Meeting Minutes, September 15, 2010

Emory Lavista Parent Council Meeting September 15, 2010
State of the System with Interim Superintendent Tyson
www.emory-lavista.org
CO-PRESIDENTS:
Nancy Moore
davidnancymoore@bellsouth.net, 404-728-4427
Marshall Orson
marshall.orson@devonwoodmedia.com, 404-378-9116
VICE-PRESIDENT:
Ellen Schwartz
ellenschwartz2@gmail.com
CORRESPONDING SECRETARY:
Donna Toulme
dtoulme@bellsouth.net
COMMUNITY RELATIONS:
Lisa Brown
lgwkb@me.com

State of the System with Interim Superintendent Tyson

Mr. Orson welcomed everyone and explained that the ELPC now hosts the State of the System address every six months, rather than just once yearly, in light of recent events. He mentioned other ELPC topics of late, such as growth in MIS services as well charter schools, and he invited audience members to visit the web site (www.emory-lavista.org), register, and propose topics of interest for meetings. Mr. Orson recognized Ms. Andreson as the former president and architect of ELPC, introduced BOE members Mr. McChesney, Dr. Speaks, and Mr. Redovian, and acknowledged Area Superintendent Terry Segovis. He also thanked Laura Neely, principal of host school Oak Grove Elementary, and recognized other principals in attendance. He then thanked ELPC officers and members Ms. Schwarz, Ms. Brown, Ms. Toulme, and Ms. Kemmerly, standing in for Dr. Furman, before turning the floor over to Ms. Neely.

Principal Neely welcomed the audience, citing Oak Grove’s new mission to “Unleash the full potential of every child.” She acknowledged Ms. Cassandra Moore, the entire school staff and PTA, and Superintendent Segovis for their help in coordinating the event, which was held in the cafeteria and involved sack lunch delivery to all students that day.

Mr. Marshall resumed the podium and introduced all candidates running for state office or school district posts in attendance. He announced ELPC meetings October 20th at Briar Lake Elementary to address redistricting (the process rather than specific school closures) and November 17th at Medlock Elementary regarding school system governance. He encouraged attendance at these meetings and suggested Spring topics would be determined as breaking news emerges. He then commended Ms. Tyson for her admirable service and candor in answering questions but asked the audience to focus on broad, system-wide questions of interest to everyone in the room.

Interim Superintendent Tyson thanked the audience for inviting her back and
thanked all DCSS central office staff, Representative Oliver and others running for public office for attending. Addressing her tenure of 5.5 months, she said, “It feels like 5 years,” while noting that most of her time is spent in crisis management. She reiterated her commitment to truthfulness and accountability in answering questions and making hard decisions, and she noted that she still manages her own email and is personally involved in every response.

Calling it the “burning issue of the day,” Ms. Tyson summarized events surrounding the DCSS response to the formal inquiry initiated by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) regarding various DCSS policies, standards, and checks and balances. She spoke of the 45-day deadline in which DCSS composed and vetted all supporting documentation and evidence submitted, and she defended her decision not to release the working document to the media before SACS had received it. She said the response “couldn’t have been stronger even if we had been given 90 days to respond.” She said Dr. Elgart, president of SACS, counseled her to trust the evaluation process and that October 10th is the target date for the initial SACS reply to DCSS. However, she highlighted four new DCSS oversight policies that were fast-tracked and approved by SACS to specifically address 1) ethics, 2) staff conflicts of interest, 3) whistleblower protocols and 4) purchasing guidelines as a direct result of events in which DCSS employees were “self-dealing and purchasing products from themselves using school system dollars.” Ms. Tyson emphasized the need for comprehensive ethics policies and training for all employees and said concerned employees should be free to come forward to DCSS without fear of retaliation or job loss. (She also warned any allegations must be substantiated to avoid elevating personal conflicts.) “These four policies will lift DCSS to a new level of excellence, accountability and moral responsibility,” she said. (The 45-page summary of the 2,503-page DCSS response is available in the Documents section at http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/sacs-casi-accreditation)

Speaking of the search for a new DCSS superintendent, she reported the BOE voted in favor of a bid process for selecting a talent search firm. She noted that the Department of Purchasing would unseal bid responses September 15th, and that the DCSS board would select a firm in October. Speaking personally, she said, “I’m on your side. I’m excited by this national search for a top-notch candidate to lead the district.”

Turning to the budget, Ms. Tyson noted that recent passage of the federal Jobs Education Act would bring $400 million to public school districts in Georgia. Specifically, DCSS will receive $18.3 million divided into 2 payments this month and at the end of October. BOE members will ultimately decide which salary and benefit-related forms of school-level relief are implemented. She mentioned reinstating a tax-sheltered annuity for employees that was frozen last year, or releasing all remaining furlough days for teachers, as Cobb County has done with its $20 million in funds.

Ms. Tyson recapped several pressing issues that affect DCSS preparation for Fiscal Year 2010, which falls within the 2011-2012 school year. She said she’s working closely with the state to track potential cuts next year, and to evaluate the property digest, before finalizing a budget next Spring. Last year DCSS had an 88 million deficit, but actually cut 104 million from its budget in anticipation of further mid-year cuts in state funding. “We’re padded and ready for this year, even though more cuts are imminent next year,” she said.

She described the “BOSS” budget outsourcing study in which DCSS is considering outsourcing strategies that could impact grounds keeping, facilities and maintenance, school nutrition, transportation and IT/technology operations. She cited Troop County, Miami-Dade County and school districts in Louisiana as recent adopters of outsourcing strategies, but acknowledged that “losing familiar faces” around school campuses is a sensitive issue, although some service providers are re-hired in the end.

A large item of concern, she noted, based on the volume of email received, is the request to renovate the William Brantley Bryant Center, which will house 80 to 90% of the MIS Department. Ms. Tyson asserted the build-out funds would be used to move the MIS data center from the former central office at 3770 N. Decatur Road (Buildings A and B) over to the WBBC at 2652 Lawrenceville Hwy and would provide the power, cooling and security needed to maintain critical data operations. Every dollar of the entire DCSS $740 million budget, all vendor payables, employee payroll, HR applications and data on all 98,500 students and 15,500 employees is tracked and maintained through the data center. The integrity of the two ASA 400 mainframes, several network servers and the telecom switching center that supports 150 locations and phones in every classroom is at stake, she said. The proprietary fiber optic network DCSS owns would be relocated to the Administrative and Instructional Complex at 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard as well. In her September 13th proposal to the Board, Ms. Tyson said she did not request the $40 million in SPLOST III surplus funds for the data center move as reported. Decisions about how to spend that $40 million surplus (hopefully on school capital projects) rest with the BOE. Ms. Tyson also expressed interest in the future sale of the N. Decatur Road offices (previously valued at 7.7 million) to raise much-needed capital.

Ms. Tyson also stated DCSS is eligible for $58 million in stimulus funds in the form of quality school construction bonds, which the BOE may choose to spend on school construction projects. On August 27th DCSS staff presented their Facilities and Capital Planning Project as part of the new 20/20 Master Plan. For the first time since 2006, a third-party engineering firm will walk through every single Dekalb school and do a detailed audit of needed improvements. This master plan, Ms. Tyson noted, will serve as our roadmap to SPLOST IV. DCSS must also partner with Fulton, City of Decatur and City of Atlanta public schools this Fall in preparing for SPLOST IV.

DCSS must also file a new five-year 2013-2017 facilities needs assessment and capital outlay plan to the Georgia DOE. Ms. Tyson spoke of the earlier “tragedy” in which DCSS failed to fill out the forms that would ensure we received state entitlement dollars. Ms. Tyson said an entire team was now working with DCSS Interim CIP Operations Officer Ms. Colman and Ms. Lynne Jackson of the Georgia DOE to understand the entitlement program and what must be done to “amend the broken relationship” between the DCSS and the Georgia DOE. Budget Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Womack and other DCSS board members will meet with Ms. Jackson on October 21st at 10 am in an open meeting.

Ms. Tyson reported that she and Mr. Bowen participated in a SACS education workshop with 15 other school superintendents that dealt with governance, leadership and training issues. She chose school redistricting as the focus of an intense problem-solving session that emphasized “shared leadership” strategies for strengthening public dialogue when dealing with hot-button issues. She pledged her commitment to ongoing community input county wide during the month of October while setting an aggressive timetable for addressing school closure criteria, enrollment balancing and new district lines in November, with an initial plan presented to the Board in December, community feedback in January, and a final recommendation to the BOE in February 2011. She then invited parents and community representatives at Dekalb schools to be involved in her vision for shared leadership throughout the process. She also discussed the credentials of Dr. Humble of Parsons consulting, whom she has engaged to help with DCSS school consolidation/redistricting based on his experience in the St. Louis school system.

Looking forward, Ms. Tyson expressed concern over future controversies DCSS is facing but expressed hope about positive cultural changes taking place. She said, “We are changing belief systems ingrained for years, we’re giving power back to school principals, and giving them a voice without fear of retaliation.” She also said in addition to the 4 new ethics policies, she would be reviewing the 243 other existing DCSS policies closely. Her other urgent priorities: “balancing the budget and saving people and resources closest to students,” and “making sure our new framework supports teachers.”

She concluded by introducing Mr. Gary Babst, the new Director of Audits at DCSS. Mr. Babst is a certified fraud examiner with 22 years of experience at General Motors and will report directly to the BOE while working day to day with Ms. Tyson. He will further support checks and balances and proper accountability practices, “ensuring those who report to the Superintendent have someplace to go if the person in that office is not acting accordingly,” Ms. Tyson said.

Ms. Tyson then opened the floor for questions and comments.

C: Former ELPC President Faye Andreson urged Dekalb staff to put visible programs in place that show students, particularly high school students, that they are the focus of our efforts to improve DCSS operations. She suggested involving school councils, organizations like Youth Leadership Dekalb and EduDekalb, the Dekalb Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Commissioners and others in a systematic community response to challenges in order to preempt potential bad press over tough issues.

Q: As a parent, what can I do to help with significant issues, particularly with regard to SPLOST/facilities improvements?

A: Ms. Tyson recognized Ms. Colman’s role in spearheading the upcoming school facilities audits. She promised to coordinate with Ms. Colman so that parents might be alerted as to when their school’s assessment is occurring, and to suggest community meetings where parents could express their ideas about what needs or improvements should be included.

Q: We have school buildings that have been renovated yet don’t meet AYP, and schools that meet AYP that still have no renovations. Why does this exist? And why is it that students in the Chamblee High Annex still don’t have teachers for all their subjects?

A: School renovations aren’t related to or based on AYP status. They are based on the need to provide health and safe environments. Conversely, the condition of a building doesn’t determine whether a school will make AYP. We have schools 50+ years old where teaching is at its best.

Regarding the Chamblee Annex, we had 212 9th grade students choose Chamblee High as their first choice as AYP transfers. I determined it wasn’t safe to bring 212 more students into the existing school footprint and created the annex at Elizabeth Andrews High School. Out of those 212, 102 chose to enroll and start school there August 30th. During those early weeks of school, enrollment numbers are changing constantly, but we are required by law to maintain preset student/teacher ratios. Every single day I’m looking at the numbers, balancing out teacher gaps based on the “enrollment bounce” at schools like Chamblee. I looked at those numbers today, and I see only one teacher missing at the Chamblee Annex per the figures I have.

Q: Its been some time, but it’s my understanding Dekalb did a salary compensation audit of central office employees. I’d like to ask if you could publish that audit.

A: Yes, back in 2002 Dr. Brown did do a salary compensation audit, and we should look at publishing that. I don’t know how relevant that data is today (based on old numbers) and it’s my understanding that the study was unfunded and that’s one reason why it wasn’t acted on more extensively, although recommendations were made concerning salary changes (both up and down) for central office and school house positions. Today I have been charged by the Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee to undertake a central office study via a local university like Emory or GSU and take a hard look at compensation levels. I think we need to do a through audit every 5 years at least. In 2007 we should have done one and we did not. I would urge Mr. Redovian and Mr. Babst to join HR and Finance as a team in working on this.

Q: Crisis management aside, can you address academics in general and our core mission to educate children?

A: Ms. Tyson deferred to Dr. Morcease Beasley, who addressed his work with teachers, his approach to the new DCSS instructional framework, and his mission to inject more rigor and depth in the school curriculum. Specifically, he touched on the new framework, which he said:
• outlines a 7-step process for teaching and learning
• incorporates research-based strategies for instruction and assessment
• engages students at high levels
• emphasizes higher-order thinking skills
• utilizes common standards
• emphasizes reteaching as needed
• supports teachers and their development as we move toward national standards of excellence
• helps establish Math academies and strong content areas in science, SS and ELA

He concluded by stating that several conversations and initiatives were ongoing at all campuses and invited the ELPC community to attend the next meeting September 18th at the Administrative and Instructional Complex at 1701 Mt. Industrial Blvd. off 78 West to discuss changes in DCSS instruction.

Q: What can we do to push back the school year start date since August is one of the worst times economically and environmentally to start school given air conditioning and school bus ozone impacts?

A: This is an age-old conversation in metro Atlanta that affects school districts across Georgia, particularly since school employees come from counties outside Dekalb. We’ve found we just can’t move out the start date based on inflexible testing schedules set by the state. Chatham County decided to start school after Labor Day, but they found it nearly impossible to meet testing windows required by Georgia, and colleges and universities had to switch their start schedules to accommodate the schools.

C: Mr. Redovian stated his concern that DCSS should not move in and tell successful schools performing above expectations “how to do their job differently” since that might jeopardize what’s working.

A: Ms. Tyson’s warm response: your concern is duly noted, Mr. Redovian. I noted it once before, and I will note it here again!

Mr. Marshall concluded the meeting by thanking Ms. Tyson for her lengthy comments and reminded the audience of the upcoming ELPC meetings. All meetings begin with refreshments at 8:45 and run approximately from 9:15 to 10:30.
Oct 20th Briarlake Elementary Redistricting

Nov 17th Medlock Elementary Governance

Jan 19th Hawthorne Elementary Legislative Update

Feb 16th Laurel Ridge Curriculum

March 16th Lakeside TBD

April 13th Shamrock Middle School State of the System- Revisited

To receive information from council, please send an e-mail to EmoryLavistaParentCouncil@gmail.com

Respectfully Submitted,
Melissa Kemmerly, Melissa@kemmerly.net on behalf of

RECORDING SECRETARY
Susan Furman
smfurman4@comcast.net