Meeting Minutes, September 21, 2011

Greetings from Marshall Orson, co-president of Emory-LaVista Parents Council. Among the guests were: state Representative Stephanie Stuckey Benfield; Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement; Georgia Department of Education General Counsel Brad Bryant; State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver. Mr. Orson noted school board members were unable to attend due to mandatory outside meeting. The principal of Henderson Middle School Terese Allen indicated that it was a pleasure to host the ELPC and welcomed new DeKalb County School Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson. She recognized administrative staff, parent volunteers and parent PTSA members.

Mr. Orson reminded interested parties to ensure they are on email list in light of change in distribution method. He acknowledged Central Office employees and principals. He noted that the ELPC goal is to address issues that are paramount to school system. The ELPC originated in 1990s to help introduce middle schools. The group currently offers a format to present timely, important issues and discuss them. He noted that the ELPC is a partner and collaborator with the school system. Mr. Orson expressed gratitude to Ramona Tyson for filling superintendent’s job.

Ramona Tyson thanked everyone for support over 19 months. She said she has been working with Dr. Atkinson to bring her up to speed. Ms. Tyson thanked parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, and central office professional staff in their assistance. She said the school system is focusing on moving forward and working with Dr. Atkinson could not have better.

Given the short period of time she has been in her post, Dr. Atkinson delivered what she called her vision for the school system. She noted at the end of the year she will have a state of the system address. She thanked Mr. Orson for leadership and invitation. She said she is excited to be part of DCSS. She said education is her passion and life’s work and expressed thanks to BOE for the opportunity to serve. By end of this week, Dr. Atkinson said she will have visited 23 schools. She wants to visit every school, visit every principal and get feel of the culture in schools. Dr. Atkinson is a third generation educator. Her grandmother and mother taught. She attended high school in North Carolina where her mother was told that Dr. Atkinson would never read normally. She spent her summers with her grandmother who worked with her on reading and at high school graduation she was graduation speaker. Dr. Atkinson credited educators and family members who decided she couldn’t fail. Not until adulthood she learned had dyslexia and was told she had learned to compensate. She learned that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. She noted that many children have challenges and don’t always have family support. Dr. Atkinson said that educators are in lifesaving business and touch many lives and have mutigenerational effect. She advocated collaborating with a range of organizations. We don’t want to lose edge as children need to compete in global economy, she noted.
She said she has distributed her 90-day plan. Dr. Atkinson said she wants to be transparent and welcomes feedback from community. Dr. Atkinson noted that everyone doesn’t get same thing and equitable is not equal. She will get information out so everyone can see where dollars are going. She plans to visit all schools, principals and conduct fireside chats with teachers by grade level. Dr. Atkinson said that people want chance to be heard and contribute. She noted that established parents groups will be helpful. She also expressed interest in parent roundtables where school system staff members listen and provide feedback. She said she wants to meet with elected officials in policy development. She also expressed interest in meeting with a range of community members and working with faith-based, civic, and nonprofit leaders. Dr. Atkinson said she would be interested in developing a relationship with members of the media. She said she will be making top level personnel decisions, some of which will be sooner and some later. In looking at the organization, she noted that she may need to consolidate positions or keep personnel.

She noted that instructional materials need to be state of the art. She said laptops are important as some children don’t have access to laptops. She emphasized acquisition of laptops does not mean getting rid of libraries. She said that while she does not believe in teaching to the test, Dr. Atkinson noted that students have to be prepared. She said she wants to empower teachers to have strong voice in decision making in what is best for children. She also expressed support principals. Programs and budgets will be audited. Things that work well will be kept and programs that do not will be eliminated. She wants to examine all programs to ensure that the program adds value to the lives of the children and school district.

She detailed five guiding principles:
1.Students must come first.
2.Parents are partners.
3.Victory is determined in the classroom.
4. Leadership and accountability are critical for success.
5. All of us are required for victory and success to happen.

She thanked Ms. Tyson for her assistance and other staff members who have made transition easier.
Q and A

Q: State Representative Stephanie Stuckey Benfield inquired about class size. She noted that her fourth grade child has 27 students in class and a great teacher. Are there ideas for ways to address class size?
A: Dr. Atkinson said she is aware of large class size and that issue is widespread across the system. She will be looking at how resources are allocated.

Q: Question regarding E-books. Parent is concerned about advertising in E-books.
A: Dr. Atkinson has not seen advertising in E-Books and has no plans to move in that direction.

Q: From parents in Lakeside cluster. Wanted Dr. Atkinson to be aware of support from various school personnel including Terry Segovis and Dr. Jose Boza.

Q: Lakeside PTA co president Lori Cora expressed concern about the schools “teaching to test.”

Q: Concerns about state of math education at high school level. Concern that DeKalb has created too many pathways. Need to make decisions and get resources into schools. Need algebra books.

Q: Matt Lewis expressed concern about empowerment for teachers and principals.

A: Dr. Atkinson: She said she will be examining all the schools and determine what they need. She noted that not all schools will eventually be alike and that decisions will be made based on need. She noted the system needs to have goals and how they will be accomplished. During her time in North Carolina, the school system “borrowed” executives from businesses to assist with managerial issues.

Q: Parent of nine children in seven different schools. Expressed concern for the international population to ensure that support in ESOL program is enhanced. Need more wrap-around services for children.
A: She said she will have staff member get details. She noted that while high school is high stakes, the process is a 12-year journey.

Marshall Orson recognized new additions to ELPC: Principal of Avondale Elementary School: Rosemary Malone; The Museum School, International Community School, and Robert Shaw Theme School. Acknowledged ELPC co-president Nancy Moore.

Highlights of upcoming meetings
October: No Child Left Behind and how to address needs improvement schools, transfers, remediation, and/or reconstitution of schools.
November: Instructional management. Discussion of how state standards are translated into practice at schools. He thanked Dr. Atkinson and Ms. Tyson.

Meeting adjourned.
Respectfully submitted,
Patricia O’Connell