Meeting Minutes, October 19, 2011

Minutes from the Emory LaVista Parent Council Meeting October 19, 2011 at Fernbank Elementary School.

Greetings from Marshall Orson, co-president of ELPC. He welcomed Fernbank Elementary principal Dr. Jason Marshall. Board members in attendance included: Don McChesney, Paul Womack, and Donna Elder. Mr. Orson acknowledged the Fernbank PTA for organizing refreshments in addition to the school staff. Mr. Orson expressed appreciation to Chris Wyatt, Fernbank registrar and bookkeeper. Other guests acknowledged include state Sen. Fran Millar, Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader. Mr. Orson also acknowledged principals and central office staff members from the school system. Mr. Orson noted that the Emory LaVista Parent Council sponsors community meetings to provide information about topics of specific interests to the community.

The first portion of the program included information about SPLOST which will be on the ballot on November 8, 2011. Dan Drake, who oversees planning for the school system, noted that the system needs to protect initial investment in facilities through ongoing care. SPLOST has been approved continuously through last 14 years and can only be used for capital improvements. There is no other alternative funding source for projects. SPLOST involves a one penny consumption tax for goods purchased in county regardless of residence. The current SPLOST expires in June 30, 2012. SPLOST I (1997-2002) built new schools, multipurpose buildings, buses, technology SPLOST II (2002-2007) built new schools, renovations. The current SPLOST (2007-2012) will involve replacing one high school and other renovations. The new SPLOST if approved would run from 2012-2017. An assessment of facilities found that $2 billion in renovations needed. On June 6, 2011, the board approved $475 million list of capital improvements to be funded by SPLOST IV. The funds would replace seven elementary schools, replace McNair and Chamblee High Schools, renovate Avondale Elementary for the arts school, and renovate Henderson Middle School. Other projects include installation of synthetic turf and replace lighting at stadiums; technology updates; upgrade school buses and service vehicle fleet; installation of security cameras and closed circuit television, roofing, heating and air, electrical, plumbing and kitchen upgrades to be consistent with codes. Proposed projects are on line at www

Sen. Millar indicated many voters don’t know about this funding particularly individuals who do not have child in school. He encouraged dissemination of information promoting support of SPLOST. He noted that the issue on the second page of ballot in some areas. The issue is the only matter on the ballot in unincorporated DeKalb.

Q: Expressed concern about history of corruption and expressed concern about ongoing lawsuit with Heery International.

A: From school board member Paul Womack who said the board has an internal auditor and there will be an oversight committee to overview what has been and will be done.
Mr. Orson added that the superintendent and professional staff with DCSS have looked for best practices depoliticizing process. The oversight committee with include six members with expertise in construction and six members from the community. There will be an independent auditor. If SPLOST does not pass, the board reform legislation will not come into effect. However Sen. Millar indicated the Legislature can address this issue if necessary. He noted that board members cannot promote SPLOST.

The remainder of the meeting was devoted to discussion No Child Left Behind. It was noted that the school system’s typical solution to failing school was to allow transfers. Large numbers of transfer students have resulted in a burden on receiving schools many of which already were over burdened. Among guests at the meeting were: Margo DeLaune Title Programs Director for Georgia Department of Education; Anthony Threat Georgia Department of Education school improvement specialist, assigned to DeKalb County Schools system; Brad Bryant executive director of a new foundation of public-private partners to bring new business to the state; Martha Reichrath, Ph.D., deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Georgia Department of Education; Bob Moseley, DeKalb County Schools deputy chief superintendent for school operations, Dr. Audra Berry, director of the office of school improvement for DeKalb County Schools.
Mr. Moseley noted that the U.S. Department of Education allows 10 things when a school is performing below expectations, one of those is transfers. The spirit of NCLB is to offer choices and transfer options. He noted that school systems cannot get out of compliance with NCLB. He said that the “real answer” is to have all schools make AYP. He said that although achievement in DeKalb has been increasing, standards also are continuing to increase. He said the system must identify schools that must offer choice and those that are eligible to receive. Reconstitution of schools and creation of new schools are options, but there are costs involved. He noted that creating a STEM school as a school choice would be one option. The system may have new options next year.
Dr. Reichrath said the state plans to ask that its current adequate yearly progress methods be replaced by what was called a system that is “more than adequate.” The methods would involve indices for college and career readiness at all academic levels. For example in high school there would be 20 indices including graduation rates, attendance rates, post high school readiness and content mastery. Current standards including end of class tests were called minimal. Schools would have the opportunity for bonus points for strong performance. The state also will be asking to offer extended support (tutoring) in-house. The state’s application for No Child Left Behind Waiver is posted on the Georgia Department of Education website
In a discussion about tutoring and transfers, speakers noted that in schools with Title 1 children, parents are reimbursed for tutoring costs. They are required to use a state-approved tutor. Students cannot be required to have a tutor and school choice is given as a first option. House Bill 251, allows permissive transfers. School districts are required to identify empty seats and allow transfers.
Regarding accountability of new plan to assess school progress, Dr. Reichrath said the state has worked hard to try to create framework allows local system with expectation of accountability to have as much flexibility as possible. Mr. Bryant noted that DeKalb County School system is compliance-based system. Flexibility is embraced by other systems but DeKalb is resisting that. The school began offering transfers and could have tapped into other resources to find out other options. Parents often want kids out and the system has played smoke and mirrors with annexes. There is frustration on receiving school side. Other systems are progressing because DeKalb is still in compliance mode.
Dr. Reichrath said under the new plan, the schools will have a “report card on steroids.” Only lowest performers will have level of intervention or help from school improvement team.
A question addressed why students are allowed to transfer schools before taking advantage of tutoring. The answer noted that NCLB was a product of politics where certain political groups pushed for school choice. The law provides for allocation of funds for tutoring and students are ranked with respect to priority for tutoring funds. Not all students may get tutoring.
Ms. Berry said the school system tries to educate parents about tutoring and transfers. She said the school system would like to offer tutoring before transfers. About 3,000 students receive tutoring. Transfer students cannot use tutoring services.
In response to a question about teacher accountability, it was noted that Race To The Top funds will be directed toward teacher effectiveness.
In response to a question about how effective are student transfers in improving those students’ academic performance, it was noted that there has been no systematic investigation of those students to examine how they function after they transfer schools. However a new longitudinal data system is being implemented and will be more detailed under new accountability plan. Also it is difficult to look at any one student’s data due to federal privacy laws.
Mr. Orson concluded the meeting with an announcement that the topic of the next meeting will be how state policies are implemented locally. Topics for future meetings include leadership development. The next meeting will be November 16, 2011 at Evansdale Elementary School.