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Drugs, Prostitution, and Now Murder at an Abandoned DeKalb County School

Last night I heard this story on the news: Body Found Near Old School in DeKalb County.

A neighbor walking his dog heard gunshots and then came across the body of a man who was shot and died at the closed Atherton Elementary School property off of Glenwood Road. The video of the school property showed a neglected, overgrown, boarded-up building that is a blight to that community. The neighbors that were interviewed in the story said that the school building and property have become magnets for drugs, prostitution, and homeless people. Sadly, we can now add murder to that list.

DeKalb County School District needs to vastly improve their building and site maintenance. This is true for schools currently in use and for surplus property. Too often, projects that SPLOST dollars pay for, are really caused by a lack of proper maintenance on the assets. If DeKalb did competent maintenance your SPLOST dollars could all be dedicated to their real purpose – building new schools and expanding and improving existing facilities. Sadly, SPLOST has become the source of basic maintenance dollars for the district.

So, with all of the SPLOST tax dollars the district has collected over 20 years of the SPLOST tax, DeKalb Schools let Atherton Elementary School become an eyesore and a hotbed of criminal activity, and now murder, in the middle of a community. I think the root of the problem lies with the bureaucratic power structure and the fact that they are accountable to no one. These unelected decision makers have so bungled the SPLOST building program that I call it building operations malpractice, at this point. Why have they allowed trailers to proliferate along the Buford corridor? Why have they not added onto schools that have had temporary buildings in place for a decade? What are they doing to alleviate the current and, soon exploding, trailer expansions in Dunwoody? Why have they not torn down Atherton Elementary and turned the property into a park for the community? DeKalb School District has its own police force. How often are these officers on-site given the crime and blight present at this abandoned property? How long has it been since someone in DeKalb Schools came over and cared for the vegetation on this property?

I have sent an email to DeKalb County officials to inquire what can be done to hold the school district responsible for their neglectful ownership. This community deserves better.

Former DeKalb administrator demands special service and approximately 6000 children in 10 schools pay the price

Dr. Green,
When I first met with you, I shared that DeKalb County needed change at the central office. The same people that brought us to the poor state of affairs in our schools, cannot get us out. In order for DeKalb to improve, for fractured relationships to heal, and for trust to return, I said that you should listen to the individual communities. I was hoping that you would end the tyranny of tone-deaf and short sighted decisions. I hoped that you would focus your attention on improving the educational lives of DeKalb’s children.

Your decision to rip trusted and loved clinicians and nurses from their school communities is sad and disappointing. Staff members are not widgets. They cannot be exchanged and moved as inputs on a production line. To try and do so, puts children at risk.

You have stated that this decision was based on a “review of the health programs throughout the district”. You further stated that you “determined that there were schools in which diabetic students are enrolled that do not have the support of a licensed nurse for monitoring and injections on a routine basis.” You said that, “The District’s long-standing practice has been for licensed nurses to care for our students with the most significant medical needs.” You communicated that this was a practice implemented in 2004.

Unfortunately, these statements are not consistent with the facts. The reason this disruptive action was taken was to satisfy a demand made by a well connected, former DeKalb County Schools administrator who has a grandchild that attends Bouie Elementary School. You have let the “friends and family” hegemony and callousness continue unabated in DeKalb. Once again, schools were turned upside down on a whim to meet the demands of a former powerful DeKalb administrator. In the process 10 schools – approximately 5000 children or 5% of all of DeKalb’s students– paid the price.

As you know, there is no board regulation, board policy or state law that can be used as a basis for what you allowed to happen. You have indicated that it was the “long-standing practice” of the district to address nursing assignments based on the location of diabetic children. As you have only just come to DeKalb, you must be relying on someone telling you that it is “practice.” I urge you to “trust but verify” any statement about “practice” given to you by a central office staff administrator. In fact, one of the specific issues that AdvancED/SACS cited as a reason that caused governance problems for over a decade was the use of “practice” versus policy. Practice is not policy. It is a term d’art of the administrators that has no legal meaning. It got DeKalb Schools in hot water in the past.

If you are interested in just how troubling the “practice” argument is, you can watch this video link (around the 23 minute mark) where Dr. Mark Elgart of AdvancED discusses the problem of “practice” as it was used in DeKalb. Boards and administrations using “practice” rather than approved policy was a reason DeKalb schools was placed on probation. So, when one of your administrators tells you about “practice”, please understand they may be leading you down a dangerous path.

If, in fact, it was a “long-standing practice” of the district (you indicated since 2004) to move nurses around based on the location of diabetic children, the Kittredge nurse would have been moved long ago. The facts don’t match the rhetoric.

The outcome of this ill-advised move is that Vanderlyn lost an RN because she only wanted to work at the location where her own children were in attendance. She was specifically recruited to do so. She has left the district entirely. A beloved veteran clinician was ripped from Kittredge and will now be at Vanderlyn. What if a child at Vanderlyn is diagnosed with diabetes tomorrow, or next month? Now, Kittredge is left without any nurse or clinician. The diabetic child who had been cared for by the clinician who is now at Vanderlyn, now has no one. In fact, the entire school is now without clinic staff.

The fact that Kittredge is without any clinician, and has a child with diabetes, puts that school out of compliance with state law and DeKalb Board policy.

Huntley Hills Elementary School’s nurse was reassigned to Oakcliff and a replacement has not shown up. Bouie Elementary School has lost a trusted clinician and veteran staff member. Again, what is the reshuffle plan if more children with diabetes show up at other schools? It appears that the outcome of this move is to leave the district as a whole with fewer clinicians and RNs and place more children at risk, thus increasing potential liabilities for the school district; all to please a former administrator who is responsible in part for the poor record of achievement and management in the district. It is a double insult.

Children in DeKalb would be so much better off if administrators would focus on improving education at the many failing schools in our district.

Dr. Green, I don’t blame you at this point for the errors in information that your staff are providing to you and others. Please review this matter in further detail. You have the opportunity to heal this community. Every parent that has contacted my Commission office absolutely wants the district to be in compliance with law and policy. They simply do not want these arbitrary, ill-advised, unsafe, and punitive changes to stand. You have the opportunity to build goodwill and admiration in communities throughout DeKalb. I am optimistic that you will chose that path.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this issue or any other matter. You may contact me directly at (678.360.1148).

–Nancy
Nancy Jester
Commissioner, District 1

The affected schools are: Bouie, Fairington, Kittredge, Vanderlyn, Oakcliff, Huntley Hills, Columbia, Oakview, Briarlake, and Hawthorne.

Why are DeKalb school nurses being ripped from their communities?

Dr. Green,
I have been contacted by a number of concerned parents and citizens about recent changes that are being made to nurses at several area schools.  As you can imagine, these changes are causing a great deal of disruption and discomfort for the community and the students.

I know you are quite busy but I do think this matter might need your personal assistance.  I want to make sure that your staff is informing you about their decisions in this matter and providing you the fullest picture on the ramifications.

I have been told that this change is being made pursuant to board policy; specifically about care for children with diabetes.  I reviewed the regulation JGC-R that directs actions based on DeKalb Board Policy JGC.  Additionally, I reviewed state statute regarding the student Diabetic Medical Management Plans (O.C.G.A. 160-4-8-.18).

DeKalb School Board Regulation JGC-R states:  “The school nurse or at least one trained diabetes personnel shall be on site at each school and available during regular school hours to provide care to each student with a diabetes medical management plan being implemented by the school. ”

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 160-4-8-.18, the state defines “trained diabetes personnel” as:  “a school employee who volunteers to be trained in accordance with this rule. Such employee shall not be required to be a health care professional.”

Given the current clinical/nursing staff of the school communities that have reached out to my office, all policy, regulation, and law are being appropriately followed.  There appears to be no policy, regulation, or state law that can be used as a basis for this change.

Parents have shared just how deeply disruptive this change will be.  The clinical staff person at Kittredge, Ms. Sumi, is a fixture at the school and an alumni parent.  She coaches the science team, academic bowl team and is the sponsor for the Beta Club.  She has secured over $30k in grant money for health and wellness programs over the past few years.  Tearing her away from her community and commitments is heartbreaking for the entire school.  Similarly, Vanderlyn and Oakcliff’s nurses are valued by their community.  Oakcliff’s nurse has been at that school for over 20 years.  She is also uniquely qualified because she is bilingual.  Vanderlyn’s nurse is also a Vanderlyn parent and was recruited to be part of the Vanderlyn staff.  She was a stay-at-home mom and is only working because she is at her children’s school.

The nurses at these schools are now familiar with the myriad of medical situations, medication needs, and temperament of the children they are serving.  They have bonded with these children already.  Switching nurses in this way is disruptive for thousands of children in these schools.  Surely this warrants consideration.  It is potentially detrimental to those children that have come to depend on their current school nurse who already knows their important medical routines.  Switching clinical staff may create a liability for the district as they start from scratch getting familiar with the needs of the students.  Given that DeKalb is already compliant with policy, regulation, and state law, it is difficult for these communities to understand why they are being subjected to this.

Parents are distraught over this matter.  I have heard unconfirmed reports that as many as 2 of the nurses involved in this change are resigning.  If true, the premise of this change won’t even be accomplished and the, difficult to fill, nursing positions will be vacant. What will have been accomplished is a further degrading of the relationship between the district and parents.  They will have broken the hearts of a community and its children in the process.  It will reinforce the notion that the district acts punitively towards some school communities.  I hope that you will consider this situation, direct your staff to delay any of their changes at this time, develop an alternative strategy, or decide that DeKalb is already in compliance with policy, regulations, and law.

Respectfully,
–Nancy Jester
Commissioner, District 1

The Bowers-Hyde Investigative Report, September 30, 2015

Please click on the link here to read the Bowers-Hyde Investigative Report: Bowers and Hyde report

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.

 

 

 

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.