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DeKalb County School District will meet with Cognia in November

DeKalb County

DeKalb County School District will meet with Cognia in November

The DeKalb County School Board, Superintendent Devon Horton and administration staff met on Aug. 23 at the Atlanta Evergreen Lakeside Resort in Stone Mountain for the first day of the board's two-day retreat. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Stone Mountain, GA — The DeKalb County School Board received an update on the district’s communications with Cognia and discussed recent audit findings during the first day of its retreat on Aug. 23.

The retreat is being held at Atlanta Evergreen Lakeside Resort, 4021 Lakeview Drive, Stone Mountain, Ga., on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24. The retreat will begin at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. To see the full agenda for the retreat, click here.

On day one, the board received a progress update regarding a review by Cognia, a nonprofit accreditation organization. The board is being watched closely by Cognia because of the board’s tendency to pursue individual interests instead of working for the district as a whole.

In terms of the next steps for the school district, DCSD will collaborate with a Cognia lead evaluator, and interviews will take place Nov. 1-3. As part of the monitoring review process, school board members, the superintendent, area superintendents, select principals and community leaders will meet with Cognia.

“The purpose is for them to come and have conversations with [the school district],” said Sherry Everett, director of strategic planning with the school district. “The focus will be on progress. Perfection is not the goal, it should never be the goal. They are looking to see how as a district, as a governance team, and how as an institution we are making progress in the areas they’ve identified for us to be working on.”

In January, Decaturish reported that Cognia hadn’t seen much progress in terms of working through its issues, but much has changed since then. The school district hired a new superintendent, Dr. Devon Horton, and also reprimanded Dr. Joyce Morley for remarks she made to the Atlanta Journal Constitution regarding the superintendent search process. The board voted 6-0 to disavow Morley’s conduct in speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about matters that were discussed in the executive session.

It’s not clear how Cognia views the board’s decision to push back on Morley’s behavior as a board member. Her controversial comments have generated headlines about the district.

According to the presentation, here are the directives from the November 2022 Monitoring Review Report from Cognia:

– Review and renew board member commitment to the vision and mission of the DeKalb County School District and board member role and responsibility regarding the overall success of the district and learning outcomes for all students.

– Engage in a thoughtful and reflective review of recent Board Self-Assessment results to determine areas of focus and next steps.

– Examine current structures in place that support efficient and effective Board operations.

– Ensure meetings are conducted following the prescribed procedures outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order.

– Determine and commit to adhering to processes as outlined in the Board Handbook when board members are not following policy or the principles of the district.

The school district will also develop a monitoring review schedule, invite various school district leaders to do individual interviews as part of the review, determine stakeholders who will be interviewed, and work with the lead evaluator regarding evidence submission for the monitoring review.

The monitoring review team will conduct an impartial, fact-finding review, prepare the review report and submit the report to Cognia for quality assurance review. Cognia will submit the monitoring review report to the Global Commission if an accreditation status change is recommended, and they will submit the report to the district.

In other business:

– The board discussed recent audit findings. A state audit of DeKalb County Schools includes numerous findings, some of which pertain to how the district spent its federal COVID-19 relief money. The audit is for Fiscal Year 2022, which ended June 30, 2022.

To see the full audit, click here. The audit findings start on page 84 of the PDF. The board already discussed audit findings at a retreat held in July. For more information about that discussion, click here.

Nothing has changed since the last board retreat in July, when they went through the findings in depth. The only thing that DCSD has wrestled with in the last few weeks is Senate Bill 68, said Byron Schueneman, chief financial officer for DCSD.

SB 68 requires the Department of Audits and Accounts to designate a risk level for every school district. Based on an audit committee letter from June 29, the DeKalb School Board has been designated as moderate risk.

– The school board also discussed the district’s comprehensive master plan, a document that cost $2 million to produce but remains in limbo following the school board’s decision in 2022 to remove the modernization of Druid Hills High School from a list of high-priority projects in favor of a broad mandate to make repairs throughout the district. The board reversed course on that after getting pressure from the state.

The Georgia Board of Education on June 16, 2022, approved the facilities plan for DeKalb County Schools, making the district eligible for state funds for building projects. The approval followed months of controversy created by the DeKalb School Board’s refusal to include the proposed modernization of Druid Hills High. That prompted state School Superintendent Richard Woods to threaten to cut the district off from state funds by not recommending the school district’s facilities plan for approval by the state BOE.

The state Department of Education produced a corrective action plan based on its inspection of Druid Hills High and meetings with the school district.  It set a June 1, 2022 deadline for the DeKalb School Board to put the modernization project back in the facilities plan. The school board did so at a special called meeting on May 31, 2022.

According to DSCD Chief Operating Officer Erick Hofstetter, the school board never accepted or approved the comprehensive master plan, so right now it’s just acting as a report. The school board is not expected to vote on the master plan at this time.

“These were the final recommendations…rebalancing feeder programs, [addressing] poor conditions, over-crowding and underutilization, magnets and K-8’s, building new schools and consolidating schools,” Hofstetter said.

Hofstetter added that the recommendations fall into three categories – redistricting, special programs, and consolidation.

Superintendent Horton suggested DeKalb Schools put together a student assignment planning committee that will consider redistricting, special programs, and consolidation and make recommendations for the superintendent to take to the school board.

“The way the student assignment planning would work is that it will be an application process and there will be equal representatives. There will be random selection of who will go from each region. There are going to be eight selected from each region that will come into the space,” Horton said.

Part of the discussion included a need to update enrollment projections and who should be responsible for that work. The school board agreed that it would like the administration to look into hiring a third party to update the projections.

– On day two of the retreat, the school board will discuss contracts for projects funded by the education special purpose local option sales tax, also known as ESPLOST. The board will also discuss Superintendent Horton’s 90-day plan and “enhancing communication between superintendent and board.”

Decaturish will have a reporter at the retreat on both days, and our coverage would not be possible without the support of our paying subscribers. To become a paying subscriber for $6 a month, visit supportyourlocalnews.com or subscribe below.

Dan Whisenhunt and Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story.

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