyn
kaelyn

"Parents and caregivers here can educate their children in charter, magnet, theme, Montessori, IB, dual-language immersion, tech, career pathways, and arts schools, plus our Discovery Learning Academy."

The above statement is only true for the LUCKY students who win lottery seats in one of these highly coveted schools. I tried multiple times to get my child into Kittredge and then Chamblee, only to have her so far down the waiting list it was laughable. This isn't my definition of "choice."

I applaud the district for rallying around the students who lived in the Creekside apartments. No child should have to live in abandoned housing without running water. I'm not convinced, however, that public schools should be taking on the full weight of solving these problems. In my experience, the counselors are so overwhelmed with kids and families in crisis that everything else is on the back burner.

God help these kids because these problems will be with us for a long time.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@kaelyn “I'm not convinced, however, that public schools should be taking on the full weight of solving these problems.”

Kindly allow me to share I did not read Dr. Green to say his district mobilized resources to solve the problem.  Rather, I read Dr. Green to say his district mobilized resources so as to absorb the problem for the benefit of the affected children.  Because the problem still exists, Dr. Green invites Gov. Deal to be a cooperative partner in first solving and then ultimately dissolving root-causes of the problem.

Dr. Green brings a refreshing knowing and wisdom, IMHO.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@EdJohnson @kaelyn


Great observation!  Many look to the schools to solve problems that are greater that their mission then criticize them when the expected outcomes do not occur.  There are not simple answers to the complex challenges our schools face.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@ErnestB @EdJohnson @kaelyn Inasmuch as our state and local public school systems have the responsibility for educating our youth, their leaders must be in the forefront of efforts to bring together students, teachers, parents, other community members as well as outside stakeholders to provide first-class educational opportunities for our kids; to persuade our kids of the value of these opportunities; and to provide support services necessary for our kids to advantage themselves of these opportunities.

bu22
bu22

@kaelyn Agreed about Creekside.  Much of what they did is something the county should have done, not the schools.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The only thing I would quibble with of Mr. Green's statements is his lauding the school for arranging transportation for the displaced students.  Providing that transportation for homeless kids is the LAW now.  Every day, the school systems in Atlanta bus kids all across county/system lines to take them to and from their original home school, sometimes sending a bus out an hour each way.

class80olddog
class80olddog

How many of the students needing English instruction are legal?

Smellvin Therat
Smellvin Therat

@class80...sshhh...We can't ask that. Or haven't you heard?

Pelosied
Pelosied

@Wascatlady @class80olddog 

We're the only advanced country allowing illegal migrants to decide our immigration policy.

And therefore how our limited education resources will be spent.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog In my system, nearly all of them.  90- 95% of the ELL students in my system were BORN in the US, just like your children and mine.


And even for those who were not, and who lack any kind of "card," federal law REQUIRES these children to attend school and be taught, just like yours and mine.

Astropig
Astropig

Again,the eduacracy mouths the right words-"choice","change", "reform"...Because they know that the public is fed up with mediocrity.So they co-opt the language and adopt the lingo that they think that we want to hear.But their conception of "choice" "change  and reform" are just new twists on the same old song and dance - Send more money and trust us.


A system (like DeKalb) simply cannot be trusted to "reform" itself.Too many sacred cows.It takes individual families doing what they believe to be the best option for the kids that they have known all their lives to really change things for the better.Schools are "systems",but students are individuals.Their best interests are very often not aligned.


To quote a current president that I could name-Don't fall for the okey-doke.Demand real choice,not their version of it.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Astropig ".It takes individual families doing what they believe to be the best option for the kids that they have known all their lives to really change things for the better."

And when that family is non supportive, dysfunctional, under-educated, really poor,  torn by drugs,working more than one job... this would be better? Get real.

I'm not saying that people should be allowed to be uncommitted to their family but unfortunately they are out there.Many adults are irresponsible...so we should take it out on the kids?

Mack68
Mack68

@RoadScholar @Astropig Yes. And when the parents or caregivers of kids don't have the wherewithal for whatever reason to "choose" the best education option for their kids in an all-choice environment, who is going to make those decisions for them?

class80olddog
class80olddog

How about minimum requirements to enter first grade - such as a basic grasp of English.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@class80olddog Or how about providing additional services so a kid can learn English, or even a new language? Kids are relocated here regardless of their desires..their family moves. So going 0 to 100 in learning English needs to be accomplished once they are in school!

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@class80olddog I guess that you have never heard of ethnic neighborhoods before? Being second generation Italian American, I heard more Italian spoken in Little Italy in Baltimore than English. Yes my grandfather learned to speak English and was successful, but he always cursed in Italian!

class80olddog
class80olddog

I do not HATE anyone. I am looking for what is best for all legal students.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Or how about preventing both the parent and child from entering the US - if they are doing so illegall

Educator4Life
Educator4Life

Were you born hating "others" or did your parents raise you this way? Either way, I pray for you.

Starik
Starik

@Educator4Life W need the immigrants to do our hard work.  We should welcome them, and change our stupid laws to make them legal.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik @Educator4Life No we do not! What we need is spoiled kids from this country to learn to work and children of immigrants to be able to become successful....what ever that means! Not Slaves....

Pelosied
Pelosied

What do you have to fear from choice, Mr. Green? 

When parents are free to choose the schools which best fit their child's needs you'll have every opportunity to make your case, right? Parents will likewise be able to utilize their social network to learn what the facts are about your district schools and their track record.

In other words, you'll compete for their business.
That's fair enough, isn't it?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Pelosied Did you try to comprehend what he said in the article? They have that choice in DeKalb.

Pelosied
Pelosied

@RoadScholar 

The DeKalb charter schools are run by the school district rather than by innovative outside providers.

Green's scapegoating of socioeconomic factors is the preferred dodge of a failed administrator.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Pelosied @RoadScholar Some of the top performing charter schools in the state are local. They are either conversions, existing schools that the district approved as charters, or brand new schools opened under district/school board approval. In fact, district charters -- approved by local school boards with endorsements by the district superintendents and staffs -- outperform those approved by the state commission set up to counter local reluctance to charters. Best example of a district conversion charter that is leading the state: Walton High in Cobb. (It was leading the state prior to its charter conversion.) 

Pelosied
Pelosied

@MaureenDowney @Pelosied @RoadScholar 

The article's specifically about DeKalb's schools, and the supposed choices including "charters" which employ the same failed administrators and teaching staffs.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@Pelosied @MaureenDowney @RoadScholar


Why do some insist that it is the administrators and teaching staffs that fail?  In some cases, parents are failing their children in preparing them for school.

Mack68
Mack68

@Pelosied @RoadScholar  When the parents or caregivers of kids don't have the wherewithal for whatever reason to "choose" the best education option for their kids in an all-choice environment (never mind be able to transport them to the choice school), who is going to make those decisions for them?

I assume that under this ultimate scenario there would continue to be a "neighborhood" public school that would educate those discarded kids?

bu22
bu22

@Pelosied @MaureenDowney @RoadScholar Charters in DeKalb vary widely.  Some are like Chamblee and DeKalb schools with a little more autonomy.  Others have little connection to the school district other than being "officially" a public school.