DeKalb superintendent promotes systemwide convocation as powerful and unifying

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green says the mandatory convocation on Aug. 4 is a chance to unite the district and celebrate students, JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

Teachers often contend the central office doesn’t understand the pressures of today’s classrooms where they struggle with fewer resources and higher expectations. That may be why DeKalb teachers are riled over a mandatory arena-sized convocation scheduled during the final hours of their back-to-school preparation.

There’s also the fact the last command performance 15 years ago turned into a sweat-drenched pep rally featuring the “Hokey Pokey.”

In late June, DeKalb teachers received a reminder email from the district about a convocation at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth on Friday, Aug. 4. (They received an earlier notice in May.) Teachers usually devote that last day to finishing lesson plans and bulletin boards to prepare for students showing up Monday.

Soon after that email arrived, teachers reached out to me, lamenting as one did, “It is a waste of time; it is waste of money. It is a three-hour obligatory meeting when teachers should be getting prepped for the students who are coming Monday.”

When I brought up the convocation on social media, teachers were livid. (Some don’t routinely check school emails in the summer so they didn’t know about it.) The rebukes were immediate and numerous:

“That Friday before the start is critical for preparation. You can tell this sort of fluff is organized by people who aren’t anywhere near a classroom.”

“I don’t think the district is going out of their way to not be teacher friendly. I think their motives are actually pretty darn wonderful. The reality, though, is time is precious to a teacher.”

In a 45-minute phone conversation today, DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green defended the convocation, which he said grew out of discussions with school board members who wanted an event to unify the “DeKalb family” and highlight the progress and the work yet to come.

The school board was committed enough to approve $50,000 to stage the event at the climate-controlled Infinite arena and pay for buses to transport 12,000 employees from their schools to Duluth, he said. DeKalb does not know the bus cost as it will depend on how employees drive themselves. The DeKalb budget earmarks $100,000 for convocation.

“The sentiment was there needs to be a chance for the entire DeKalb family to hear the charge from the superintendent, to come together as one DeKalb in a collegial way and to see each other across boundaries, regions, geographic areas, north, south, east, west,” said Green. “So, there was a commitment early on to create that kind of synergy, knowing there would be opposition to it. But there was also a thirst and clamoring for it. There are tradeoffs for doing it and for not doing it.”

As a classroom teacher himself for 14 years and a former athlete, Green said he benefited from convocations that provide the same bonding and spirit building as a team huddle. “It is a way of pulling the team together for a well-planned, powerful kickoff. It is about getting the juices flowing and getting pumped up.”

Other educators reported their districts, including Bibb and Newton, have held similar gala events to kick off the new year. (Those teachers, too, would rather be spared the group affirmations and remain in their classrooms. As a teacher explained, “Personally, my strength and support always comes from my colleagues in my schoolhouse; they are all I need.”)

DeKalb’s decision to revive the tradition upset some district veterans given the infamous extravaganza in a Clarkston stadium orchestrated by newly hired school chief Johnny Brown in 2002. High school bands performed rousing marches, firefighters unfurled a giant U.S. flag, and motorcycle riders revved their Harleys.

But teacher reviews were largely negative, and the event still rankles. “The Johnny Brown event was a fiasco,” a veteran teacher said last week.

Board members understood the lingering resentment toward the 2002 convocation where teachers sweltered in 90 degrees and water was in short supply, said Green. “They talked about it and felt that was a different place and space…My own feeling was we have to break the shackles of the past and move to a different space and place.”

However, Green’s rationale for the upcoming rally echoes Brown’s 15 years go: To marshal “the power of 13,000 people” and inspire greatness, as Brown described it. Brown approached the gathering as fun and led a sing-along to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

But two years later, neither Brown nor his board was happy; he was ousted for a list of missteps, including the pep rally, a bungled “Dress for Success” school dress code and the confiscation of a student newspaper that criticized his tenure.

That outcome doesn’t worry Green, who predicts his critics will change their views after the convocation, which will feature students and student success as the centerpiece.

Green said exactly how students will dominate the event “is part of the intrigue. I can’t imagine a teacher missing this. I understand the timing on the last day of pre-planning is not so good but it’s also perfect in that this is the Friday before kids come back – a reunion between educators and students. This will be a powerful experience for any educator who cares about kids.”

Green did not like my description of the event as a command performance, but said the expectation is that all teachers will attend as the convocation will serve as professional development. “There is the expectation for this gathering to be an opportunity for us to come together as a family, the message being we are one DeKalb.”

Teachers may be hard to convince, despite Green’s confidence the convocation program will impress them.

Retired teacher Diane Shearer, who taught at Avondale High for 12 years and then at Chamblee High for another seven, said, “One thing too many administrators never seem to learn is this: motivational speakers aren’t going to do the bad teachers any good, and the good ones don’t need those pearls of so-called wisdom from an overpaid speaker. They are already motivated and inspired or they wouldn’t keep doing this very hard job year after year.”

Reader Comments 0

83 comments
Rickster_
Rickster_

I attended on Friday, and couldn't believe my eyes (and ears) when I walked in. Deafening hip-hop music and blinding spotlights with a DJ repeatedly yelling "Make some NOOOOOOOIIZZZZZZZZZZZE!

Lots of "shout-outs" to the folks in each Region (with the obligatory "response cheers") and speeches touting "one vision, one voice, one DeKalb." 

Where do I go to get those 3 hours of my life back? 

How much did this cost? Not just Arena rental, but employee salaries, transportation costs (fuel, drivers, maintenance), law enforcement for the dozen or so Gwinnett County police and Sheriff's deputies they had directing traffic. It has to be staggering. But the money could have been put to much better use looking after the needs of the students.

Tom_B_II
Tom_B_II

Websters New Collegiate Dictionary, 1975 edition, page 249:

convocation:  "A ceremonial assembly of members of a college or university."


Apparently, the school leaders believe their school system is a college or university.  :)

youwantmetopay
youwantmetopay

Pep rallies are for students, not for adult teachers.

dekalb teacher
dekalb teacher

The Dekallb  Organization of Educators (DOE) is asking its members and citizens of Dekalb to contact the school board with their concerns about this pep rally.  Now is the time to get our voices heard so please let the school board know how you feel

Dr. G
Dr. G

@dekalb teacher It was a wonderful and inspirational today.  The convocation was an excellent idea.  I cannot wait to see my students on Monday.

Milo
Milo

Caution: Intense whining below. 

DW1966
DW1966

Message sent today:  As a proud and dedicated DCSD teacher, I request that you do not spend our valuable time on a mandatory convocation.  If there is time available for team building or morale boosting activities during our planning week it should be spent within our individual schools.  Getting to know and support our new teammates in an intimate school setting would do exponentially more to help with teacher morale and retention than a pep rally with 13,000 people.  


DW1966
DW1966

@Milo @DW1966 Compared to a venue designed to hold 13,000 people, yes.  Intimate school setting.  


Dr. G
Dr. G

@DW1966 It was the most wonderful experience.  I was so proud to be a part of the convocation.


David Van Buren
David Van Buren

Just wondering.... are the schools locked in the summer or could teacher take one afternoon to prepare and replace those three hours? I think it's a great idea.

DW1966
DW1966

Many teachers already go to school WEEKS early to prep for their new students.  

One hit wonder
One hit wonder

This shows a true disconnect of the Board/Superintendent and the school house.  Teachers and Principals are getting ready to open school!!!  Is this leadership really focused on increased student achievement? If so, why not take the $100,000 and spend that on book bags and school supplies for students!  With today's technology why is this event not live streamed or recorded to be shown at each location?  The Superintendent wants to unite the District?  This man will not even speak hello to employees when passing them in the hallway at the AIC complex.  The jokes on you again DeKalb.

Rickster_
Rickster_

@One hit wonder I totally agree with you wonder. The huge sum of money spent on this could have been so much more wisely spent benefiting the students.

Astropig
Astropig

Reading these comments has been like watching a dysfunctional couple argue with one another in the aisle at Kroger.


This is some inside stuff that would have better been kept inside.Sheesh.

dun
dun

This is such a horrible idea.  I've taught for 25 years.  During that first week of school, all you want to do is be in your classroom getting ready for the arrival of the children.  Every meeting and every interruption keep us from being able to do that.  In 2002, I had just moved here from New Jersey when I was hired to teach in Dekalb.  My very first experience with this district was the infamous Johnny Brown convocation.  That was a terrible first impression the made me question the judgment of the people in charge, and it did absolutely nothing to help my students learn better.  It's a total waste of time, energy and money.  Dale Duncan 

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen, 


According to Dekalb's Paperless Applicant Tracking System (PATS, online at https://pats.dekalbschoolsga.org/), the school system currently needs 1 Regional Superintendent and TWENTY (20) Principals:

Chamblee High
Employment Services
Employment Services
Employment Services
Flat Rock Elementary School
International Student Center
Kelley Lake Elementary
Lithonia High
Miller Grove Middle
Montclair Elementary
Murphey Candler Elem
Oak View Elementary
Panola Way Elementary
Redan Middle
Rock Chapel Elementary
Shadow Rock Elementary
Snapfinger Elementary
Stephenson Middle
Stoneview Elementary
Woodridge Elementary


According to those job postings, "Out of Steam Green" still has not filled the vacancies he created in May when he fired nine Principals.

You should ask him about that

thefamilydog
thefamilydog

How will they measure if the event is successful?  Dekalb, please provide teachers with anonymous pre and post surveys to determine if your goals were met. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

"You can tell this sort of fluff is organized by people who aren’t anywhere near a classroom.”   Or, like Mr. Green, who has only 14 years in the classroom, some time back.  Fourteen years of experience is like toddler-level.

Milo
Milo

@Wascatlady Over fourteen years of experience is burn out level. It shows. 

lmwmama
lmwmama

Teachers want to be in classrooms and planning for the first week of school. "I want to ride a school bus in August heat to go to a pep rally instead of preparing to do my job," said no teacher ever.

mgiles06
mgiles06

In the Army, there was a well-known story about this kind of decision. It's called "The Abilene paradox" by J.B. Harvey. This is one of those situations for sure.

Tom Green
Tom Green

It's just one more way to tell teachers that their personal time doesn't matter. In the end, it's a captive audience for those who like to hear themselves speak.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I usually agree with the ideas of DCSS Superintendent Green, but I do not agree with this decision. I attended one of these massive countywide meetings in the DCSS during pre planning when I was an active teacher and it was not only nonproductive but exhausting.

Moreover, as a conscious and intelligent human being, I do not want to think of myself as part of a school wide "family." The concept itself is adolescent and manipulative, imho. That is the way many CEOs of corporations think and I never want to see education run as a business model. Shallow.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

P. S.  Please know that I am all for finding ways to build rapport, goodwill, and even genuine warmth among the various areas and people of the DeKalb County School System.  I simply do not think that a single, massive countywide meeting is the way to accomplish that worthy goal.

Laura Bailey Roesch
Laura Bailey Roesch

Spoken like someone who doesn't work in a classroom. \U0001f44c\U0001f3fc

Janusz Maciuba
Janusz Maciuba

I was just thinking the other day that DeKalb County Schools had been suspiciously quiet for a couple of years.

Reina King
Reina King

Could be if ya had buy-in, but it sounds to me like it's not unifying at all...

Valerie Wade Blaisdell
Valerie Wade Blaisdell

You want something "powerful"..... tell teachers that you value their time and are cancelling it so they can devote their energy into their classrooms and incoming students.

Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell

As a teacher I promise you Dr. Green does not have a classroom to get ready before school. I'm sure schools will be available Saturday and Sunday for teachers who need to work on their classrooms.

Rnr Ledet
Rnr Ledet

Yes! Let teachers start the year by putting in a 60 hour week the first week of school! Brilliant!

dg417s
dg417s

Teachers do that to ourselves by going in prior to pre-planning and the weekend. They know we will and until we stand up for ourselves, this type of stuff will continue.

Sheila Daniel
Sheila Daniel

How about a gift card for much needed supplies and have a live broadcast feed into each classroom?

Yvonne Miller
Yvonne Miller

Waste of time! How about giving each teacher money to buy supplies for their classroom? That only happened once in the 10 years I was with DeKalb.

Vera Wynn
Vera Wynn

Teachers buy their own supplies

Kaycee Norman
Kaycee Norman

Just let it go already. The convocation is going to happen whether we like it or not, regardless of the budget. Why is Dekalb County the only district that is being focused on?

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

Why doesn't Dr. Green make a commitment to visit all the schools in the county during one of their faculty meetings?  At least he would be able to address certain issues and meet the staff. Or is that too much to ask?

Samara Samara
Samara Samara

But the textbooks are seriously outdated smh...

Cindy Smith
Cindy Smith

Think what could have been done with $1000,000. Total waste.

redweather
redweather

Having attended quite a few convocations at the college level, I can attest to the fact that they are generally not powerful and unifying. They typically involve members of the administration saying "feel good" things that faculty members do no put much stock in. Are they a complete waste of time? Only if the lunch sucks, and it usually does.

kaelyn
kaelyn

You know what would actually be powerful and unifying? ASKING TEACHERS what they need to start off the year well. I'd bet good money that hardly any of them would say they need to attend a mandatory, forced feel good, waste of time pep rally. DeKalb schools may not rank very high in performance, but they're number one in coming up with excuses.

Is there ANY reason teachers can't be consulted before something like this is planned? Is the superintendent actually interested in improvement or just appearances? This smoke and mirrors trick DeKalb is so fond of is beyond old. Give us some substance (PAY the good teachers, ENFORCE discipline, LISTEN TO AND RESPECT teachers, PRIORITIZE learning over testing, and DO IT NOW BECAUSE OUR KIDS DESERVE IT). In other words, do what's important first and you'll be so busy you won't have time for the stuff that isn't!!

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@kaelyn

“You know what would actually be powerful and unifying? ASKING TEACHERS what they need to start off the year well.”

But asking the teachers would have required leadership.  Telling teachers requires nothing more than management.

kaelyn
kaelyn

EdJohnson, you are 110% correct.