PAGE One Magazine Oct./Nov. 2017

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October/November 2017

BEYOND TEST SCORES Georgia’s New Accountability Plan Reflects Student Success, Growth and At-Risk Factors

EQUITY PLUS: The December Dilemma

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October/November 2017

Vol. 39 No. 2


Feature 07  Special Report:

School Accountabilty

008  Georgia’s ESSA Plan: Educators and Other

Stakeholders Drive Improvements to School Accountability System

009  Designing Accountability Systems: A

Conversation with UGA’s Richard O. Welsh 015  A-F Grading of Schools 016  Calhoun City Schools Commits to Community-Based Accountability



4  From the President DeKalb CEO Was Bolstered As a Teen By a Coach Who Saw Potential 5  From the Executive Director Battle Over Georgia’s ESSA Plan Highlights Divide on Accountability

School Climate 18  Educators See Benefit of Examining Root Causes of Student Behavior

PAGE Foundation 26  2017 ‘A PAGE Turning Event’ Honors DeKalb CEO Michael L. Thurmond

18  Another Benefit of Knowing Your Who: Improved Student Behavior

30  2017 PAGE Foundation Scholarship Recipients Announced

Retirement Benefits 23  Be Sure to Thank State Leaders for Supporting the Teachers Retirement System

Professional Learning 29  PAGE Georgia Academic Decathlon Participants Explore ‘Africa’

Legal 24  The December Dilemma


18 PAGE One Official Publication of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Providing professional learning for educators to enhance professional competence, confidence and leadership skills, leading to higher academic achievement for students, while providing the best in membership, legal services and legislative support.

October/November 2017



Editor Craig Harper

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Advertising/Sales Sherry Gasaway 770-650-1102, ext.145

Associate Editor Megan Thornton


From the President

DeKalb CEO Was Bolstered As a Teen By a Coach Who Saw Potential Kelli De Guire


want to tell you a story. Many years ago in Oconee County, there lived a little boy. His parents were sharecroppers and they worked hard to put food on the table. Sometimes, when the cotton was not in season, he and his mama would make the trek to the Department of Family and Children Services to get food stamps. The little boy attended a segregated school, and he tried hard because he knew that his parents wanted him to get an education. In 1970, at the start of his senior year, the young man moved to the first integrated high school in Clarke County. That year, he played football for the man who changed his life, coach James Holston. You see, this little boy was not the best on the team, but he had desire — to play,

to learn and to succeed. The coach, in the midst of his own role in the school integration, looked beyond the young football player’s small frame and saw something more; he saw a unique individual — a teenager who, with a little guidance and support, could change the future. That young football player went on to be a first-generation college graduate and law school graduate. He became the first black person elected, not appointed, to the Georgia Legislature. He became the Georgia labor commissioner, the interim superintendent of DeKalb County Schools, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and eventually the CEO of DeKalb County, where he still works for the people and students he calls family. That man’s name is Michael Thurmond. Recently, at the PAGE Foundation’s “A

The coach looked beyond the young football player’s small frame and saw something more; he saw a unique individual — a teenager who, with a little guidance and support, could change the future.


PAGE Turning Event,” I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Thurmond and honor him for his contributions to the state of Georgia and public education. He took the stage with humility. After many accolades from public officials, elite business executives and even a former governor, he said thank you and then said he came for one reason: to talk to teachers. His message was simple: Thank you! Thank you for doing your job when no one appreciates you. Thank you for looking at children and seeing not the color of their skin, but the irrepressible spark of individuality. Thank you for believing in students and their ability to achieve despite what a test score says. But, most of all, thank you for loving your students. Thank you for believing in a free-lunch kid from Oconee County. (See a video of Thurmond’s comments at As I sat there with tears streaming down my face, I thought of you — each of you. Together, we struggle every day to do what is best for our students. We tend to wounds (physical, mental and spiritual), we wipe noses, we throw balls and yell for them to “keep going,” we challenge them and frustrate them, we cry with them and laugh with them, but most of all we love them. So, to you I say, “Thank you!” Not just for doing your job, but for being the kind of person who does your job with tears in your eyes and a laugh in your throat. I thank you for loving your students. You, my friend, are changing lives. Never doubt n it. Thank you!

October/November 2017

From the Executive Director

Battle Over Georgia’s ESSA Plan Highlights Divide on Accountability Dr. Allene Magill


ccountability. It’s a loaded word in education. Legislators and governors are never satisfied with it; state and federal agencies continually tinker with it; and educators are judged, and often punished, by it. This issue of PAGE One concludes a three-part series on accountability. We look into Georgia’s newly proposed accountability system detailed in its recent submission under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We also examine Georgia’s A-F school rating system. These are important issues for communities. Experiences that students and parents have with teachers and schools often don’t align with a school’s “report card” rating, which is based largely on standardized tests scores. The mismatch of personal experience versus test data causes a disconnect for those within a school, and it spawns uninformed judgments among those outside a school. Moreover, educators who address the disconnect often are seen as making excuses for poor performance and supporting low expectations. It’s easy to stand outside the schoolhouse and blame educators for

lack of effort and poor results based on standardized assessments without understanding all the factors that influence student and school performance. However, an awakening to the fallibilities of high-stakes tests as the prime determinant of successful schools is gaining traction. Georgia’s plan under ESSA is a complete rewrite of the prescriptive, top-down approach taken under the federal No Child Left Behind rules. ESSA passed Congress with bi-partisan support and encourages states to be innovative; it recognizes the importance of flexibility and reduces testing requirements.

The plan incorporates many of the requests that stakeholders shared with the Georgia Department of Education. It considers student growth from where students and schools stand now rather than ignoring current conditions and pushing all schools toward a single benchmark. The plan also recognizes challenges that dramatically impact student academic progress. DEAL, WOODS AT ODDS OVER PLAN

Georgia’s draft ESSA plan was submitted to Gov. Deal for review, and in September he sent it back to the DOE with recommendations to focus more on results instead of inputs. Gov. Deal’s recommendations — had they all been accepted — would have undermined the appropriate recognition of challenges faced by many Georgia students, including poverty, disabilities or Englishlanguage deficits. Such changes directly contradict public sentiment and what stakeholders have said should be considered in determining the quality of a school. As Superintendent Richard Woods said in his response to Deal, “Your requested changes

Every Student Succeeds Act An awakening to the fallibilities of high-stakes tests as the prime determinant of successful schools is gaining traction. Georgia’s plan under ESSA is a complete rewrite of the prescriptive, top-down approach taken under the federal No Child Left Behind rules.

October/November 2017

Continued on page 6


to the CCRPI model — which was developed by a widely representative committee of Georgians and vetted by national experts — would remove or adjust all indicators that do not incorporate test scores. … The state should be extremely cautious about adopting an accountability system that returns to a disproportionate emphasis on test scores and the unintended consequences associated with such a system — this would be a huge step backward for our state.” Over the past two sessions, the Georgia legislature has responded to parent and educator outcry regarding the overuse of high-stakes tests and their effect on student experience and educator evaluation. The General Assembly passed laws that reduced the overall number of tests for students and enacted significant changes in how those scores will be used in educator evaluations. And one year ago, the public soundly defeated the Opportunity School District (OSD), the amendment that would have allowed the state to take over schools labeled as “failing” based primarily on high-stakes testing. Following that setback, Gov. Deal came back through the legislature with the “First Priority Act” (House Bill 338). However, a key difference in this intervention model is recognizing schools as “struggling” rather than “failing” — a signal of the legislature’s intention of working with schools and their communities to design customized interventions. While education advocates still have concerns about the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s method of designating struggling schools, as well as the structure and organization of

Recognition of Challenges Gov. Deal’s recommendations — had they all been accepted — would have undermined the appropriate recognition of challenges faced by many Georgia students, including poverty, disabilities or English-language deficits. Such changes directly contradict public sentiment and what stakeholders have said should be considered in determining the quality of a school. work for the chief turnaround officer and turnaround coach, it is much better than the more heavy-handed takeover approach intended by OSD. PDK POLL: GEORGIANS FAVOR LOCAL SCHOOL CONTROL

Consistent with the OSD outcome, the latest Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) national poll of attitudes toward public schools showed that Georgians strongly favor local school control and believe that interventions to help struggling schools are best left to local decision-makers rather than to the governor or the DOE. Further, respondents nationally and in Georgia rank standardized assessments the lowest of six factors that indicate the quality of a school. (PDK, which has commissioned the national survey since 1969, also polled individual states for the first time. For the current survey, PDK

‘Struggling’ vs. ‘Failing’ A key difference in this intervention model is recognizing schools as “struggling” rather than “failing” — a signal of the legislature’s intention of working with schools and their communities to design customized interventions. 6  PAGE ONE

polled Georgians and New Yorkers.) According to the polling, the public wants schools to provide rigorous academics; instruction in career skills and interpersonal skills; and extracurricular choices. As stated by PDK: “These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates — from supporting vouchers to doubling down on highstakes tests to cutting federal education funding — are out of step with parents’ main concerns: They want their children prepared for life after they complete high school.” Even with the improvements laid out in Georgia’s ESSA plan, our state accountability system still doesn’t capture what’s most important to communities and stakeholders. That’s why earlier this year PAGE sponsored presentations across the state by assessment and accountability expert John Tanner. PAGE is committed to supporting communitybased, stakeholder-designed accountability — to further explore the central question of Tanner’s work: “For what am I accountable and to whom?” I encourage you to read the message from Michele Taylor, superintendent of Calhoun City Schools, (p. 14) regarding how her district and community is beginning to address this important question. I look forward to sharing details about this initiative in the coming months. It’s truly exciting work and holds much promise for creating stronger connections n between communities and schools.

October/November 2017

Special Report:



his issue of PAGE One concludes a three-part series on school accountability. In the following pages, we examine several issues related to the state’s accountability plan: •  Georgia’s submission of a new state accountability plan to satisfy federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements •  A University of Georgia researcher’s take on the design of accountability systems •  A-F ratings of schools •  How one district is taking steps toward developing a community-based accountability system The first part of the three-part series on accountability (PAGE One, May-June 2017) addressed the frustration of educators and administrators in addressing student needs and planning instruction while meeting the dictates of a complicated and ever-changing accountability system. The second part of the series (PAGE One, Aug.Sept. 2017) dealt with the fallacy of test-based accountability systems and the limitations of those tests as indicators of school quality. Testing expert John Tanner described the basis for considering school quality measures determined by community stakeholders beyond high-stakes tests. You may view those articles at magazines.

October/November 2017



Georgia’s ESSA Plan:

Educators and Other Stakeholders Drive Improvements to School Accountability System By Craig Harper, PAGE Director of Communications


ducators nationwide celebrated in December 2015 when the highly unpopular No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) faded to history with the adoption of the broadly supported, bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA acknowledged that NCLB mandates became unrecognizable due to wholesale waivers and manipulations through Race to the Top and other state requests for flexibility. NCLB was a leash attached to a choke collar; ESSA showed promise as a broad path through the park. In the breakdown of NCLB, Georgia adopted its own waiver accountability system: the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). Because ESSA allows more flexibility and fewer tests — innovations already adopted 8  PAGE ONE

by states — Georgia was poised to roll forward with what it implemented as a waiver, while seeking further adjustments. The changes promised to answer consistent complaints from educators, parents and other stakeholders: •  Too many high-stakes tests that changed mid-stream. •  Too many criteria within complicated formulas to derive a single score. •  Sometimes-nonsensical methods to earn challenge points. •  Lack of clarity on the entry and exit point for schools that might, or might not, be identified for state intervention. Because ESSA required states to develop new accountability plans to meet the goals of the law rather than rollover

existing waivers, the Georgia Department of Education seized upon its chance to listen to as many voices as were willing to share. And share they did — by the thousands — in numerous feedback sessions all across Georgia, through emails and through conversations with the six committees established to formally represent education advocacy groups, parents, students, higher education, business and government. More than 250 people served on the committees and actively participated in their work, as well as in many of the feedback sessions. In preparing to rewrite the state accountability plan, the GaDOE asked the University of Georgia to analyze the CCRPI. (See article on next page.) The research, by Richard O. Welsh, assistant professor of the Department of Lifelong October/November 2017

Education, Administration and Policy, concluded that using nationally normed measures adjusted for student demographics, Georgia appears to rate some schools more harshly. Welsh reported that “Georgia’s accountability system appears to identify the tails of the school performance distribution fairly accurately (schools rated “A” and “F”), however, the middle of the distribution (“B,” “C,” and “D” schools) appear to be the school(s) that would trend higher on the

other states’ accountability models (especially Southeastern states).” Furthermore, none of the five highperforming states examined in the study assigns A-F grades to schools based on test scores; three of the five Southeastern states do — including Georgia. [See A-F Grading of Schools article on Page 15.] Welsh noted that “Compared the other Southeastern states (Florida, Louisiana) with a school (letter) grading scale, Georgia has a more stringent grad-

ing scale. For instance, an “A” school in Florida and Louisiana needs roughly two-thirds of the points, whereas in Georgia, an “A” school needs about fourfifths of the points.” Welsh recommends creating a balance between proficiency and growth. He suggests recalibrating the letter grading scale, including equity factors such as school discipline in the measurement of school performance, and prioritizing subgroup Continued on page 10

Designing Accountability Systems A Conversation with UGA’s Richard O. Welsh By Craig Harper, PAGE Director of Communications


esigning an appropriate K-12 accountability system is challenging, says Dr. Richard O. Welsh, assistant professor of the Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy at the University of Georgia. In this article, Welsh, who authored a recent report titled “Comparisons and Systems Research of States’ Accountability Measures,” updates us on the current state of accountability systems. (His responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

October/November 2017

Q: What have you learned about state accountability measures since your report was published last year? A: There is a trend toward the increased use of science, social studies, school climate and chronic absenteeism in developing school accountability measures. There’s also a greater emphasis on post-secondary success at the high school level. We’ve also seen more focus on subgroups, and some states are forming “super

Richard O. Welsh

Continued on page 10


Special Report: SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY Because ESSA required states to develop new accountability plans to meet the goals of the law, the Georgia Department of Education seized upon its chance to listen to as many voices as were willing to share. And share they did — by the thousands — in numerous feedback sessions all across Georgia, through emails and through conversations with the six committees established to formally represent education advocacy groups, parents, students, higher education, business and government. performance to ensure adequate focus on high-needs students. “A school performance measure that prioritizes achievement levels may be capturing contextual factors and student demographics rather [than] the quality of schools or the policies and practices that schools may employ

to produce student achievement,” Welsh reported. “This also disadvantages schools with challenging and harder-to-educate students who enter schools with low achievement levels, even if these schools are making growth similar to schools with students with high achievement levels.”

Governor Insists On Focus on Outcomes

Welsh’s research underscored stakeholder feedback at numerous public sessions. The resulting ESSA plan was submitted to Gov. Nathan Deal in August. That plan incorporated many of the prevailing ideas

Designing Accountability Systems subgroups” combining traditionally disadvantaged groups or combining English-language learners and special education students. One of the overarching takeaways I’ve had so far from examining the other states’ plans, as well as Georgia’s, is that the design of accountability systems in this ESSA era is a work in progress. For the next two to three years, I think it’s going to be very fluid. Some of the plans we’re seeing right now are basic roadmaps where a lot of the details are going to be fleshed out in the coming years. Q: Has Georgia’s ESSA addressed the most critical findings and recommendations in your report? A: Some of the recommendations have been incorporated, but there’s a lot of flesh to be put on the skeleton that is there now. There is intent to consider progress at the same or even


greater level than proficiency. There is more attention to the context in which schools are operating. Those changes provide incentive for continuous improvement, and I think it bodes well for schools. There also is some focus on subgroups to make sure those who are further behind are expected to make greater annual gains, which I think is a positive; and there’s greater consideration of student attendance. The emphasis on post-secondary success and the attempt to broaden the indicators at all levels is a positive. And from what I’ve seen, there is a greater focus on trying to clarify and streamline the CCRPI. We’ll see how it goes over the next few years as we continue to design this system. Q: If starting from a blank slate, how would you recommend states design an accountability system?

A: This is a very tough task. To my mind, the primary challenge is really getting the right balancing act of outside-of-school factors: how outside factors may affect what happens in the classroom and how do we fairly hold schools accountable for things that are under their control (rather than outside factors that may influence their work but that are not sufficiently accounted for). I don’t have all the answers, but there are some things that I’m a fan of. First, including equity measures, such as chronic absenteeism and student mobility, to really get a better understanding of what schools face and how we deal with school performance. Second, the work that Jack Schneider is doing in Massachusetts. I’m a proponent of a broad set of indicators to measure school quality, similar to PAGE’s initiative to look to community stakeholders to really get a sense of

October/November 2017

shared with GaDOE. It provided room for districts to be flexible in scheduling instruction; recognized challenges faced by communities of poverty, students with disabilities and English language learners; and encouraged students to take more rigorous core content, identify a career

what good schools do and what parents and stakeholders prioritize the most, and trying to incorporate that into the indicators of school quality. Third, I would consider having an inspectorate that can complement the use of test scores and provide a more granular understanding of how learning occurs in schools. An inspectorate is a strong qualitative component that adds to the quantitative information. It can get into schools and provide more than a number or a test score. It provides a rich description of the context, the interactions in schools between teachers and students. My philosophy would be to bring more lens to bear on what schools do — not simply to penalize a school or reduce a school to a single number. Those numbers are a good starting point for us to have a conversation and compare schools, but I

October/November 2017

pathway and engage in content beyond the core. Additionally, there was flexibility to pilot innovative assessments. And, of critical importance to many school and district leaders, it simplified the CCRPI calculation into five categories and provided specific entry and exit points for strug-

think we can better detect the context and circumstances of what schools are doing and provide a richer description of how learning is taking place. Q: PAGE is exploring the idea of community and stakeholder-identified factors as measures for accountability that go beyond standardized assessments. As you mentioned, you’re familiar with this concept. What are your thoughts about this idea? A: The conceptualization of school quality can be broader. The challenge is to make it a feasible and present basis for comparison. The more I look at community-based assessment systems, the more I think they’re worth pursuing. Shifting the design of accountability to a more local level can be an incubator for experimentation. Feasible alternatives to test-based accountability

gling schools rather than an arbitrary and moving target of the five percent of lowest performing schools based on a three-year rolling average. Gov. Deal’s office responded to GaDOE’s ESSA plan with a compreContinued on page 12

have been hard to come by. This may bring new energy and thinking with substantial implications on how we measure school quality. I think it will engage and involve community stakeholders in school improvement. There is support for local control. A big part of sustainable improvement and lifting the quality of schools is going to fall on the community playing a larger role in how schooling is produced, so to speak. Teachers and school leaders may respond favorably to these accountability measures. There’s a prevailing sense that those closest know best, so accountability systems that can be tailored with the intent of benefitting students is a good thing. However, there also are pitfalls. Increased variability across localities makes it hard to compare. It’s already hard to compare across states. If there Continued on page 12


Special Report: SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY hensive and detailed letter to the DOE requesting significant changes that essentially stripped away any accountability factor not connected to a highstakes test. As Deal states in his letter, GaDOE should “refrain from incentivizing inputs. … More succinctly, there should be clear and strong focus in CCRPI on student outcome measures instead of input measures.” The changes the governor requested, if they had been accepted by GaDOE in its final submission, would have undone the progress evident in the original ESSA plan. Many of the recommendations ran counter to the broad, statewide stakeholder feedback and the intent of Senate Bill 364 (2016 session) and House Bill 338 (2017 session). Those measures sought to lessen the effect of high-stakes testing; provide more flexibility to districts; recognize community factors that affect school readiness and success; and partner with struggling schools with well-designed interventions. Perhaps the

most disappointing revision made in the final submission to the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 18 was the loss of the clear entry and exit criteria in deference to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s moving “target” — a misnomer as it’s more like roulette in that it might hit you even when a school makes progress above the indicator. [A review of the revisions made to the submitted plan are available on the PAGE website in the news section.]

Woods Calls it ‘A Huge Step Backward’

State School Superintendent Richard Woods indicated in his response to the governor that most of the requested changes would not be incorporated in a revised plan. “Your requested changes to the CCRPI model — which was developed by a widely representative committee of Georgians and vetted by national experts — would remove or adjust all indicators that do not incorporate test

The ESSA Plan process, committee structure, feedback data, ESSA plan and other information can be reviewed on the GaDOE website.

scores,” Woods wrote. “This would lead to a CCRPI measure based nearly 100 percent on test scores, which is essentially no different than AYP. The AYP system failed to result in meaningful improvement in student outcomes. The state should be extremely cautious about adopting an accountability system that returns to a disproportionate emphasis on test scores and the unintended consequences associated with such a system — this would be a huge step backward for our state.” PAGE Executive Director Allene

Designing Accountability Systems were a multitude of accountability systems across different local and regional levels, ‘My research team has been paying attention to the we would need some way politics of education. I think if there continues to to make those comparisons. The effectiveness hinges on be a dissatisfaction — especially at the parent and the capacity at the local or community level — with how we are measuring school regional level. There may be variation in the skills and performance and the efforts to improve schools, resources to manage this there’s really going to be more funding, more attention design process to ensure it’s representative of all stakeand more participation in state and local elections in holders, especially parents of education. Voices will be heard at the ballot.’ traditionally disadvantaged students who tend to be concentrated in schools we care most about improving. Making sure that the accountability system is truly represening the potential of inflating how well the cons, it’s a very worthwhile idea. tative is a key challenge. One can see schools are doing. how this effort could lead to further I do support this effort and it’s very Q: Is there a way to design a system inequality across districts, as districts worthy; it makes sense to start small that fairly accounts for other comand regions come up with their own and to transfer the best practices and munity factors, such as poverty, while accountability systems, thus making the learning to other districts. Once you still providing a basis for evaluating a comparison more difficult and increasaccentuate the pros and try to mitigate school’s effectiveness with students?


October/November 2017

Magill concurred with Woods’ conclusion. “We know from the ESSA stakeholder feedback, as well as state and national polling data, that high-stakes tests are not the primary indicator of a quality school experience. The ESSA plan proposed by the DOE more closely aligns with stakeholder expectations for what makes a quality educational experience. Georgia should be moving forward in alignment with those expectations, not going back to the test-and-punish mindset of No Child Left Behind.” Magill, along with several PAGE professional staff, served as a member of one of the ESSA committees. While PAGE did not agree with every component of the plan, Magill said, it is evident the GaDOE has thoughtfully crafted an accountability plan informed by the voices of people from around the state who understand the fallibility of the old model of accountability by testing. The ESSA plan moves in the right direction with opportunities for flexibility; consideration of other quality factors in helping

A: This is the ultimate goal of an accountability system and the biggest challenge we face. There is perhaps even a crystallizing consensus that we do need a broader conceptualization and definition of school quality and student success that goes beyond the test scores. The way we’ve attempted to do this so far in the literature is to include more equity measures to take into account the conditions that schools face. One of the ways to ensure that we don’t hold schools accountable for things outside of their control — such as demographic composition — is to shift toward growth measures rather than proficiency measures, which tend to be highly correlated with student characteristics. There’s also a debate about the role of expectation and using student demographics in value-added measures. Using different targets for growth based on different baselines eventually will create more space between demographic composition and school quality measures. Community-

October/November 2017

challenged students learn and grow; and supporting career and technical education pathways.

State Board of Education Challenges Woods and GaDOE

The GaDOE’s ESSA submission without incorporating all of Gov. Deal’s recommendations was called into question by some members of the state Board of Education at its late September meeting. Among the comments directed at Supt. Woods during the tense exchange was that Secretary Betsy DeVos would surely note that Gov. Deal did not sign the submission, indicating that its absence might cause the plan to be rejected. However, ESSA does not require a plan submission to be approved by a governor, only that he or she have opportunity for review with the option to sign the plan in support. “Under Section 8540 of ESSA, the SEA (state education agency, GaDOE) must consult in a ‘timely and meaningful’ manner with the governor in the development of the consolidated state

based measures also have the potential of helping account for out-of-school factors. But it remains a challenge. We haven’t totally answered the question of how we are going to account for poverty. We’ve seen in polling data — and I’ve heard anecdotally from speaking with teachers, school leaders and stakeholders in Georgia — that there is this emerging consensus that wrap-around services will play a key part in moving forward. Once that enters the conversation, then I think we can have an even more fruitful conversation about how we’re going to include poverty and community factors in how we measure school performance. Q: Please share any additional thoughts you have on these issues. A: It’s an interesting time. My research team has been paying attention to the politics of education. I think if there continues to be a dissatisfaction — especially at the parent and community level — with how we are measur-

ESSA plan and allow the governor 30 days to review the final plan and consider signing on before the SEA submits to USED,” said Peter Zamora, director of federal relations membership and outreach for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “Under the express terms of the ESSA statute, though, if the governor does not sign the plan, the SEA ‘shall submit’ the plan to USED without the governor’s signature, which is not required. While there is a space in the ESSA consolidated state plan application package for the governor to sign, if he or she does not do so it should not be a consideration in USED’s evaluation of state plans in the approval process.” Other states that submitted plans in April without the governors’ signatures have been approved, Zamora said. Supt. Woods and GaDOE did provide Gov. Deal the appropriate review and response time and made some revisions based on his recommendations before submitting the plan on the due date of n Sept. 18.

ing school performance and the efforts to improve schools, there’s really going to be more funding, more attention and more participation in state and local elections in education. Voices will be heard at the ballot. It’s really something we try to track and pay attention to. Q: Do you believe in A-F grading of schools? A: Most states have some variation of A-F school grading, or they place schools in a strand or level. I think it’s unavoidable to have some form of system like this, but we must think carefully about the bands and get them right. My thought is to try to really incorporate that mindset of broader measures into that band, whether it’s subgroup performance or other factors. While I do think parents are demanding measures outside standardized assessments, I also think there is some support for these rating systems and n the need to get them right.


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Title of Publication: PAGE ONE Magazine: Professional Association of Georgia Educators. Publication Number: 15236188. Date of filing: September 20, 2017. Frequency of issue: Five times yearly. Number of issues published annually: Five. Location of known office of publication: New South Publishing, Inc., 9040 Roswell Road, Suite 210, Atlanta, GA 30350. Owner: Professional Association of Georgia Educators, 2971 Flowers Road South, Suite 151, Atlanta, GA 31141. Extent and Nature of Circulation: Circulation of single issue published nearest to filing date: Total copies printed, 74,598. Sales through vendors, dealers, carriers and over the counter: 0. Mail subscriptions, 73,385. Total paid circulation, 73,385. Free distribution (by mail carrier or other means, including samples) 1,160. Total distribution, 74,545. Copies not distributed (office use, unaccounted for) 53. Average circulation for each issue in preceding 12 months. Total copies printed, 76,005. Sales through vendors, dealers, carriers and over the counter, 0. Mail subscriptions, 74,731. Total paid circulation, 74,731. Free distribution (by mail, carrier or other means, including samples) 1,200. Total distribution, 75,931. Copies not distributed (office use, unaccounted for) 74. Percent paid and/or requested circulation: 97.3%.

October/November 2017

In Rejecting Amendment 1, Voters Rejected A-F Grading of Schools

Should GOSA Have the Authority to Assign A-F Grades? By Margaret Ciccarelli and Meg Thornton


he introduction of A-F letter grades of Georgia’s schools by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) is surprising considering the recent history of legislative and voter rejection of the A-F grading system. The agency appears to be acting at its own discretion, without legal or legislative authority directing GOSA to assign A-F grades, and in the absence of binding authority specifically prohibiting it from doing so. When asked why GOSA began assigning letter grades to schools, GOSA Executive Director Martha Ann Todd told PAGE One that the school grades “simply reflect the CCRPI scores for schools and districts in a format that is familiar and readily understood by parents and other community stakeholders. … GOSA has a broad legal mandate to establish and report indicators of performance for schools and school systems and does not require a specific legal mandate to use the A-F reporting format.”

Background On A-F Grading

Last fall, Georgia voters said no to allowing the state to take over chronically failing schools. Amendment 1 read: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? The proposed constitutional amendment (Senate Resolution 287) was designed to trigger the implementation of Senate Bill 133, which outlined governance models of schools under an “Opportunity School District.” SB 133 also contained a provision requiring GOSA to assign A-F letter grades to Georgia schools:

October/November 2017

The office shall annually, for purposes of this article, determine a rating of A, B, C, D, or F for each public elementary and secondary school in this state based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student growth. Such ratings shall be based on the state accountability system approved by the State Board of Education.

At least 17 states have or are developing some form of A-F grading system for their schools. Proponents say the format makes it easier for the public to understand where schools stand academically. Critics say the letter grades oversimplify the picture of student success and school quality.

SB 133 contained other notable language as well (emphasis added): This Act shall become effective on January 1, 2017, only if an amendment to the Constitution is ratified at the November, 2016, general election expressly allowing the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Source: Education Commission of the States Opportunity School District to provide for state intervention for failing schools. the make-up of the school’s student body, If such an amendment to the Constitution is not so ratified, then this Act the graduation rate, and additional acashall not become effective and shall stand demic information.” In past years, the Georgia legislature had repealed by operation of law on January considered and rejected the mandatory 1, 2017. assignment of A-F letter grades to public ecause voters rejected the proposed schools. In 2012 Sen. Tommie Williams constitutional amendment, its com(R-Lyons) sponsored legislation regarding panion legislation, SB 133, which required GOSA’s school report card, SB 410. Senate the assignment of A-F grades to Georgia iterations of the bill contained language schools, was not enacted. Nevertheless, mandating the assignment of letter grades as of the start of 2017, GOSA has been to Georgia schools, but the House rejected assigning A-F grades to each Georgia the mandate, and the bill was ultimately school. (The grades are published online signed into law without the A-F language. at This history of debate and lack of According to GOSA, the grades are based authorizing legislation by the General on “school performance and other useAssembly casts doubt on whether GOSA ful information about the school, such as should have the authority to implement n performance on statewide assessments, an A-F grading system.




Calhoun City Schools Commits to Community-Based Accountability By Michele Taylor, Superintendent of Calhoun City Schools Calhoun City Schools hosted a luncheon in September in the new STEM Works Engineering Learning Lab and Online Learning Academy on the Calhoun College and Career Academy Campus at Calhoun High School. But beyond showcasing the new learning space, Michele Taylor, superintendent of schools, took the opportunity to speak with the many business and community leaders, parents and partners in education in attendance about the district’s mission to develop a community-based accountability system. Here are excerpts from her message:


During the opening of a new learning academy, the superintendent of Calhoun City or us, success or the measureSchools addressed the need to develop a community-based accountability system. ment of success is far more than a single test score. We have many areas of which we can be proud. don’t want to rely on a state performance he states. Calhoun City Schools was recently named index to tell us if we’re doing well; we’d PAGE invited Tanner to several comCharter System of the Year and ranked as rather meet and exceed the standards that munities in recent months, and as he the fifth-best school district in the state our stakeholders identify as indicators of circulated through Georgia to address the for 2018 by Niche ( In 2016, local accountability. misuse of standardized testing for gradthe district held the fourth-highest disAccording to John Tanner, author of ing schools and school districts, Calhoun trict graduation rate out of 180 districts. the book “The Pitfalls of Reform, “The took notice. His message was simply that Calhoun High School has consistently judgments from end-of-year test scores community-designed accountability sysbeen recognized by the College Board as in key subject areas are asked to represent tems created by local stakeholders provide an AP Honor School and repeatedly been the entire school in terms of its quality.” the most meaningful accountability. named among the best high schools in the However, he adds, “State test scores have a Our quest to develop a communitynation by U.S. News & World Report. The surprisingly limited amount of interprebased accountability system to measure district also has experienced great success tive power, which never included judgquality in all areas began today. Calhoun on the stage and playing field, with more ing school quality. Judgments of school City Schools will continue to encourage than 18 Georgia High School Association quality must be made, but they should be and promote student learning at profound state championships in the past decade. made based on evidence capable of rendlevels, as opposed to simply learning what While we’ve seen great success in many ing that judgment,” he adds. is needed to pass standardized tests. Our areas, we continually seek to improve. We According to Tanner, standards-based mission to inspire all students to become state testing does not provide lifelong learners in the pursuit of excelthe data that policymaklence will be measured by many indicaWe don’t want to rely on a state ers and many others think it tors of success identified by our commudoes. “Testing constructs are nity. While we can boast of a 97-percent performance index to tell us if designed to find an average graduation rate, we still have work to do we’re doing well; we’d rather that does not exist in the real until we reach our goal of 100 percent. meet and exceed the standards world of children and learning. Every day is an opportunity to make a Furthermore, multiple studies difference in the life of our students. We that our stakeholders identify as confirm that only about oneare preparing them for college, careers indicators of local accountability. third of testing results can be and life, and we need our community’s n attributed to school influence,” help to get it right. 16  PAGE ONE

October/November 2017

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School Climate

Educators See Benefit of Examining Root Causes of Student Behavior By Christine Van Dusen


he phone was ringing every day, several times a day, and the call was always the same: Your child is not behaving in school. This was frustrating; as a mother of a first-grader in the Glynn County School System, she didn’t know what to do to make the situation better, and to stop these calls from coming in. And then, when her child moved to second grade, something changed. The phone kept ringing, but in these calls she was being told that her child’s perfor-

mance, attitude and actions were vastly improving. What had made the difference? Glynn County Schools, like an increasing number of districts throughout the state and the nation, was fed up with the problem of discipline — and was ready to take new steps to solve it. In 2016, the district took an honest look at its culture and built a system that combines the increasingly popular Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program with themed lessons that focus

on behavior choices and decision-making strategies. “We’re trying to address the climate within the building,” said Valerie Whitehead, Ed. D., executive director of assessment and accountability for Glynn County. “We’re getting down to the root causes of student behavior by working with students and families.” The issue of school discipline is nothing new; students have misbehaved since before the days of inkwells and dunce caps. But the

Another Benefit of Knowing Your Who: Improved Student Behavior By Angela Garrett, PAGE Professional Learning


s a new cohort of assistant principals and teachers began their new professional learning sessions at PAGE in August, it’s gratifying to know they are on the verge of changing the entire culture of their schools. Assistant principals and teachers Leadership Academy (APTLA) participants work on developing processes that build trust and relationships. This work then serves as the foundation for all decisions, and it goes a long way in creating a culture of learning and support. These educators from across Georgia are focusing on their students’ motivation for learning by designing collaborative, engaging work that students will be interested in doing. To accomplish that, however, administrators and teachers must take an authentic interest in students. When an educator really knows the students and understands what they are bringing to school in terms of their home life and their motivation for learning, lessons can be designed in such a way that capture student interest. This approach has been shown to reduce discipline referrals, increase attendance, boost parent satisfaction and improve the overall school climate. The following are accounts from two educators who have participated in the PAGE professional learning sessions: 18  PAGE ONE

Ronnie Bradford, principal of Heritage High School in Catoosa County: Participation in PAGE professional learning over the past three years has been a highly positive experience for the teachers and students at Heritage High School. We have shifted our focus even more onto our students’ needs as we work together to design lessons using Phil Schlechty’s “Engaging Students” framework. Last year, we started an initiative to develop a relationship of trust between each of our 1,300 students and at least one adult on campus. We are also transforming our department meetings into instructional design teams and professional learning communities. As a result, we have increased faculty collaboration and have experienced a decrease in overall discipline incidents, with dramatic decreases in the following discipline categories: •  Drug incidents decreased from 18 in 2014 to 5 in 2016 a 73-percent decrease •  Fighting incidents decreased from 13 in 2014 to 7 in 2016 a 46-percent decrease •  Tobacco incidents decreased from 59 in 2014 to 38 in 2016 a 36-percent decrease The PAGE network structure also provides a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with other educators across our state and to learn from their experiences. October/November 2017

approach of old — focusing primarily on consequence and punishment, and sending offenders straight to the principal’s office — has been showing some cracks. So districts have been rethinking their approaches and improving their climates by relying on a mix of new techniques and old-fashioned concepts like recognition and reward. That’s worked for Glynn County, which spent about $300,000 of its state funds on its plan. Office referrals and suspensions are down, and the number

of days of instruction increased by 774 from 2016 to 2017. “We’re trying to go above and beyond what PBIS can do,” Whitehead said. To be sure, PBIS is not without controversy; opponents say the program wrongly rewards children for the most basic of good behavior. Some Georgia districts are cash-strapped and can’t wrangle the funds for that kind of program. And some teachers say their schools aren’t following through on PBIS or other discipline-

Amy Stewart, assistant principal at Sonoraville High School in Gordon County: Efforts to transform Sonoraville High School into a learning organization over the past 10 years have been intentional, gradual and fully supported by PAGE and the Schlechty Center. Because trust was placed in our teachers and the framework (rather than in programs deceptively promising immediate results), we have experienced both success and sustainability. We continue to foster teacher leadership capacity, empowering teachers to design meaningful, engaging work. We pay particular attention to building relationships with students, who are viewed as our customers. The result is a collaborative, student-centered culture. Furthermore, our student test scores are up, and discipline referrals have decreased considerably.


t is important for leaders to support and empower teachers in this developmental process, and it is important for teachers to lead from where they are. Teachers can and should be leaders in the school! Their effort in collaboration, design and student knowledge can turn boring lessons into lessons that make students persist and continue learning long after class is over. October/November 2017

related initiatives for fear of hurting their ratings and reputations. But other Georgia educators say that an overhaul of a school’s discipline system is definitely doable and worthwhile. “I feel sorry for teachers who don’t have this system in place,” said LaVonda Jones, an eighth-grade teacher at Howard Middle School in Macon. “We have socials, a basketball tournament, all of that. But there’s also that other side, the side that is giving Continued on page 20

Last year, Heritage High School in Catoosa County started an initiative to develop a relationship of trust between each of its 1,300 students and at least one adult on campus.

Whether it is PAGE’s Assistant Principal and Teacher Academy or the Principal and Teacher Leadership Network, or any of PAGE’s other district networks, the learning is quite similar: Focus on the students and the lesson design and engagement; focus on building solid, trusting relationships with staff and students (and parents); and empower everyone to focus on quality in everything they do. From the housekeeping staff to the superintendent, all play an integral part in whether students really learn and enjoy n what they are learning. It’s about leading up! PAGE ONE  19

‘We have socials, a basketball tournament, all of that. But there’s also that other side, the side that is giving us the tools in a positive way to redirect negative behaviors. That’s the most powerful part of it.’ – LaVonda Jones, eighth-grade teacher at Howard Middle School in Macon

us the tools in a positive way to redirect negative behaviors. That’s the most powerful part of it.” Schools don’t necessarily need a lot of money to make a change. PBIS is a strong program, proponents say, but there are other simple and cost-efficient things that can be done to improve the climate of discipline at a school. “When you move away from the numbers and look at the faces and the people behind the numbers, and see what you’re facing,” Whitehead said, “you can figure out the best ways to change behavior rather than just identify behavior.”

Social Media Exacerbates Inappropriate Behavior Student discipline has always been a hot-button issue, and was thrust further into the spotlight in 2014, when the United States Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice — working together on the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (SSDI) — released school discipline guidelines for setting and meeting expectations, acknowledging and responding to appropriate and inappropriate behavior and providing support to staff. Student behavior wasn’t necessarily getting worse, said Kent Sparks, principal of Rutland High School in Macon. “What magnified the 20  PAGE ONE

perception is social media,” he said. “We’ve had fights in school since the beginning of time, but now, because of social media, there’s a chance it could get filmed and be on the Internet. That colors our perception. Also, kids used to argue in yards and now they can do it 24-7 over social media. This brings it all to the forefront.” Too often, discipline problems are “swept under the rug” or dealt with inconsistently, according to a 2016 PAGE survey. Some schools, the teachers say, won’t report discipline issues because that could lead to a lower climate rating and evaluation. Georgia was the first state in the nation to include school climate — “the quality and character of school life,” according to the National School Climate Center — as an early indicator in its academic account-

ability system, known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), and to use a one- to five-star rating. The ratings — which are a diagnostic tool, and don’t affect school funding — come from discipline data, teacher and student attendance records, as well as student surveys about illegal substances, violence and bullying. In 2016, 863 of the state’s 2,132 schools received four stars. The one-star rating went to 75 schools, and the five-star went to 312, according to the GaDOE, which says a comparison to 2015 can’t be made because the standards changed. It’s true that some schools hesitate to report the full extent of their discipline issues, said Garry McGiboney, deputy superintendent for external affairs and policy for the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE). But discipline makes up only 25 percent of climate ratings. “If schools are underreporting, the truth will show up in the student responses,” said McGiboney. “If a student does something in violation of the code of conduct and is referred to the front office and nothing happens, that’s just as bad or worse than having nothing but a draconian application of discipline,” he said. “Without consequences, students’ behavior only gets worse.”

‘We’ve had PBIS for about four years now. ... There is progress to make, but the improvement has been remarkable.’ – Mitzi Heath, eighth-grade social studies teacher, Howard Middle School in Macon.

October/November 2017

After taking an honest look at its culture last year, the Glynn County School District built a system that combines PBIS with lessons focused on behavior choices and decision-making strategies. As a result, office referrals and suspensions are down, and the number of days of instruction increased by 774 from 2016 to 2017, the district reports.

McGiboney: ‘PBIS Works for Improving School Climate’ Surveys and ratings help identify the problem, but they don’t address it. That’s where PBIS comes in. PBIS is an evidence-based, preventionoriented intervention designed to reduce disciplinary incidents and improve school climate through team-based leadership, data-based decision-making, continuous monitoring of student behavior, regular universal screening and effective ongoing professional development. “We’ve had PBIS for about four years now. The classroom environment is not a perfect place,” said Mitzi Heath, an eighthgrade social studies teacher at Howard Middle School in Macon. “There is progress to make, but the improvement has been remarkable.” Through PBIS, schools can identify expected behaviors; teach, model, and practice what those behaviors look like, sound like and feel like; specifically praise appropriate behavior with private or public acknowledgement; and measure outcome data to determine successes and barriers. “The research has shown that PBIS works for improving school climate,” McGiboney said. “Teacher retention rates come up, out-of-school suspensions go down, and graduation rates and other academic outcomes improve. It’s changing the entire culture of school.” Some educators believe PBIS goes soft on discipline, however. Indeed, “you have to strategically pick and choose the times to reward behavior; you don’t want to overreact to someone doing the right thing,” said Jim Finch, principal of Mary Persons High School in Forsyth. “I’m a October/November 2017

big supporter of PBIS, but I understand where it could get a negative reaction.” More than 24,500 U.S. schools are implementing PBIS, according to the GaDOE. In Georgia, the program started with about 70 schools and now has 1,000 of its 2,264 on board, with about half meeting all requirements. “Unacceptable behavior is still unacceptable behavior; those consequences are still there,” McGiboney said. “But we’re trying to be more preventive and interactive.” The GaDOE used some additional funds from the Georgia Legislature to place a School Climate Specialist in all of its 16 Regional Education Service Agencies, to provide technical assistance and other support. “We had a high school with one of the highest suspension rates in the nation,” McGiboney said. “The principal didn’t want to do anything with PBIS. He said, ‘I have a tough school; the only thing these kids understand is being tough.’ We asked him to pilot PBIS for one year, and now he’s a strong advocate for its use.”


t Glynn County Schools, administrators have been able to improve the district’s discipline situation with PBIS, as well as a program called Why Try. Why Try offers 30- to 45-minute lessons for students to help them make better decisions about their behavior. “It’s an engaging lesson, with multimedia,” Whitehead said. “We might pull in a hip-hop music clip, or we might have a snippet from a movie. It’s something the kids can relate to. There are visuals and analogies with each theme set of lessons.” Teachers keep checklists of every-

thing from maintaining verbal control to respecting property and completing assignments. Students can earn “pride points.” The district also hosts panels at which students can talk about their behavior in a face-to-face setting with teachers and classmates. Additionally, Glynn County has a behavior specialist available for consultations and interventions. “We help the students move from a mindset of things happening to them, and that they can’t make things happen,” she said. “The mere fact of calling the office or having a day of in-school suspension or sending you home doesn’t change the behavior. We want to be proactive instead of reactive.” Another tactic that seems to be making difference: In middle school, instead of sending a misbehaving student home, that student’s parents are invited to spend the day in school with the student. “Teachers who had started to develop a negative feeling about a student could see how the student could act when the parent was present. That showed the student had the ability to meet expectations,” Whitehead said.

Building a Positive Culture Consistency is key, Sparks said. “We try to present a united front on everything from dress code to how and when students use cellphones,” he said. “I think it’s also important to maintain a high degree of administrator visibility. You can’t run a school if you stay in your office. A lot of problems can be headed off if you’re visible.” For example, Rutland High School uses PBIS with a focus on respect and responsibility. “We ask, ‘is this a responsible Continued on page 22 PAGE ONE  21

action?’” he said. “That goes for everything from cutting in line to cleaning up after yourself, transitioning in the hallways and taking your ear buds out.” Good behavior receives daily recognition, and small prizes like ice cream and T-shirts, he said. “We have quarterly celebrations too,” Sparks said. “All of those things are part of building a positive culture.” And it works — in the 2013 to 2014 school year, Rutland High School processed 2,600 office referrals. In the 2016 to

2017 school year, with the implementation of PBIS and these other incentives, the number dropped to a little more than 600. “What helps a lot is that we have a system in place for handling what PBIS calls Tier 1 and Tier 2 discipline issues,” Sparks said. “Tiers 1 and 2 are issues that could and should be handled at the classroom level — talking out of turn, minor off-task behavior. Tiers 3 and 4 are things that should be handled by administration, like chronic lateness to class or being disre-

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Teaching artists Ebony Tucker and Andrea Washington will lead participants through exercises that establish a positive learning environment in the classroom. Teachers will learn arts based strategies for classroom management in Pre-K through 5th grade classrooms.


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spectful to students and staff.” Some of the school’s improvement comes down to better communication with and greater compassion for students. “A student was getting into a lot of trouble, and part of it was that the teacher didn’t understand what he was going through,” said Jamie Cassady, assistant superintendent of student affairs at Rutland. “Once that teacher took the time to learn a little bit about the student, the conversations changed and so did the student’s behavior.”

Approaching Discipline Differently Tardiness was the top disciplinary problem at Mary Persons High School. Since instituting a new discipline program in 2012 — a mix of PBIS and what they call CHAMP (Courteous, Honorable, Accountable, Motivated, Prepared) — the number of late reports has been cut in half, Finch said. “We said that if they were never tardy to class for nine weeks, we’d give them a field day or a reward day,” he said. “It doesn’t cost a thing, and we do it four times a year. We also do ‘Suckers for Seven.’ If they’re passing all seven classes, they can get a Blow Pop. The kids love it. It’s another way to recognize and reward kids who might not have qualified for field day but are passing all classes. They stand up, and everyone sees it.” The school also singles out, over the intercom, students who have gone above and beyond expectations. “I used to think I could legislate and consequent these kids into complying,” Finch said. “But I’m not going to be able to change them. I can only change the way they approach their behavior. That’s turned some kids around.” Some teachers believe this approach coddles the students. “It’s kind of hard to get buy-in from some faculty sometimes,” Finch said. “They feel like you’re babying these kids and giving them a false sense of achievement or accomplishment. But everyone needs recognition and reward.” Some teachers are big fans of the program, and of any interventions — large or small — that can help improve the climate of discipline at a school, said Jones, from Howard Middle School in Macon. “We’ve seen students transform,” she said. “We see students trying to do the right thing and inspiring others to do the right n thing too. It is truly amazing.” October/November 2017

Be Sure to Thank State Leaders for Supporting the Teachers Retirement System By L.C. (Buster) Evans, Ed.D, Executive Director, Teachers Retirement System of Georgia


he Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS) has been part of Georgia’s educator compensation package since 1943. Approximately 350,000 active and retired TRS members look forward to their retirement benefit as part of their recognition for service. The $70-billion Georgia TRS system is funded by employees and employers (school districts, public colleges, state agencies, etc.), as well as investment income. That investment income, however, took a hard hit during the Great Recession. Furthermore, the number of employees contributing to the fund dropped by about 15,000 at one point because jobs were cut or positions went unfilled. While some of those teaching and state jobs have since returned, there are about 8,500 fewer active workers paying into the fund than there were in 2009. The system also is experiencing increases in retirements among baby boomer-era educators. To keep the plan viable for future generations of teachers, the TRS board voted to increase the employer (government) contribution rate to the fund by almost 25 percent beginning July 1 of next year. With positive stock market trends of late

and increased employment by educational entities in Georgia, TRS officials believe that steep increases in state funding can be avoided in the future. When you communicate with state leaders, be sure to thank them for continuing to support education and educators by supporting the retirement system. And although words of appreciation will help affirm that educators value Georgia’s defined benefit retirement plan, it is not a one-way street. Let’s not forget what valuable assets retired educators are for the state of Georgia. For example, Taliaferro County, the smallest county in Georgia, is home to 21 TRS retirees. On average, each of these 21 retirees receives a monthly benefit of $2,603, or $31,560 annually. The direct economic impact, or initial expenditures, of these retirees is $427,716 annually. The indirect economic impact, which results from businesses purchasing additional goods and services, is another $292,404 annually. And to take it a step further, the induced economic impact, which occurs when businesses hire more employees as a result of the direct and indirect impacts, is yet another $234,255 per year. That’s a total of $954,375 in eco-

nomic impact from retirees in the smallest county in Georgia. As you can imagine, TRS retirees in Gwinnett County, one of the largest in Georgia, make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. TRS pays 4,904 retirees in Gwinnett an average monthly benefit of $3,148, or $37,780 per year. Directly, in one year, these retirees pump $119,567,824 into Georgia’s economy. Indirectly, businesses are able to purchase more goods and services, which adds another $81,741,249 into the economy. And finally, the induced economic impact of 4,904 retirees is $65,485,712 per year. The benefit payments received in retirement by TRS retirees in Gwinnett County alone provides a whopping $266,794,785 per year in economic impact to the State of Georgia. In total, benefit payments to the 123,268 TRS retirees in Georgia’s 159 counties result in an economic impact of more than $6.65 billion. Just think of all of the people who are hired, the goods and services that are rendered and the new businesses that are started in part because our state leaders honor our collective responsibility to care for educators n in retirement.

According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, each $1 in state and local pension benefits paid to Georgia residents ultimately supported $1.44 in total output in the state. This “multiplier” incorporates the direct, indirect and induced impacts of retiree spending, as it ripples through the state economy. Retired Educators’ Economic Impact in Taliaferro (Georgia’s Smallest County) Number of TRS retirees: 21 Average Annual Benefit: $31,560 Direct Economic Impact: $427,716 Indirect Economic Impact: $292,404 Induced Economic Impact: $234,255 Total Economic Impact: $954,375

October/November 2017

Retired Educators’ Economic Impact in Gwinnett County Number of TRS retirees: 4,904 Average Annual Benefit: $37,780 Direct Economic Impact: $119,567,824 Indirect Economic Impact: $81,741,249 Induced Economic Impact: $65,485,712 Total Economic Impact: $266,794,785



The December Dilemma “The Christmas season brings with it not only sidewalk Santas, mercantile mania and endless reruns of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Miracle on 34th St.,’ but also a spate of constitutional litigation testing the limits to which governmental or public bodies may legally join in the festivities.” — Judge Joseph E. Irenas, Clever v. Cherry Hill Board of Education

By Matthew Pence, PAGE Staff Attorney


t’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and many educators across Georgia will soon encounter a unique circumstance: the December dilemma. Santa Claus might be coming to town, but there are limits to the extent that he should find himself in the classrooms of Georgia’s public schools. This article seeks to address those limits and assist Georgia educators in avoiding constitutional and ethical violations that they may encounter during the holiday season. DECKING THE CLASSROOM HALLS WITH BOUGHS OF HOLLY

“Although Christmas is a public holiday that has both religious and secular aspects, the Christmas tree is widely viewed as a secular symbol of the holiday, in contrast to the crèche which depicts the holiday’s religious dimensions.” — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, County of Allegheny v. ACLU A tricky situation awaiting an educator is whether (and to what extent) to decorate the classroom for the holiday season. This can create a constitutional dilemma, whereby the educator violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against govern-


mental establishment of a religion. The United States Supreme Court has never considered the constitutionality of holiday symbols in public school classrooms, but the court has addressed holiday symbols on other government property, such as city hall. In County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the Supreme Court addressed two holiday decorations on the property of a Pennsylvania county’s courthouse grounds. Inside the courthouse, the county erected a large nativity scene near the staircase. This staircase was considered the most beautiful component of the courthouse and the nativity scene was surrounded by poinsettias. The nativity scene included a banner proclaiming “Glory to God in the Highest.” Outside, near a Christmas tree and a patriotic banner, the county erected a large menorah. Only the constitutionality of the nativity scene and the menorah was at issue; the Christmas tree was not part of the litigation. In a fractured opinion, a majority of the court held that the nativity scene violated the First Amendment, but the menorah did not. Though a majority of the justices agreed on the outcome of the case, several justices put forward different reasons for their decision. Ultimately, the decision

The Court probes skeptically when public schools endorse one particular religion, belief or custom. came down to context — the nativity scene was in a centralized location, standing alone, with a religious message. The menorah, however, was part of a larger display that included secular decorations.


nterestingly, though the Christmas tree was not at issue in this case, several of the justices made passing statements indicating that a Christmas tree has attained secular status in our culture. For public school educators the analysis does not end there. Other First Amendment cases specific to the school environment provide educators with both further guidance and caution when it comes to decorating for the holidays. In the latter portion of the 20th century, the Supreme Court issued a laundry list of decisions addressing religion in public schools. For example, the government cannot write prayers to recite in public schools (Engel v Vitale), nor can it require the hanging of the Ten Commandments on classroom walls (Stone v. Graham). Moreover, school-sponsored Bible readings for religious purposes are unconstitutional (Abington School District v Schempp), as is setting time aside for mediation and voluntary prayer if the purpose is to endorse religion (Wallace v. Jaffree). Taking all of these cases together, educators have some direction for decorating their classrooms during the holiday season. First, standing alone, a Christmas tree is most likely October/November 2017

It’s the Season of Giving (or Not)! constitutionally acceptable. A menorah, by itself, presents a far murkier question. Whereas the County of Allegheny decision discussed the Christmas tree as secular, it did not extend this status to the menorah. From there, educators should proceed with caution. The other religious-oriented cases show that the Court probes skeptically when public schools endorse one particular religion, belief or custom. Because of this, it is best practice for an educator to refrain from decorating a tree in the classroom with religious symbols. In short, a tree in a public school should not be decorated with nativity scenes or crosses. Instead, the educator should use decorations that are considered more secular, like poinsettias, reindeer and gumdrops. Justice Harry Blackmun in County of Allegheny also addressed this when he noted “the tree is capable of taking on a religious significance if it is decorated with religious symbols.” Furthermore, an educator who chooses to put up a tree should consider including secular symbols of other winter holidays, such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, in his classroom. Most importantly, the inclusion of a holiday symbol does not allow for a public school teacher to proselytize to students, as this is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Reading scripture to students as a religious exercise also violates the Constitution. Utilizing a menorah for religious purposes inside the classroom would offend the Constitution as well. Music choices in the classroom during the holiday season also should reflect the secular component of the time of year. For example, an educator should refrain from playing religious hymns such as “Silent Night” to his students during the holiday season. Incorporating the holidays into any assignments should first and foremost align with the curriculum. Finally, it is important for educators to remember that there is no requirement, constitutional or otherwise, that the classroom be decorated at all. This is a good moment for an educator to know his audience. If he feels that any type of holiday season decoration is not appropriate, then he is under no obligation to n decorate his room. October/November 2017


central component of our culture’s embrace of the holiday season is the notion of giving and receiving gifts. During the holiday season, educators sometimes exchange gifts with their students and colleagues. This presents another December dilemma. When encountering a gift dilemma, educators will be in one of two situations: either the gift is too expensive or the gift is inappropriate. To navigate this dilemma, educators must be mindful of both the Code of Ethics for Georgia Educators and local board policy. An expensive gift is problematic because it can call into question the educator’s ability to treat all students fairly. Per Standard 6 of the Code of Ethics, “an educator shall maintain integrity … when accepting gifts.” The overwhelming majority of gifts from students to their teachers will cause zero issues. For example, candies, ornaments and lotions are typically not expensive. Accepting such gifts generally does not call into question the educator’s professionalism. The Professional Standards Commission, by tradition, establishes a value of $50 as an expensive gift. By policy, many school systems have increased this amount. If a district has done so, the PSC will respect this amount. When receiving an expensive gift, an educator must report the gift to the school’s administration for further guidance. This should be done in writing with full disclosure. The educator should name the parent or student who gave the gift and the estimated value of the gift. If the educator wishes to keep the gift, she must specifically ask for permission to do so. An inappropriate gift is a present from a child, parent or colleague that, if accepted, may call into question the educator’s impartiality or professionalism. A common inappropriate gift during the holiday season is alcohol. An educator who receives some sort of alcoholoriented gift from a parent or student should immediately report the gift to her administration with a request for a clear directive from the board office on how to proceed with the gift. Under no circumstances should an educator bring alcohol onto the school’s property with the intent to give it as a gift to a colleague, as this is a violation of Standard 3 of the Code of Ethics. Educators should always remember that there is no obligation to keep a gift, regardless of its value or appropriateness. An educator is always free to refuse a gift or return it to the giver. Finally, educators should exercise professional judgment when giving gifts to students and colleagues. There is no legal requirement that an educator give a gift to students, but an educator who chooses to do so should seriously consider giving the same gift to all students. Gifts from educators to students should also be inexpensive and should not call into question the educator’s professional judgement. Gifts given to colleagues should not compromise the professional relationship or call into question n an educator’s professionalism.


“A PAGE Turning Event”

2017 ‘A PAGE Turning Event’ Honors DeKalb CEO Michael L. Thurmond

Pictured (l-r) “A PAGE Turning Event” Host Committee Co-Chairs Curley M. Dossman, Jr., president of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, and Dr. E. Culpepper “Cully” Clark, dean emeritus of the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia; Michael L. Thurmond, PTE honoree and DeKalb County CEO; Dr. Allene Magill, PAGE executive director; and Allen Thomas, PAGE Foundation chair and regional vice president, VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc.

By Lynn Varner, Contributing Editor


everal hundred guests honored DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Michael L. Thurmond at the PAGE Foundation’s 13th Annual “A PAGE Turning Event,” held in September at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. “A PAGE Turning Event” recognizes leaders from business, philanthropy, government and education for exemplary support for public school improvement. PAGE Executive Director Allene Magill presented Thurmond with an award for his leadership benefiting Georgia’s educators and students. In his remarks, Thurmond said that he accepted the recognition on behalf of the free-lunch kids. As a former free lunch kid himself, Thurmond thanked educators who, “look beyond status, class, gender and socio-economic conditions


— who see beyond the subjective and see brilliance” in their students. James Holston, a former educator and coach at both Burney-Harris High School and Clarke Central High School in Athens attended the event and was recognized from the podium as Thurmond’s favorite teacher. Thurmond thanked Coach Holston, “who wouldn’t let me give up, who wouldn’t let me give in and who refused to allow me to give out.” The current CEO of DeKalb County, Thurmond is a former member of the Georgia General Assembly and was the first African-American elected to a (l-r) Zola Thurmond; James Holston, Thurmond’s high school football coach and favorite teacher; Michael Thurmond; and Bettye H. Holston. October/November 2017

statewide office without prior appointment. He has had many professional roles throughout his career, and in each role he has demonstrated his commitment to and passion for public education. He is credited with fundamentally transforming the culture of and enhancing operations of complex organizations, such as the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of

Labor and the DeKalb County School District. As former superintendent of DeKalb schools, Thurmond is credited with stabilizing the system during a governance crisis, upgrading its threatened accreditation, eliminating a multimilliondollar deficit and improving student academic performance and graduation rates. E. Culpepper “Cully” Clark, dean emeritus of the Grady College of Journalism &

(l-r) Michael Thurmond; former Gov. Roy E. Barnes, founding partner Barnes Law Group, LLC, 80th Governor of Georgia and a member of the Host Committee; and Dr. Allene Magill.

Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, and Curley M. Dossman, Jr., president of Georgia-Pacific Foundation, cochaired the host committee for this year’s event. Charles E. Richardson, editorial page editor of The Telegraph in Macon, was master of ceremonies for the banquet. Previous honorees of “A PAGE Turning Event” include: Georgia-Pacific and Georgia-Pacific Foundation President Curley M. Dossman, Jr.; BellSouth and BellSouth Georgia President Phil Jacobs; Southern Company and Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO David Ratcliffe; The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation Chair Ingrid Saunders Jones; GE and GE Vice Chairman John Rice; The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and Stephanie Blank and Arthur Blank; United States Senator Johnny Isakson and United States Congressman John Lewis; AT&T Georgia and AT&T Georgia President Sylvia Russell; Georgia Power and Georgia Power Chairman, President and CEO Paul Bowers; Wells Fargo and Regional President Mike Donnelly; R L Brown & Associates, Inc. and President and CEO Robert L. Brown, Jr.; and the Gwinnett County Public Schools and CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. To view a video report regarding this year’s event, visit n photos continued on next page

(l-r) Sadie Dennard, region external affairs manager, Georgia Power; Shaven Howard, IB coordinator, Martin L. King Jr. Middle School, Atlanta Public Schools; Johnna Robinson, community development manager, Georgia Power; and Mike Robinson, power delivery operations general manager, Georgia Power.

October/November 2017


(l-r) Kelli De Guire, PAGE president and an educator at Calhoun HS (Calhoun City Schools), Robin Pearson and Roger Pearson, district vice president at VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc.

Dr. Ann Stucke, PAGE Foundation president, and Ashley Ulrich, 2017 State PAGE STAR Teacher and a teacher at Northview High School (Fulton County Schools).

(l-r) Dr. Joseph C. Barrow, Jr., 2017 GSSA Superintendent of the Year for Georgia and superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools; Dr. Allene Magill and J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO/ superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools and a previous PTE honoree.

Thank You to Our Sponsors VALEDICTORIAN Georgia-Pacific, LLC Georgia Power VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc.

Emory Healthcare GE Grady Health Foundation Prior, Daniel & Wiltshire, LLC


HONORS Alston & Bird, LLP Atlantic Capital

Adams, Hemingway & Wilson, LLP Delta Air Lines


DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Foundation Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport H. J. Russell & Company Lowe & Schoolar, PC Publix Super Markets Charities Wells Fargo

October/November 2017

Georgia Academic Decathlon

Georgia Academic Decathlon Participants Explore ‘Africa’ By Lynn Varner, Contributing Editor


frica — the world’s second largest continent and home to more than 2,000 ethnic groups — is this year’s curriculum topic for the United States Academic Decathlon. In September, more than 160 decathletes and their coaches attended the PAGE Georgia Academic Decathlon (GAD)

Fall Workshop, hosted by PAGE and Kennesaw State University (KSU). Held at the KSU Center, the annual kick-off event for the GAD program features expert speakers, several of whom are KSU faculty members. Breakout sessions focused on decathlon curriculum areas, including Essay,

Dr. Akanmu Adebayo, KSU professor of history, discusses the history of Africa with decathletes.

Speech, Interview, Economics, Art, Music and Science, with two general sessions that covered African history and this year’s novel, “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. To find out more about the PAGE GAD program, visit our website at www. n

Dr. Timothy Mathews, KSU professor of economics, finance & quantitative analysis, discusses the finer points of economics.

Dr. William Rice, KSU professor of English, shares his insights regarding “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe, this year’s GAD curriculum novel.

October/November 2017


2017 PAGE Foundation Scholarship Recipients Announced By Lynn Varner, Contributing Editor


welve scholarships have been awarded by the PAGE Foundation to professional, support personnel and teacher candidate PAGE members. Recipients competed through an application process, and winners were determined by a panel of judges. “Nurturing new and experienced educators so that Georgia

students benefit from their enhanced learning is a primary focus of PAGE,” said Dr. Allene Magill, executive director of PAGE. “It’s an honor that the PAGE Foundation is able to provide scholarships for these deserving teachers and students to continue their education.” The scholarships are one-time awards of $1,000 each.

2017 PAGE Foundation Scholarship Recipients PAGE Jack Christmas Graduate Scholarship Gretchen Elise Ayres •  Science Lab Specialist, Norton Park Elementary School, Cobb County School District

•  Attending Kennesaw State University •  Pursuing M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education PAGE H.M. & Norma Fulbright Scholarship Jennifer Craigo Burley •  Teacher, Duluth Middle School, Gwinnett County Public Schools •  Attending University of West Georgia

•  Pursuing Add-on Certification in School/Library Media PAGE Professional Scholarships Brandy Benefield Allen •  Teacher, Smoke Rise Elementary School, DeKalb County School District •  Attending Georgia State University

•  Pursuing M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology Kelli Boling Cox •  Math Teacher, North Forsyth High School, Forsyth County Schools •  Attending Piedmont College

•  Pursuing Ed.S. in Curriculum and Instruction


Chantelle Marie Grace •  Social Studies Teacher, Chestatee High School, Hall County Schools •  Attending University of Georgia

•  Pursuing Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Practice (Social Studies Education)

PAGE DeKalb Scholarship Meaghan E. Curry •  Music Teacher, Henderson Mill Elementary School, DeKalb County School District •  Attending University of St. Thomas

•  Pursuing M.A. in Music Education, Kodaly Concentration

Tamatha Ann Jenkins •  Reading Early Intervention Teacher, David A. Perdue Elementary School, Houston County Schools

PAGE Support Personnel Scholarship Kislyn Marlette Lewis •  Paraprofessional, B.C. Haynie Elementary School, Clayton County Public Schools

•  Pursuing Ed.S. in Early Childhood Education

•  Pursuing M.A.T in Special Education

•  Attending Georgia Southwestern State University

Allison Virginia Jones •  Gifted Teacher, Northside Elementary School, Paulding County School District

•  Attending University of West Georgia

PAGE S. Marvin Griffin Scholarship Anna Lee Atwater •  Attending University of Georgia •  Early Childhood Education Major

•  Attending Berry College

•  Pursuing Ed.S. in Educational Leadership James Howell Perry •  Band Teacher, Appling County Middle, Appling County Schools

Sydney Grace Oden •  Attending Shorter University •  Early Childhood Education Major

•  Attending Anderson University

•  Pursuing M.Ed. in Music Education

October/November 2017

2017 PAGE High School Scholarships The PAGE Foundation also offers two scholarships to high school seniors. The PAGE Dr. Alton Crews Future Georgia Educators Scholarship was established two years ago and is offered to students of an affiliated Future Georgia Educators (FGE) Chapter. This year’s recipient is Emily Nicole Teel, who attends the University of West Georgia. The scholarship honors Alton Crews, a respected Georgia educator who distinguished himself as a school superintendent and as PAGE president. Crews was a

(l-r) PAGE Marcia T. Clanton Future Educator Scholarship recipient Shalese Fajota-Pritchett with her Future Georgia Educators Advisor and Savannah Early College High School Faculty member Jessica Wynn.

visionary leader who recognized the need to recruit and nurture successive generations of professional Georgia educators through initiatives such as Future Georgia Educators. The second high school scholarship is the PAGE Marcia T. Clanton Future Educator Scholarship and is available to (l-r) PAGE Dr. Alton Crews Future Georgia Educators Scholarship recipient Emily Nicole Teel and PAGE District 6 Membership Services Representative BJ Jenkins.

students attending a Putnam or Chatham County high school. This year’s recipient is Shalese L. Fajota-Pritchett, who attends Augusta University. The scholarship, established in 2013, honors Clanton, a lifelong educator, who worked in both the Jackson and Chatham school systems for 31 years. She served as a teacher, principal and associate superintendent, and was the superintendent of the Putnam County Charter School System in Eatonton at the time of her passing. The high school scholarships are one-time awards of $500 each. The application process for all PAGE Foundation scholarships begins each fall. Eligibility requirements and application information will be available at

$1,000 Scholarships for Future and Veteran Educators … But You Can’t Win if You Don’t Apply!


ant to lose $1,000? It is easy if you fail to apply for a PAGE Foundation Scholarship that might have been yours. Each year, the PAGE Foundation offers several $1,000 scholarships to help aspiring and veteran educators earn advanced or undergraduate degrees. Winning a PAGE Foundation Scholarship might be easier than you think; in some categories, few candidates apply. All PAGE members, including college students, paraprofessionals and veteran educators, are encouraged to compete. More than $300,000 in scholarships have been awarded by the PAGE Foundation since 1986. You could be a future recipient, but you must apply. Visit to learn more.

October/November 2017


Have You Transferred Systems? If you transferred from another school system where you were on payroll deduction, you must fill out the short PAGE application (online or paper) to transfer your membership. Otherwise your membership will expire.

Have You Moved or Has Your Contact Information Changed? Update your contact information at

New Teachers Must Upgrade to ‘Professional’ Your PAGE student membership does not cover you for a paid position in a school, even if your student membership has not expired. You must upgrade to “Professional” membership to receive liability coverage and other critical PAGE benefits.

Benefits begin immediately when you join or renew online. Georgia’s Largest Professional Association for Educators. 92,000+ members and growing. OFFICERS President Kelli De Guire President-Elect Dr. Hayward Cordy Treasurer Lamar Scott Past-President Amy Denty Secretary Megan King DIRECTORS District 1 District 8 Dr. Oatanisha Dawson Lindsey Martin District 2 District 9 Brecca Pope Jennie Persinger District 3 District 10 Jamilya M. Mayo TBD District 4 District 11 Rochelle Lofstrand Dr. Sandra Owens District 5 District 12 Nick Zomer Donna Graham District 6 District 13 Dr. Susan Mullins TBD District 7 Lance James DIRECTORS REPRESENTING RETIRED MEMBERS Vickie Hammond Stephanie Davis Howard


The articles published in PAGE One represent the views of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, except where clearly stated. Contact the editor: Craig Harper,; PAGE One, PAGE, P.O. Box 942270, Atlanta, GA 31141-2270; 770-216-8555 or 800-334-6861. Contributions/gifts to the PAGE Foundation are deductible as charitable contributions by federal law. Costs for PAGE lobbying on behalf of members are not deductible. PAGE estimates that 7 percent of the nondeductible portion of your 2017-18 dues is allocated to lobbying. PAGE One (ISSN 1523-6188) is mailed to all PAGE members, selected higher education units and other school-related professionals. An annual subscription is included in PAGE membership dues. A subscription for others is $10 annually. Periodicals class nonprofit postage paid at Atlanta, GA, and additional mailing offices. (USPS 017-347) Postmaster: Send address changes to PAGE One, P.O. Box 942270, Atlanta, GA 31141–2270. PAGE One is published five times a year (January, March, May, August and October) by New South Publishing Inc., 9040 Roswell Road, Suite 210, Atlanta, GA 30350; 770-650-1102. Copyright ©2017.

October/November 2017

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