My Comments to the DHS Class of 2017

My Comments to the DHS Class of 2017

It is an honor and a privilege to address such a fine group of young adults this evening. During my visits to the high school and various events over the last couple years, I have had the opportunity to learn more about quite a few of you. I am humbled by your intelligence, your compassion, and your myriad talents. Thank you for contributing so much richness to the Decatur community.

Several weeks ago, I was speaking with some elementary students when the topic of our conversation shifted to you, the seniors, and this graduation ceremony. I asked them what they would share with you tonight if they had the opportunity to do so. Their comments were so great that I followed up with elementary teachers throughout the district asking them to gather comments from their classes as well. What these young students shared was touching, insightful, wise, and inspirational; and not surprisingly, much of it was hilarious. So it is my pleasure to share with you tonight some thoughts from your elementary school peers.

Many of the students shared motivational messages:

  • Be awesome, persevere, and never give up!
  • Be the best you can be!
  • Go to a good or awesome college after you graduate and then get a job that you love!
  • Don’t be a scaredy cat. Take a deep breath and let it all go!
  • Try your best and even more.
  • Go out and see what the world is like. Go and see how awesome and cool it can be.

Many other students shared their young wisdom:

  • Have a positive attitude and be careful not to do things that you shouldn’t do, such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol. 😀 stay safe! I am actually serious, ok?
  • Be happy and/or calm. It will help you concentrate and do well in school.
  • Get a car and then go to college.
  • Stay in school so you can learn more and more.
  • We hope you make a lot of money and share it with people. Keep some of it, though.
  • Be kind and careful.
  • Go into the military.  
  • Don’t talk about anyone’s skin color because we are more than our color.
  • Go get a job, then get your driver’s license so you can get to your job.
  • Always look out for new friends.
  • Be thankful for what you have and don’t steal.
  • Try to get hired, not fired!
  • Wear bug spray and sunscreen everyday! You’ll never be too old for bug spray and sunscreen!
  • Make lots and lots of mistakes. You can learn from mistakes. But if you don’t learn from your mistakes, then it’s just a waste of a good mistake.
  • Be brave at everything you do, but don’t go into dark tunnels. That’s just crazy.

Some of them were quite philosophical:

  • Wherever you are, there will always be somebody with you.
  • Wherever there is a human being, there’s an opportunity for kindness.
  • Remember to be the person you thought you would grow up to be when you were in the 4th grade.

And naturally there were those that were simply sweet thoughts:

  • Be kind to others and treat people how you want to be treated.
  • Be nice to people.
  • Keep smiling.🍌😜😄

Being elementary school students, it was inevitable that there would be some comments that were downright hilarious. So I wrap up my address this evening with those that I found the most humorous:

  • Go to a good college🏤 Get a pet cat🐱,dog 🐶or a pet teacup pig 🐷or a monkey.
  • Listen to your mother because she’ll always be older than you.
  • After you graduate, don’t waste your whole life by being eaten by a snake!
  • Find yourself a good job, like being a spy or throwing newspapers.
  • Don’t be afraid of anything. You know, the Jello Monster might swallow you, but if he does, you can eat your way out. Or you could wait until he poops you out. Either way, you’ll get out of there.
  • When things get tough, don’t be all like, “Ah, man, I can’t do this. This is too hard. Grrr, grrr, grrr!” Be more like, “Yes, I can do this! I believe in myself!” If that doesn’t work, then just pretend that you’re a kitty cat, and everything will be OK!

The vision of the City Schools of Decatur is to build the foundation for all of you to be your best, achieve your dreams, and make the world a better place. I hope we have succeeded in building that foundation for you, and I look forward to hearing about the amazing things you each will do as you branch out from this community to whatever is next on your individual journey. As one of the elementary students put it, “Now you’re an adult; you can change the world!”

Strategic Reorganization

Strategic Reorganization

As most readers of this blog likely know, earlier this school year we finished our Strategic Improvement Plan. That plan was the culmination of a great deal of study and input into how best to move our district forward. District leaders have been working hard on implementing the action steps from that plan.

Initially, I had planned to add the position of Associate Superintendent in order to help move this plan forward. Upon further reflection, however, I decided to go in a different direction. I studied our plan and began sketching out what an organization designed to achieve the plan’s objectives would look like. Over the holiday break, I worked and re-worked the plan time and time again until I came up with a draft that I felt was representative of my vision for what was needed to move us along. I shared that draft with district leaders on several occasions and received very helpful feedback and ideas. I used that input, and extensive reflection, to craft the draft plan that I presented to the Board on 2/21/17 and to the Teacher Advisory Council on 2/22/17. (That presentation is below. While it is definitely not a substitute for a live presentation, I hope the slides below will give the reader a feel for what I am trying to accomplish.)

For me, it was critical that we have an organizational structure that could adequately address our strategic priorities. We needed a structure that breaks down organizational silos and instead encourages cross-department collaboration. For the last year and a half, I have been considering the strengths and opportunities for improvement in our district leadership team. It became clear that we were not fully utilizing the specific strengths of each individual and sometimes we were putting folks in situations that exasperated their areas needing improvement. I was pleased to see that the org chart I was envisioning also was a great fit with the specific strengths of the individuals on our leadership team, albeit sometimes in different roles than what they currently served.

Our #1 strategic priority is to reduce disproportionality. Therefore, in the coming days, I will be posting an Equity Director position. This role will be focused entirely on this priority. The person selected will lead the district’s efforts to eliminate disproportionality in achievement, discipline, participation, and any other areas we identify over the course of our work. Other than that one additional FTE, all other positions in the structure are existing positions, positions that have been re-purposed from existing positions, or positions that are added as part of our normal increased staffing needs due to growth.

The new organizational structure will serve as the blueprint for our staffing moving forward. Some portions of the plan will be put into place immediately, and others may take a year or more to transition into. I will soon be able to share who will be serving in each leadership role and will be getting any vacancies posted as soon as possible.

I am excited to share this development with you and hope you will take advantage of any opportunities to see this information shared in person. Principals have a copy of this presentation and I am happy to work presentations into my schedule for interested groups or schools.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equal Educational Opportunities — Transgender Students

Just before the start of the 2016-17 school year, I shared some direction with our district leaders regarding transgender students. My email to them, below, followed the release of guidelines from the President via the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Last week, the new President rescinded those guidelines. This rapid change in direction from the federal government can cause confusion for our staff, students, and families, so I feel it is important to share how City Schools of Decatur addresses the needs of students related to gender identity.

The Board policy referenced below was in place prior to the guidance issued last year and remains in place today. In fact, that Board policy has included protections for transgender students for at least 10 years. In response to the initial federal guidance, Governor Deal stated that, “Georgia’s constitution and state laws . . . require these decisions be made at the local level.” He went on to say, “. . . our 181 school systems must each determine an appropriate response . . . .” As mentioned in the most recent “dear colleague” letter, “the [U.S.] Departments [of Education and Justice] believe that, in this context, there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

CSD strives to be a school district that embraces our differences and recognizes the value diversity brings to our school community. While history shows we have not always treated students equitably, like most (if not all) school systems, we are confronting that past, learning from it, and moving forward. Our conversations about disproportionality this year are one example of our willingness to tackle these issues head on, for the betterment of all. The rights of transgender students, addressed in the email below, are another example.

From: David Dude
Date: Jul 26, 2016 11:03 AM
Subject: Equal Educational Opportunities (Policy JAA) Guidance
To: Superintendent’s Staff

Good morning,

As we head into the new school year I want to ensure we are all on the same page regarding equal educational opportunities for our students; especially as it relates to gender identity. This has been a frequently discussed topic in education circles ever since the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the USDOE and USDOJ (see attached). As I’m sure you know, our Board policy JAA states that we do not discriminate on the basis of … gender identity (among other things). To be clear, here are some examples of situations related to gender identity and how I expect them to be handled in compliance with this policy. For purpose of these examples, assume this student was assigned the sex of male at birth and now identifies as female.

  • This student should be treated the same as any other female student.
  • She should not be identified as anything other than female.
  • She should be addressed with female pronouns.
  • She should be allowed to use the female restroom.
  • She should be allowed to use the female locker room.
  • She should be allowed to try out for “female” sports.
  • She should be allowed to room with other females on field trips.

In evaluating a particular circumstance, I encourage you to consider questions and statements regarding transgender students from the perspective of other groups for which our country has struggled with civil rights (and still does). For instance, if asking yourself, Should I allow this transgender student to use this restroom?, consider replacing “transgender” with “black,” “disabled,” or “low income” and the answer becomes clear (in case it wasn’t before). Should I allow this black/disabled/low income student to use this restroom? Yes! Of course. The answer is obvious.

We are forming a task force to review and suggest improvements to our equal educational opportunities policy, review and suggest improvements to associated rules, processes, and procedures, and make recommendations for any other improvements we need to make in relation to that topic. We will also want to have further discussions at the Board table. Obviously that will take some time to work through.

In the meantime, continue supporting ALL of our students as I know you do. For example, if a student experiences anxiety related to bathroom or locker room facilities–whether the student is transgender, cisgender, or something else–offer the student a more suitable option. These students are all OUR KIDS and I know you will continue supporting them as such.

Clearly this is much more complex than a single email can cover, and it is critical to work closely with our students and families on challenges and opportunities before, during, and after a student transitions. We will continue having conversations and professional learning regarding this area. However, as the school year is about to begin and given that this work will take some time, I wanted to ensure I was clear as to how I interpret this policy.

Principals, please determine the best way to ensure all of your faculty and staff are also up to speed on this, and please ensure you do so with fidelity to the interpretations I have shared here.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
David

photo Dr. David Dude
Superintendent, City Schools of Decatur
404-371-3601 | ddude [at] csdecatur.net | http://www.csdecatur.net | 125 Electric Ave, Decatur, GA 30030
  

The task force mentioned in the email took some time to get going, but is now underway. I look forward to receiving their recommendations. In the meantime, we will continue to serve all of #OurKids as best we can, while continually striving to improve in everything we do.

Students or families with questions, comments, or concerns related to any of the above should feel free to contact their school counselor or a school administrator for assistance.

New System for Staffing Schools

Over the last several months the administrative team has been working hard to develop a robust, sustainable model for staffing our schools. The slides below are from my presentation to the Board on 2/21/17.

While the slides will give a feel for the direction we are going, I encourage you to take advantage of any opportunities to participate in a live presentation of the material to gain a more complete understanding. I have presented this to other groups, such as the Teacher Advisory Council, and principals have begun presenting it as well. Please feel free to reach out to me, or one of our principals, if your group is interested in learning more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

#OurKids

​Our mission is to work with and inspire students to grow and develop their ability to learn, think and inquire through meaningful, motivating and rewarding learning experiences supported by highly qualified caring adults in a safe, supportive and inviting community.

That mission statement was created during our recent strategic improvement planning process. Folks from throughout our community came together to identify our core values, dream about the future, and create plans to reach those dreams. One of those core values, as reflected in the mission statement, is the need for caring adults to support #OurKids. Another is the importance of creating a safe, supportive, and inviting community.

Recent events have left many questioning just how safe and supported they are in our nation, and whether some key adults in our country can be described as “caring.” While our impact on a national stage may be limited, there is much we can do for #OurKids, our friends, and our local community. The beauty of schools, especially public schools, is that we have a sacred opportunity to show our students every day, through our words and actions, that they are loved, cared for, and appreciated.

I am honored to serve a school district and a community where everyday we strive to meet the needs of our students–ALL of our students. #OurKids is not just a fun hashtag, it’s a reflection of our core values. We truly believe that every student deserves to be supported by caring adults in a safe, supportive and inviting community. I know our teachers, administrators, and support staff give their best for #OurKids everyday and I applaud them for their great work.

Working Group to Eliminate Disproportionality

Since the start of the school year, we’ve been talking about concerns I have with disproportionality (see 10/11/16 Board meeting or Facebook for the initial presentation to the Board). It’s time for action on this important topic, so I’m looking for folks willing to assist the district with our work on eliminating disproportionality in student achievement, discipline, participation, etc. We need expertise in various areas, including developing cultural competence, best practices in curriculum and instruction, demographics, sociology, statistics, survey methodology, data presentation, etc.

This working group will review available data, identify and procure additional data sources, develop analysis frameworks, identify areas of greatest concern and best practices in addressing those areas, and develop appropriate metrics for monitoring progress. Much of the work of the group can be done individually, virtually, or in small groups, but some work will need to be completed as an entire group in face-to-face meetings. Time commitments will vary depending on areas of expertise and interest.

If you are interested in assisting the district with this important work, or know of someone who might be, please complete the form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CSD-DispWorkGrp. We hope to get this working group formed during January/February 2017 and will work with selected members to establish a calendar of activities at that time.


Note that I hope folks more creative than me can come up with a better name than Elimination of Disproportionality Working Group for this group, so this should be considered a “working title” for the group. Suggestions received so far:

  • Working Group to Eliminate Disproportionality (I hadn’t noticed the dual-meaning of the original name, so have gone ahead and changed to this name for the time being)
  • Working Group on Proportional Representation
  • The working group to maximize inclusion for disproportioned students
  • C RED Committee for Action.. Using 💗 to end the 🔄 ReducingEducationalDisproportionality

Enrollment Projections Working Group

I’m looking for folks willing to assist the district with producing our annual enrollment projections. We need expertise in various areas, including demographics, sociology, real estate, statistics, survey methodology, data presentation, economics, geo-spatial analysis, etc.

This working group will review available data, identify and procure additional data sources, develop analysis frameworks, and, ultimately, produce enrollment projections for the next five (or more) years. Much of the work of the group can be done individually, virtually, or in small groups, but some work will need to be completed as an entire group in face-to-face meetings. Time commitments will vary depending on areas of expertise and interest, and will be cyclical (for example, little work following publication of projections and much more work in the months following the October student count).

If you are interested in assisting the district with this vital task, or know of someone who might be, please complete the form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CSD-EnrProjWorkGrp. We hope to get this working group formed during January 2017 and will work with selected members to establish a calendar of activities at that time.