Welcome to my new blog! I often have thoughts to share that don’t fit within the confines of a Facebook post or a tweet, so I’m going to give a blog a go. I don’t have plans to post on a regular schedule at this time, so I will try to remember to share on Facebook and Twitter when new posts are available. I hope y’all find what I share to be helpful and informative!
One of the qualities that drew me to Decatur was the Spanish program. I have long believed that in the U.S., languages are traditionally taught at the wrong time, so I was thrilled to see Decatur begins language learning at the appropriate time in a child’s development. Continue reading
On January 23rd, the Board met at 7:00 pm for their regular monthly meeting. (The meeting was scheduled 30-minutes later than normal due to the State of the City address earlier in the evening.)
The meeting kicked off with the swearing in of new Board member Heather Tell and returning Board members Annie Caiola and Lewis Jones. As is customary anytime a new Board is seated, we immediately proceeded to Board officer elections. Annie Caiola nominated Lewis Jones for the role of Board Chair, and he was unanimously elected. Garrett Goebel nominated Tasha White for the role of Board Vice-Chair, and she was unanimously elected.
A team from Decatur High School provided an excellent update on their work, focusing on the increases to Rigor, Access, and Support over the last 10 years.
In a first in my memory, no one signed up for public comment.
During my comments, I shared my appreciation for the great work going on at DHS and reiterated a comment made by Garrett Goebel, that while it is great to be recognized for things like high CCRPI scores, that is a by-product of us doing what we think is best for students. Unlike many other districts, we do not make decisions based on what gets us “points” or recognition, but rather we focus on what is the best decision for our students and let the “points” or recognitions fall where they may. I shared about my meeting with DHS students regarding their experience at Decatur High school in regards to race. I also shared updates on various administrator vacancies, including that the RMS Principal position has been posted and an interim Principal will be named by the end of the week, the Oakhurst Principal search was extended to ensure a robust applicant pool so the process is slightly delayed, and I have removed “interim” from Sarah Garland’s title, making her the “permanent” Early Childhood Learning Director.
Dr. Huddleston provided an update on our efforts to eliminate disproportionality and engaged in discussion with the Board.
We had a robust discussion about the pros and cons of making up school days, and finally settled on making up one of our recent days missed on March 12th and not making up the other two days. Additionally, having chosen not to use the make-up days that are built into the calendar over winter break, and acknowledging similar decisions being made in the past, we are going to revisit the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic calendars to plan for a year longer than 180 days in order to “build in” make-up days in the calendar.
Our auditor presented our fiscal year 2017 audit. Our finance team do great work and that was reflected in the audit.
In executive session we discussed legal, personnel, and property matters. At 10:07 pm we left executive session to vote on a property purchase in open session. The property we are purchasing is for use as a facility for our transportation department, allowing us to free-up space at the Talley Street school site where we were previously going to have to park buses (and where they are currently parked). The property is at 540 Kentucky Street in Scottdale and includes 1.45 acres, a small office building, and warehouse space, in addition to the parking area needed for bus storage. The purchase price is $1,443,025.00 and the contract was unanimously approved by the Board.
At 10:09 pm we adjourned the meeting.
Who was there: All five Board members, Superintendent
What official actions were taken: Approval of consent agenda, approval of using March 12th as a make-up day, approval of DHS/RMS Engineering Equipment purchase, and approval of purchase of property.
There are times in life when we are provided with a perspective that helps us frame the challenges of day-to-day living. Tonight is one of those moments for me.
I just learned that a student from my previous school district passed away this afternoon, after battling cancer for over a year. I have followed his and his family’s journey from afar. His strength, tenacity, and optimism have fueled me and countless others. This young man and his amazing family have demonstrated so clearly what love and compassion look like in daily actions. My heart breaks reading his mother’s words:
Today at 3:30, I climbed into bed with Calder and curled around him as he peacefully took his last breath at 4:09 surrounded by family. Calder can now finally rest.
Please keep this incredible family in your thoughts and prayers as they lay their child to rest. May Calder’s warrior spirit forever live on! #CalderStrong
The highlight of the evening was learning, listening, and discussing related to Board policy JAA: Equal Educational Opportunities. In the work session, we heard from Dr. Erin Swenson and Dr. Eric Wright about gender identity, including topics like the “Genderbread Person,” the SIEO Model, some history of gender identity, and the health and well-being of transgender students. During the regular meeting we heard from several dozen speakers on this topic, the Board shared a statement, and Board members shared some individual comments. I appreciated the Board’s continued support of our approach to supporting all students, including transgender students, and look forward to upcoming discussions and work on clarifying policy to reflect this.
We had two spotlight groups this week. The third grade teachers from Winnona Park provided a great presentation about their trip to Equador as a team this summer and how that experience is informing their work in the school this year. We then heard from Renfroe students about their Culture of Caring and all of that great work they’ve been experiencing in that area.
When public comment concluded around 10:00 pm, we took a brief recess to stretch before jumping into the rest of the agenda.
During my comments, I shared that at the December meeting we will be presenting a report on barriers to participation, and reminded everyone that the process for naming the new school on Talley Street will begin in the spring.
Lillie Huddleston provided an update on the myriad initiatives and groups throughout the district addressing disproportionality, including those at Oakhurst, Westchester, Winnona Park, F.AVE, Renfroe, and central office. To assist in ensuring proper focus, we will be conducting an educational equity needs assessment over the course of this school year.
Dianne Thompson provided an update on the status of her work as our new Student Success Coordinator and the numerous items moving forward under her leadership. I especially liked a quote she shared: “A relationship without trust is like a car without gas, you can stay in it all you want, but it won’t go anywhere.” This focus on relationships (internal and external) and gathering student input is very encouraging. Community partners are stepping up to help the center serve students’ academic, career, and social/emotional needs.
The team from Perkins and Will Architects provided an update on the new upper elementary school at Talley Street. The plan is really coming together nicely. We’re still hoping to find another location for bus parking so that space could be used for additional green space, but for the time being we need to continue planning for the buses to remain at this location.
Noel Maloof gave an update on the work of the Wellness Team. The 25-members (and growing) of the team have had their first meeting and have scheduled meetings for the remainder of the year. They’ve also discussed areas they need to focus on and the need for prioritization of all of the work they are looking to tackle.
We discussed the three days missed due to the power outages following Hurricane Irma and decided that we are not going to try to make those days up. Due to the declaration of a state of emergency, making those days up is not required. We do not anticipate this decision having any significant impact on the academic progress of our students. Additionally, it allows those make-up days to still be available if needed due to winter weather or other needs.
After a discussion about Board member eligibility for benefits, I have been tasked with beginning work on a policy that would allow the Board to implement benefits. Our providers have confirmed their eligibility for dental, vision, and health insurance, with rates for the latter being set by the State (https://shbp.georgia.gov/board-member-rates). Next steps include looking into implications of the district paying any portion of such benefits versus the costs being born solely by the Board member receiving such.
During our discussion of future business, we discussed the need for calendaring certain items, like an update on our dyslexia initiatives, the next wellness update, etc. The administrative team is going to work to identify when these and other items will be coming up on future agendas so we can document those plans in this agenda item.
At 12:00 am we adjourned to executive session to discuss personnel and legal matters and finally adjourned the meeting at 1:31 am (10/11/17).
Who was there: All five Board members, Superintendent
What official actions were taken: Approval of consent agenda
Due to the power outage that swept through our community this week, the 9/12/17 Board meeting was moved to 9/14/17. We started the meeting at 8pm in a very warm Board room, which seemed appropriate given how the week had gone.
The power is back on at all of our schools!!!!
During my comments, I shared my appreciation for our amazing staff and all that they took on during this week. Noel Maloof, Jason Ware, Allison Goodman, LoWanda Bowman, and their teams in the Operations Department worked tirelessly to assess and repair buildings, protect our food from spoilage, plan for student meals, and accommodate bus routes to closed roads while planning and providing emergency transportation for Westchester. Courtney Burnett repeatedly jumped into action at all hours to ensure appropriate planning and communications occurred. The administrative team worked relentlessly to ensure we did everything we could to serve students, including a herculean effort by principals Rochelle Lofstrand, Billy Heaton, Arlethea Williams, and Johnathan Clark to figure out all of the logistics required to host Clairemont students at RMS and Westchester students at DHS (we ended up only needing the latter). The DHS and Westchester teachers and staff jumped into action in order to ensure Westchester students didn’t just have a sufficient experience at DHS but instead had an amazing, memorable experience. The City of Decatur staff, police, and fire & rescue folks were always available to jump in and support the school district in any way needed. Obviously, the Georgia Power crews from throughout the country were heroes for dropping everything at their homes to come help our community recover. And, finally, I especially appreciated the parents who kept me entertained on Facebook! 😉 It truly took a village, far beyond those mentioned above, to get through this, and this trial was an exceptional example of what makes Decatur great.
Board Chair Caiola shared the gratefulness she has heard throughout the community for our real-time, informative communications during the power outage. She expressed how great it was to see the community pull together. She recognized the great honor bestowed upon DEF Executive Director Gail Rothmann by her selection to represent Georgia on the National School Foundations Association’s Industry Leadership
Our Equity Director, Dr. Lillie Huddleston, provided an update on disproportionality reduction. She discussed the RFP process and timeline for our Equity Needs Assessment. She explained the District Equity Task Force we are forming and how they, along with school-based equity teams and leaders, will develop the District Educational Equity Action Plan.
In an effort to provide better benefits to our staff at an optimal cost we engaged in a robust process to identify new benefits providers. Through an extensive RFP and staff engagement process, we have identified providers for all employee benefit areas. Our Executive Director of Staff Support, David Adams, presented the results of this project in collaboration with the vendor who we engaged to assist with this process. Open enrollment will start next month so the Staff Support Department and vendors helping us with the process will be visiting all of our schools to explain the changes to employees and meet with them 1-on-1 to answer questions and provide information.
Dr. Huddleston then provided an update on Title IX. She explained her plans as the district’s incoming Title IX Coordinator, including identifying Title IX liaisons at each school. While a district is only required to have a single Title IX Coordinator, we feel it is best for Decatur to identify resources at every school in order to ensure we are optimally serving students.
The Board discussed their DOE-required training plans for the upcoming year. We are going to try to focus on local training customized to our needs and focused on practice rather than philosophy. We discussed the importance of equity training as the Board supports equity initiatives throughout the district.
The Board has been discussing barriers to getting great people to volunteer extensive time to serve on the Board; such as the cost of childcare while participating in meetings. Currently, the $50/meeting stipend the Board receives is codified in the City of Decatur charter. The Board authorized me to work with the City to have this language changed to more closely match the language used for City Commissioners. In short, language that allows the Board to set their stipends, reimbursements, etc.
We engaged in an extensive discussion of the project at Talley Street. Courtney Burnett, Director of Community and Government Relations, presented a chart showing the overall timeline for all of the major aspects of this project, including construction, school boundaries, staffing, etc. She shared that this spring we plan to kick off the process of naming the school, which will include extensive community input and will ultimately be decided by the Board.
A consultant from Cooperative Strategies, the company that assisted us with the lead up to the Talley Street project, joined us virtually to discuss their recommendations for the boundary setting process.
Noel Maloof, Executive Director of Operations, provided an overview of LEED standards and the impact on the project. The Board agreed that pursuing LEED certification is the direction we want to go.
Having reached 10:30 pm, the architects from Perkins & Will were kind enough to condense their presentation. (Interestingly, we learned that Perkins & Will has 13 staff who live in our school district, so they have an especially personal interest in the success of the project at Talley Street.) The architects presented information about the steering committee input, discussed the site and considerations regarding site use, and explained building design philosophies and concepts.
The Board adjourned to executive session at about 11:30 and wrapped up the meeting at 12:48 (yes, A.M.). As you can see from the length of this summary, it was a “meaty” meeting with lots of great discussion. More details on many of these subjects are available in the applicable item on the agenda.
Who was there: All five Board members, Superintendent
What official actions were taken: Approval of consent agenda
I had an opportunity to speak at the Decatur Parent Network event this evening. It’s always a pleasure to support this group as they work so hard to support #OurKids. The following are the graphs I briefly discussed. These results are pulled from the Georgia Student Health Survey given to students throughout Georgia every year.
In regards to alcohol consumption, these data suggest some small, positive trends. Over the last three school years, our middle and high school students have gone from 82.7% reporting having NOT had a drink of alcohol in the past 30 days to 87.4% reporting the same.
Over that same period, those students go from 91.4% to 94.6% reporting NOT having binged on alcohol (i.e., 5 or more drinks over a couple hours).
Finally, when it comes to marijuana use, those same students, over the same period, continued a small, positive trend; going from 89.1% to 91.7% NOT using marijuana.
While there are obviously still concerns given the variability between grade levels and the distance some of them are from 100%, these small positive trends are certainly encouraging. With the help of groups like the Decatur Parent Network we can continue making positive differences in the health of #OurKids!
At our last regular Board meeting, I discussed how we monitor class sizes, especially at the lower elementary level, and how different parameters impact class sizes. Our class sizes in lower elementary currently range from 16* to 27 students per class. We prefer to keep these classes at 25 students or fewer. Unfortunately, there are quite a few things that impact these sizes.
Many of you have heard me mention that “students don’t come in nice, neat little packages.” We’re not making widgets here. We can’t set a certain class size and just turn students away from the district when all of the seats are full. Significant differences in class sizes can appear when there are multiple schools at a given grade level, and those schools have few teachers teaching at that grade level.
Imagine a school with 47 students projected for next year’s kindergarten class. The principal staffs that grade with two teachers, resulting in projected class sizes of 23 and 24. However, the week before school starts, three more kindergarten students register for that school, bringing the class sizes to 25 each. The following week, two more students register, bringing the class sizes to 26 students in each. With the addition of just two students, the school now exceeds 25 students in each class in that grade.
Now take a school like F.AVE, for example, where you might have 15 teachers all teaching the same grade level, with that grade level not being taught anywhere else. If those teachers were serving 375 students (i.e., 25 students per class), the school could “absorb” another 15 students before every class in that grade exceeds 25 students.
The neighborhood schools we cherish are amazing! But they are also inefficient. Like many things in life, we have to take the good with the bad, and one of the undesirable outcomes of having a handful of small lower elementary schools is that there can be considerable variability in class sizes from grade to grade within a building and from building to building within a grade. As we monitor class sizes, when we see “hot spots” (like we saw at Clairemont and Glennwood this year) we take a look at the specific circumstances surrounding that potential need and make a judgement call as to whether or not we assign additional resources (like a teacher or a para) to help lower the ratio of students to adults in that area. In the case of Clairemont and Glennwood this year, those circumstances led us to add a teacher at each school.
In case you are interested, here are our lower elementary class sizes as of the writing of this post (prior to adding the two teachers mentioned previously). Hopefully, the above information helps lend context to why one would see considerable variability in class sizes for these grades.