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DeKalb voters should give school chief vote of confidence and endorse E-SPLOST


Allyson Gevertz was a school psychologist in Gwinnett County Public Schools before becoming the parent of children in DeKalb County public schools. She is now an education advocate in DeKalb. In this piece, she explains why she will vote "yes" Tuesday on the penny sales tax for DeKalb schools.

By Allyson Gevertz

We froze to death. Years ago, during an Arctic crash simulation at a national public education conference, the DeKalb County School District team died. None of the other teams from the 16 large urban school districts met that fate -- only DeKalb. The leadership teams of the other districts assessed the survival training of the people in their groups, developed creative ways of using the items that survived the impact of the plane crash, and came to a consensus on whether to walk away or to stay at the crash site.

Not DeKalb’s team — the lack of strategy proved fatal. In the aftermath of the Arctic crash simulation, each team had an opportunity to review a video recording of the deliberation process. Superintendents processed how they could have been more effective leaders in the emergency situation and what pieces of wisdom they could glean from their colleagues from around the country. DeKalb’s team opted not to analyze, change, or rethink anything; DeKalb County was unique--not like any other district at the conference -- and no one should criticize the "DeKalb Way."

Fast forward to 2016. DeKalb has a superintendent who has led his team through a major survival exercise.  Critical issues such as Cross Keys Cluster overcrowding, schools targeted for Opportunity School District takeover, and the system flexibility decision greeted Dr. Green on his first day of work last July.

He quickly had to assess the training of the people on his team: Who had the skills needed to address these issues?  Who was willing to innovate? Were there people from other districts who might have the expertise DeKalb needed?  Superintendent Green had to evaluate what was working in DeKalb, and objectively decide to cut programs, employees, and even political ties when they didn't improve the outcomes for students. Over the last year, he has listened to community input, spoken with other superintendents, hired amazing new employees, studied the data, and drawn on his own rich experience.  The "DeKalb Way" is not a factor for him.

DeKalb will decide whether to continue our Education-SPLOST funding on May 24th. Voters are wondering whether Dr. Green will develop a project list the "DeKalb Way." They ask whether this process is a bait-and-switch, whether politics will take hold, whether the loudest communities (or the communities more likely to vote) will be the ones to ultimately benefit from the renewal of E-SPLOST funding.  I believe that the answer to these questions is no.

Look at Dr. Green's track record over the last year. He has demonstrated transparency and integrity at every turn.  Read his op-ed pieces. Ask parents who attended On the Scene with Dr. Green meetings. Visit the DeKalb E-SPLOST website. Analyze the objective assessments that have been compiled for each school facility. Complete the public input survey that seeks feedback on options for addressing secondary school needs across the district.

Dr. Green is a leader who assesses a situation, chooses the correct tools/people to solve the problem, and develops a consensus around a strategy. He is not afraid to seek counsel from outside his district and he does not feel threatened when asked to justify his decision-making. When other school districts implored Dr. Green to seek the SPLOST V vote in May instead of November, he yielded, but explained that he could not rush his process for developing the detailed project list. Projections for 2022 (the end of the SPLOST V funding window) show increased overcrowding of some high school clusters in DeKalb.  Because Dr. Green’s style is transparency and community collaboration in his decision-making, he is giving the public an opportunity to help problem-solve the overcrowding issue.

Dr. Green and the Board of Education are legally bound by the broad SPLOST V project list (safety and security improvements, new facilities/additions, facility condition improvements, technology enhancements, and capital equipment), but they are hosting at least six more public meetings to fine-tune those expenditures. When they finish the process, DeKalb will have the most future-focused, community-created, data-driven, detailed project list DeKalb has ever seen.

This strategic thinking is unprecedented in DeKalb, but it is the reason DeKalb is poised to survive and thrive — no more freezing in place.  Superintendent Green does not operate in the "DeKalb Way" and that is why I support his plan for SPLOST V.

 

 


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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.