Welcome!

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!

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Summary of 9/14/17 Board Meeting

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!!!!  giphy-1[1]

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
Council.

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

Presentation at Decatur Parent Network Event

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. Analysis1_Page_3

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).

Analysis1_Page_1

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.

 

Analysis1_Page_2

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!

 

Class Sizes in Lower Elementary

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.

Class Size 2017 - K

Class Size 2017 - 1

Class Size 2017 - 2

Class Size 2017 - 3

 

Summary of 8/21/17 Board Training

Today the Board had a great day of training that helped further our efforts toward exceptional Board governance. Today’s training was focused on “Ends Policies”–the portion of Board governance that identifies those outcomes that are of critical importance to the Board. After several hours of learning the ins and outs of good Ends, we applied that knowledge to the specific beliefs and values of CSD.

This training was one more step toward our implementation of policy governance. In the coming months we will be applying what we have learned during our regular Board meetings as we draft, discuss, and adopt new Board policies. It was an intense 8-1/2 hours of training, but naturally we did take a break about 2:30 so we could experience the eclipse!


Who was there: All five Board members, Superintendent, Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Consultant (Bill Charney), and GSBA reps (Sam King & Tony Arasi)

What official actions were taken: none

Summary of 8/16/17 Board Work Session

At the 8/16/17 Board work session, the Board, City staff, CSD facilities staff, Perkins and Will architects, and other sustainability experts gathered to discuss green building standards like LEED, Green Globe, and Georgia Peach.

Perkins and Will kicked off the meeting with a presentation on this topic and the intersections with the new school project on Talley Street. (As of this writing the presentation is not yet uploaded to the board agenda but it will be added later today.) They shared an overview of the LEED, Green Globes, and Georgia Peach certifications. Since Green Globes is missing components important to us, like MEP commissioning (i.e., having another set of eyes on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems), we mostly focused on the other two programs. They provided rough estimates regarding the costs of both programs, with LEED adding approximately $340,000 (2.0%) to the $17 million project and Georgia Peach adding approximately $162,000 (0.9%).

We all engaged in a great discussion about sustainable building practices, perspectives on costs and return on investment, payback periods for sustainable upgrades, returns on the investments made in these practices, the value of a certification process, and other related topics. We left the discussion having confirmed unanimous Board support for green building practices along with requests for additional information to be provided at the September Board meeting. Those requests include:

  • More detail of the differences between LEED and Georgia Peach
  • More information on returns on investments (ROI)
  • Pros and cons of the two approaches
  • Examples of what exactly the construction premium covers in each
  • Examples of the documentation fees for each program and why they are so different
  • A range of the estimated costs for each program rather than a single estimate for each

It was a great discussion and we all appreciated the willingness of the City and other sustainability experts to spend the evening with us.

Following the 2-hour sustainability discussion, the Board adjourned to executive session to discuss a legal matter. The evening wrapped up at about 10:30 pm.


Who was there: All five Board members, Superintendent, City Manager (Peggy Merriss), other City staff, CSD facilities staff, Perkins and Will architects, and other sustainability experts

What official actions were taken: none

Summary of 8/8/17 Board Meeting

On Tuesday, 8/8/17, the CSD Board met from 6:30-10:00 pm for their regular August Board meeting. Documents referenced in the summary below can be found in the applicable item on the agenda.

The Spotlight this month was on the new CSD website, at www.csdecatur.net. The new website has much better navigation, a clean, professional look, and is significantly easier for webmasters to keep updated than the previous website was. It is also mobile friendly! Staff are monitoring usage data from the site and will continue to make improvements based on how the site is used by stakeholders.

I shared some thoughts about the Hidden Cove trail behind Westchester. I presented a portion of the presentation from our staff Opening Day event, explaining our strategic priorities this year: amplifying equity, growing strategically, and assessing impact. I also shared how we monitor class sizes at the start of the year, the impact of changes to teacher staffing after homerooms are underway, and the areas we are discussing for potential staff additions (Clairemont kindergarten and Glennwood first grade).

Ms. Seals recognized the passing of former CSD Superintendent Don Griffith and shared some of the accomplishments of his tenure. The room shared a moment of silence in his remembrance.

The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing our 2016-17 Milestones assessment results, with a specific focus on areas we can celebrate and areas needing significant improvement. Overall, #OurKids are performing very well, as usual. A large majority of our students are performing at the proficient and distinguished levels across all grades and subjects, with many trends showing annual improvement. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly given our focus in this area, we continue to see evidence of significant achievement gaps. For example, while 71% of all CSD students taking Algebra scored at the proficient or distinguished level last year, only 37% of the Black, non-Hispanic students in Algebra scored at that level. This is a clear example of an achievement gap we are working to eliminate.

I brought up the tendency for folks to want to conflate impacts based on race with impacts based on socioeconomic status, largely because the latter is easier to talk about, and the efforts we will need to undertake to stay focused despite the challenging conversations that will require. I shared an example of a brief analysis I conducted prior to the meeting in which Black, non-Hispanic students who were not “economically disadvantaged” (the GaDOE term for students on free or reduced-price lunch) had nearly identical performance to White, economically disadvantaged students (for the grade and subject I was looking at); performance which was lower than what we expect to see from our students. Clearly socioeconomic status has an impact on achievement and will be part of our root cause analyses, but these and future data we share will show that a student’s race is impacting achievement separately and distinctly from the student’s socioeconomic status.

We discussed the importance of reminding our staff and students that the results we are seeing in these analyses are not about staff not doing their job or students not pulling their weight. I shared my belief that achievement gaps, disproportional discipline, and disproportional participation are built one interaction at a time. It’s the small interactions like how a concern with a student is handled in the moment, the feedback provided on an individual assignment, someone being there (or not) when the student needs someone to lean on, and myriad other individual interactions between staff and student that lead to the results we ultimately see. I do not believe we have any staff members who are intentionally treating one sub-group of students differently than another, nor do I believe we have one sub-group of students who are inherently “better” or “worse” than any other. Rather, we have cultural frameworks and implicit biases impacting these day-to-day interactions in ways we usually don’t recognize. Our work moving forward will be to identify those areas and build conscious awareness of such impacts, allowing us to change those negative impacts we currently are not even aware of.

There were no Action or Discussion Items on this month’s agenda. The Board convened an executive session to discuss personnel and property matters.

Summary of 7/26/17 Board Training

On 7/26/17 the Board gathered for training facilitated by representatives from the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA). We engaged in robust discussion about Board governance, such as the difference in the responsibilities of Board members individually, Board members collectively, and school district administration. We discussed the importance of our consistent focus on achievement for ALL students. The training lasted from 6:00-8:30 pm.