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Opinion: If DeKalb wants community to love schools, invest in students, not billboards

The press release from DeKalb County Schools today on its new $50,000 "I love DeKalb Schools" billboards and branding campaign describes the advertising effort as the "brainchild of the Division of Communications and Community Relations." The release touts the plan as "revolutionary marketing."

The laudatory descriptions are not surprising considering the Division of Communications and Community Relations responsible for the campaign also issued the press release about it. However, I am not sure DeKalb taxpayers or teachers will be as smitten with the plan as the communications department seems to be.

A website about the effort announces:


Here is the problem with this sort of "feel good" campaign: People don't love their local schools because of pretty billboards or cool logos; they love them because the schools deliver a great education to their kids.

And DeKalb schools are not great. Yes, there are some strong schools, but performance remains uneven.

It is worrisome DeKalb leadership seems to be embracing gimmicks, including the controversial $100,000 Aug. 4 convocation that will entail busing teachers to a Gwinnett County arena where DeKalb superintendent Steve Green promises a moving experience that will erase all teacher misgivings.

Unless Beyoncé struts out on that Infinite Energy Center stage, I doubt DeKalb County teachers are going to be mollified they were forced to spend the final hours before students return sitting in an arena in Duluth.

As a teacher wrote me this weekend about losing a half day or more to convocation:

"How has Dr. Green compensated for this missed planning time? He described this convocation as professional development, so does that mean that teachers won't be attending the mandatory professional development we traditionally have for one day during pre-planning? Will the school buildings have additional support staff during the week to help with photocopying copies of syllabi, arranging classrooms? Will school administrators be required to have schedules completed when we teachers return to work on Monday? Every pre-planning week I've ever worked has involved multiple schedule changes, classroom relocations, and even newly hired teachers arriving that Friday. DeKalb is hosting a Region 4 job fair soon and is advertising at least 156 elementary and high school teaching jobs on PATS today, July 9. I think we teachers would feel more excited about the school year if we knew we wouldn't have to cover the classes not yet filled."

I'm sure that Dr. Green means well, but I hope he'll do as any of us classroom teachers would do and revise this plan. We can't tell our students we care about them; we have to show them. In the previous two years,  Dr. Green has spent a lot of time listening to parents and DeKalb educators removed from the classroom. I wish that he would now listen to us teachers.

"DeKalb has a history of style over substance," said school board member and frequent board dissident Stan Jester. "This convocation demonstrates a lack of respect for teachers' time...In our new budget, we are expecting to spend more than we take in and now we are going to spend money on a big-ticket event that will not improve academic achievement for students in a school district that has the most failing schools in Georgia."

Neither Dr. Green nor his communications staff has been in DeKalb long, but they still ought to recognize that DeKalb parents are a tough audience to impress. They are among the most vocal and discerning parents in the state and not easily swayed. They bring a deep skepticism -- legitimate in view of the Crawford Lewis years -- of district priorities.

I am not sure parents are going to be thrilled with this news:

Here is the official release:

The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) today unveiled the first pieces of a revolutionary marketing effort designed to highlight the community’s investment in the success of its schools.

In this first phase of a three-phase campaign, a series of seven billboards have been posted at strategic locations across DeKalb County. In addition, a new webpage has been launched simultaneously, with messaging that reflects the unity, spirit and diversity of the school district. Phase one of the campaign will also include print ads, television commercials, an original jingle performed by DCSD students, promotional materials and social media.

The goal of the effort, according to Superintendent/CEO Dr. R. Stephen Green, is to remind all stakeholders of the value of DeKalb County schools, and to counter mainstream perceptions and attitudes that don’t accurately reflect the work of students and staff.

“In two years, DCSD has made dramatic progress in student achievement and delivering deep teaching and learning,” Green said. “Now is the time for us to make it crystal clear what we’re about – a community that values education, its schools and its stakeholders. This new marketing program allows us to better control our narrative and tell our own story.”

Through media impressions, social engagement and increased website traffic, the campaign will create a strong presence in the Metro Atlanta K-12 landscape and will be used as a promotional tool to recruit new students and families to the DeKalb County School District.

The marketing effort is the brainchild of the district’s Division of Communications and Community Relations, and is the first wave of a push to reestablish the district’s links with its community. Other division efforts, such as an external newsletter, a district news magazine, a new flyer management system, the district’s co-branding efforts and a re-dedication to social media are projects currently underway. Locations for the marketing billboards include:

•    I-285 N/O Covington Highway

•    I-285 W/O New Peachtree Road

•    I-20 E Wesley  Chapel

•   Memorial Drive –Hairston Road

•    I-20 E Klondike Road

•    811 Peachtree Industrial Blvd

•    556 Buford Hwy/Clairmont Road

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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.