From DeKalb County Schools…Some Good News

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Often the best lessons are found when on a journey to an unrelated event.  Such was the case last Friday evening when I visited WXIA in Atlanta to discuss Sequestration on their 7pm Newscast.  The format is now somewhat familiar.  I was to be asked a couple of questions from anchor Melissa Long as would be Mike Berlon, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.  We did the segment live in the first bloc of the newscast.

Mr. Berlon and I have done this a few times and we generally expect to agree to disagree and shake hands following until next time.  But during this visit, we also met another gentleman as we were each being let into the building that was also to appear later in the same broadcast.

The man was Dale Duncan, a music teacher from DeKalb County’s Henderson Middle School.  Earlier that day, Duncan had been notified that he was the recipient of a national “Lifechanger of the Year” teaching award.  Duncan was nominated for the award by four of his students.  11Alive’s reporter Jerry Carnes had filed a report for the 6pm newscast detailing Duncan’s surprise upon being notified of the honor, and he had been asked to chat with Long on the 7pm newscast to discuss his achievement.

We all had some time to chat together before the newscast, and it was quite refreshing to be able to witness Mr. Duncan’s reaction to his honor near the end of a day that had earlier just started as an ordinary workday.  As someone who attended 12 years within the same public school system and knew most of my teachers and school administrators on a personal level, it was thoroughly enjoyable to see an outstanding educator be given thanks for what is all too often a thankless job.

Duncan’s prize was juxtaposed with the backdrop of what has been an ongoing saga with his school system.  Earlier that same day, members of the school board set to be replaced by Governor Nathan Deal were having a hearing in federal court seeking to block their removal.  The county continues locked in a battle to make necessary improvements that will enable it to maintain accreditation.  Late Monday afternoon, the judge ruled that the Governor had the power to remove the six designated board members.

As the boards battle and the legal efforts take their course, it is important to remember that over 99,000 students continue to report to school every day, and that educators are there to teach, guide, and shape.  The blemish put on the school system doesn’t mean these folks aren’t still trying to do their jobs under even more difficult circumstances.  And as Duncan’s award signifies, many are succeeding despite the problems further up the chain of administration.

I was lucky enough to experience many excellent teachers during my years in Fayette County schools.  At the time, it was the kind of school system that folks from around the metro Atlanta area chose to relocate so that they too could send their children to our classrooms.  We didn’t have the kinds of struggles that most public educators have to deal with today.  We never came close to the kinds over overall issues that DeKalb is facing.

Duncan received a bit of hero’s treatment on Friday.  And every bit of it was deserved.  It is hard enough to be a public school teacher in today’s environment.  It is harder still to excel.  To excel in an environment when your top level leadership is being removed for cause is excellence in its highest degree.

Circumstances and fortunes change over time.  The Fayette County schools that were always growing and getting better announced the closing of 4 schools Monday due to budget problems.  DeKalb’s fortunes can change too, but there appears to be more room on the upside than for that of a continued spiral.

Leadership problems at the top are being addressed to restore the administration to a firm footing.  In the meantime, it’s an honor to have met Dale Duncan and know that he and others like him are getting the job done at the ground level – where it counts.

For more on Dale Duncan’s award, here’s Jerry Carnes’ report from that evening’s 6pm newscast:


  1. Mike Berlon says:

    Charlie: I can pretty much guarantee that this is my first post on Peach Pundit. It’s pretty much one of my few posts anywhere. Thanks for following up on this story. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Duncan and to have the chance to speak with him. It was clear from our conversations that he is profoundly dedicated to his students and his job. It is a real inspiration to do such good work and be thought of in such high regard. So often we focus on the issues in life and politics that are negative. This was just simply a great, inspirational story-at a time when DeKalb County Schools can use it most. Well done, Mr. Duncan and hats off to you, Charlie, as well.

  2. saltycracker says:

    DeKalb Schools web site

    138 schools
    98,700 students
    142 languages rep.
    157 countries rep.
    88% non-white
    71% on lunch program
    13,400 full & part time employees

    In a crisis of the first order

    You are going to need a bigger inspirational list…..

    • bgsmallz says:

      Number 1, cite a DeKalb County School Board publication at your own peril.

      Number 2…I sure wish those 98,000 children could bring you a little “inspiration” thanks to your constant trolling on their schools and our community.

      Charlie- Thanks for the great story. It’s a great reminder that our children and teachers continue to fight on in the face of the sustained stupidity on the part of our former (yay!) board.

      • saltycracker says:

        Oops, I feel like I just called your crazy cousin a bad name reserved for family members only. So I apologize to keep peace with your good posts. We all have our reasons for being tough on a situation but trollng, BS.

        • bgsmallz says:

          No worries. It’s not that I’m against folks from outside the county criticizing our elected officials or our administrators…I’ve been crowing that DeKalb’s schools are a large enough issue to warrant state attention, so being defensive of any criticism outside of the county would make me a bit of a hypocrite.

          My issue with your post is that the issues related to the school system, IMO and in the opinion of SACS, have little to do with any of the stats you listed except for the culpable adults in that group of 13,400 employees. Apology accepted; please continue being tough.

          By the way, let’s also not assume that those statistics are static. Turnaround isn’t as far as you might think…interesting how competition works…a simple shift from incompetence to focus on the classroom may be all that it takes to convince many parents to choose DeKalb schools again.

          • saltycracker says:

            My frustration is a bit of projection from personal experiences. When revenue hits a wall it escalates in being all about the employees.

            The “simple” shift would be DeKalb voting for leaders, regardless of race, sex, etc., that hold to those student principles even if it requires fundamental changes. Good luck.

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