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 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.

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.

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