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DeKalb to pull teachers out of classrooms for giant back-to-school rally. Good start or bad idea?

A DeKalb teacher called me this week to share her dismay over the district’s plan for a mandatory convocation the Friday before school starts.

DeKalb intends to gather 12,000 employees at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth on Friday, Aug. 4. School starts that following Monday. Teachers received a save-the-date email from the district last week.

The teacher’s comment: “The day before students in DeKalb County are to show up they are holding a mandatory convocation for teachers. It is a waste of time; it is waste of money. It is a three-hour obligatory meeting when teachers should be getting prepped for the students who are coming Monday.”

I spoke to DeKalb superintendent Steve Green today. Read his defense of the plan here.

I was here in 2002 when newly hired DeKalb superintendent Johnny Brown staged a similar rally. The extravaganza was not well received by some teachers who considered it a poor use of their valuable time. They called media to complain about the event, which was held at a Clarkston stadium rather than a Gwinnett arena, as this upcoming convocation will be.

At the time, the AJC reported:

High school bands played. Smiling politicians waved from a school bus that circled the football field. Firefighters unfurled a giant American flag. Motorcycle riders revved their Harleys.

Brown staged the event --- the first systemwide convocation of DeKalb teachers and staff in 30 years --- to marshal "the power of 13,000 people" to raise expectations for DeKalb's students. He also wanted to have a little fun and led the clapping staff members in a sing-along of "If You're Happy and You Know It."

The happiness didn't last. Two years later, Brown was out as DeKalb school chief, and the lingering dismay over the pep rally contributed to the ill will between him and the community. (Another factor that landed him in hot water with parents countywide – his “Dress for Success” uniform-like student dress code for all schools, including high schools.)

A veteran DeKalb teacher told me, "The Johnny Brown event was a fiasco. I can't imagine any teacher supporting this one. How did the administration determine that it's worth the time and money this time? It's during pre-planning when teachers only find out what they're teaching this school year, it's on the last work day before school starts, and it will eat up four to five hours with traveling time. But this is obviously not about school, students, or teachers...This Friday rally/convocation/PR stunt is even more galling when you consider how little time we have to plan in a good year, but this year we have a new curriculum that few teachers have seen. "

Is history repeating itself in DeKalb? And is it bad history?

Are spirit events at this scale ever worth the cost and time? Last year, DeKalb held family-centric pep rallies at three locations that included back-to-school supply giveaways and informational booths.

My AJC colleague Marlon Walker has talked to DeKalb Schools, which defends both the idea and the Gwinnett County location. (Too many people, they say, to assemble anywhere in DeKalb.) I will link to his story when it appears.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.