Michael A. Erwin


Website: www.michaelerwin.org

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Candidate Name:
Michael Erwin

Position Sought:
DeKalb County School Board

Educational Background:
Graduate of North Carolina Central University and the University of South Carolina where he earned a PhD in Biological Sciences

Occupation and Employer:
Assistant Professor in the School of Science and Technology at Georgia Gwinnett College

Campaign Website:

  1. What is your understanding of the role of a school board member? In your answer, explain (1) the level of engagement that a board member should have in the affairs and operations of the district and, (2) the relationship between the board and district staff.
    My role as a school board member is to work together with the whole board as a team in the areas of adopting policies, approving and monitoring the budget, approving and monitoring district expenditures, hiring and evaluating the superintendent, and hearing formal appeals from staff, students, and parents.

    A board member as a part of the whole board establishes goals and policies and then holds the superintendent accountable for reaching those goals and executing the policies. Board members do not interfere with the day-to-day operations.

    As a board member, I must communicate my concerns and requests to the superintendent. The superintendent directs the staff. It is important for the board to have a collaborative relationship with the superintendent's executive staff since they are the team that presents monthly to the board. However, any requests of the board from staff should go through the superintendent.
  2. Explain your views on the current state of transparency of information at DCSD.
    The District has multiple ways of communicating information to provide transparency to the public. This includes the use of a Parent App available through mobile technology, the website, and social media. The board meetings are televised and community meetings are held for stakeholder input. All board documents approved by the board are posted on the website for public consumption.
  3. How would you inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in DeKalb schools?
    I would continue driving the momentum of successes over the past year of the board and district which includes the elimination of the budget deficit and creation of a positive fund balance (savings account). We have established a productive relationship with SACS and are no longer on accredited-probation. Academic achievement is top of mind for parents and stakeholders, therefore I will ensure that the allocated surplus funds are utilized to support policies and programs that drive this initiative. Finally, I will continue to engage parents and the community in shared decision-making for school initiatives and projects. ,
  4. What skills, talents, and personality traits do you believe that you possess that would make you work effectively with the rest of the board to get things done?
    First and foremost, I am a parent of two young children in the public school system and have a vested interest in the success of Dekalb schools. Secondly, I am an educator for a post-secondary college and understand the skills and knowledge necessary for success at the post-secondary level. This vantage point enhances the conversation with fellow board members regarding college and career readiness.
  5. How will you enhance the mix of skills and backgrounds on the board and help represent the diversity of the community?
    As a parent, educator, Navy veteran and Scientist, I bring a mix of skills and experience that is reflective of our community. I am a a proven consensus builder and will continue to bring varying opinions and differences together for collective decisions. .
  6. What do you see as the opportunities and threats facing the DeKalb school system?
    The District along with many other public school systems across Georgia and the nation have had to deal with budget cuts and diminishing revenues. These cuts in funding and revenue have posed a major threat to the DeKalb County School District resulting in furlough days for teachers and other employees as well as a reduction in services and operations. However, in strained economic times such as these, it is an opportunity for the district to review how dollars are allocated. It is will also be important to ensure that future budgets place the dollars closest to where student instruction is occurring in the classroom. We have an opportunity to reprioritize our financial goals for supporting teachers and students.
  7. Describe the achievement gap in this district. What causes it? What can be done?
    Based on the data I have reviewed, the achievement gap in the DeKalb school district is largely impacted by the economic stratification of our children in the district. We have to ensure that all students have equal access to resources and opportunity. One size does not fit all so programs and services need to be provided based on need. We have to ensure that federal and state dollars are used wisely and impact the students at the classroom level.
  8. The next school board will likely be tasked with selecting a new superintendent. What will you look for in a candidate?
    The superintendent candidate should have a clear vision for improving academic achievement and the graduation rate. They must be an instructional leader, effective communicator, a good listener, and ready to make hard decisions. They must be able to work with the members of the board, parents and stakeholders, and the business community.
  9. What is your experience with reviewing complicated budgets? How will you approach the district's budgetary process from a policy perspective?
    While working as a Fisheries Biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, I was responsible for reviewing research budgets that impacted environmental policy. Having the ability to analyze budget data is part of my skill set, but it is also important to require performance data and metrics to support the request for expending funds.

    I will approach the budgetary process ensuring we are following all board policies for budget development. It is important to know the state funding formulas as well as the local revenue streams. Public board discussions are critical in setting the budget priorities for the superintendent and ensuring the community and stakeholder input is included for final decisions.
  10. What needs to be done to ensure the district regains full accreditation, without probation, and what is the role of the board in ensuring DCSD remains in excellent standings with SACS?

    The district is no longer on probation and has been elevated to accredited warned. It will be important for the board to operate at a high governance and effective leadership level. We must continue to invest in board training and board development. We must operate at a high level of ethics and when necessary hold each accountable for our behavior. Our role is to set policy, expectations and goals. Ensuring that the superintendent is accountable for the day to day operations of the school district in the areas of fiscal management and academic improvement will be of the utmost importance in maintaining a good relationship with SACS.

Atticus LeBlanc

Website: www.electatticus.com

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Candidate Name:
Atticus LeBlanc

Position Sought:
School Board - District 3

Educational Background:
Yale University - BA with distinction, Architecture

Occupation and Employer:
Owner and Co Founder:
Stryant Investments, LLC
Stryant Construction & Management, Inc
Guardian Brokerage & Management, Inc

Campaign Website:
http://www.electatticus.com www.facebook.com/electatticus

  1. What is your understanding of the role of a school board member? In your answer, explain (1) the level of engagement that a board member should have in the affairs and operations of the district and, (2) the relationship between the board and district staff.
    A school board member represents the needs of all students in the county specifically by setting policy, setting the annual budget, and managing the superintendent.

    A board member sets policy and ensures that DCSS policies are enforced by the superintendent's office. The affairs and operations of the district are managed by the superintendent, not the board.

    The relationship between the board and the staff is analogous to the relationship between a company's staff and its board of directors. The board of directors has little interaction with the staff on a regular basis, but instead assesses the performance of the company CEO (superintendent) and holds the CEO accountable for the performance of his or her staff.
  2. Explain your views on the current state of transparency of information at DCSD.
    Grossly Insufficient.
    The last forensic audit of DCSD showed $200,000,000.00 in funds that should never have been spent according to DCSD's own policies and procedures. I would support complete fiscal transparency of DCSD operations, as well as an annual forensic audit to improve public trust.

    Regarding other types of information, it's clear from my conversations with parents and teachers in the district that DCSD needs a more effective communications strategy to relay news and information from the superintendent's office to parents and teachers. Improved communication is another important aspect to re-building trust and improving morale among parents and teachers.
  3. How would you inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in DeKalb schools?
    I, personally, pledge to ensure that every dollar spent by the county helps improve student achievement. Paying me a salary does not change my motivation to improve schools, and would not improve student achievement. As such, if I am elected, I pledge to donate the entire salary that is paid to me by DeKalb County Schools back to the community through charities specifically dedicated to underprivileged students and their families.
    I hope that as a result of this pledge, parents and stakeholders will appreciate that my sole intention as a school board member is to improve student achievement for all students in the district.

    But ultimately, the only way to inspire confidence and build trust is to achieve results. We need to set goals, communicate them, and then accomplish them.

    The only way my company can stay in business is to give our stakeholders an excellent return on their investment. If we cannot deliver on our promises and get the results our stakeholders expect, they will simply leave us and invest with someone else.

    As parents in DeKalb, we are entrusting the school board with our children and our community's future. That investment is far more valuable than any amount of money. And if the incumbents cannot deliver the results our children deserve, we must replace those incumbents with capable elected officials that can.

    I decided to run for this position because I was not satisfied that our current board was getting the results that we, as parents and investors of tax dollars, deserve. We must have higher standards, full transparency and real accomplishments before we can restore confidence in the system.

    We must decentralize administrative control within DCSD. Currently we have an administrative bureaucracy that attempts to manage an incredibly diverse group of 14,000 teachers and staff and 100,000 students from one central office.
    Principals should have the freedom to manage their schools, teachers the flexibility to teach in their classrooms, and parents the option to choose the best school for their child.

    The board must put students first and demonstrate honest, competent, and effective leadership.
  4. What skills, talents, and personality traits do you believe that you possess that would make you work effectively with the rest of the board to get things done?
    I am an investor by profession. I understand budgeting, financial analysis, and personnel management; and I would strive to make the school board the best run organization possible. 9 years ago, I founded a successful real estate investment and construction business in DeKalb County that I still manage today. I specialize in taking properties that are in distress, and transforming them into productive assets that a community can take pride in. DeKalb schools have an annual budget of $1.25 billion, yet only graduate 58% of students. That is an investment in deep distress. I want to use my experience to transform that asset into one that we can all be proud of.

    For 6 years, I have volunteered as a District 3 Community Council member, serving as a voice for community concerns regarding zoning and land-use decisions in District 3. As a council member, I have been able to work effectively alongside a diverse board to address complex and contentious issues with members of the community.

    My only ambition in running for school board is to improve student achievement, and I am committed to working with everyone on the board and the superintendent to achieving that end.
  5. How will you enhance the mix of skills and backgrounds on the board and help represent the diversity of the community?
    In my business, I regularly communicate with people from all walks of life, from troubled youths, to day laborers, to investment bankers. I think my ability to engage in meaningful conversation across political, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines is a valuable skill in any group as diverse as the DeKalb school community.

    Additionally, my background in investment, construction, and land-use should provide a unique and valuable insight when reviewing budgets, capital expenditures, facilities maintenance expenses, or surplus properties.

    As a land-use professional, I also have an excellent understanding of the relationship between property values, tax revenues and their connection to our education system.

    I have always been in favor of community-supported, non-profit charter schools like Museum School and KIPP, and I am the most vocal proponent of these education models in my race.

    Since DeKalb is likely to become a charter system as indicated by Superintendent Thurmond, I can offer the board a unique connection to the leaders of New Orleans' Recovery School District, a proven example of achievement by a similar charter system.

    I am also likely to be the only fan of the New Orleans Saints, but please don't hold it against me.
  6. What do you see as the opportunities and threats facing the DeKalb school system?
    The formation of a charter system and selection of a new superintendent are by far the most significant opportunities for DeKalb Schools. If we can successfully create a charter system that truly empowers local communities, principals, and teachers to control the direction of their schools, we will see significant improvement throughout the county.
    The selection of a new superintendent will be equally important to the improvement of our school system. A new superintendent with an established track record of success, particularly in charter systems, will be instrumental in laying the foundation for the future success of our schools.

    The biggest threats are from all from within. The storied history of scandals, waste, bureaucracy, and misguided leadership in DeKalb Schools are well documented. Our school leaders have betrayed the trust of our communities, and as a result, alienated community stakeholders, parents, and teachers for the better part of a decade. After the last discouraging rejection by the current board of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition, we saw state representatives from the newly formed cities in the northern portions of the county propose a resolution to amend the state constitution to allow newly formed cities to create their own school districts. I empathize with these community leaders for their desire to improve their local schools, but the incorporation of these school districts would substantially reduce the budget for the schools remaining in unincorporated DeKalb, and push the tax burden onto areas of the county, like District 3, that are least able to afford it.

    As a county and a district, we need to send a message to these newly formed cities and their leaders that local control of their schools is possible without a constitutional amendment. DeKalb needs to demonstrate its dedication to education reform by electing a new class of leaders that are willing to commit to the goals of increased student achievement, complete fiscal transparency, and the transfer of power out of the central office and into our communities and schools.

    My candidacy is intended to send just such a message.
  7. Describe the achievement gap in this district. What causes it? What can be done?
    The achievement gap is illustrated clearly by the difference in graduation rates across the county, from school in the 40% range to schools in the 90% range, and is outlined in the Superintendent's Bridge Initiative report.

    In a word, the difference is motivation... for students, for parents, for teachers, and for school leaders. An extremely motivated student can learn in almost any environment, but these students will naturally gravitate toward other high-performers. The challenge for DCSS, or any educational entity, is to figure out how to motivate every student regardless of income, zip code, or background.

    I think the response to this challenge starts at the top. Strong, capable, and trustworthy school leaders inspire confidence from the principals and staff within the system, and motivate them to achieve better results. Empowered and confident principals and staff can more ably manage their schools, engage local parents to participate in the education process, and provide their teachers the flexibility they need to address the needs of their students. Teachers that feel valued within their schools are more likely to remain in the system, and are motivated to create flexible curriculums to address the interests of their students. And finally, students are more likely to be motivated by curriculums or teaching methods tailored to their interests, where they can feel confidence that their life or career goals are possible by striving to achieve educational success.

    KIPP charter schools are a glowing example that achievement gaps can be quickly closed with an effective group of leaders that understands how to motivate.
    KIPP serves 50,000 students nationally, 93% of whom are minority, and 86% of whom receive free or reduced lunch. But KIPP manages to graduate 93% of their students each year, and they send 83% of students to college.

    If DeKalb could model similar results, our county would be hailed as one of the best public education systems in the country. But unfortunately, there are no KIPP charter schools in DeKalb, despite their interest to have schools here. The reason they don't have schools in DeKalb is because current DCSS board has consistently been opposed to transferring power away from the central office bureaucracy to locally managed schools and clusters where model examples like KIPP can thrive.
  8. The next school board will likely be tasked with selecting a new superintendent. What will you look for in a candidate?
    Our next superintendent needs to have a proven record of success, with demonstrated measures of improvement in student achievement.

    Since it appears that DeKalb is moving to a charter system, I would specifically be interested in candidates that have experience, and proven success, in charter systems. I think the turnaround that we have seen in the Recovery School District in New Orleans is an example of a system with just such demonstrated success. After Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over New Orleans' failing schools, and converted roughly 80% to charters. The schools in New Orleans had worse performance and higher poverty than in DeKalb, but since converting to a decentralized charter model, they have increased graduation rates 25% over 8 years, and 10% in the last 3 years. The students have shown measurable increases over their peers in nearly every category of achievement including:
    5 months of additional learning per year in Math compared to their peers
    4 months of additional learning per year in Reading compared to their peers.

    I would search for a superintendent who has a history of similar improvement results.
  9. What is your experience with reviewing complicated budgets? How will you approach the district's budgetary process from a policy perspective?
    I started my career as a financial analyst, composing sophisticated financial models that evaluated complex transactions in the hundreds of millions, and occasionally billions, of dollars. I still utilize the lessons learned from that experience in the daily management of my own investment company.

    I am the only candidate in the District 3 race that owns and operates a business, and I evaluate complicated budgets and investments on a daily basis. Every time our company considers the purchase of a new apartment complex or commercial property, we review the historic financials of the asset and examine every line item and every contractual agreement to ensure they are reasonable costs. If certain costs seem unreasonable, we investigate the line item, or solicit new bids for the service. We then revise our budgets to ensure that each proposed expense is sufficient, and ultimately contributes to our goals for the property.

    As a policy perspective for DCSS, the ultimate goal of every dollar spent should be improving student achievement. If the dollar doesn't address improving student achievement as its ultimate goal, it's a dollar that should be saved. As a board member, I would propose a review of the historical recurring expenses for DCSS and investigate where there is wasted money, as well as an annual forensic audit. The last forensic audit of DCSS showed that $200 million had been spent without board approval, in direct violation of existing DCSS policy. Considering this egregious breach of policy, I can only surmise that additional financial resources are being wasted throughout the school system.
  10. What needs to be done to ensure the district regains full accreditation, without probation, and what is the role of the board in ensuring DCSD remains in excellent standings with SACS?

    The answer to this question has already been directly addressed within the Monitoring Review Report from SACS dated January 21, 2014 and can be found online at http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/advanced-sacs-accreditation-review/monitoring-review-report.pdf
    We won't know exactly what progress has been made in addressing concerns from SACS until their follow-up report after their May evaluation.

    Quoting the report:
    The progress made by the DeKalb County School District since May 2013 is commendable. Many programs, policies and processes have been put into place to stabilize the school system and begin to restore confidence and trust among stakeholder groups. However, sustaining the progress made to date and keeping the implementation of initiatives moving forward will require the long-term commitment of the Board, Superintendent, system staff and the community of DeKalb County. To ensure that the school system continues to sustain its progress and establish increased stability through a focused commitment to continuous improvement, the Monitoring Review Team has outlined the following additional Required Actions.
    The school system is responsible for completing Required Actions 1, 3 and 6 as well as for addressing the Required Actions below.
    The school system will be expected to submit an Institution Progress Report. The institution will use the report to document the additional actions it has taken to address the remaining Required Actions and Directives of the previous Special Review and Monitoring Review Teams, new Required Actions and Directives as outlined in this section, and ongoing compliance with AdvancED Standards and Policies. The Institution Progress Report must be submitted two weeks prior to the next Monitoring Review, which must be held by May 31, 2014. During that review, the Monitoring Review Team will seek to verify the information and evidence contained in the report and to determine the system's completion of the Required Actions and adherence to the AdvancED Standards and Policies.

    Devise and implement a written, comprehensive plan for unifying the DeKalb County Board of Education so that the focus can become serving the needs of the children of the DeKalb County School District.
    Establish and implement policies and procedures that ensure segregation of duties of the governing board and that of the administration including the elimination of board working committees, which result in board members assuming administrative functions that should be the responsibility of appropriate staff.
    Ensure a robust diagnostic assessment program (universal screener, progress monitoring probes, and benchmarks included) that is a systematic and a regular component of the school system's comprehensive assessment system, include a variety of formative assessment tasks and tools to monitor student progress, and provide school personnel access to the State Longitudinal Data System.

    Develop systematic and systemic processes to ensure the continued implementation and sustainability of the continuous improvement efforts of the DeKalb County Board of Education in establishing and sustaining the Board as a highly effective governing body.
    1. Eliminate the provisions in Policy BAB - School Board Governance that are in direct conflict with the roles and responsibilities of board members.
    2. Develop and implement a Self Assessment evaluation process to include Board Norms as well as to evaluate whether or not the Board's decisions and actions are in accord with board policies and procedures and the Board's defined roles and responsibilities.
    3. Adopt and implement an annual professional learning plan to promote and sustain the Board's capacity to govern the school system that includes full board training in accordance with state law.
    4. Develop and implement a plan to collect feedback from stakeholders at specified intervals to determine the nature of the school system's climate including the capacity to maintain trust between the system and its stakeholders. The Board and Superintendent must assess stakeholder survey results, the board's self-assessment and staff perceptions to determine how much progress is sustained over a period of time. Further, the Board and Superintendent should analyze the results of crucial decisions (such as the cluster charter petition) to determine how lingering issues of mistrust and lack of transparency surrounding issues may be effectively addressed.

    Develop and implement plans, policies and processes to monitor, evaluate and sustain the school systems' continuous improvement efforts.
    1. Establish a plan to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the fiscal policies, procedures and operations of the school system, including a review of all the accounting and financial management systems and resources currently in use.
    2. Routinely evaluate the policies adopted to ensure the proper adherence to the chain of command and the ongoing training implemented for the Board and staff to guarantee the sustainability of the changing culture resulting from rigorous adherence to said chain of command.
    3. Adhere to plans for the implementation of a systemic change management process for system initiatives (vision, mission, strategic plan, curriculum, benchmark assessment, etc.) to facilitate continuous improvement and sustain effectiveness.
    4. Incorporate in the Instructional Software Purchase (ISP) Process a systemic and systematic review and evaluation of the effectiveness of the ISPs at the school and school system levels to determine the impact of ISPs implemented in schools on student learning and achievement and ensure equitable learning opportunities for all students.
    5. Develop and implement a plan for the migration to the new parent portal platform, include details and a timeline for implementation, training and communication.
    6. Develop and implement the strategic plan with fidelity, maintain a systemic and systematic process of accountability based on the plan, and sustain governance and management structures designed to monitor, evaluate and communicate the school system's progress on the plan's implementation.

    Continue to implement, evaluate and adapt the system's technology plan to ensure an effective and equitable distribution of technology throughout the system and its long-term sustainability.
    1. Adhere to the systemic process designed for conducting an annual technology audit to maintain a current perspective about the needs of the school system as a basis for developing the annual technology plan required by the Georgia Department of Education.
    2. Create policies and procedures that facilitate the Board's consideration of the data contained in the annual technology audit to inform the equitable allocation of technology throughout the district.
    3. Develop a structure to implement the Technology Training Plan as a systemic process within the school system with provisions for using data to determine progress and guide decision-making.
    4. Create and implement a "stakeholder engagement" plan to collect feedback on the system's Technology Plan, including monitoring and reporting on the annual feedback received describing variables such as the nature and number of participants, timeframe, and description of the engagement.

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Important Dates

June 26

Community Forum with DeKalb County Board of Education Runnoff Candidates
Districts 3, 4, and 5
Dekalb Medical Center Theatre
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Free Event

June 30 – July 18

Advance Voting

July 22

Run Off Elections

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