PROGRAMS FOCUSED ON IMPROVING ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, PRODUCING QUALITY TEACHERS, AND PROMOTING SCHOOL SAFETY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD,
YOUTH AND FAMILIES
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
HEARING HELD IN ROSWELL, GEORGIA, SEPTEMBER 2, 1999
Serial No. 106-71
Printed for the use of the Committee on Education
and the Workforce
TABLE OF CONTENTS *
OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JOHNNY ISAKSON, SUBCOMMITTEE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD, YOUTH AND FAMILIES, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC *
STATEMENT OF DR. RICHARD BENJAMIN, SUPERINTENDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHEN D. DOLINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS, ATLANTA, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF DR. ALVIN WILBANKS, SUPERINTENDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF DR. FRANK R. PETRUZIELO, SUPERINTENDENT, CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOLS, CANTON, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF MR. MARK KISSEL, CHIEF OF POLICE, CHEROKEE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, CANTON, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF MR. CHRISTIAN L. SAILOR, STUDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF MR. CHRIS MARDIS, STUDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF MS. MARLANA KEARNS, STUDENT ADVISOR TO CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, CHEROKEE HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR, CANTON, GEORGIA *
STATEMENT OF MS. JACQUELINE BUCKNER, STUDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM, ATLANTA, GEORGIA *
APPENDIX A - STATEMENT OF DR. RICHARD BENJAMIN, SUPERINTENDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA *
APPENDIX B - STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHEN D. DOLINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS, ATLANTA, GEORGIA *
APPENDIX C - STATEMENT OF DR. ALVIN WILBANKS, SUPERINTENDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA *
APPENDIX D - STATEMENT OF DR. FRANK R. PETRUZIELO, SUPERINTENDENT, CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOLS, CANTON, GEORGIA *
FIELD HEARING ON PROGRAMS FOCUSED ON
IMPROVING ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, PRODUCING
QUALITY TEACHERS, AND PROMOTING SCHOOL SAFETY
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1999
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD, YOUTH AND FAMILIES
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:10 a.m., at Centennial High School, Roswell, Georgia, Hon. Johnny Isakson presiding.
Present: Representatives Deal and Isakson.
Staff Present: Rich Stombres, Majority Professional Staff Member and Cheryl Johnson, Minority Counsel.
OPENING STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JOHNNY ISAKSON, SUBCOMMITTEE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD, YOUTH AND FAMILIES, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. Isakson. Let me welcome everybody this morning to our hearing.
Let me try and give you a little overview of what we want to accomplish. When I wrote the participants, I told them that the focus of this hearing is we would like feedback on both the Teacher Empowerment Act and the Education Flexibility Partnership Act that Congress passed this year. We want to hear the good and we want to hear the constructive as well. I know from just the conversations I have had that we are going to have great testimony.
The second part is something I really wanted to do. As you know, safety in our schools is topic number one, as far as the media is concerned. This should not be topic number one in terms of parents or topic number one in terms of kids. All of us in public life are trying to do everything we can to do to make a difference. It is a complex issue.
I know from my experience as a school system administrator, we correct as many things as we can. I know we are going to hear some of that from the systems.
I want to tell everybody my goal and our staff's goal, this hearing is not to make work, not something to keep us busy while we are at home. Some of the best things ever done in Congress comes from testimony at hearings by practitioners and by customers, and I consider our students customers of our state and our federal government and our local government.
And so there are no rules except for you to say what is on your mind and your heart. If you have a suggestion, make it; if you have a criticism, make it. If those of you that are in the audience but are not scheduled to speak, have something to say, at an appropriate time in the testimony or after the testimony, I want you to feel free to do so. We have a number of members of the boards of education here, staff from the departments of education in the various counties, and it is very important for this to be open dialogue. Everything that is said is being recorded and transcribed and will go back to Washington and will be published. It will be on the internet, it will be in all kinds of places you have never seen before, but the most important thing is it can be the seed idea that really makes the difference in what we can do in Washington to help be a facilitator for where the real work is done, which is the local school systems of the United States of America.
There are a couple of people that I want to introduce. We have a couple of staff folks from the Education Committee. Chairman Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania is the Chairman of Education and has been a marvelous leader in the Ed Flex movement and in the Teacher Empowerment Act. Buck McKeon from California also did a great job with that and I think those of you that are not familiar with some of the results of that, they are not results yet, but future results and prospects are going to be very exciting.
From our staff, we have got Rich Stombres. Rich, glad to have you here today. And from the Democratic staff, Cheryl Johnson. Cheryl is here to keep an eye on me, right, Cheryl.
Ms. Johnson. No, I am not.
Mr. Isakson. She is lying, she really is.
Mr. Isakson. I am very pleased to have some staff here, and Bonnie, can you hear me? Come on in so they can see you. This wonderful young lady, a graduate of the Fulton County School System and now a student at the University of Pennsylvania, served as an intern in my office this summer and I have got to tell this story. Dave Pyle, who runs our office in Washington, has had a lot of experience on the Hill. When the interns come in, of course sometimes they are nervous, sometimes they are not. They have been great, they have all been just sharp as they can be. But he will usually take the most complex letter of the day that we receive from a constituent and give it to the intern and ask them to write a response; it is not me, I promise.
Who is doing the sound? I think I am going to turn this thing off and just talk.
So the first day Bonnie was there, Dave gave her this letter and I forgot what the subject was, and said will you write a response and get it back to me in a couple of days. Well, in an hour and a half, she gave him a letter that he could not find a single change in.
So if you got a good, intelligent letter from me in response to something you wrote, nine out of ten times, she gave you the answers. So do not give me the credit.
However, I want you to know I am a product of City of Atlanta and Fulton County School Systems, so give them some credit too.
Loula Davenport, from my office, stand up, Loula. Loula is in our District Office here in Atlanta, which is also in Fulton County, in Sandy Springs and Century Springs. Of the many things she does for me, she does our immigration specialty work, which is quite heavy in this district with regard to passports because people travel in regard to getting people into this country to work, which is very difficult now with the immigration laws. Loula does a fantastic job.
Leigh Smith, Leigh is my senior person in Washington on any number of areas, but education is one of them. She has had a lot of experience on the Hill, she has been a tremendous help to me and she was responsible for putting this hearing together.
So with that said, we are going to get started, and here is what we are going to do.
We have got a timer, but we are going to be a little bit loose because I know how much thought has gone into the responses and I want you to feel free to take not only the five minutes we said, but if you go to ten, that is fine. And if I have questions, I am going to ask them and Nathan Deal is going to be here; Nathan is on the way, he will be here in about 30 minutes. We will let Nathan ask questions also. We really like to have a dialogue. If somebody from the audience would like to be recognized either for an add-on or a question, if you will just raise your hand, I will try and point you out and get that into it. We will do it that way, if that is okay with you all.
Let me get over here and introduce the panel. I would like to introduce the Superintendent first, the Superintendent of the Cobb County School System, Richard Benjamin, and in doing so, I am very fortunate that I have a relationship with all the people that are testifying as superintendents, we worked together when I was with the State Department of Education and on the School Board. The superintendents here today are representative of the finest we have got, not just in Georgia, but I think in the country.
Fulton County, this school's average SAT was 1068 this year. Richard and I were just talking a minute ago, Walton, over in east Cobb where my kids went to school, I read in the paper this morning, 99 percent of their seniors last year took the SAT and the average was 1106 on the SAT.
So all of these are great systems and we are very, very proud of them and we are very proud, first of all, to recognize for his testimony, Dr. Richard Benjamin.
STATEMENT OF DR. RICHARD BENJAMIN, SUPERINTENDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA
Dr. Benjamin. Thank you, Representative Isakson, it is a pleasure to be asked to present our comments on this and future legislation that can allow us to be more successful with our students. I will address both pieces of legislation generally. As the staff analyzed them and as I looked at them, we are very, very supportive of the specifics and the general nature.
The Flexibility Partnership Act addresses some very important programs that we think can be strengthened with flexibility. Being around and active in the field when Title I started, it was my impression at that time, that Title I legislation actually had great intents of improving the capacity of public schools to problem-solve and do a better job with low-performing students, at-risk students, children of poverty and of low achievement.
Almost immediately it seemed that the Congressional interest shifted to providing services to students as opposed to building capacity, so that the measures became extremely procedural; how many kids, how was eligibility determined, mandates for parent involvement in governance, which may or may not have a lot to do with building the capacity.
And so I see an opportunity here in 1999 to go back to the original intent of the legislation, to build capacity in public schools. Now the reason that is so important is, as we learn from other successful organizations outside of public education, continuous improvement seems to be the margin, the competitive edge in businesses. Those businesses that continually learn and continuously improve, have a better chance at survival it seems now in these times of more rapid change. Public schools should not be left out of that. So anything that increases our capacity to continuously improve and be flexible has to be seen as a step in the right direction to bring us into sync with modern organizational techniques.
Certainly one aspect of the Partnership Act that looks toward data to be collected would be influenced by what is the point of it all. The point of it all is continuous improvement. I think you want to hold the districts accountable to collect data to demonstrate continuous improvement and to reinforce what a reasonable organization would do to trail best practices and success. That sort of data does not always fall into the cookie cutter variety that so often is required by the federal government. Where I think often the legislation sets things up to collect a lot of data that does not yield true information, information being defined as something that leads to a relative reduction in uncertainty -- when you look at information, you know more than you did. I think all too often with the federal programs and the data requirements, when you get all the data assembled, it is just overwhelming and we know less than we did and so does the federal government.
So in connection with the Flexibility Partnership Act, the particular items that might be blended there I think need to be looked at in terms of their original purpose, looked at in terms of our how current purposes of continuous improvement, and most certainly greater flexibility, will be appreciated when those goals are clear. And if the goals are to improve student performance in a wide variety of activities that go well beyond standardized test scores, then some awfully good thinking needs to be done, to say collect the data that goes to the original purpose, demonstrate that kind of accountability and be flexible and rigid at the same time about that; that is, rigid according to accountability, flexible according to the kind of data that fits into that accountability model, so we can truly chase what is successful.
One last point that deals with parent involvement. There is no question that public schools cannot move to the new plateau of student achievement without improved and more intense partnership with parents. Current legislation and recent variations of legislation have often called for parents on governance committees. I do not want to have my testimony be construed to be negative to that point, but I want to strongly make the point that there does not seem to be a lot of data that supports parents involved in governance as much as parents involved in student achievement. So give some thought to having parents directly involved in enhancing the learning of their students and begin to think about accountability of parents and students alike in the legislation.
The Teacher Empowerment Act, from my own point of view, holds some really great promise here. Obviously quality teachers are the key and anything that can be done to have quality people to head up our classrooms is important. But let me make a couple of points about this.
One is when everything gets combined, those of us at the local level get a little nervous that combined really means less money because it obviously looks like more money. If you combine a lot of things, the total goes up and that looks like a big chunk.
I think with the resources available to Congress, there needs to be some real attention to the total amount of funding. Flexibility alone will not do it; combining things will not do it. We often are compared to other countries and their student performance. It seems to me with the resources available to Congress, a close look could be paid to the comparisons with funding also. All too often K-12 public education has been lumped in with higher education to come up with an enormous number. You will hear people always quoting the United States spends more per pupil on education than any place else, which is true when K-12 is lumped together with the colleges and universities. This is not a very pleasant spot to be in if you are in charge of a K-12 public school system, to know full well that education in the United States is under-funded compared with the major industrial countries, when you look at K-12 public education expenditures on a per-pupil basis.
Now a related point to that is that money matters. And the discussion about money not making a difference can only really be held when you do not talk about what you use money for. The money provided in this bill is important, it provides for hiring staff. And when you have smaller class size, for example, and quality teachers, it makes a difference, depending on what someone does with the smaller class size. So it is not that class size does or does not make a difference, it is that we know we can spend money in ways that are high yield strategies for improving student performance. What someone does in a smaller class makes a difference. We know it as the student, we know it as the teacher and I hope everyone knows it as the Congress or a member of Congress.
Teacher certification will come into play here. And I think as the country requires public education to look at student performance and be accountable for student performance, the same is true as we look at certification. I am for steps to be sure that we have good people in the schools and good people teaching our kids. There are, however, examples of people who can be successful with students that have a difficult time with a lot of the plans that are there now, either from a time point of view of detracting from their lives and their careers for courses that may or may not add to their ability to improve student performance, and from the point of view that there may be measures for certification that are not demonstrably related to achieving student performance standards. I can show in Cobb County teachers who, in a hopeful, good spirited way, are not running the kids toward standardized tests. One teacher I am thinking of right now had over two years gain in reading in the middle and elementary grades in one year's time and can demonstrate some pretty low scores on things that we use as threshold criteria.
What is my point? My point is that this flexibility thing is very important and that as a school superintendent, I want the opportunity to certify people when they can demonstrate performance for students, so long as I am satisfied that they can treat kids humanely and not beat higher test scores out of them. I think that my staff has the judgment necessary to say this is a teacher that we want in the classroom, that can get results for the kids and they get results not only on standardized tests. And unless there is better work done to demonstrate the relationship between some of the hurdles and student performance, if we are going to be held accountable for student performance, which I want to be, I would certainly like the flexibility to certify teachers.
And I will work all of the other things that I wanted to say into answers to questions.
[The statement of Dr. Benjamin follows:]
STATEMENT OF DR. RICHARD BENJAMIN, SUPERINTENDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX A
Mr. Isakson. The little beeper you heard is we have got a little subtle timer here so that when 10 minutes has gone, everybody knows.
Let me make two points. You hit on two things that were a significant part of the debate in the two bills, and I would like, first of all, for you to expand to me in writing and to the Committee, suggestions with regard to the accountability of the data as you referred to the Ed Flex bill, because Congressman Miller and others - we had some great debate over exactly how to tie the accountability. In the end, you correct me if I am wrong, but the standard that we put in, in terms of the Act, was that you had to, within two years, show improvement or you lost your waiver and flexibility. What I think you were referring to in terms of data collection is probably the Department of Education's data it determines it is going to use to determine whether or not you were in compliance.
Dr. Benjamin. Exactly.
Mr. Isakson. And for everybody's interest in the audience, and I am sure the local boards to an extent know this, once you pass an Act, there are rules and regulations promulgated by the Department that become in effect the law that you are governed by in the system. And I think that is the data that the superintendent was referring to. So for all of you, if you are seeing from the Department well-intended, but maybe not relevant, data collection mechanisms to really monitor the achievement, then let us know because I have found the Department to be cooperative from that standpoint, particularly if you have got the practitioner giving us that.
The other thing, for the benefit of the audience, Dr. Benjamin's reference to when you combine programs you get a bigger number, but if the sum is still the same as the parts, you are not improving funding, relates I am sure to the merger of the Eisenhower money along with the other teacher improvement money and the 100,000 teacher administration money. And for everyone to know what we did -- I think it ended up being $2.2 billion when we consolidated those numbers -- was we gave the systems the flexibility -- some flexibility, not total flexibility -- to use those funds to improve the classroom, which may be a lower pupil/teacher ratio, but it also may be more certification for teachers teaching out of field. I think that was kind of a trade off. The President has signed the Flex bill, he has not signed the Teacher Enhancement. And the politics of this are the "100,000 Teacher Program" will lower pupil/teacher ratio, but the Committee really felt, and the House felt, that if we merged all that money in with the Eisenhower money and the other money and then gave the system the flexibility to reach the goal of teacher enhancement which may be through pupil/teacher ratio but may be through other things, give them the flexibility to use it that way. So hopefully, anybody who wants to address that topic may make it to Washington prior to a final decision and help us one way or another.
So with that said, our host superintendent is Dr. Stephen Dolinger, Superintendent of the Fulton County Schools, where we are today, which also got some good press today on their academic improvement, particularly with regard to the SAT scores. And they like Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee are in a massive building program as well.
So without further ado, Dr. Dolinger.
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHEN D. DOLINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Dr. Dolinger. Thank you, Congressman Isakson and Committee staff members. Welcome to Fulton County and to our newest high school. I have some prepared statements I would like to read into the record to also help us focus our comments, but I, like Dr. Benjamin, look forward to the informal discussion and answering questions.
I appreciate this time and the opportunity to provide feedback and perspective on important education legislation and issues being considered by Congress.
Let me first take this opportunity to thank Congressman Isakson for your hard work and dedication in providing outstanding leadership and service while Chairman of the Georgia Department of Education. Working for educational reform and aspiring to excellence without concern for partisan politics, you provided us with an excellent example of what can be accomplished with vision, teamwork and commitment.
We look forward to Congressman Deal joining us. We are also familiar with his long-time commitment to improving public education, both during his tenure as a Georgia state legislator and now as a member of Congress.
Each of you in your own way confronts many of the difficult educational issues we face while working to improve the academic achievement of all students. Accountability, professional development, and safe schools are looming issues that challenge us as we learn to work more efficiently to prepare our students to compete in an ever-changing society. We commend your Committee's efforts to develop new and innovative approaches with regard to the federal role in education policy.
We are particularly interested in the philosophy of recent legislation making support for local education reform a top priority. We hope the cumbersome rules and regulations, which often interfere with our local school reform and improvement initiatives, can be eliminated. One-size-fits-all regulations for federal dollars often fail to account for our distinctive local school improvement needs and goals.
Federal funds received by the Fulton County School System for the 1999-2000 school year amount to less than two percent of our school system budget. The vast majority of these funds are dedicated to providing highly regulated, time-consuming and, in our case, expensive special education and Title I services. This year, the federal funds allocated to Fulton County for special education services will only cover about 10 percent of what it will cost us to provide the services to our students. Even so, we must allocate a considerable amount of staff time administering that fund.
We find advantages in the Teacher Empowerment Act provisions allowing for more flexible use of these dollars for professional development that supports specifically identified local needs. With additional flexibility, we could work on innovations such as performance pay, critical teaching field recruitment and improvement of reading instruction.
We want to customize our programs to improve the performance of our at-risk and disadvantaged student populations. In Fulton County, for instance, this flexibility would have allowed us to use recently allocated federal funds to reduce class size in grades four and five. This was our greatest need as we had just reduced class size in grades ones through three a year earlier. While we appreciate the 18 new teaching positions we received specifically for class size reduction in grades one through three, we cannot use them to meet our most pressing needs.
Although we support the general direction of recent Education Committee policy reforms, five critical organizational needs must be satisfied for successful implementation of these policies:
1) state-level endorsement, cooperation, and coordination for these efforts;
2) state-level administrative support for locally-based reform initiatives;
3) accurate cost analysis data illustrating the fiscal impact of implementing Ed Flex and the Teacher Empowerment Act on local systems;
4) identification of success stories under existing programs as possible demonstration projects to guide new local reform planning; and
5) timely, accurate communication between state and local school systems as federal and state agencies implement the Ed Flex approach.
We are still in the process of reviewing the details of recently passed Ed Flex and Teacher Empowerment legislation, the President's various education reform proposals and the new "Straight A's" legislative package. This fall, as reauthorization of ESEA moves forward, we will follow its development closely.
We are similarly interested and impressed with your legislative initiatives addressing discipline issues unique to special education students. Eliminating the double standard embedded in current law regarding disciplinary action for these students presents a formidable challenge.
Please know that we enthusiastically support the Norwood-Barr Juvenile Justice Act amendment which would do just that. We agree that all students who endanger student, staff and general school safety must be treated equally. Ensuring safe schools is the first, and most basic, of our responsibilities. This amendment empowers school administrators to better fulfill that responsibility while supporting other steps we are taking to deal with school safety.
This concludes my observations regarding the Education Flexibility Partnership Act, the Teacher Empowerment Act and the Norwood-Barr Juvenile Justice Act amendment. The students, legislators and educators gathered here today hopefully set a tone of citizenship and participatory government that others will choose to follow. On behalf of the Fulton County School Board and the many Fulton County employees charged with improving the quality of our children's lives, I thank you for this opportunity.
[The statement of Dr. Dolinger follows:]
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHEN D. DOLINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS, ATLANTA, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX B
Mr. Isakson. Thank you, Dr. Dolinger. And for the purpose of a great example, you were sharing with me outside earlier an example of a Title I program in classroom size reduction and federal funding on the experience you had a couple of years ago. Would you share that with the Committee and with the audience?
Dr. Dolinger. Our school board has a high priority to reduce class size as we can, and we do not do this just in a snapshot, we look out into the years ahead and do some strategic planning on how we can best manage that money. And in reducing class size, we were looking at what we want to do to really impact the reading and student achievement and reduce class size in grades one through three; and would like to do that in other areas, we have reduced class size also somewhat in middle school.
But the money we received this year, it was great to have that additional funding, but it was directed to grades one through three. And we had decided in that continuation plan to reduce class size in grades four through five. So while the federal law was a good idea, it was not timely for us to really put the money where it would best fit our needs and the feedback we get from our community.
Mr. Isakson. But with flexibility and a waiver for a different use, you could have gone to four and five and even expanded the intent.
Dr. Dolinger. Absolutely.
Mr. Isakson. That is the point of the Ed Flex legislation and that was one of the best examples I possibly could have heard.
The second thing I want to say to the audience is the reference to the amendment with regard to discipline, I would like to talk about that for just a second, because I appreciate what the superintendents have said. All of the Georgia delegation were very supportive of the amendment. What the amendment did is it said in the case where a student commits an act of violence using a weapon in a school, that regardless of whether they are a regular student or a special ed student, the discipline may be exactly the same. For very good reasons, there are different rules with regard to discipline for special ed students, but in the case of violence and in the case of the use of a weapon, which unfortunately we have seen happen in schools, we really felt that the standard of justice should be equal across the board without regard to any status and I appreciate very much Dr. Dolinger mentioning that. We had a lively debate on that on the floor of the House. Hopefully we never have to use the equalization of that enforcement, but I think that in the interest of our children and their safety in the schools, I think that was a good move.
Next we have the Superintendent of the Gwinnett County Public Schools, Dr. Alvin Wilbanks, who also I consider a very good friend of mine from the two years I was at the state department.
I was bragging about him last night in Suwanee, as a matter of fact, and I told the folks there that I felt like the Gwinnett County Gateway Program, which I became familiar with that they have been developing in terms of ongoing student assessment, will one day be looked upon as a pilot that is used nationally as we strive to have accountability at every level and good assessment of students; and I commend Dr. Wilbanks on all he has done for the Gwinnett system, commend him on their outstanding SAT scores and I turn the floor over to you, Alvin.
STATEMENT OF DR. ALVIN WILBANKS, SUPERINTENDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA
Mr. Wilbanks. Thank you very much, Congressman Isakson. I too want to express my appreciation to you and Congressman Deal for you cosponsoring these two pieces of legislation that we are talking about today.
I also want to thank you for your work as Chairman of the State Board of Education and the commitment that you brought to that position and the real benefit that you have provided to this state. It seems that you carried that same commitment to the national level and we appreciate you doing that.
Mr. Isakson. You all taught me a lot.
Mr. Wilbanks. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about the Education Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999 and the Teacher Empowerment Act which is under consideration by the Senate. Both of these bills are designed to improve teaching and learning in our schools. My comments will be directed primarily toward the concept of flexibility with accountability.
As Superintendent of the Gwinnett County Public Schools, which as you know is a suburban Atlanta system of about 104,000 students, I am especially pleased to address these issues because both pieces of legislation really are consistent with our efforts to improve academic achievement.
First, the Education Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999. Ed Flex gives the local systems the opportunity to waive certain federal requirements. Our system participates in many of the ESEA grant programs such as Title I, including Part A (Helping Disadvantaged Youth Meet High Standards), Part B (Even Start), Part D (Neglected, Delinquent and At-Risk Youth); Title II (Eisenhower Professional Development); Title IV (Safe and Drug-Free Schools); and the Perkins Act. The flexibility will give us the opportunity to target these funds where we need them most and will also produce some savings in administrative costs.
We appreciate the fact that Ed Flex gives flexibility with accountability. Our school system is focused on the academic achievement of our students. In Gwinnett, we welcome and value accountability. We are responsible to our parents, students and citizens. We want to measure our students' success against world-class standards.
Gwinnett County already has the infrastructure for flexibility with accountability in place. First, we have content standards. Our Academic Knowledge and Skills, which were produced by a committee of educators, parents and citizens are reviewed annually and by an oversight committee representing these groups. The AKS are correlated with Georgia's Quality Core Curriculum, with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as well as the SAT and advanced placement courses. We have a high expectation for our students and hold them to a high standard. This year our high-stake Gateway Tests at the elementary, middle and high school levels will go into effect. Students in the elementary and middle grades must pass these tests to be promoted. High school students must pass these tests to earn a diploma, a Gwinnett County Public Schools diploma. We have intervention for students who are having difficulty meeting the AKS and extensions for students who are capable of going beyond the AKS.
We also have performance standards in place. Our Results-Based Evaluation System holds schools, administrators, teachers, students and parents accountable for results. RBEC is the tool for school and central office improvement. We evaluate a school's performance and improvement by comparing test scores with test scores of schools across Georgia. We make sure the process is fair by considering poverty as we set our expectations for each school. We are also building the infrastructure for benchmarking our students against other schools across the nation.
Flexibility will help us meet the needs of all our diverse students for interventions and extensions as they relate to our essential curriculum, our AKS. Richman and his colleagues reported that 70 percent of the middle school students, 42 percent of the high school students who were in danger of failing were on the free and reduced lunch program. Sometimes students require interventions. In 1998, about 17,500 Gwinnett students were on free and reduced lunch program. The Census Bureau projected a count of 5,496 children in Gwinnett County between the ages of 5 and 17 as being in poverty. The mobility rate in our system ranges from nine percent at one school to 43 percent at another school. Our enrollment is 30 percent minority; however, the percentage of minorities in individual schools range from a low of seven percent to a high of 88 percent. It is important for us to have additional funds to close the achievement gap among our students.
At the same time, students require extensions to the curriculum. In 1999, 85 percent of our graduates planned to attend college or post-secondary education after completing high schools. These graduates represented $30 million in scholarships that were offered. Again, flexibility will help us meet the diverse needs of our students.
And now to the Teacher Empowerment Act. Just as we appreciate the flexibility that would be possible with the Ed Flex bill, we likewise see many benefits offered in the Teacher Empowerment Act, such as the reduction in class size provision. We have to have flexibility. Our taxpayers have approved a $545 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for building facilities and installing technology. We opened 287 new classrooms two weeks ago; however, we still have 604 portable classrooms in use as we speak. The provision for flexibility that will work to the advantage of a growing system like Gwinnett and others at this table is the waiver provision that would allow us to use the funds for ensuring that all instructional staff have the subject knowledge, teaching knowledge, and teaching skills necessary to teach the essential curriculum effectively.
If we are going to produce results in a system of world-class schools, the flexibility that can be provided in the Teacher Empowerment Act will help us achieve our goals. We can make sure that at least 95 percent of the funds go directly to the classroom where teaching and learning students is important. As a matter of fact, I contend that is where it all happens.
We all know that the teacher makes the difference. We need the professional development programs envisioned by the Teacher Empowerment Act in order to enhance the skills of our teachers and administrators. The emphasis on research-based programs which are not one-shot programs is well placed.
Having the flexibility to use federal funds so that they will benefit our students is essential if we are to develop quality teachers and administrators. Tenure reform, teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems, such as the Pay for Performance Programs, alternative routes to certification, differential and bonus pay are all viable options. Given the attrition among beginning teachers, the key element among all the provisions may well be the focus on mentoring. Mentoring provides beginning teachers with the opportunity to learn from master teachers.
We have made concentrated efforts to use our current staff development dollars wisely. Our staff development is directed strategically toward (1) the adoption of new curriculum, and (2) enhancing the skills of our teachers in the classroom for teaching the essential curriculum. The Teacher Empowerment Act will allow us to use funds for professional development activities that give teachers, principals and administrators the knowledge and skills to provide students with the opportunity to meet challenging state or local content standards and student performance standards.
We believe that Section 2034 which says that a local education agency may provide funds to a teacher or group of teachers seeking opportunities to participate in a professional development activity of their choice should remain optional. With limited funds, it is important to dedicate the available funds to providing staff development related directly to the content and performance standards, or rather, what is going on in the classroom.
We want to be accountable to our students, parents and the public. We want to recruit, hire, retain and develop quality teachers and principals and administrators. We want the education we provide to be value-added for our customers. We are comfortable with the requirements for rigorous and systematic assessment of staff development programs.
Consolidating federal programs to give us flexibility with accountability is certainly a move in the right direction.
I would, however, like to borrow from our esteemed colleague, Dr. Benjamin, that just consolidated funds does not always result in more funds.
Teacher certification should remain a cooperative with the individual states.
In closing, I have briefly outlined our support for the key concepts contained in both the Ed Flex and the Teacher Empowerment Act. We also want safe schools where teachers can teach and students can learn. The Ed Flex, by adding the word ``possession'' clarifies IDEA regulations regarding weapons on campus. And this certainly needs to be looked into.
Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to come and speak to you about these two important pieces of legislation.
[The statement of Dr. Wilbanks follows:]
STATEMENT OF DR. ALVIN WILBANKS, SUPERINTENDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX C
Mr. Isakson. Thank you, Dr. Wilbanks. You raised some points in your comments that are a point of great debate on the Committee and the Congress and I am going to hopefully get it right. I am going to ask to be corrected if I get it wrong, by any of the staff.
But with regard to Title I and with regard to your system_you have about 100,000 students, right, 90,000 to 100,000?
Mr. Wilbanks. 104,000.
Mr. Isakson. I think you said 17,000 were free and reduced lunch.
Mr. Wilbanks. Correct.
Mr. Isakson. Well, that is about 17 percent roughly of that student body. If I am not mistaken, Title I guidelines require a certain percentage in the school before there is eligibility for Title funds, there has to be a certain percentage. If I remember correctly, it is 35? Does anyone know if I am exactly right on that?
Mr. Wilbanks. Would you ask your question again?
Mr. Isakson. With regard to Title I, if I am not mistaken, there are a number of eligibilities, but one of them, for the school within the system to qualify, the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, or whatever other qualification there is, must reach a certain threshold percentage of the student body, which I thought was 35 percent. Am I right or wrong?
Mr. Wilbanks. You are correct in that those children who are below 35 percent, we can serve them, but you have to look at it from a different perspective.
Mr. Isakson. I knew I had it partially right anyway.
But here is my question -- but before I ask my question, let me welcome Congressman Deal from Gainesville, Georgia and the Ninth Congressional District of Georgia, who is an outstanding member of Congress, and when we finish with this half, I am going to let him make any remarks he wants to make. We are in the middle of a dialogue right now, so jump in when you want to.
The question is this, we heard on two panels in Washington during the debating on Title I that there ought to be a change in how that funding flows. Instead of qualifying percentages, it should be portable with the eligible student, meaning that systems would have more flexibility for Title I funds that follow a student within the system rather than it flow to the school because it qualified for a percentage. Can you address that for a second?
Mr. Wilbanks. First of all, I will agree that that ought to happen. Many times a student who is in a school where there is a very low ratio of poverty may be in worse need than students in one where there is a high degree. While I will admit that there is some benefit for the other factors that come into play, certainly we think that the funding should follow the student rather than there being a percentage of students in that school in order for that school to qualify for the benefits under Title I.
Mr. Isakson. Any of the other superintendents, feel free to comment on that one way or the other.
Dr. Dolinger. Congressman, I think it goes back to the overall philosophy of much of the funding we are talking about here. When there is more decisionmaking that can be made at the local level to fit our needs, Fulton County, like Gwinnett and Cobb and many others in the area, we are results focused and we are looking at objectives to meet the needs of our students. When our schools can have the flexibility to do that, we think we can get better results. So whenever we can have that increased flexibility, where it is following the students, particularly when oftentimes the high poverty also coincides with Dr. Wilbanks talking about the high mobility rate, that creates some additional challenges for our schools. So when they have the flexibility to look at training, staffing or whatever those needs are, we think we can get better results.
Mr. Isakson. Yes, sir, Frank.
Dr. Petruzielo. I think also that to the extent that you can move away from the various revenue sources as stand-alone sources of revenue that are not directly related to or used in the same way that other funds are, and more to a situation where all the funds that are coming into a school, based on what was allocated, can be utilized to address the high standards that we want for all the kids, and to the extent that that creates more entrepreneurship at the campus level and the opportunity for innovative programs that can be replicated elsewhere, that that is certainly the proper direction to go.
Mr. Isakson. Dr. Benjamin.
Dr. Benjamin. I almost hesitate to comment because it does open up things that are probably extremely difficult to deal with, but it goes back to my original point about just take Title I and serve high poverty, low achievement students. If the intent of Congress is, as I thought it was back in the mid-1960s, is to improve our capacity to get better at serving kids, then all the regulations that deal with how accountable we are to track and follow an individual youngster or not track and follow are procedural mandates about where the money goes, not what does the money accomplish. And I think that is the fundamental problem and it is really hard to think about solving it, but we have an opportunity with the flexibility that is started here to really focus on do we in fact get better at serving high poverty kids or do we prove to the federal government that we are serving particularly high poverty kids. And the point is the capacity has to get better, we know that we can do better with the kids, but with the amount of resources tied up in accountability provisions that deal with the procedural defects of the legislation, I do not think we are being treated as the organizations that_we are not being asked to be accountable to get better results when we are asked to be accountable to keep track of which kids are being served. I think that opens up a huge area of debate that I do not think has been addressed in the over 30 years that the Title I legislation has been there, is back to are American public schools supposed to get better at capacity to improve. Now in a country where the federal part is seven percent -- it has been that way for decades and decades -- it is disabling I believe to the very gains that we want to see, to use seven percent of the money to control so much of the recordkeeping time and accountability time that was mentioned here.
We now know more than we ever did before about how kids learn and how to get better at it and extending the flexibility that is here away from keeping track of kids' services and the process and toward school districts actually getting better at the process of getting better, seems to me something that needs to be in the debate.
Mr. Isakson. Well, if nothing else comes out of this segment, your comments are very valuable, because I personally believe the investment in Title I, to help systems improve low achieving students or students who are coming out of an environment -- that is a justified public purpose. However, since its inception, it is very questionable whether the billions of dollars that have gone into Title I have resulted in what was intended, to the extent that Congress hoped.
And I think in each of your words, but particularly what Dr. Benjamin said, if the measurement of those funds and the data that is required to measure whether or not you are successful dominates the ability to use the money for the intended purpose, which is to improve that child who is a low achiever or is environmentally challenged from whatever the environment they come from, then that is where the problem with the money is, not that it is not going to the intended purpose, but that so much of it is being used to satisfy what has been written to satisfy some accountability system that in the scheme of things does not really measure where the money is benefitting; am I right?
This is one of those seeds I referred to when I talked to you before. We have had two public hearings I think where we had testimony from experts with regard to more flexibility and the money following the student or in any number of areas with regard to Title I, and we are also receiving testimony that since it has never done any good, let's do away with it. And so this issue is going to rise significantly probably next year, maybe even this fall in the reauthorization.
Dr. Benjamin. One other point and I will be brief, but the flexibility is related actually to two things that lead to greater continuity. If in our opinion, we can follow a child wherever they go and provide continuous service to that child, almost everybody agrees that is probably a pretty good idea, get the child into the mix of feeling like a good achiever and being a good achiever. And if it takes some continuity to do it, have the flexibility to do it.
On the other hand, the school, now the legislation has provided a little bit better continuity in the recent decade on keeping the school, but with the criteria we have and the funding we have, you go down the list as far as you can go. So a school that is on the cusp could be Title I and then not Title I, in and out over the years. And that cannot be particularly good, again, in terms of building capacity. The critical mass of dollars over a period of time, with accountability that stays there while the federal accountability numbers vary a little bit give us the flexibility to say keep a school in until they really get on their feet and can move there. And the consistency of funding in that as a principal and even again as a superintendent, I have said blasphemous things like less money that you could predict and count on for a three year period of time would be more effective than more money, then none, more money, then none. So it really applies at the school level. Tell a school you have got this much money for four years, get better and at the end of four years be ready to stand up, is probably better dollars spent.
So that all goes back to the kind of flexibility you are talking about.
Mr. Isakson. Now it is my privilege to introduce our fourth superintendent from the Sixth Congressional District, Dr. Frank Petruzielo of the Cherokee County System. Each of these gentlemen came to our communities from other previous experiences in public education, but Frank, I believe you are the newest new arrival coming last year to Cherokee County. And I want to tell you that his arrival in Cherokee County came at a time of real critical time in that public school system. They had gone through a lot of difficulties, he came here I believe from Fort Lauderdale, is that right?
Dr. Petruzielo. Yes, sir.
Mr. Isakson. Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
I have been in the Cherokee County Schools quite a bit by invitation over the last couple of years, either because of being the State Superintendent and now being on the Education Committee, and I can truly tell you that if leadership changes climates, the Cherokee County School System is the best example I have ever seen of a climate being changed from one of concern to one of great optimism on the part of parents and the Board of Education.
So you have many achievements in your vitae and in your reputation and in your past, but as far as I am concerned, the tremendous turn-around in attitude and perception and in reality in Cherokee deserves a tremendous amount of credit, and we welcome you today.
STATEMENT OF DR. FRANK R. PETRUZIELO, SUPERINTENDENT, CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOLS, CANTON, GEORGIA
Dr. Petruzielo. Thank you for those kind comments and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak today on issues that are fundamental to the reform and improvement of public education.
We know that Congressman Isakson provided excellent leadership in moving public education substantially forward in Georgia as Chairman of the State Board of Education, and when he became our representative in Washington, we were certain that additional positive steps would be taken at that level as well to continue forward momentum. Congressman Deal's commitment to education is equally well-known and appreciated.
Accordingly, I want to publicly thank both of you for holding this field hearing on federal programs that support local approaches to improved academic achievement, produce high-quality teachers and ensure school safety. This venue is an important element of the entrepreneurial momentum that you and your colleagues are creating and facilitating through responsible public policymaking.
The Cherokee County School District is attempting to exemplify this same spirit and commitment through implementation of a comprehensive Educational Accountability and School Improvement Policy recently approved by the Cherokee County Board of Education, which both supports and depends upon the provisions in these proposed laws. Our Accountability Policy raises the bar across the board for teachers, principals, support personnel and most critically for students. As a direct result, every school in Cherokee County now has a written School Improvement Plan with a clear mission and measurable goals based upon an annual needs assessment; expected student learning outcomes; strategies and time frames for improvement; a participatory decision-making model that directly involves principals, classroom teachers, parents and business partners; a comprehensive School Safety and Security Plan; a comprehensive School Technology Plan; and, in keeping with the Educational Flexibility Partnership Act, the opportunity to request waivers needed in existing local, state and/or federal rules, regulations and policies. Obviously we support removing barriers and excuses through waivers that permit greater flexibility at the campus level on budgeting, training, instructional materials, technology, staffing, student support services and other matters related to resource allocation.
Cherokee's school improvement methodology reflects the research on effective schools and participatory management, the need for significant parental involvement and high expectations for student achievement. Our entire curriculum is currently under revision to ensure that it is aligned with more rigorous student performance standards, critical course content and the essential knowledge that teachers must have to assist all students in mastering the content and the standards. Our teacher evaluations and performance planning and appraisal system for principals and other administrators have been linked to student achievement for the first time. And our School Board has established Major System Priorities that now guide decision-making at all levels of the organization.
We support and applaud this bill's expansion of the number of states that can apply for waivers; that will maximize opportunities for educational reform for students throughout the United States of America. Such waivers provide viable avenues for local schools and school systems to implement reform. Our local schools already have the authority under our accountability policy to request waivers of existing local School Board policies and Georgia Board of Education rules that in their view suppress innovation and impede student success. Similarly, the five year span in HR 800 allows for a reasonable time frame to produce and document results. In fact, the eventual target for policymakers at the state and federal levels should be to establish standards for schools to meet and to do away with most federal and state regulations that tell people exactly how they are going to meet them. Under that scenario, schools we be accountable for ensuring student mastery of established standards, recognizing that the time it takes to arrive at mastery and where kids start on the path to mastery will become variables rather than the essential knowledge or competency. It is likely in that situation that not only mastery, but also progress toward mastery will be the focus of policymakers when considering accountability. It is very easy to take a snapshot on test scores and to tell everybody where the kids currently are. It is a horse of a different color to say this is where the kids started and this is how far we have brought them along. And I think, unless you address both those accountability measures you can never have a truly fair objective accountability system or one that even is consistent with what happens in the private sector.
As you know, much of our state and local funding is being utilized to keep up with the burgeoning growth of our Cherokee County student population. For example, the documented gap between our facility needs and anticipated revenue over the next seven years is $250 million. We are not here today to talk about that little problem, but we could not resist the opportunity to mention that somehow, revenue streams are going to have to be established to address the burgeoning crisis in student population growth, particularly in high growth areas like the Atlanta metro area. When considering federal revenue, we currently receive Title I funds in the amount of $1,071,508, that is approximately one half of one percent of our current budget. But the expenditure of those dollars is clearly categorized and mandated. HR 800 will give us the flexibility to address Title I funding as a part of our local School Improvement Planning Process, while adhering to the appropriate federal guidelines. We think that makes sense and, as you continue to encourage and support educational reform, we ask that you also consider the advisability of making more federal grants competitive, rather than formula-driven.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts on this legislation. I would offer one cautionary note, while waivers are an excellent beginning and can encourage and facilitate creative problem-solving and initiation of desirable change at the school and district levels, they should not be viewed as the sum total of policy support that local school districts need from Congress. Waivers are exceptions to large numbers of rules. Local schools and school districts ultimately need the opportunity to start with a blank piece of paper, particularly if they are going to be able to compete on a level playing field with charter schools and other entities that do not have rules and are seeking public education dollars. To prepare our students to compete in an international economy, policymakers at all levels should be prepared to eliminate roadblocks and bureaucracy that are in the way. This legislation is a good beginning. And we thank you for your time and dedication to making the future of public education bright.
We also applaud the Teacher Empowerment Act. Any policy or initiative that allows for improved teacher creativity and effectiveness and funding flexibility based on increased accountability through measurable student achievement gains is highly consistent with the educational restructuring and reform measures that are underway in Cherokee County Schools.
The grant consolidation and streamlining called for in the Teacher Empowerment Act, of course, involves Title II of ESEA, Goals 2000 and the 100,000 New Teachers Program. These monies are already being used effectively in Cherokee County. Goals 2000 money has enabled us to purchase innovative materials and software geared toward the mastery of math objectives and to generate item analyses on standardized tests for proactive use by classroom teachers. Eisenhower Grant money is being used to provide our math and science teachers with researched-based professional development and training. Our local schools received and applied $56,000 in this regard toward site-based staff development for math and science teachers. Finally, the 100,000 New Teachers Program has funded five new classroom teachers, which has decreased student-teacher ratios. Although we have benefited significantly from this federal program funding, more local control of how these funds are spent can only improve student achievement and school effectiveness.
We are pleased to see that 95 percent of the funds being discussed in this bill will be distributed to local school districts and will find their way directly to the classroom. A major portion of this funding is used to provide our system with professional development and training focused on our School Board's top Major System Priority, which is increased student achievement and school effectiveness. In fact, as a part of our new accountability policy, each of our local school's School Improvement Plans must show how these federal grant funds will be used to enhance school improvement initiatives by increasing either the scope or the pace of educational reform on that campus.
As we earlier mentioned, Cherokee School Improvement Plans, which outline such specific components as baseline data, educational goals and objectives, indicators of student and school progress and strategies and evaluation procedures utilized to measure progress on addressing each goal are in place in each school. The goals support our district vision, beliefs and major system priorities. We believe these plans will enable the State Department of Education to verify that we are focused on the right stuff and are willing to be held accountable for our school improvement efforts.
Parallel programs in the area of tenure reform, teacher testing, merit-based teacher performance systems, alternative routes to teacher certification, differential and bonus pay for teachers in critical need subject areas, mentoring and in-service teacher programs are all part of the educational reform discussions and planning occurring at this time in the Cherokee County School System. For example, alternative routes to certification would expedite and enhance our ability to attract competent individuals into the education profession. The Troops-to-Teachers Program, which provides dutiful service people who have exceptional training, experience and leadership skills, is already benefiting our system by supplying us with a difficult-to-find Latin teacher. These types of programs need to be the rule, rather than the exception.
The teacher evaluation component of our Accountability Policy is also compatible with this proposed legislation. To insure progress in improving student achievement, all of our classroom teachers and other instructional personnel, including principals, now have a portion of their job evaluation based on the ongoing documentation of student achievement gains through standardized tests results, student portfolios and other demonstrations of knowledge and/or competency. These are fundamental accountability measures that should be in place throughout the nation.
This Act requires that local districts use a portion of their funds to provide teachers with high quality professional development. We believe that professional development must be a dynamic, ongoing and sustained comprehensive process with a focus not just on individual and organizational growth, but also on increased student achievement. As a part of our new Accountability Policy, all staff will have access to what we are calling results-driven professional development and training which is aligned with the School Board's Major System Priorities and School Improvement Plans. Such professional development and training must be standards-based, job-embedded, collaborative and must build an organizational culture that ensures continuous improvement.
Systemic partnerships are also one of the answers to the professional development challenge. Used creatively, school partnerships with local institutions of higher learning can be catalyst for providing high quality professional development. Cherokee's new model of systemic partnerships calls for a written agreement between the parties outlining existing relationships and detailing further avenues for reciprocal activities. Each such agreement must pass muster by defining how it will improve student achievement, increase school effectiveness and/or increase parental and community involvement through public engagement policies and practices. By establishing these partnerships, we are bringing additional resources, energy and commitment to bear on our primary goal of teaching and learning, and, by the way, we are avoiding institutional amnesia.
All professional development initiatives must be assessed for effectiveness in achieving district priorities to acquire the knowledge and skill they need to assist students in mastering objectives identified as critical course content in every elementary, middle and high school. Clearly, there must be alignment and a cyclical connection between high student performance standards, curriculum frameworks, essential teacher knowledge and a research-based staff development, which must be understood by educational policymakers at the local, state and federal levels.
Diagnosing student needs and warehousing of data in ways that makes it accessible and timely are paramount in order to support this cycle. Database information models are being created in Cherokee which enable teachers to access data and to report on students' individual needs and competencies in an effectively and timely manner. We are working hard to establish a Curriculum Development and Instructional Management System, including an Electronic Planning Tool for use by classroom teachers that links critical content (what students need to know) with essential knowledge (what teachers need to know) as part of our policy. Additionally, we are requesting local institutions of higher learning to work with us in developing a virtual clearinghouse information center for use by classroom teachers and principals, which will include continuously updated databases of available trainers, staff development resource materials, training facilities and research on effective teaching and learning practices.
We applaud the establishment of federal programs designed to train teachers to utilize technology in improving teaching and learning. There must be a shift from lab-use models to classroom computer use. Teachers must become more effective in integrating technology into the core curriculum and more comfortable in their own computer competence.
Reduction of class size is a critically needed undertaking as well that has been addressed by all the previous speakers.
In closing, we want to thank and congratulate again Congressmen Isakson and Deal for their contributions to education legislation and to tell them that we appreciate the positive differences that bills like the Teacher Empowerment Act will make in educational funding. We respectfully implore Congress to allow the funding provided in the Teacher Empowerment Act to flow to educators, school districts and communities with the most innovative ideas and the most responsible plans, rather than always using funding formulas that are based primarily on population and other non-competitive factors. Entrepreneurship should be rewarded with funding. Results achieved through entrepreneurship should be replicated and expanded.
[The statement of Dr. Petruzielo follows:]
STATEMENT OF DR. FRANK R. PETRUZIELO, SUPERINTENDENT, CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOLS, CANTON, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX D
Mr. Isakson. Thank you. And I cannot let the blank sheet of paper comment that you made pass. If I missed it, correct me, but I think in that reference what you were really saying is that if you are providing seven percent of the funding but 90 percent of the paperwork, you may be actually retarding the intent of the seven percent of the money; is that correct?
Dr. Petruzielo. I think that is part of it. I think the other part of it is if you think that the waiver approach is ultimately going to make the world safe for democracy and stimulate creativity with respect to problem solving and initiation of desirable change, you need to really understand that when you get a waiver that is this big and the rest of the rules continue to be this big, you are going to be very limited in terms of outcomes. I think what ultimately will spur the kinds of innovation that Congress and state policymakers and local boards want is the type that basically suggests that we rethink the way in which teaching and learning occurs, we rethink the way resources are allocated, we rethink the way we are staffed and how we approach the objective of all of our kids in meeting higher standards. And that is a different kind of thinking than the type where you have to accept all the rules except the few that you get waivers in. So I think it is both of those, Congressman.
Mr. Isakson. I think from what Dr. Benjamin said and really what all of you said, the rethinking might be take the risk of freeing the seven percent from massive rules and restrictions but its continuation depends on an assessment of the results.
Dr. Petruzielo. Yes, I think what that means is trusting local schools and local school districts to do the right thing. The debate earlier about unequal resources to meet unequal needs, there are probably very few people in this country that would argue with that concept. We know there are kids that need more help than others, they are starting behind the eight ball and are going to need as much help as you can give them in order to get to a level playing field. I think what needs to happen increasingly is the federal government and the state government needs to trust local school districts and local schools to recognize that and to use revenue wisely. And their judgment is going to be pretty much the same that your judgment will be, and they are not going to ignore kids that are generating revenue and basically spend it on other kids that already are advantaged.
Mr. Isakson. I want to thank all four of you for taking what I know is valuable time out of your day to be here. And before we switch to the next panel, I want to do an appropriate introduction of my colleague.
You know when you go to Congress, it is a confusing state but it is really confusing when you are elected in a special election and you are the only new guy. What happens is everybody there knows you and more about you than you would ever want to know and you do not know anybody. But I fortunately have known Congressman Deal since we served together in the Georgia legislature. I believe he was elected to Congress in 1992, is that correct?
Mr. Deal. Yes.
Mr. Isakson. He is truly a genuine gentleman in every sense of the word, a very diligent worker and someone that I depend on very, very much in the Education Committee and through his work on the Commerce Committee in the Congress. He is a great representative of Georgia and I am very proud that he is sharing this today and we are proud that you are here and I want to recognize you to say whatever you want to say.
Mr. Deal. Well, thank you, Johnny, for that very kind introduction. And let me apologize, first of all, for being a little bit late. In addition to fighting the proverbial I-85 traffic getting down to an earlier meeting that I had this morning that complicated my ability to get here when you started, but I appreciate the comments that I heard.
Let me first of all say to you how pleased I am to have Johnny Isakson, not only as a member of our Georgia delegation, but in particular as a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, on which both of us serve. He obviously, from his background and experience, brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and I think everyone on the Committee has been very impressed with that knowledge and he does an excellent job. And I want to thank you, Johnny, for chairing and hosting this field hearing today. I think it is very important that we hear from our constituency.
Of course, Johnny and I do share Cherokee County. It is the only divided county that I have in the Ninth Congressional District, but the two of us do, in our respective capacities, represent Cherokee County. And I represent 19 other counties across the northern part of this state.
As somebody who grew up in a household in which the only income was that of two public school teachers for my entire growing up years, I understand from a very fundamental basis what educators and those who endeavor to devote their lives to the process of educating children go through. And as the husband of a wife who right now is teaching sixth grade middle school in North Hall Middle School, I continue to have that daily input as to what it means and the challenges that educators face on an ongoing basis to make education meaningful and productive.
As a cosponsor of both the Ed Flex bill that now has become law and as an additional cosponsor of the Teacher Empowerment Act, I think the comments that I have heard you make are certainly consistent with the point of view that Johnny and I share on those, what I think are, very far-reaching efforts to rethink what the federal government's role is in education. As you very clearly pointed out, we are beginning that departure from a very tunnel type vision of mandating with maybe overly restrictive rules and regulations to a much more flexible approach; and I think the success of that in large part is going to be measured by how well local school districts use that flexibility to show the results at the end of the process. And I think all of you have certainly demonstrated a willingness to be held accountable for that. And I think that is the core issue in terms of flexibility, must be linked with accountability and I do not think anybody is backing off of that.
I think I too understand that it takes good superintendents like you, it takes good educators at the school level in terms of principals, vice principals and it especially takes good people in the classroom who are teachers, and those are the individuals who really are the key to learning. We can account for a lot of other variables that go on, but I think if we have the right kind of people in all of these key slots, that makes a great difference as to what results are going to be.
I realize that our hearing today is confined to some very specific areas, but one of the areas that I have been concerned with over the years is the teacher preparation for those who are being sent out of the colleges of education. I think for a very long time, as I was dating my wife and she was getting her master's in elementary education, and as I had looked at the courses that she took over those years, there many times seemed to be a delinking between what was being taught from the colleges of education and what teachers were expected to do once they got in the classroom. And that is an area that I have continued to say we need to take a closer look at. I think I am encouraged in the last few years to see that the colleges of education are becoming a little more responsive to trying to make sure that they talk to you and they talk to the classroom teachers and that what they are preparing new teachers to do is actually what they are going to be expected to do. Obviously there is always going to be the sticker shock, so to speak, once you actually get in the classroom, but I think we are doing a much better job and I am encouraged in that direction. I think that is something we have to continue to emphasize because everybody in the process is a part of the loop and nobody can be out of sync in this process.
Thank you, Johnny, for once again hosting this and allowing me to be with you. This is a very impressive panel and I look forward to the next one.
Mr. Isakson. Thank you, Nathan, and let me express the Committee's appreciation as well as Congressman Deal's and myself to the four great superintendents for being here today. I have to tell you my distinguished staff member leaned over to me about halfway through Frank's testimony and said these guys are dynamite, we need to get them to Washington, so we just might get you an invitation to spread that word.
But thank you for what you are doing and thank you for being here.
We are going to take about a five minute break primarily for the benefit of this diligent gentleman down here who is taking all of this down, and anybody else. And then we are going to have a second panel that I am very much looking forward to. We are going to have some students and some other people involved in school safety to tell us what they think about the environment in our public schools and what we can do. And I am anxiously awaiting them being here. I know a couple of them better than I really realized I was going to know them until I found out how lucky we were to have them, and it is going to be an exciting time.
So let us take five minutes and come right back and we will change our panel.
Mr. Isakson. Before I introduce the panel and their testimony, I would like to ask Sandy Morris to stand up. Outside you will see a red display. I met this lovely lady I guess three weeks ago, maybe four weeks ago, and invited her to come today because of her work at the YMCA to get folks together to talk about issues of violence. It just is a tremendous program in the YMCA and I want to encourage you to look at the display outside. If you get a chance after the program is over and you would like to talk, I know Sandy will be here to talk to you about it. It is a very meaningful way in our community to deal with an issue that obviously has become far too pervasive and I personally am very appreciative of the role they have taken to try and bring people together and find ways that hostilities can be vented other than some of the terrible things that we experience from time to time in our society. Sandy, we are glad you are here.
As all of you know, in the past couple of years, we have had unfortunate incidents in our schools, tremendous amount of tension. Congressman Deal will tell you and I will tell you that this year's debate on the Juvenile Justice bill on the amendments that were referred to with regard to violence in schools were some of the most dramatic debates you could possibly imagine and the tragedies that had taken place that were fresh on our minds were pervasive in the search for ideas of something we could do to help, because all of us want the safest and best environment possible for our children. And I think -- I do not know if Nathan would agree with me or not -- but after going through all of it, you realize there is not one answer, there are thousands of answers, from everything like what is being done at study circles to any number of programs, as well as a number of innovations that I happened to be familiar with in these four fine school systems that are working hard to ensure that we have a quality environment and a safe environment.
But I thought it would be appropriate that we heard from our customers, the people that live and learn in our schools, who are going through the most important period of time in their lives and are bright, bright, bright folks that we are very proud of that go to the public schools in the Sixth District of Georgia. There is one student there that is a little older than the others -- I do not want to introduce everybody else and let you think that he has been held over so long, he cannot get out.
Mr. Isakson. And I am going to let him testify first and then we are going to hear from our stars. And what we would like to do is if you can keep your testimony in the range of seven to eight minutes, something like that, it will help us, and Nathan and I may have some questions as we go along.
But it is really a pleasure, first of all, to introduce the Chief of Police for the Cherokee County Public School System, Mr. Mark Kissel. We are glad you are here today and we welcome you to give us testimony.
STATEMENT OF MR. MARK KISSEL, CHIEF OF POLICE, CHEROKEE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, CANTON, GEORGIA
Mr. Kissel. Thank you, Mr. Isakson and Mr. Deal, for allowing me this opportunity to provide this testimony.
I would like to begin by saying that schools are a reflection of society. They are in essence a microcosm of the community. The behaviors displayed by students in the school will be a representation of the attitudes, values, ethics and morals existing within the community the school serves. We do not view the world as our parents did and the students in school today do not view it as we do. We are a society of order, but at the same time, we are also a free society. And the real challenge facing school police departments or security units today is establishing a balance between the two.
Schools must be a place where a student can go to pursue learning and express themselves in healthy and productive ways. It must also be an environment where they may learn and teachers and others who assist them in learning may do so safely and without fear of danger. Most schools in existence today were built without much consideration for security issues, and physical examinations, like those we most recently conducted in Cherokee County, will reveal security shortcomings.
In 1982, a criminologist named James Q. Wilson published his now famous paper entitled "Broken Windows." He presented a theory that crime sprouts in disorderly environments plagued by broken windows, graffiti and similar disruptions because the criminal gets the message that no one cares what happens. I think it can be easily rationalized that violence can occur in schools where minor infractions of school policy are ignored and where school facilities are improperly maintained. The minor issues are often addressed by applying technology through the installation of cameras, metal detectors, enhancing locks on exterior doors, using walkie-talkies and installing telephones in classrooms. Unfortunately, taking those steps alone produces limited results. For educators, the issue of school safety and discipline goes much farther than the concern for students' and staff members' physical safety, as even the fear of violence can have a serious and detrimental consequence on the learning environment.
The issues of school safety and school discipline are primarily a state and local concern, although the federal government has an important role to play in providing assistance to states and districts to implement effective prevention policies and programs. It is possible that such strategies as smaller class size and school size, revamping older buildings, replacing antiquated systems, increasing availability of counselors, character education and other proactive interventions such as peer mediation and conflict resolution training will improve the school environment and help to prevent trouble.
Recent legislation in Congress, such as the Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 1999 and provisions within the Educational Flexibility Partnership Act of 1999, regarding the possession of weapons at school or on school premises help to make our nation's classrooms one of the safest places for our students to be. Zero tolerance policies have existed in many states for a number of years and have resulted in numerous expulsions for possessing firearms or other weapons at school. I believe it is important to remember that other alternatives to expulsion must be available because simply removing the student from school merely shifts the problem of youth violence to the surrounding community and its streets. We must ask ourselves, "Is what we do in the best interest of the child?"
As Chief of Police of the Cherokee County School System, I believe that person-to-person community policing initiatives is more effective than all the buzzers, bells and whistles that money can buy. I do not want to see our schools made to look like airports, where students have to show up two hours before school starts. I want our officers -- and I believe my counterparts in other systems want our officers -- to find weapons by word of mouth and by knowing what is going on in the school. Law enforcement presence on school properties is often viewed as an admission or acknowledgement that school officials cannot maintain order on their own. The reality is that schools cannot do it alone and new partnerships must be forged with parents, members of the business community and other family/youth related intervention agencies.
Efforts to address school violence should focus on early intervention programs and opening lines of communication among the stakeholders. It is common knowledge that on all of the national tragedies related to school violence, someone knew something about what the students were planning, but did not share that with school police or other local officials. Providing assistance to state and local school districts to create programs for parents, school officials and others to build on what kids are saying, how they are saying it, and how they are acting is vitally important.
There is no one answer for providing a safe school environment, but I can assure you that good school security is based upon trust, and not upon hardware.
Thank you for your time.
[The statement of Mr. Kissel follows:]
STATEMENT OF MR. MARK KISSEL, CHIEF OF POLICE, CHEROKEE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, CANTON, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX E
Mr. Isakson. Thank you, Chief. Nathan, do you have any questions?
Mr. Deal. I do not believe so.
Mr. Isakson. I just want to make a comment. Your broken windows analogy, finally the light bulb went off. I know there have been some accounts reported in the past couple of years in a number of our systems where the system's enforcement of zero policy either with regard to finding a bottle of wine or finding a pocket knife or something else was criticized as carrying it too far, but I think the broken windows analogy reinforces the fact that the more leeway you give, even on the least consequential thing, if it falls in the category of being an instrument of violence or in the case of alcohol or drugs, just opens the door to encourage some. I think that is what you were saying.
Mr. Kissel. Yes, sir, that is correct.
Mr. Isakson. The problems just get worse. That was an excellent analogy and I appreciate it. And I appreciate what you do.
Mr. Kissel. Thank you.
Mr. Isakson. I am going to introduce each of the next four students in a different way. I am going to introduce them by name and then I am going to let them tell us before they make their remarks just a little bit about themselves. We want to know where they go to school and what their interest is in terms of study and future down the road for continuing education. So just a few brief remarks about where you go to school and what your goals are and then any comments that you might have.
First, it is my pleasure to introduce Christopher Sailor. Christopher, we are glad you are here today and the floor is yours.
STATEMENT OF MR. CHRISTIAN L. SAILOR, STUDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA
Mr. Sailor. Good morning. As Mr. Isakson said, my name is Christian Sailor, I am a student at Berkmar High School, I am a senior there in Gwinnett County.
I am pretty interested right now in studying music, I am in the band at Berkmar; and computers. I am a member of the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, which is a team of 30 people from the entire county, two from each school, and we just learn about leadership there. I am also involved in peer mediation, I am the president of the computer club at my school and am involved in the Boy Scouts. I would like to go to Georgia Tech or MIT to study computer engineering, maybe computer science, I have not really decided yet.
I have a few remarks prepared about school, how safe I feel the school is. I feel safe and secure in the Gwinnett County Public Schools. There has been an outcry about the safety and security in public schools, especially after the Columbine and the Heritage High School shootings, but I feel safe because I belong to a school system that emphasized safety long before it became such a talked about issue.
In 1995, a renewed emphasis on safety became a priority item in our school district. Because we were ahead of the curve, we have not been forced to shift our energy away from our primary aim, which has been teaching and learning. We have developed sensible safety measures and an attitude that does not tolerate any threats to education of our students.
It is important to me that people not believe one or two terrible incidents make the schools unsafe. Sometimes I feel like the anxiety about safety gets more attention than the actual facts. For instance, would you believe that 99.9 percent of our students never brought a weapon on campus? Or how about this, 93 percent of Gwinnett County students are never referred for disciplinary problems outside the classrooms. When a shooting spree happens at a high school one day but then happens at a post office or a fast food restaurant one week later, it says to me, we have a problem with people and guns, and not violence in schools.
My biggest headaches come from friends who blow spitballs or talk too much in class, not from students who bring guns or knives to school. Our schools have not become prisons and I am glad about it. I feel like professionals who work with data should plan our safety agenda; not news media or public worry.
Consider this before I conclude my remarks:
Each of our schools has a crisis management team that is trained to respond and intervene and to prevent violent incidents. Additionally, I am part of that team this year, a peer mediator, which does that; we try to intervene before any violence starts.
Every school has a safety plan to protect its students.
Gwinnett County schools work with community partners, including local law enforcement, juvenile justice system and the emergency response agencies to make sure our schools are safe places to teach and learn.
We have a safety program that I can understand and I see the system refining it constantly. I feel safe enough at school to take my mind off safety and to concentrate on learning.
[The statement of Mr. Sailor follows:]
STATEMENT OF MR. CHRISTIAN L. SAILOR, STUDENT, GWINNETT COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX F
Mr. Isakson. Christian, thank you. Let me ask you a question. The Chief made an observation that the communication line between someone who knew or might suspect there was to be a problem and the appropriate authority was not as good as it should be, meaning students communicating to the proper administrator that they know about, or think there may be a problem.
Tell us about the Gwinnett schools, you have talked about your mediation and peer review, that sort of thing. Do you think for that one percent or one-tenth of one percent where there might be a tendency for misbehavior or violence, do you think the communication line from other students to let the administration now is good, or have you all done anything to try and make that flow of information good?
Mr. Sailor. Well, the peer mediators, we do not really try and find out specifically if there is a weapon on campus involved. What we do is when there is a conflict between two students, before we take them to an administrator, or say they are taken to an administrator, they will be taken to us and we will try and resolve the conflict. Now we tell them this up front, if we do hear of anything, any more possible violence or drugs or weapons, we do tell the administrator right then, no questions asked. So if we hear of anything, the administrators find out immediately. But that is not our primary goal, our goal is to stop any violence before it happens or if there is an argument, a teacher sees some violence about to occur, tension building, our job is to stop it before it even gets to that level. And like I said, if we do find out it has gotten to that level where there is a weapon on campus, we do immediately communicate that to an administrator.
Mr. Deal. How effective do you think that program has been in terms of actually preventing further violence or outbreaks?
Mr. Sailor. Oh, it is very effective. Before I was actually a member, I went through the program before because I had a problem--
Mr. Deal. Now we get to the truth.
Mr. Sailor. We sat down, talked it out, you know, it was a misunderstanding between me and my locker partner about him leaving the locker open. So the program I know first-hand is very effective.
Mr. Deal. Good, thank you.
Mr. Isakson. Thanks a lot, Christian.
Our next panelist, who I also want to tell a little bit about his background, where he goes to school and what his goals are -- but by no plan, I was talking to Dr. Benjamin one day on the phone and telling him that in addition to the testimony on Ed Flex and on Teacher Enhancement, that we really wanted to get some input from students on school safety, and he said well let me look through our system and he said we have got this one student, and he went on to brag about in terms of his input and what he had done. And a couple of days later, as it turns out, I had taught him in Sunday School when he was in the sixth grade, so I had to editorialize a little bit. Chris Mardis is a great kid that I know a lot about and we are very proud of him. He is a tremendous young man, he is a student at Pope High School, and Chris, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you want to do.
STATEMENT OF MR. CHRIS MARDIS, STUDENT, COBB COUNTY SCHOOLS, MARIETTA, GEORGIA
Mr. Mardis. Thank you, Mr. Isakson and Congressman Deal, for the opportunity to come out here and basically share my opinion.
Like Mr. Isakson said, my name is Chris Mardis, I am a senior at Pope High School in Cobb County. I am the president of the student body and club coordinator for our leadership club there. I am very interested in leadership as well as technology and I hope to go on to Georgia Tech and either major in computer engineering or science, but that might not turn out. I guess we will see when we get there.
But forgive me for not having testimony prepared, I do have some notes though that I would like to refer to as I talk.
As far as violence in school goes, it is not based on whether the students bring guns or weapons to school because in Cobb County, I have not first-hand seen that personally at all. The issue is not violence, more to me it is kindness. A lot of the students at Pope High School, the majority of the students are extremely kind and willing to talk to anybody if they have something to talk about. But my one question is where is kindness lost.
Somewhere along the line of these kids' lives, their kindness dwindles away. Children are intuitively kind with their innocence, but somehow, they are taught to be rude and arrogant. I do not know where that comes from, I do not know whether it is the apathy of their parents or the ignorance of the student themselves.
All I can do is encourage parents to become more involved in their students' lives, and the students to care themselves, to want to make a difference. I know that I would rather have a friend who has some common sense but does not have a job or many material goods. I would rather have one of those friends than ten intellectual and prideful acquaintances.
Ethics and morals definitely plays into the issue of kindness because I think ethics and morals is, to an extent, intuitive in humans. This is arguable, whether it is intuitive or whether they accepted it from the adults that are active in their lives or from the religion that they participate in. All aspects of those are very important though. I think the intuitive side plays an important contribution as well as the adults. But especially I have experienced a lot of growth from my religion. I know that is where I get a lot of ethics and morals and a basis of what is right and wrong.
And as far as discipline goes, I know that administrative discipline is not for the students who are good and I want to remind you that the definition of good has been slaughtered by mankind over the years. But administrative discipline is for those who are misled. We do have a zero tolerance program or campaign in Cobb County Schools. Zero tolerance does not eliminate compassion. The compassion is there. I can go up to any teacher in Pope High School and if I wanted to talk to them, they would sit down and listen to what I have to say. I am confident about that, there are so many teachers that I am very close to that I could just talk to them about anything, just about.
Zero tolerance is there for the consequences, to make sure that kids know what the consequences are of their actions. If a kid does something wrong the first time and nothing happens, all that does is plant a seed in their mind that they can do it again and nothing will happen again. It needs to be established right from the beginning that discipline is necessary for children to understand the ethics of right and wrong and hopefully apply them to their own lives.
Just like Mr. Sailor commented on where his headaches come from, mine come from conflict. If somebody is not kind to me, I am the kind of person who dwells on that and I just do not understand why they cannot have the_where along the lines they lost their understanding of kindness. And I could only hope that they would_next time that I see them, that my kindness might rub off on them and they might actually want to be nice back.
Some people try and solve it one way or another. I know Dr. Benjamin and I talked about a dress code, a uniform, and as far as that is concerned, I know I can tell you and you probably can assume that students would not like something like that, but tightening constraints and regulations trying to grip your hands around somebody's neck a little bit tighter is not going to make them struggle less. The more freedom that you give a child, the more responsibility that you give a child, the more that they will understand the ethics of life and they can apply them to their own life, especially with responsibility.
As far as what I have to say, that is pretty much it, but I appreciate the opportunity to come here and speak on behalf of Cobb County schools and the students there, and I would be happy to answer any questions either now or afterwards.
Mr. Isakson. Chris, I have one. When you referred to kindness, I am familiar because it is in the newspaper every week and it is in front of every school in the county when I ride around, the character education program that the Cobb School System has going on and they have a character word of the week or the month and I know one month it was kindness, because I remember seeing it so many times around the county. And I want to ask you for a second on that subject of kindness. In the high school environment, is the character ed program in the high school environment in the county, and if it is, tell me how it is applied or how it is used, particularly maybe through student government or your activities.
Mr. Mardis. The most notable part of the character education program in the high school would be the application of the word of the month and the word of the week. On the announcements every Monday, we announce the word of the month and the word of the week and give a definition of the word of the week. These words all apply to character and trying to educate children about that character.
As I talked to Dr. Benjamin some more, he said that it was more successful in the elementary and middle school regions, but as far as high school is concerned, it is more up to the students as far as character goes and there is less involvement of character education in the high school. I would like to see more personally, but we have a program at Pope High School, the Renaissance Program, which promotes excelling academically and going beyond excellence. Our Pope PTSA is very active and very helpful in just about every area of the student body's life. Their theme for this year is visions beyond excellence. I think that is something that we can aspire to, because if we go beyond excellence -- if we aspire to excellence, we will only get a certain amount of the way that we want to get, but if we aspire to even beyond excellence, like we want our school to be perfect, then there are so many other places to improve, so many other aspects that we can work more and harder in just trying to improve, and I like that theme. But as far as character education, it is mainly the word of the month and the week but I would like to see some more involvement there.
Mr. Deal. Chris, you and Mr. Kissel both have alluded to something I think we sometimes overlook and it is in keeping with the cracked windows theory, and that is that if we have rules there ought to be consequences for the violation of the rules at every level, and that we all have to set the right examples. As I told you, my wife is a middle school teacher and one of her pet peeves is the fact that their school had a rule of no chewing gum and yet some teachers would chew chewing gum, some teachers would even pass out chewing gum to their students as a way to keep them pacified. That certainly sends the wrong message, teachers ought to be the ones abiding by the rules. And for teachers to habitually park in no parking spaces in front of the school with students walking by seeing that the teacher has no regard for what the rules are, I think sends the wrong message. So I think we all have to be very careful that we set the right examples. And I appreciate the fact that you young folks are setting the right examples. I think that means a lot in terms of your peers and their respect for what the rules are.
Mr. Mardis. Thank you.
Mr. Isakson. Thank you, Nathan.
Now we go to the beauty of the panel. We have got two lovely ladies here to testify and I want you all to be sure and give us a little background on where you go to school, what you are studying, what you want to do too, and our first one to testify is Marlana Kearns. Marlana.
STATEMENT OF MS. MARLANA KEARNS, STUDENT ADVISOR TO CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, CHEROKEE HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR, CANTON, GEORGIA
Ms. Kearns. Good morning and thank you for having us here. I am more than delighted to be here.
I am Marlana Kearns and I am a senior at Cherokee High School and I have been class president for four years and I have been vice president of the student body for two years and vice president of National Honor Society. I am also a peer mediator that deals with peer conflicts and try to solve those. And I really am glad to be here. And I hope to attend Georgia Tech or Emory in the future. If I go to Georgia Tech, I want to major in biomedical engineering, or if I go to Emory, I want to pursue a medical career being a pediatrician or orthopedic. So those are my future goals.
Now I understand that safety and security in schools is a popular question these days and it is asked across the United States. And the way I see it is we should be prepared for anything that should happen, we should be prepared for the inevitable basically because we do not want to look back and say what could we have done, what if we would have had police officers, what if we would have been prepared. I know from my high school, it does not seem like it could be a problem in the future, but I am sure Columbine and Heritage High School did not see it as being a problem either.
So I would like to be prepared for incidents to happen, but I do not believe in metal detectors. That is one of the issues I was concerned with. I believe it to be an extreme hassle and we do not want the kids to have to get to school earlier than they have to. Already they come in groggy and sleepy eyed, so I believe if we had metal detectors, they would have to come to school earlier and then we would have to have more people to arm or manpower these machines or whatever you want to call them.
And already in our county, police officers are really scarce in our schools. We have approximately one police officer per school and those police officers float around to other schools. That means at any given time at say my high school, there could be not a police officer on duty. And this really worries me, because I feel like we should have at least one per school, armed or at least trained properly.
Now whether or not this police officer should be armed is another issue. I believe that he or she should be professionally trained and armed and ready for anything that could happen. If a situation ever arose of a threat from the inside of the school by a student or a teacher or from an opposing outside figure, then our police officers should be ready for anything. So yes, I believe that our officer should be armed in the schools, whether with a firearm or a baton.
That is pretty much all I have to say.
[The statement of Ms. Kearns follows:]
STATEMENT OF MS. MARLANA KEARNS, STUDENT ADVISOR TO CHEROKEE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, CHEROKEE HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR, CANTON, GEORGIA – SEE APPENDIX G
Mr. Isakson. Nathan, do you have questions?
Mr. Deal. No, I do not. Thank you for being here.
Mr. Isakson. Thank you. It is interesting you brought up the being armed. I was asked, I guess it was Monday evening, approached by parents who were concerned that a particular school system had (a) put an officer in each school and (b) that that officer was armed. My response, which then was just off the top of my head, was that I would think a student would expect -- getting back to the consequences question that Nathan raised -- that an officer, a law enforcement officer, if they were in the school would be armed, and I did not think -- we in our society deal with that as adults. I did not think it would be something offensive to the kids who wanted safety, and I assume you are saying that is true. Do you agree with that, Christian?
Mr. Sailor. Yes.
Mr. Isakson. Well, thank you for that input, and thank you for the input on the metal detectors because aside from the -- I do not know about the groggy eyed and sleepy, although I have seen a lot of that, I do think the question of manpower -- I do not think Ed Flex created enough money -- judging from the airports I go through -- to have the number of employees that would be necessary for the number of doors to operate them. But I think what our Chief has said and what you have said, each of you have said, about higher standards, expectations and consequences will be the best thing that we can do on that subject.
Our last, but I will tell you she is not least by any stretch of your imagination. It is a real pleasure for me to introduce Jacqueline Buckner, who is from the Fulton County Schools, who will tell you a little bit about where she has been, where she is going and what she wants to be and her thoughts on safety. Jacqueline.
STATEMENT OF MS. JACQUELINE BUCKNER, STUDENT, FULTON COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Ms. Buckner. Good morning, thank you. I am a senior at this lovely Centennial High School. I have been in the beautiful state of Georgia for five months and I love it. The people are wonderful down here, I have had a great experience so far.
A little bit about myself. I have not gotten a chance to establish myself as well as the rest of the panel up here. I have been to three different high schools in three years. I started off at Columbine High School as a freshman. My sophomore year I was at Overland High School and that was up through about most of my junior year and I arrived here on March 25, 1999. It has been great so far.
I am here to offer a comparison. I went to Columbine High School and some of the media has done a great job of covering it and everything and sometimes a little bit too great of a job. But they left out some pretty important things that could be useful to the rest of the high schools. Nowhere thus far have I seen in this state a high school really very closely related to Columbine. Columbine High School -- what the media would not tell you is that when I was attending there, there was about nine black students in the school and the rest of the minorities were almost non-existent, there were handfuls here and there. The mascot was the Columbine Rebel and when you enter the gymnasium, straight in front of you, you see this huge mural of a Confederate soldier, his clothing is torn and there is like a battle scene behind him and in his left hand he is holding a Confederate flag. It is a rather disturbing thing for me to see every day when I am attending high school. And when I told my father I did not want to go there any more, he asked me why and I gave him many reasons and I left. It is really disturbing to look back now, to look in my yearbook and see my friends and then to turn on the news on April 20 and see my friends that I went to middle school with running and screaming from this high school that we all thought was so safe. No one ever saw any of this coming and we do not see it here coming. But the difference between Columbine High School and the high schools out here are just very different.
There was a major panic I know right after all of this happened. We had bomb threats at this high school, teachers were very paranoid and they did have just cause to be. They locked classroom doors and we were not allowed to go to the bathroom unless it was during a passing period. This year, I can understand, we are not allowed to carry back packs, we have a very strict dress code and it makes the teachers feel safer and I believe that that is like the most important thing. If the individual feels safer, then it will turn into a safer place. It is kind of like it spreads from like from within to without.
As far as school violence goes, I do disagree with Mr. Sailor when he said that it is not really a major issue. I think it is because the difference between a high school shooting and a shooting that happened over in Buckhead with a grown man is the fact that children and students are committing crimes like against each other, which is very disturbing. Because if we cannot like invest our future in our students and our high school people who are growing up, I do not know where exactly our future is going to be.
I am sorry, I just found out about this yesterday and I am trying to collect my thoughts now. There are many different things that people do not know about like the area in general. What impressed me so much about the state of Georgia is this whole southern hospitality, I mean you can feel it everywhere you go. Colorado is different, most of the people out there have a lot of money and they show it. Pictures of like the high schools, if you saw the student parking lot, I mean students driving Lexuses and Mercedes and all sorts of really nice cars. The attitudes are very different. There is a rather -- I do not know, I guess you could say stuck up type attitude out there. It is always I am better than you are, not let me help you become a better person.
I had racial problems in the school and that is one of the reasons why I left. One of the neighborhood newspapers around Christmas time of 1997 or 1996, one of those years, they issued out this comic, or they thought it was funny, it was three Klansmen standing around a Christmas tree singing ``I am dreaming of a white Christmas.'' The school did an article on this, you know, asking why are we doing this to each other. It threw me for a loop and I took it to my father and he did what he could possibly do to get me out of there.
Whenever you have problems like that, whenever there is racial tension and -- whenever you have problems like that, it will flow over into something more, but we never did see anything like this coming. I remember walking down the hallway seeing people, looking them in the eyes saying nothing is ever going to happen, it is like one of the safest places to be. Things change. People grow and things are different.
I feel very safe here, the people are wonderful. The teachers do their best to make sure that everyone feels accepted and I do agree with the dress code and the no back pack rule. It makes everyone else feel safer, I believe that that is what it should be.
I really do not have much more to say but if you have any questions.
Mr. Isakson. You have raised a couple of good questions and I want to just run down the panel, I would kind of like to know the answer to this. I do not know about Nathan, but on the dress code and the back packs, there has been a lot in the paper about that. What do you all do in Gwinnett, Christian? Are you allowed back packs?
Mr. Sailor. As of Monday of last week, we are no longer allowed back packs to be carried. You can carry them to school and they go in your locker before the bell for the first class rings. We do not have a dress code. I have not heard any plans of a dress code being implemented right now.
Mr. Isakson. And you were for one, if I remember -- did you not say uniforms, I guess it was.
Mr. Sailor. I think that was Chris.
Mr. Isakson. Oh, that was Chris, I am sorry, I apologize.
Mr. Sailor. Can I say something else?
Mr. Isakson. Yes, please.
Mr. Sailor. My comment about the school violence and that being an issue. I was not trying to say that is not an issue. My comment is that when you have violence in an area as diverse as a school, then another school, then maybe a post office, then an office building, that we are having a problem with the entire community and not only school violence. School violence is an issue, but it is not the whole picture, I believe it is the entire community issue. I am not trying to belittle school violence or anything.
Ms. Buckner. I understand.
Mr. Isakson. Yes, I took it that way and I think it kind of falls into what the Police Chief said, you know, again going back to the broken windows, if you are seeing violence in the adult society and it goes from the places you might have expected it to all of a sudden being in the better neighborhoods and all that sort to thing, then the next natural thing, if that tolerance level goes up, if you will, is that it will get in the schools. I understood that point, I think you made it very well.
I know how you feel about uniforms. What about back packs in Cobb County, Chris?
Mr. Mardis. As far as back packs go, I feel the same way that I do about uniforms. I think that they should both not be enforced. I think the kids should be able to carry around the book bags, not only for convenience reasons but also for reasons of letting the kids have freedom. Like I said, I do not feel like tightening the grip around someone's neck is going to make them struggle less.
As you know, teenagers can have an attitude, and I know that it becomes an issue when teenagers do not like something. I can guarantee that they are not going to like -- the majority, that is, are not going to like not being able to carry around their book bags or having to wear a dress code. That will, I think, in turn lower morale of the student body as well as negate some of the positive attitudes of some of the students in the population. I just think that they will form a negative attitude about the school trying to be a prison, trying to mandate the responsibilities that the students have to have rather than letting the students take on their own responsibilities, which I think is very important.
I do not think that it is necessary. I can see the justification for uniforms and back packs, but I think it kind of goes along with the -- you can make an analogy with economic systems, with Communism or something, people -- their rights are limited as far as their economic freedom is concerned. Everything is decided for them. In a capitalism or market, the kids can be -- people can decide for themselves. The responsibility is in their own hands, their own character is formed by the decisions and the mistakes that they make.
And I think that anybody here would agree that they would rather live here in the U.S. in this type of economy rather than in another country with more of a command economy, because of the freedom of choice that we have, both economically and physically. And I think that is the principle that applies to uniforms and bags. The kids should be allowed the choice, they will appreciate the choice, they do appreciate the choice.
But I think if uniforms and no book bags are part of the school, then I think that it is very possible to have a school that is fine with that. And it might be kind of weird for them to switch to being able to use book bags and being able to wear whatever they want, that might be a little weird for some students, but as far as instituting uniforms and bags on schools that do not have those regulations, I really do not think that it is necessary.
Mr. Isakson. Marlana, does Cherokee have a book bag policy or a dress code policy?
Ms. Kearns. Slightly. Like our high school is strict in the fact of skimpiness, like spaghetti straps and midriffs and stuff like that, and say hats and bandannas, but I really do not feel like it is that strict on us. And I know that one of the schools in our county, Sequoyah High School, they have done the book bag policy, you know, no book bags. And girls have to carry clear pocketbooks or something to that effect.
And I really do not feel very strongly about it. I do not think that_I think it is more of a security measure like everyone feels more secure knowing that no one has back packs and everybody_you can see what everyone has, like there is nothing to hide. And I feel like you should be able to carry what you want to and not have to worry about it.
And on the issue of dress code, I do not feel very strongly about having a uniform or dress code, because I feel like a person can express their own personality and characteristics by the way they dress. Not saying that they should be absurd or loud in how they dress, but just that kind of reflects who they are.
And I guess that is all.
Mr. Isakson. I think all of you on the dress code have been referring more to the uniform than the word dress code, because I know Cobb and Cherokee have a dress code -- because I have seen skirts and also as the father of a daughter and two sons, I like that thing about no spaghetti straps and all that stuff.
Mr. Isakson. That is a good rule, I want to tell you that, I am all for that. But the uniform question -- Nathan, did you have any questions?
Mr. Deal. I have got one if you do not mind.
Mr. Isakson. Sure.
Mr. Deal. As the father of three daughters, I recall incidents where when you measure how far above or below the knee a skirt would come, I had one daughter with very long legs borrowed her sister's skirt one day and what was acceptable for her sister did not quite measure up for her and she got sent home.
Mr. Deal. So that can be an interesting problem with dress codes.
At the risk of opening this up far beyond the scope of what we may have intended here, but as Johnny indicated, we got into a very interesting debate on the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, and one of those discussions revolved around a very delicate issue that encompasses First Amendment Constitutional rights, but it is, in the minds of many people, a factor that influences or potentially could influence teen age or youth violence. That is, and I would like to see briefly what your opinions might be as to whether you think these are areas of concern for us.
It involved violent video games, violence on television, violence in the movies and the general atmosphere of outside influences that promote or perhaps portray as acceptable very violent conduct. Do you think that is a factor that we should be concerned about as we deal with this concept of school violence?
Mr. Isakson. And keep your answers kind of brief because I know Congressman Deal has a 12:00 speech. So on the videos, on the games, on the movies and the rap music--
Mr. Deal. Yeah, music.
Mr. Isakson. --was in there too, tell us what its effect is.
Mr. Sailor. Well, I am aware that there is a rating system for just about every form of media you just mentioned, and I do believe that is a good idea. It, you know, lets the parents know what their children are being exposed to. However, I do not believe that what is in the music or a violent video game or in a violent movie or on TV is really going to affect what a child does. I believe that is what starts at home with their parents because I have been exposed to several violent video games, movies, what-have-you, and I do not go out, you know, try to start a new war or anything. But since I was born, values like that have been instilled in me, I grew up in a Christian household and I was taught from the Bible and all. And that basis there is what really has kept me from, you know, going crazy or anything, going ballistic. And if I had not had that non-violent mentality taught to me at a young age, then, you know, violent video games or whatever, or my peers may have been able to influence me to do something crazy. But I believe that if a student gets a good foundation at home, then that is what is going to make a difference and not the video games they play or the movies they watch or anything.
Mr. Isakson. Chris.
Mr. Mardis. I know that through leadership curriculum that we have studied, our old principal at Pope High School who is now at Gainesville, Mr. Shumake, has emphasized about three points that make you who you are, that help you develop in the way that you have developed. And I completely agree with him when he says the three things are the people you meet, the music you listen to and the books you read. Those all play a part in the type of personality, the type of character that you develop. I completely agree with that, because the people that you hang around with and the music that you listen to are all reflective of your personality.
I am not saying that something that you might hear in a song or something, how horrible it might sound, that this person is going to go out and act the exact same way, but I am saying that it will rub off and you might become callous to the just negative influence that this has. And so that when you see something else that is negative, you might say oh, that is not so bad, instead of just being like that is really bad and just knowing that that is wrong and that is right. I mean there are definite lines and what is wrong is wrong and what is right is okay.
Mr. Isakson. Marlana.
Ms. Kearns. I think the music we listen to and the people we interact with do reflect who we are and the issue of video games I think that kids spend way too much time on video games; and yes, this could reflect their activities and their personalities. And I feel like they should be pushed away from the TV screen and outside. Like I have been involved in sports like my whole life and I feel like I am a better person because of it, because it got me out of the house and not watching TV, not watching violence or any other related thing. So I really think that it does start in the home, like I think the parents should be more aware of what their kids are doing, what kind of books they are reading, what kind of movies they are watching, and I think this could make a difference more so than totally limiting their access to like Nintendo games and books and those type things.
Mr. Isakson. Jacqueline.
Ms. Buckner. I never got a chance to tell you guys what I want to be, but I want to be a dentist, so I am probably going to go back to Colorado for college, but what I missed out was telling you guys the clubs I was involved in and one of the clubs that sticks out most in my mind is this program called the Blazer Buddies and that is where we were like mentoring these young children who were disadvantaged and did not have like all the luxuries that the rest of us had. And it was very interesting to watch these children because you could tell which children were playing the violent video games because they would talk about it and behavioral patterns, and which children were being monitored by their parents. And I think that the parents play a huge factor in everything that happens. I know that if a child is raised the correct way, one of the only things that is really going to corrupt them is society and that will happen through -- depending on how impressionable they are -- what all they see on television.
But I agree with Ms. Kearns in what she said. It is on the parents and it is also the responsibility of the teenager when they reach that age to say I do not want to listen to this because I know that it is not necessarily good for me and I do not want to go see this movie because my mind is still fragile.
Mr. Isakson. Well, let me conclude this hearing by saying something that all four of you --because I know you have graduated now--
Mr. Kissel. Thank you.
Mr. Isakson. I do not want to make the first mistake over again. All four of you are, first of all, a credit to yourselves and your parents; and a close second, a great tribute to the public schools of Fulton, Cherokee, Cobb and Gwinnett County and we really appreciate your being here today and sharing your thoughts and we will make sure you get a copy of the publication when this is published. Of course, if you go on the internet, which all of you do since two of you are going to be computer scientists, if I remember correctly, you will probably be able to pull it up in a week or so.
I want to thank the Chief for being here, I want to thank our four superintendents for being here, I want to thank everyone else that came and participated in the hearing, and I hope you will call us, Nathan or myself, any time we can be of service. We go back on active duty on September 8, so give us a holler.
Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, at 11:36 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]