Board of Education begins formulating a definition of “equity” to bring change to the system

November 21, 2014

“Equity” is a term that is commonly used, but is ill-defined. Each person using the term seems to have their own definition and there is no common definition that drives a plan of action to achieve it. The Board of Education has considered several definitions and is now focused on the following definition of equity in APS:

Equity is strategic decision-making, with the goal of remedying opportunity and learning gaps and creating a barrier-free environment, which enables all students to graduate ready for college and career.

If we break the definition above into its component parts, we start with the following:

…strategic decision-making…which enables all students to graduate ready for college and career.

There is nothing new here as this is in many ways a restatement of the Vision recently adopted for APS. So really the core of the new definition is the middle phrase, as follows:

…remedying opportunity and learning gaps and creating a barrier-free environment…

I will agree that this sounds good, but the reason for defining the term “equity” is to use it as a call to action to remedy inequities in the system. However, other than to specify “strategic decision making”, the definition under consideration does little to establish a basis for developing a clear, specific and measurable action plan for addressing the inequities within APS.

As I look at the key phrase in the definition, I have to ask the following questions:

  1. What is the “opportunity” that is being remedied? And what action steps will be taken to remedy it?
  2. What are the “learning gaps” and what steps does the definition put in place to remedy them as well?
  3. What barriers are in place and how will the barriers be torn down?

As a rule, a definition is supposed to assist in creating more certainty around actions that will be taken, but the current definition under consideration raises more questions than it answers.

I would suggest that a careful reading of the recently published Equity Audit points in one direction – there is a disparity in the allocation of resources. I use the term “resources” broadly, but in reality it must be broken down into two separate components – financial resources and quality of teacher and in-school administrative resources. These two components often get conflated, but they are very different and require separate treatment.

The first component is the allocation of financial resources. The Equity Audit did not address this issue in a substantive way, but this is a critical component that has to be dealt with. As the term “equity” is addressed in Atlanta, the distribution of financial resources often comes up as a topic, but there currently there is no mechanism that provides a consistent and “equitable” distribution of financial resources in the district. Theoretically, a school budget is based on enrollment – for each X number of students Y teachers will be provided. However, this methodology does not fully take into consideration the student’s educational needs (Early Intervention, Special Education, Gifted, etc.). As such, the resource allocation is often non-transparent and in many instances baffling.

The equitable allocation of financial resources is a threshold issue that must be satisfied first and only then can the schools focus on the more important issues that follow. And the definition of equity must include the concept that financial resources shall be allocated based on the student profiles and education needs.

Is this difficult to do? In reality, the State currently allocates funding to all districts based on the 19 categories of students in the QBE funding formula. The 19 categories include Kindergarten, Grades 1-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-8 and high school. In addition, the formula provides for incremental funding for Early Intervention Programs, Remedial Education, Gifted Students and Special Education Students. Simply adopting this type of allocation methodology would go far to address the “equity” of distributing financial resources based on student needs.

And it would also take what is often a contentious (but never fully defined) issue off the table so that the community can then focus on what is truly important – the equitable distribution of high quality teaching and in-school administrative resources. However, the current “equity” definition does not directly address this. Maybe this is what the definition is trying to allude to with the phrase “remedying opportunity and learning gaps”. If so, why not address it head-on. “Opportunity and learning gaps” can only be remedied by making sure that adequate financial resources have been provided and then for the financial resources to be used to improve the quality of the delivery of education in the classroom.

Additionally, by breaking the term resource into two distinct components, it allows for a higher level of accountability where it belongs – in the hands of the in-school leaders. The school principals are closest to and the most knowledgeable about what their student bodies need. First give them the financial resources based on their student body characteristics and then let them decide how to best allocate the resources to the programs that will have the greatest impact on improving educational outcomes. They should be held accountable for the level of quality of the teachers in place and for improving student academic success.

My suggestion to the Board of Education is that they reconsider their current definition of equity and revise it in a way that drives a plan of action that is measurable and addresses the inequities that actually exist within APS. And leaving the resource components – both of them – out of the definition just simply misses the point of the exercise in the first place – which is to create a clear and concise statement that drives positive action for improving educational outcomes across the district.

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APS Announces Members of Stakeholder Advisory Committees

October 11, 2014

News release as issued by APS:

ATLANTA – Atlanta Public Schools has announced members of its three community stakeholder advisory committees that will guide and support future budgeting practices, special education programing, and oversee the capital plan implementation for the district.

The Budget & Finance Stakeholder Advisory Committee consists of 19 members and is chaired by Chuck Burbridge, chief financial officer, Atlanta Public Schools. The Special Education Stakeholder Advisory Committee has 24 members and is led by Tammie Workman, assistant superintendent for Student Services.  The SPLOST Oversight Committee is led by Larry Hoskins, chief operating officer for the district and has 15 members.

“We had an outstanding group of diverse candidates, and we are very grateful for the interest that everyone expressed in joining a committee,” said David Jernigan, deputy superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools. “The process reinforced how invested our community is in create creating and sustaining the highest quality education system possible. Atlanta continues to show this commitment and our students benefit from it daily.”

Interested candidates applied on the district’s website, and APS collaborated with leadership from civic, community and neighborhood groups to identify potential members from across the city.  Each advisory committee has representatives from the school clusters, district and the broader community. The groups will begin their meetings later this month and continue throughout the school year.

Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 50,000 students across 106 learning sites. The district is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 87 schools, 17 charter schools and two citywide single-gender academies, where students are offered rigorous instructional programs that foster success in school and life. For more information, visit www.atlantapublicschools.us

2014 Stakeholder Advisory Committee Members

Finance and Budget Advisory Committee

  • Dr. Linda Anderson, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
  • Dr. Tony Burks II, Principal Douglass High School
  • Yolanda Carr, Mays High School Cluster Representative
  • Tammy Dixon, South Atlanta High School Representative
  • Cynthia Dumas, Therrell High School Cluster Representative
  • Clay Elrod, Jackson High School Cluster Representative
  • Buck Greene, Principal – Sutton Middle School
  • Tye Hayes, Deputy Chief Information Officer
  • Felecia Josey, Washington High School Cluster Representative
  • Nicole Lawson, Executive Director for Human Resources – Talent Management
  • Cynthia Mickelburg, At-Large Member
  • Marshall Norseng, At-Large Member
  • Mark Rebillot, Grady High School Cluster Representative
  • JaTawn Robinson, The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative
  • Joseph Salley, Principal – Kimberly Elementary School
  • Chandra Selles, Charter Schools Representative
  • Bob Stockwell, North Atlanta High School Cluster Representative
  • Dr. Clara Taylor, Principal – D.H. Stanton Elementary School
  • Toni Terry, Douglass High School Cluster Representative

Special Education Advisory Committee

  • Chartez Bailey, Student – Therrell High School
  • Monica Blasingame, Teacher – Price Middle School
  • Vickie Cleveland, Executive Director for Special Education
  • Michelle Constantinides, Grady High School Cluster Representative
  • Don Doran, Principal – Drew Charter School
  • Christina Edward, Teacher – Sylvan Middle School
  • Tameka Gilliam, The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative
  • Ginger Harbin, Teacher – Grady High School
  • Lisa Hill, Principal – Long Middle School
  • Dwight Hutson, North Atlanta Cluster Representative
  • Kenya Kemp, Mays High School Cluster Representative
  • Melissa Leontorvich, Industry Expert (Former Georgia State University Special Education Professor)
  • Josie Love, Principal – Carver School of Technology
  • Denice Morgan, Washington High School Cluster Representative
  • Sharron Paige, Douglass High School Cluster Representative
  • Keyona Revere, At-Large Member
  • Cassandra Rainey, Therrell High School Cluster Representative
  • Charlene Salter-Legend, Jackson High School Cluster Representative
  • Joan Sloan, Industry Expert (Kennesaw State University)
  • Ashley States, Teacher – Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School
  • Kara Stimpson, Principal – Brandon Elementary School
  • Nyree Sears, South Atlanta High School Cluster Representative
  • Richard Quartarone, Charter Schools Representative
  • Tammie Workman, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services

SPLOST Oversight Committee

  • Corey Anderson, At-Large Member
  • Dr. Danielle Battle, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Schools (Carver, S. Atlanta, & Mays Clusters)
  • Chris Bennett, Mays High School Representative
  • Gayle Burnett, Manager of Data & Compliance, Office of Innovation
  • Kathy Davis, At-Large Member
  • Michael Everly, North Atlanta High School Cluster Representative
  • Dr. Timothy Gadson, Associate Superintendent for High Schools
  • Shawna Hayes-Tavares, Therrell High School Cluster Representative
  • Melissa Hughley, South Atlanta High School Cluster Representative
  • Tamera Jones, Grady High School Cluster Representative
  • Dr. Greg Middleton, Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools
  • Luana Slaughter, Jackson High School Cluster Representative
  • Rhoda Spence, Douglass High School Cluster Representative
  • Valeria Williams, Washington High School Cluster Representative
  • (Vacant), The New Schools at Carver Cluster Representative

Round-Up of APS Headlines from the Past Week

October 11, 2014

APS News

***APS Operating Model Selection Process

*** Board of Education & Committee Meetings

***APS Cheating Scandal

*** New APS Chief Academic Officer

***Other APS News

State School Superintendent Race

Non APS News and Opinions of Interest

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APS issues FY15 Budget Book – first look at school budgets & revised organizational structure

October 10, 2014

The Atlanta Public School’s finance division has just issued the comprehensive FY15 Budget Book – all 306 pages of it (see here). The Book has some new and very interesting items and some items that have been eliminated from prior presentations.

The most interesting new item is the presentation of school budgets for FY15 (see pages 255-305). The presentation shows the budget for each traditional school in the district and the related enrollment. While there is a huge amount of information here, the following is a brief summary of spending per student by each cluster.

Spending by Cluster 101014

The black dividing line in the chart separates the clusters with those above the $7,191 average per student spending and those below (the two single gender clusters and non-traditional education sites are shown separately as they encompass city-wide student bodies).

Surprised by the dollar allocation? As was the case with the Equity Audit issued this past year, some of the results are surprising and counter-intuitive. For the time being, let the information above sink-in, but don’t reach too many conclusions yet. There is a lot to find in all the detailed information presented and, often a summary like the above does not tell the whole story – more to come on this in future posts.

In addition, the Budget Book presents the first look at the revised top-level organization chart for the district. Much of this has been telegraphed in the past, but there are a few surprises. The senior staff members are shown below (click to enlarge):

APS Org Chart 101014 v2

 

The most significant changes since the prior administration are the addition of the Chief Accountability Officer – with the Chief Information Officer as a direct report – and the elimination of the Organizational Advancement (or Strategy) group.

And while no announcements have been made yet, I would expect to see additional reorganizations of internal departments as resources are reallocated to conform with the organizational structure above.

I also think it is important to note that while reorganizations may be taking place, since the beginning of the fiscal year, almost no administrative positions have been eliminated and, in fact, there have been a number of additions.

This is disappointing at best and a far cry from what I would have expected from our new Board and Superintendent.

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APS Human Resources reorganized during September

October 8, 2014

During the month of September, under the leadership of Chief Human Resources Officer Pamela Hall, who came to APS from AISD, the Atlanta Public School’s Human Resources function has been reorganized.

In summary – per a PowerPoint presentation on the APS website, the following changes have been made:

  • The divisions of Centers of Expertise, Strategic Services, and HR Operations are being renamed to Talent Management and HR Services. All positions in Human Resources will be combined into one program budget, 8004 – “Human Resources.”
  • The Talent Management team will be accountable for providing direct support to supervisors in their staffing needs, including the first line of recruiting, onboarding, substitutes, hiring, certification, applicant screening, HR technology, and staffing allocations.
  • The HR Services group will provide data entry and accuracy for all employment records, as well as subject-matter-expertise in certification, position control, HR technology, compensation, new teacher induction, and absence management.
  • Goals include improved customer service experience for internal and external customers, greater communication and transparency, accuracy of data management systems, record keeping systems, and talent identification, development, and retention.

Seven staff members from the Office of Internal Control and Legal Departments will transfer to HR to handle employee relations functions. In addition, the Employee Benefits, Risk Management, Unemployment & Workers’ Compensation function (Dept. 8006) - with 11 positions - is being transferred to Finance.

As a result of these transfers, HR will have approximately 60 staff members versus the 63 contained in the FY15 Budget. However, since the moves noted above are all transfers, the total APS FY15 Budget appears to remain unchanged as a result of the HR reorganization.

Per the APS website, Hall stated,

I … expect our district to become recognized as a world-class organization that supports the recruitment and retention of outstanding employees that will enhance the district’s vision for student achievement. What can you expect from our reorganized department?

  • A change in culture that is student-focused, customer service driven, and supportive of the organization and each other.
  • Organized people and processes that provide maximum efficiency and opportunities to excel.
  • Utilization of technology to reduce manual processes and errors.
  • Involvement by key stakeholders in decision-making and transparency through communication.

The new top-level organization chart is as follows (click to enlarge):

HR Org Chart 100814

You can access additional levels of the organization chart here.

As part of restructuring, employees are now directed to contact individuals within HR with questions or concerns versus a call center that is being closed at the end of October. To facilitate interaction between HR staff and employees, HR has published a complete list of all personnel, their functions, phone numbers and email addresses (see here).

Last May when Pamela Hall’s name was announced, I wrote a post (see here) that presented a very significant difference in the efficiency of the AISD HR function versus the APS function. Based on my research, AISD had 43 HR staff to handle over 11 thousand district employees – or one HR staff per 260 employees. At that time, the APS HR function had one person for 141 employees.

I had hoped that under Hall’s leadership, the APS HR function would become more efficient and begin to move towards the efficiency levels in Austin. However, none of the changes noted in the above reorganization indicate that this will be the case.

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APS news release on hiring of Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins as Chief Academic Officer

October 7, 2014

APS Hires Chief Academic Officer

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Board of Education voted to accept Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen’s recommendation to hire Dr. Carlton D. Jenkins as chief academic officer (CAO) for Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

The APS chief academic officer is responsible for driving the district’s core academic function — curriculum and instruction delivery to more than 50,000 students.

Jenkins is credited with transforming schools and developing current and future leaders in K-12 public education as superintendent of Saginaw Public Schools District in Saginaw, MI.  During his tenure, Jenkins increased the graduation rate by 14.1 percentage points and reduced the dropout rate by 4.9 percentage points over four years for all students. With more than 25 years of experience in education, Jenkins has served in leadership positions such as an associate administrator, principal of a middle school and three high schools, executive director of Project-GRAD leadership K-12 and executive director of secondary leadership.

A native of Phenix City, Ala., Jenkins received his undergraduate degree from Mississippi Valley State University, a master’s degree in educational administration and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“As we implement a new strategic direction for Atlanta Public Schools, Jenkins will have a crucial role in fulfilling our mission of preparing students for college and career success,” Superintendent Carstarphen said.

“I look forward to being a part of Atlanta, APS, and a strong team that is dedicated to supporting students and leading our teachers and staff to academic success for all our students,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins will join APS on October 20, 2014.

 About Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 50,000 students across 106 learning sites. The district is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 87 schools, 17 charter schools and two citywide single-gender academies, where students are offered rigorous instructional programs that foster success in school and life. For more information, visit http://www.atlantapublicschools.us.


Recap of Atlanta Public School Board of Education meeting held on October 6th

October 7, 2014

The Atlanta Public School Board of Education held it’s regularly scheduled monthly yesterday. For a detailed review of the Agenda see yesterday’s post here. The following is a recap of the proceedings – you can see the video of the live stream here.

As I noted yesterday, the most interesting part of the meeting was during the Work Session in which there were five presentations, as follows:

District Strategic Planning Process – Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, Superintendent – see presentation materials at Strategic Planning Board Meeting October 6.pptx (3,964 KB)

Dr. Carstarphen presented the work to-date on the strategic planning process. In the presentation, there were to items of note. The first was an integrated look at how the plan will come together in its development and implementation. The following slide shows the sources of input for the plan development, the areas that are informed by the strategic plan (cluster plans and operating model), the development of a budget to fund the plan and then it subsequent implementation.
Strat Plan Process 100614
The second item that was of interest is the slide depicting how APS will operate. As you can see, the traditional pyramid of a “top down” structure has been flipped over. Students are at the top of the inverted pyramid and central administration is at the bottom.

Inverted Pyramid 100614
Carstarphen is delivering a very strong message to the entire organization – every function is there to support student learning. If a function is out of step with the new culture she is bringing to APS then it must change – or the department and division leadership will change.

While this may look like common sense – the students are the top priority – that is not how the prior administrations operated. This represents a sea change in how APS intends to operate – central administrators are there to support school based leaders who are there to support teachers. And the entire structure focuses on students (and hopefully educational outcomes).

School System Operating Models and Flexibility Options Advisory Recommendation to the Administration

Angela Smith, Special Assistant to the Superintendent – see presentation materials at 20141006 Advisory Committee Operating Models Recommendation and Report Oct 6 v3.pptx (1,418 KB) and prior post on the matter here. Smith presented the recommendation of the Advisory Committee – that a Charter System be adopted – to the Superintendent and the Board for their consideration. After the presentation two members of the Advisory Committee joined Smith for a Q&A with the Board. There were some interesting insights into the Advisory Committees deliberations and conclusions, as follows:

  • 71% of the Committee members were in favor of the Charter System – 21% for IE2.
  • Board member Amos asked “Is this what the community wants” – the answer was yes, but there were concerns about the implementation process.
  • Board member Lee stated, “I have strong reservations about all the choices – they are bad, worse and God awful. How do we ensure equity? …The work is just beginning.”
  • Board member Brown asked “How will the community be involved in the process? … We need to know before the next meeting.” Smith responded that they were developing a draft of a process.
  • Board member Esteves asked the Advisory Committee members – “What fired up the Task Force to go to a Charter System?” Advisory Committee member Janet Kinard stated that having 700-800 parents across the district involved and engaged in the Local School Governing Boards was what tipped the balance for her.

It was interesting to note that the anticipated start of the implementation phase (if approved) was not until FY17. The next steps are for the Superintendent and the Board to consider the Committee’s recommendation and then vote on the matter in the November Board meeting.

Teacher and Leader Appraisals Merit Pay – William Caritj, Chief Accountability and Information Officer & Pamela Hall, Chief Human Resources Officer – see presentation materials at Final9-30BdPresentationAppraisalsMeritP.pptx (750 KB)

The plan to assess teachers and school leaders for allocating the merit pay is complex and detailed. For those of you that want to know and understand the details, please see the presentation materials.

Middle School Configuration for North Atlanta Cluster – Larry Hoskins, Chief Operating Officer – see presentation materials at MS Configuration N ATL Cluster–Oct 6 2014 BOE Meeting.pptx (246 KB)

This presentation was brought to the Board to bring them up to date on the implementation of a 6th grade academy at the old Sutton school. Carstarphen indicated that the planning was moving forward. It appeared as if she was taking steps to comply with a Board directive from last year, but her heart was not in it. My sense is that she has reservations about the 6th grade academy, but accepts that the decision has been made.

In addition, there was a substantial amount of discussion regarding the use of the new Sutton Middle School (formerly the North Atlanta High School campus). The presentation indicated that the facilities were more than adequate, but that some changes to how the facility is used might improve the flow of activities during the day. The surprise was that after Hoskins and one of his staff made the presentation, Board member Meister weighed in and stated that in her recent meeting with parents and other representatives of the middle school, they had reached a conclusion that was at odds with the presentation made by the administration.

My sense is that this issue will come up again as it was clear that there were very significant differences of opinion on the matter.

FY 2015 General Fund Monthly Financial Update Overview – Chuck Burbridge, Chief Financial Officer – see presentation materials at _FY 2015 Financial Format Draft 09162014.pptx (122 KB)

CFO Burbridge presented a new format for the monthly financial information. It has more detail on both the revenue and the expenditures in comparison to budget. I will say that it is a step forward, but it is a long way from being optimal. A case in point – the presentation now categorizes all expenditures based on the State defined functions – not based on how the expenditures were presented in the budget process. In addition, while there are many variances from budget presented (as would be expected), there was no explanation provided for the variances and there was no assessment as to whether the district was on track to meet the FY15 budget. I know it is early in the year and the financial information to date is limited, but variances should be explained and some assessment of if the district is on track should be provided.

During the Legislative Session, the entire Consent Agenda (see the detail here) was passed with no questions or comments from Board members.

The Board took action on a number of items when they came out of Executive Session including accepting the tribunal recommendation not to renew contracts for three employees, granting civil service review for two employees and accepting settlements on the Atlanta Preparatory Academy and Michael Rogers litigation.

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