Recently, Parent Councils United of DeKalb (PCU) hosted the annual State of the District address at Tucker High School. During this gathering of parents, teachers, community stakeholders, and district personnel, Superintendent Dr. Green gave a short speech about the future goals and current accomplishments of the DeKalb County School System — which, for the first time in a while, seems to be headed in the right direction.
He also took questions from the audience. However, several questions were unable to be answered during the meeting, so Dr. Green took the time to respond to many of these questions via email (which he then sent to PCU). I wanted to say how much I appreciate this level of responsiveness by sharing this with you all.
DRAFT #2 – 9.28.16
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
STATE OF THE DISTRICT ADDRESS – PARENT COUNCILS UNITED
SEPTEMBER 20, 2016
1. Language barriers are a big factor in student achievement and family engagement. What services and communications are planned to help ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) families?
DeKalb County School District (DCSD) provides a number of valuable translation and interpretation services to our linguistically diverse community. (We have 144 languages, spoken by students from 180 nations.)
We follow the guidelines of our Meaningful Communications Plan to give translations of notices and vital documents in the top 10 languages spoken in the district. To ensure effective communication with parents and students whose primary home languages aren’t English, we offer certified language interpreters and translators, bilingual liaisons, and private service providers, along with telephone interpretation services such as our Language Line, plus other technology tools. Those tech tools include the ELSA mobile translation services device for face-to-face interpretation and our Google Translate function for websites.
We also offer the Parent Outreach Program, a districtwide service that offers parents the opportunity to learn English, master computer literacy, and receive school orientation modules to help their children be successful.
Finally, our DeKalb International Welcome Center (DIWC) continues to offer comprehensive services to newcomer families. Parents who come to initial pre-enrollment and language screening at the DIWC receive important information and services in a language they can understand … and students can be assessed there for language support. Our EL counselors work with parents to place students in the appropriate grades and instructional programs.
In collaboration with programs such as Special Education and Gifted, the DIWC is a good starting place to make sure all English learners receive services that will support their academic success.
2. What are the possibilities of putting new buildings in industrial areas?
Our District’s school siting guidelines determine construction locations. The siting process includes a risk hazard analysis and an environmental study required by the Georgia Department of Education. Those preliminary steps identify potential hazards such as overhead power lines, nearby highways, pipelines, and other possible risks to the health and safety of students and staff, always our first priority. The DCSD also looks at location – the proximity of any potential site to our students and families is an important consideration.
Locating a new school in an industrial area could present concerns:
- Higher probability of nearby potential hazards
- Lower probability of nearby residential areas, meaning students, staff, and caregivers would need to travel farther to reach classrooms
3. What are we doing to improve parental engagement?
The most successful schools have strong relationships with parents and caregivers. That’s why our Parent & Family Engagement team is empowering families to actively and energetically participate in children’s education. From early learning through grade 12, we engage families with resources and strategies that can prepare every child for college and a career.
We have six Parent Resource Centers in our five regions, with two in region 5. The centers provide a welcoming place where parents can become partners, learning more about schools and class activities. Parents and caregivers learn how to help students with homework, test preparation, college and career readiness, core content, life skills, and social/emotional support. We also sponsor eight districtwide events to empower and educate parents/caregivers, and to connect them with community resources.
Parents and families can also benefit from collaborative efforts, such as an employable skills training and job fair held with DeKalb Workforce Development and DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. We also have an initiative we call Five-5-V, launching in spring 2017, that will offer parents GED (General Educational Development), ESL (English as a second language), and postsecondary education opportunities in partnership with Georgia Piedmont Technical College.
We will continue to improve communication with families, provide them with relevant information, and be a support for all parents and caregivers.
4. Are there problems with lead or other substances in the DeKalb County water system as in Flint, Michigan? What the status with water testing in our schools?
Our District at this time has absolutely no evidence of water quality issues in any school or building. Nevertheless, we are proactively testing water in all DCSD schools and facilities to make sure our students, staff, and the community know it is safe for consumption.
Water testing started on September 20, and it will continue the entire school year. In collaboration with the DeKalb County Board of Health and the DeKalb county government, we began by sampling our oldest elementary schools. We’ll complete this work in summer 2017.
If any water sample at any school or facility indicates a presence of lead at levels requiring action under Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, DCSD will immediately stop using water from that source, then remedy the problem. If necessary, we’ll provide bottled water until any problem is resolved. We expect to see first test results from our certified and accredited testing agency the week of October 3, 2016.
Our testing schedule and all testing results, along with other information and resources, are available at http://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/lead-testing/.
5. Are there any plans to evaluate the magnet program? When we talk about expanding the magnet program, the ‘elephant in the room’ is that some local schools feel they don’t want to lose more ‘top’ students than they already have? How do we find a balance?
We absolutely understand the feeling in local schools, and we’re sensitive to this concern as we communicate educational options to parents and community stakeholders. This is why, each year, our School Choice Department reviews data and trends on magnet schools and other educational options for our students.
As we review current programs, we’re seeing we must begin a dialogue on the need to increase program pathways for students. This may ultimately come in the form of additional programs, enhanced offerings at the local school level, and/or re-examination of existing programs to determine how well we’re meeting the needs of students.
6. How is it possible that the enrollment at one of our two high-achiever magnet programs has decreased to the point that classes are being consolidated and teachers transferred?
The School Choice Department has looked into this issue. We found that fewer families are requesting a particular school as an option, and this has lowered enrollment at one of our magnet schools. Of course, adjustments must be made in staffing as enrollment increases or decreases.
It is our desire that all our schools and programs flourish. We’d like students to be able to stay with trusted and familiar teachers and staff members. Moving forward, we will increase efforts through community engagement sessions to heighten awareness of all of our programs, including magnet schools. We will also support awareness through social media campaigns.
7. How do we raise awareness of the value of high-achiever magnet programs in DeKalb County?
We’re working on new ways to showcase all our programs. As a start, the School Choice Department is engaging with the community to make parents aware of options for students. We encourage individual schools to conduct informational sessions that allow parents opportunities to visit schools and see programs. We’re also using social media to spread the word about our dynamic offerings.
More about PCU:
Parent Councils United of DeKalb (PCU) includes the executive board members from Dunwoody-Chamblee Parent Council, Emory LaVista Parent Council, South DeKalb Parent Council, and Tucker Parent Council. It also includes representatives from the Cross Keys Cluster and the Charter Schools Parent Council. Parent Councils are individual grass roots organizations. They have no membership rolls, no dues, and no headquarters.
Everyone understands that a child’s education and growth depend on a good teacher, classroom, principal, and school. Professionals, organizations, and volunteers work tirelessly to make their school the best it can be, to give each child the best opportunities possible. Parent Councils take this approach one step further. A child’s education also depends on decisions made at the county and state level. Parent Councils focus primarily on the county level of decision-making.