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Posted by on April 19, 2012.

DeKalb County Schools: A view from the inside out

Jim Redovian

Jim Redovian

The very-much-maligned DeKalb County School System seems to find itself in the news almost weekly with a new crisis or shortfall.

It is easy to put the blame for all the problems squarely on those charged with running the system or those working in the system.

In the bigger perspective, however, I believe there is a much bigger factor that drives the weaknesses in the system. It is my opinion that the most profound deterrent to good operation is the overall size of the district itself.

If you look around the state, as well as the country, you will find that the most successful systems operate with a student population of 30,000 students or less and a much smaller geographical footprint. This puts the administration and the school board in a much closer proximity with the stakeholders. They live and play with those they serve and have a much better perspective on those they serve.

Systems like DeKalb and the other large urban counties in Georgia — with as many as 100,000 students or more, in some cases as many as 150,000 — are what lead to the large leadership and administration bloat.

Administration becomes so disconnected from the day-to-day operation trying to fulfill the needs and diversities of so many students and employees that it loses track of the ultimate goal of educating our children. Instead, it must spend too much time developing an environment that is safe and suited to serve so many individuals.

Each child is and has different needs.

Georgia has chosen to live and operate under such a system, and although it works for the majority of systems within the state, it puts the large systems, in my opinion, at great disadvantages.

Sen. Dan Weber did introduce a bill two years ago to look at breaking the larger systems into small entities by creating “cluster charters,” which would allow for more local governance at the cluster level.

That is an excellent first step. However, I feel we must go much farther. I would like to see a bill that would limit the overall size of a school district to a manageable size and those that exceed that size would be divided into smaller, manageable sizes.

Call me a dreamer, but if we want to move our children to the next level to compete in the future, we must look at ways outside of the box.

Another area we must look to improve is how the systems are governed. The school board has by law only the authority to hire and fire the superintendent, approve and oversee the budget, which, by the way, is developed and proposed by the superintendent and to set policy, which also is written by the superintendent.

The board has no authority over the day-to-day operation of the system, which includes the hiring and firing of employees. The superintendent is responsible for all administration, curriculum and day-to-day business.

The problem begins, as the superintendent and school board have to filter most of their decisions through insurance and legal requirements and not what, in many cases, is best for the students.

This is not a fault. It is a reality in today’s world.

On top of that, they must constantly adhere to a myriad of state and federal regulations, which take time from staff and teachers doing their primary jobs, that of teaching students.

It seems we are making teaching a secondary function for teachers. Government regulation is robbing our teachers of time to do what we hire them to do.

On top of the government regulations, another level of reporting comes from the accreditation process we have heard so much of.

None of these entities are not needed. However, we pay a dear price in time and administration to fulfill all their requirements, some of which are duplications.

The system is not performing because it is structured to fail. Although schools systems can be run using business practices, you cannot lay off students if you run short of funds, or they are producing fewer profits than others. Each child is an individual and all deserve the best we can give them.

Jim Redovian is a former member of the DeKalb County school board. He lives in Dunwoody.

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