How will you guarantee to not make the mistakes of the past school board [that was removed by Gov. Nathan Deal]?
“The financial mismanagement, corruption and nepotism within DeKalb schools has pervaded the system for too long and our children and communities deserve transformational change right now. I decided to run for this position because I felt like the incumbent, who was appointed by Gov. [Nathan] Deal, was not doing enough to change the way the DeKalb school system operated in the years leading up to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation scandal.
Improving student achievement in DeKalb is my top priority. I think DeKalb needs leadership that is willing to put the needs of our students, parents, teachers and communities above my own. I have pledged to donate my entire school board salary to charities in the district serving underprivileged students as part of my commitment to this goal and I promise to do everything I can to serve as an elected leader DeKalb can be proud of.
The last financial audit of DeKalb school district from December 2012 showed $200 million in misspent funds, and yet the current board has not requested a new audit and has not improved the financial transparency of the district. I would support an annual audit of the school system, as well as complete and ongoing financial transparency.”
What are your top three concerns regarding the state of schools in DeKalb County?
1. Leadership: we need elected leaders who are willing to engage the citizens and communities in DeKalb and make the transformational changes necessary to ensure that our children have the same excellent educational opportunities that other communities enjoy. As I have visited homes and community meetings throughout District 3, I have heard my neighbors repeat the same concerns about my opponent — he has not been willing to attend their meetings, or even been accessible to address their concerns. I believe an elected leader has a duty to be “on-call” to the public, as well as a responsibility to engage with the communities he or she represents. This is why I think every citizen should have my cell phone number and email address and why I try to attend community gatherings in our district whenever possible. Phone: (404) 913-2257 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Commitment to results: above all else, our school board needs to be committed to improving student achievement. But our current board and administration has failed to make any changes to the management structure of our schools since taking office. When our schools invest $1.25 billion and graduate only 58 percent of students, and DeKalb’s school grades from the state actually declined this year among elementary, middle and high schools, it is clear that we need to commit to addressing every aspect within our school system to dramatically improve educational results. When McNair and Towers High School graduate only 46 percent and 44 percent of students compared to 93 percent for KIPP Charters despite a virtually identical demographic of students, I think it is clear that we should encourage more of these types of schools, or at least model their best practices in our own struggling schools. I am in support of any viable school solutions, charter or traditional, that improve educational outcomes for our students. But while my opponent has chosen to send his own children to a charter school in north DeKalb, he has opposed the Druid Hills Charter petition that would bring seven new innovative charter schools to our district. He has done nothing to attract more schools like KIPP to south DeKalb where kids need more educational options and he has not proposed any significant changes to the failing schools in our district. I think we need to empower principals to manage their schools, teachers to innovate in their classrooms and parents the ability to choose any DeKalb school. My support of schools and charters that are not controlled by the central administration may not be a program that is politically popular to the power brokers in DeKalb, but I think it is imperative if we really are committed to improving educational outcomes for our children.
3. Political and social divisions within the county: we have seen DeKalb lose more than 50 percent of its tax digest in the last six years due to incorporations of new cities and annexations and this number will increase to more than 70 percent with the potential incorporations of Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker. But the primary reason for these new cities has been the corruption and dysfunction from DeKalb’s elected leadership and the failing state of our schools. Until we can elect leaders who are committed to serving the public interests rather than their own, we cannot expect to unify the county or discourage the exodus of businesses, citizens and teachers from DeKalb.
The failure of our schools, and the opposition of Dr. Erwin and others to locally controlled, open-enrollment schools, has led these new cities to pursue the creation of independent school districts, under House Resolution 486, which is in the Georgia House now. If we cannot demonstrate our resolve to improving educational outcomes and welcoming more local control in schools, we risk a catastrophic loss of funding for those schools remaining in DeKalb. My vision for DeKalb schools would provide quality local school options in every community, including charters, as well as the ability for every parent to choose any school in the county for their children, whether they live in south DeKalb, Stone Mountain or Dunwoody. I hope I can count on your support at the polls July 22.
Michael Erwin, incumbentAge: 44Occupation: biology professor at Georgia Gwinnett CollegeLength of residency: seven yearsContact:www.michaelerwin.org or www.facebook.com/MichaelErwinBOE
How will you guarantee to not make the mistakes of the past school board [that was removed by Gov. Nathan Deal]?“As a board member I always remember that before a decision is made, I must ask the question, ‘Is this what is best for all the students in DeKalb County?’ Keeping this in mind allows for consensus building and removal of individual agendas. It is through this thought process that the current board has been able to move the district off of accreditation probation, reduce furlough days and build a positive fund balance — surplus — to support academic growth.
I will also continue to adhere to the guidelines and expectations outlined by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as I have done throughout the last 16 months. Those guidelines include working as a ‘whole’ and not from an individualistic perspective. We as a board must continue to invest in board training and board development. We must operate at a high level of ethics and when necessary hold each accountable for our behavior. Our role is to set policy, review and approve a budget and hire a superintendent. The superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day management of the school district. Board members must stay in their lane of governance. The current school board has successfully worked together by governing responsibly and as a result we have begun to change the educational culture for all of our children in the DeKalb County School System.”
What are your top three concerns regarding the state of schools in DeKalb County?1. Academic achievement is one of the biggest challenges we face in our schools. In order to affect change we must provide funding to support student growth through assessment and professional development. By continuing to increase the fund balance — surplus — I will focus on prioritizing spending towards programs and initiatives that will enhance academic achievement. I will also ensure that future budgets place the dollars closest to where student instruction is occurring in the classroom. Removing barriers that exist for teachers will also positively impact academic achievement. The current board has reduced furlough days and the fiscal 2015 budget will remove all remaining furlough days, which will return us to a 180-day attendance calendar. Funding has also been appropriated for the hiring of 100 new teachers and we will provide the first cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and staff in seven years. As a result, this will positively impact teacher recruitment ensuring that we have highly qualified teachers in classrooms on day one.
2. Second, a focus on K-16 education is paramount to making sure that our students are college and career ready. We stop short if our focus is only on getting students through the 12th grade. We must be concerned with what happens beyond that to ensure success of our students at the next level, be it college, military or the workforce. I will continue to support the implementation of career clusters such as STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] to prepare students for beyond the 12th grade. Research shows that learning opportunities that tap into a student’s vision for the future, provide an authentic connection with their teachers and demonstrate relevance in learning positively impact graduation rates.
3. Finally, education governance is another challenge facing our school system. The current board has made great strides towards maintaining a responsible governance culture, but this progress must be sustained. A dysfunctional board will compromise the progress that the district has made throughout the last 16 months and jeopardize the accreditation process. Meaningful improvement takes time and education governance does make a difference in the classroom. As a board member I will continue to employ the patience and fortitude to stay the course so that the children of DeKalb County reach the heights they are certainly capable of achieving.