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Open letter from Georgia Charter Schools Association

Last week the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) sent an open letter to DeKalb Superintendent Green and the DeKalb Board of Education. In the letter, GCSA expressed their concern about the signals the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) was sending regarding charter schools, DCSD’s new charter school policy, and DCSD’s posture towards the State Department of Education’s (GADOE) requested policy revisions. GCSA requested that the DeKalb Board of Education revisit their Charter School Policy and align the DCSD policy with state statute, State BOE rules, and GADOE guidelines.

To read the letter from the Georgia Charter Schools Association in its entirety click here: OpenLetterFromGCSA

Last week, I attended the DCSD community engagement session regarding their petition to become a “charter district”.  I was disappointed by this meeting and the presentation made regarding the charter district petition.  At one point, a school district official defended their hesitancy towards autonomy for charter schools by saying that, “Well, you don’t just hand over the keys to the car to your 16-year old.”  That’s right – that’s what they think of us.  Given the track record of DeKalb bureaucrats, ponder that analogy for a while.

DeKalb’s idea of being a “charter school district” is not congruent with chartering philosophy.  The concept of chartering is that pursuant to a contract, the school will be held accountable for their performance.  If the school fails to perform, those involved in that school get removed.  This philosophy is much better than allowing failing schools to exist in perpetuity, as is currently the policy of traditionally managed schools.  We already have ample evidence on how DeKalb’s  bureaucracy performs.  DeKalb has languished at the bottom in almost every performance index while taxing at one of the highest millage rates in the state.  The same bureaucrats that got us to this place cannot get us out.

DeKalb simply doesn’t want to give up control.  There is too much at stake for those at high levels within the bureaucracy.  If DeKalb relinquishes control then the jobs program and doling out contracts to their friends would end.  The county’s rationale for pursuing a charter school district is to continue to obtain the waivers (class size, spending, etc.) that allow them to continue to bloat the central office while packing kids and teachers into crowded classrooms.   I hope our new Superintendent sees through the well entrenched bureaucrats.  I hope the GADOE sees through the charade that is this charter school petition.

 

 

 

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DeKalb County School District – upcoming meetings and public hearings about charter school district petition

School Flexibility Option Community Engagement Sessions

The focus of these sessions is to get stakeholder input on the Local School Governance Teams (LSGTs) that will be required at each school and how those teams will have the opportunity to assist in the governance of the school and request flexibility from state law and Department of Education rules and regu-lations.

Region IV Lithonia High School Tuesday, September 29 @ 6:00 PM
Region III Stephenson High School Wednesday, September 30 @ 6:00 PM
Region II Lakeside High School Thursday, October 1 @ 6:00 PM

GA DOE has an established deadline of November 1, 2015, for submission of charter petition applications. The petition’s current draft can be reviewed at the link below It hasn’t changed since last year.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/charter-system-petition/charter-system-application-cover-sheet.pdf

As a part of the legal obligations associated with submission of a charter application to the GA DOE, the District has requested that the Board hold two Public Hearings on October 5, 2015, with the first occurring at 1:30 PM and the second occurring at 5:30 PM. This will allow the public an opportunity to speak directly to the Board and offer input on the charter application. Finally, the District has requested that the Board hold a called meeting during the week of October 19, 2015, to allow the Board an opportunity to adopt a resolution supporting the charter application and its submission to the GA DOE.

Why was information withheld from the DeKalb Board of Education?

Last week, in advance of the school board voting on a new charter school policy, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) sent DeKalb a letter outlining necessary revisions. This 8-page letter was withheld from board members (they did ask to see this), who were then asked to vote on the policy.  To my knowledge, board members have still not received this letter. I wrote to the Georgia DOE and requested a copy of the letter and they quickly responded. Here is that letter:

GaDOE Review of DCSS Charter School Policiy and Regulation – 2015-09-11

Additionally, here is the email exchange between the DeKalb school district and the Georgia DOE: Email exchange between DCSD and State DOE regarding charter policy

Of particular importance, on Friday, September 11th, at 7:31pm, the Georgia DOE indicated that:

“Your response will be a good indicator of DCSS’s commitment to being a good charter partner. The State Superintendent and SBOE are as hopeful as we are that our renewed partnership will continue in a healthy fashion.”

On Monday, the DeKalb Board of Education passed the charter policy without ever being provided the Georgia DOE’s letter containing requested revisions and guidance on on its charter policy. DeKalb passed the charter policy without including any of the changes requested by the state DOE. Of particular importance is the very first revision that the GADOE noted in their 8-page letter. Here’s that requested revision:

1. Please remove “unique” and “innovative” from the initial paragraph of the proposed DCSS Policy in which it is stated that DCSS seeks to authorize high quality charter schools with “innovative, unique…academic programs”.

  • No state law, SBOE rules, or GaDOE guidelines require charter schools to implement unique or innovative programming that is not conducted elsewhere in a school district. 
  • Therefore, requiring “innovative, unique” academic programs in a new charter school or one seeking renewal places a greater burden on charter schools than is legally required.
  • The goal in creating charter schools is to produce higher student performance in exchange for autonomy from the state and local district regardless of the academic model selected or the degree to which that model is unique or innovative.

DeKalb has hard-wired into their policy the onerous requirement that a charter school must provide a “unique” or “innovative” academic program. I predict that DeKalb will use this requirement to deny any and every charter not connected to the “friends and family” that run the district.

On that very same evening, the DeKalb administration recommended denial of a Spanish language immersion charter school to be located in the McNair cluster area. The McNair cluster of schools have struggled academically for years and now have been denied a school choice option. The reason for denial?  The program wasn’t innovative as DeKalb already has a language immersion charter.  That’s true.  It’s in north DeKalb.  What is also true is that one of the Board members who voted to deny this charter represents the district in which this charter school was to be located.  What is also true is that a Board member who voted to deny this charter sends their children outside of their district through school choice programs, including the charter language immersion school in north DeKalb.  So, school choice is good for the school board members who can get their children across town.  School choice for the McNair kid who didn’t get in the lottery or isn’t able to get to North DeKalb in the mornings, well, apparently, tough luck.  Your Board member and your DeKalb bureaucrats, have decided that this charter petition wasn’t “unique”.  My advice to all new charter school petitioners:  Argue that your charter petition is unique because you won’t fail children.  Apparently, that’s a unique feature from my perspective.

The school district also denied the Druid Hills Charter Cluster last year. Soon, the district will take up renewing charters for conversation charters, like Chamblee Charter High School. If the district isn’t a good charter partner with the state DOE, can we expect Chamblee’s charter review and recommendation to get a fair shake? And, what do these developments portend for DeKalb’s application to the Georgia DOE to be a “charter school district”? At this point, DeKalb asking to be a charter school district, seems a bit like, an abusive parent submitting their name for a “Parent of the Year” award.

Coffee Talk Highlights

We had a terrific Coffee Talk last week.  Thank you to all of our speakers and attendees!  We recorded the speaking segments so you can catch up if you missed the event.  Click here to view the videos and summaries.  Here’s my rundown of our speakers and topics:

Thank you to Congressman Kingston for talking with us about his work at the Federal level.  Congressman Kingston is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.  He is Chair of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.  He works to rein in Federal spending and hold the government accountable for how they spend your tax dollars.  Rep. Kingston’s discussion at Coffee Talk showed how he uses data to inform his decisions.  I’m thankful we have Rep. Kingston serving our state in Washington.  He is also running for the U.S. Senate.  Click here to learn more about his campaign.  I am thankful that Rep. Kingston joined us for Coffee Talk and look forward to seeing him again soon.

We were also fortunate to have Sen. Fran Millar and Rep. Tom Taylor, update the group on educational issues that will be important for the next legislative session, beginning in January 2014.  Rep. Taylor discussed H.R. 486 – a resolution that proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow independent school districts to form in Georgia.  Currently, the Georgia Constitution prohibits the formation of new school districts; capping the number of districts to the 159 county districts plus the 21 city school districts that were grandfathered in with our latest Constitution, adopted in 1983.

Kelly Cadman, VP with Georgia Charter School’s Association, Michael O’Sullivan, Outreach Director for StudentsFirst Georgia and Rich Thompson of 100Dads, gave us valuable information about Charter Schools in Georgia and the roll of parents and citizens to effect needed changes in our state’s educational structure.  Ms. Cadman updated Coffee Talk on the recent submission of the first Charter School Cluster application in our state – the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.  The application is now before the DeKalb County Board of Education.  The Board must render a decision on the application within 90 days.  Mr. Sullivan discussed the importance of parent empowerment and how you can make your voices heard at the Capitol.  Rich Thompson told Coffee Talk we must improve rigor for all of Georgia’s children.  He reminded us that we should be talking about “raising the bar” for all of our students rather than “closing the gap”.

Tying all of the subject matters together, Melvin Everson spoke to Coffee Talk about the connection between education and economic development.  As a former Exec. Director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and the current Exec. Director of Georgia’s Commission on Equal Opportunity, he has seen first-hand when education works to unite students with a meaningful career and when our system fails to train workers for high-paying jobs that go unfilled across our state.

Stay tuned for upcoming Coffee Talks!  If you would like me to come speak to your group, please email or call me.

For your calendars…

Dunwoody Chamblee Parent Council (DCPC)
September 11, 2013 at Dunwoody High School
(Note the September meeting date has been changed.)
October 2, 2013 at Huntley Hills Elementary
November 6, 2013 at Dunwoody Elementary
December 4, 2013 at Kittredge Magnet School
February 5, 2014 at location to be determined
March 5, 2014 at location to be determined
April 2, 2014 at location to be determined
May 7, 2014 at Chamblee High School

RunDunwoodyOctober 20th!

Click her to register for this 5K race!  It’s a qualifier for the Peachtree Road Race.  You can also sign-up to be part of a team challenge.  The proceeds from the race go to support Rotarian efforts in local schools and law enforcement and to the world health efforts supported by Rotary.  Click here to read about the specific groups and areas that benefit from this event.

–Nancy

Coffee Talk with Nancy and Friends!

Thursday, August 22nd @9am

Cafe Intermezzo – Dunwoody

 Please join us to hear updates on education in Georgia, including:

  • Charter Schools
  • Parent Empowerment
  • School Choice
  • College, careers and the workplace
  • Legislative update

 

Sponsored by:

Relinquish

We’re all familiar with the old adage about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  So why are we hiring District School Superintendents the same way and “governing” large school districts the same way?

Yes, we’ve seen Superintendents being hired from outside of the educational establishment, but it has become commonplace and is no longer an innovation. Most significantly, Superintendents with non-traditional backgrounds perform similarly to Superintendents that come from within the educational establishment.

Could it be that the structure of what is managed and governed by Superintendents and Boards is the heart of the problem?

Neerav Kingsland, chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans, recently published a letter on this very issue in EdWeek. Mr. Kingsland argues that we need superintendents who are the “Great Relinquishers.” Under “No Child Left Behind” and other accountability measures, the knee-jerk reaction of administrators has been to strengthen their grip on districts and schools.  It’s an understandable response to the demands of accountability, but it’s the opposite of what will produce results for children and taxpayers.  Tight administrative grip stifles and chokes out real progress and innovation.  When central authority imposes what it determines to be a successful strategy on all schools, uniformity and regimented reporting become the management tools.

While this approach seems rational from the outside, it lacks the agility to address the unique issues that occur within each school and classroom.  It entangles the school level and classroom level professionals and is an obstacle to doing what works best for their communities.

Modern district administration has clung to almost every management fad business schools have spewed over the last decade.  The truth is these management techniques, so carefully codified in management literature, are often themselves unreproducible and yield poor results for businesses who implement them. Click here for a brief review of failed business fads, some of which we still see being tried in school districts today.  If these management fads weren’t successful at producing results for businesses why do Superintendents and their training courses rely so heavily on them?

What we do know from the time of Adam Smith until today, is that the invisible hand works.  No Superintendent or central office bureaucrat can engineer an outcome as optimal as allowing the producers and consumers in the marketplace of education to simply operate as they see fit.  If command and control systems worked to produce the best possible outcomes for society, we would all be speaking Russian today!  Sadly, the educational establishment is trying to make us all speak edu-babble and the business jargon du jour.  When will they learn?

Mr. Kingsland is spot on.  We need The Great Relinquishers.  We need more independent charter schools.  The last 100 years has been the era of The Great Consolidators.  We have gone from more than 100,000 school districts nationwide to less than 15,000 today.  An ever growing percentage of school funding is paid to administrators.  The reformation of education in our state and nation will occur when we move in the opposite direction.

We must free schools and communities from the iron grip of bureaucracies.  No matter how well intentioned, a centrally directed policy, method or program, will fail to maximize educational outcomes for our children.  We need to look for Relinquishers to lead school districts now.  They need to be aggressive in seeking to divest districts of their centrally coordinated practices.  I look forward to the day when philanthropic money rewards the Relinquisher and foundations incentivize leaders to see themselves as the purveyors of educational freedom.