During my first term on the Board of Education, I led the effort to put DCSD in compliance with the GA Department of Audits, realized zero-based budgeting, and pushed for the use of objective data in prioritizing capital projects.
Prior to my work on the BOE, I spent 15 years advocating for our schools. I co-founded and co-chaired Parent Councils United and chaired the following: ESPLOST V Campaign, Emory LaVista Parent Council, DeKalb Chamber’s eduKALB, Construction Advisory Committee, and Principal Advisory Council.
Allyson on the Issues Facing DeKalb Schools
What is the most critical issue currently facing the DeKalb County School District? How would you have the district address it?
Stability is the most critical issue facing DCSD. In 2014, the AJC published an Op-ed I submitted upon my return from Harvard’s Public Education Leadership Program. I wrote, “It sounds obvious, but outstanding leadership is the most critical component of a successful school system. DeKalb has been through five superintendents in ten years, and we are in the midst of searching for another. It is absolutely crucial that our Board of Education gets this right.” Since joining the Board in 2019, we are now on our fourth superintendent. We have failed to provide stability for our students and staff. To address this, our Board must empower the superintendent to do the job, then hold the superintendent accountable. We must not micromanage, block, blindside, or scapegoat. Acknowledging the Board’s mistakes, making dramatic changes to our governance approach, and putting students first will ultimately make our system stronger.
Lawmakers worked last year to limit discussions of race in schools and prohibit “divisive concepts.” What are your thoughts on those efforts and the role of public schools of educating students about potentially controversial topics?
Over the years, I’ve observed numerous classroom interactions. Often, kids bring questions and concerns to class—this happens regardless of the lesson plan. When children are making sense of the world, it is developmentally appropriate for them to ask questions. Research indicates that curiosity and questioning are prerequisites for learning and critical thinking. Asking trusted adults is preferable to asking peers. Fortunately, teachers are highly trained professionals, adept at handling kids’ queries. In the moment, educators may choose to incorporate a student’s question into the class discussion, deflect the question in order to stay on topic, or defer the question to a later time where the teacher may privately converse with the child and/or parent. Instead of questioning our teachers’ ability to handle potentially controversial topics, I would like to see lawmakers dramatically increase teacher pay to align with our teachers’ tremendous impact on our children and our society.
How is the Board holding itself accountable for issues such as leadership churn, declining enrollment, low test scores, and poor facilities?
Arguably, hiring a superintendent is the most important job of a BOE. At this time, I believe we need a transformational leader, focused on student success above all other factors. Our Board can (and hopefully will) take steps to make the District more attractive for the next superintendent. Here are some steps I believe our BOE is considering:
Take our consultant’s advice to reflect and create a plan of action based on the results of our board self-assessment. It was discussed at the October 20th Called BOE Meeting (link here: https://vod.dekalbschoolsga.org/CablecastPublicSite/show/182?channel=1). Our most significant “needs improvement” areas relate to creating a board culture where input is sought, heard, and valued; developing policies to ensure communication and engagement of stakeholders; and following policies that are clear, up-to-date, and in compliance with the strategic plan.
Take Cognia’s advice when we receive their report. As you may know, in November, our BOE participated in a Monitoring Review. Cognia targeted our Board (in a good way—they want to help us) because we did not have a strong performance in our last assessment. When Cognia completed its Accreditation Review in April (report link here: https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/accreditation/), every domain and objective received green (improving and meeting standards) or blue (producing clear positive results) except for one: “The governing authority adheres to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities.” The Cognia evaluators pledged to return to DCSD and help us move forward.
Change our policies. Our District has engaged the Georgia School Boards Association to assist with this process. Phase 1, a review of current policies, has been completed. Our Board knows which policies are required (to align with the law), which are discretionary (many boards prefer to add), and which should be abolished (outdated or no longer needed due to SWSS status or law changes). Proposed amendments will come to the BOE in five batches over six months and will include critical matters, such as the superintendent’s spending limit, the superintendent’s hiring authority, and the setting of Board meeting agendas.
New board leadership. According to our current policies, our Board will elect a new Chair and Vice Chair in January.
More time spent on generative thinking. Hopefully, we will schedule more time for our governance team to consider inventive ideas and long-term strategic decisions.
More time focused on student success. Hopefully, we will schedule more time discussing our challenges to academic progress, post-COVID national best practice, and closing the gaps in our target subgroups.