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Share your opinions, read the latest news, debate the issues facing Cobb County School District, with special focus on public schools located in East Cobb.

REMINDER: Tonight’s Post 6 BOE forum to feature Nicholas, Sweeney

vote

A Post 6 Forum for the race for the Cobb County Board of Education will be held on Monday, April 21, from 6-7:30pm at Sope Creek Elementary. The Forum will host candidates Kevin Nicholas and Scott Sweeney. Moderator will be Cynthia Rozzo, founder and publisher of EAST COBBER magazine.

Sope Creek Elementary School is located at 3320 Paper Mill Road, 30067. The event is collaboratively hosted by the Sope Creek Elementary School Council, PTA, and Foundation. Complimentary on-site childcare provided by Sensible Sitters, sensiblesitters.com/. Childcare reservations are recommended, though not required. To reserve a childcare spot, visit forum.childcare.RSVP@gmail.com.

A maximum of 60 childcare spots have been generously donated by the SCES PTA & Foundation.

 

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Funding crisis main focus of school debates

School board candidates squared off at debates Thursday, ahead of a competitive May 20 primary likely to be settled based on controversial issues about funding, construction projects, and who is perceived as best able to solve the challenges facing public education in Cobb County.

Post 6 candidates Scott Sweeney and Kevin Nicholas, along with Post 4’s Bill Scott and David Chastain, spoke at a morning PTSA meeting at Sprayberry High School. At 6 p.m. a second forum was held at Hightower Trail Middle School. All the candidates are Republicans, and their races will be decided during the May 20 Republican primary.

Post 6 is an east Cobb seat with Walton and Wheeler as its high schools. Post 4 represents the northeast Cobb area, including Kell and Sprayberry high schools.

Kathleen Angelucci represents Post 4 now but is not seeking re-election. No Democrats are running, so the winner of the Republican primary will win the seat for the next four years.

Chastain and Scott were asked Thursday what the biggest difference is between them.

Both agreed it’s their history — Scott’s background is in education while Chastain’s is in business — but they differed on what that means for their candidacy and the job awaiting the ultimate winner of the school board seat.

Scott, former principal of Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, said his background is a strength.

“I feel that being an educator at this day and time is probably an advantage,” he said. “While I was never at the executive level of school administration, I was in a school which was a recipient of the decisions made by school boards, both good and bad. I have that experience.”

Not surprisingly, his opponent feels differently.

“I have an understanding of how businesses work,” said Chastain, an analyst for Lockheed-Martin. “Not everybody is going to be a gifted child who goes out and becomes a knowledge worker. School systems need to accommodate all the kids with all of their dreams and their parents’ dreams and have them go out and do whatever that is.”

Chastain talked about the different experiences of his three kids working through their own career paths.

Both also talked about how the Cobb schools budget might look over the next four years. For now, the days of furloughs and shortened school years appear to be over. Higher property values and more money from the state mean the Cobb County School District is looking to hire nearly 200 new teachers for the 2014-15 school year.

But $40 million of the state dollars are likely a one-time, election year gift from Gov. Nathan Deal. Both candidates said they were cautious about the future.

“I’m going to say the glass is half empty,” said Chastain. “I want to believe things will be better, but I want us to figure out where the rest of the water is coming from.”

Scott also said the district needs to be careful.

“School systems need ongoing support, not just during an election year,” he said. “We have to hold our legislators accountable. If we’re not taking care of our students today we’ll pay for it tomorrow. They are the future.”

The two also discussed construction priorities from 2015 to 2018.

“We need to continue to approve (education sales taxes) that allow us to take care of the mortar in our buildings,” Scott said.

Chastain said he’s more concerned with the quality of construction than the quantity.

“We’ve gone from 103,000 students to 109,000 students over the last 10 years,” he said. “Will we pick up another 6,000 or will the growth level off? That I don’t know. I do know I’ve been told we have aging schools that have not been addressed in the previous sales tax referendums. This needs to be addressed. We have some schools that have withstood the test of time, and we have younger structures that need more maintenance. We need to focus on the quality of construction because there’s not much more land out there to grab.”

Post 4 candidates did not participate in the Hightower Trail debate.

Post 6 candidates

Speaking at the Sprayberry event, Sweeney touted his accomplishments during his first term in office.

“In so many instances, I’m trying to find out what we can do to make an impact at the school level by getting to what’s happening across the state and other areas,” said Sweeney, who runs a consulting firm.

Sweeney said he was appointed by the Georgia School Boards Association as the 6th congressional district representative to the Federal Relations Network, among other appointments.

Sweeney also touted his work in persuading voters to pass the most recent 1-percent sales tax measure, which he said could have added $20 million to $50 million to the school system’s deficit this year if it wasn’t passed.

“I found out we had a ‘B’ rating in the Sunshine Awards,” he said of the rating by Sunshine Review, a citizens group that measures government transparency. “I got with the people that drove that group and said ‘There are things you need to know about the Cobb County School District,’ and through that we were able to achieve an A-plus rating.”

Nicholas, senior vice president of a telecommunications company, shared his own ideas about the role of a school board member.

“It comes down to my three kids and if I can make a difference for them and for other kids,” Nicholas said. “It’s about enabling kids.”

For seven years, Nicholas was a single parent before a marriage a few years ago, he said. He cited that experience, working on homework and interacting with teachers as something he can draw on as a school board member.

“I scratched my head a couple of times on how things are being handled,” Nicholas said. “That’s nothing against the teachers. I think we have some of the best teachers in the country. But our test scores have been flat over the years; in fact, they’ve been going down a little bit. Graduation rates have been flat, why is that?”

School systems need to be able to push down the decision making process, Nicholas said, which could include the school system becoming a charter system next year. While not fully endorsing the concept, Nicholas feels there is “a lot of merit to pushing decisions down.”

He also touted his work experience.

“There is about $40 million in one-time revenue in next year’s budget,” he said. “We’re blessed with a balanced budget, but what happens next year? What happens when it’s not an election year? I think I can bring some large company experience to look at that.”

Nicholas also applauded the school board’s decision to hire Chris Ragsdale as interim superintendent. The next school board will decide whether to keep Ragsdale long-term or hire a different superintendent after May 2015.

Nicholas also didn’t participate in the Hightower Trail debate. He pulled out of it after finding Facebook posts by its monitor, JoEllen Smith, saying she supports Sweeney.

Post 2 candidates

Post 2, a district covering the Smyrna/Vinings area, also is open this year. Incumbent Tim Stultz faces fellow Republicans Susan Thayer and Jeff Abel in the May 20 primary. The winner faces Democrat Kenya Pierre in the November general election. Because Thursday’s forums were for the east Cobb area, Post 2 candidates weren’t involved.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Haisten Willis, April 19, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Funding crisis main focus of school debates)

East Cobber Published in Visual Arts Research

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Karinna Riddett-Moore, Ph.D.

East Cobb resident Karinna Riddett-Moore, Ph.D., art teacher at the Atlanta Speech School, has been published in the latest issue of Visual Arts Research. Her article, “Developing an Arts of Living,” outlines the necessary aspects of arts-based educational research in a study that probed the nature of caring in an arts classroom.

Based on the dissertation that won the Elliot Eisner Doctoral Research Award in Art Education, Riddett- Moore explains how this study is a work of art, a work of education, and a work of qualitative research. Her study presents the process of art making, where the researcher and her middle-level art students use the tools of the visual arts to achieve an aesthetic space of artful living.
Visual Arts Research (VAR), published by the University of Illinois Press, provides a forum for historical, critical, cultural, psychological, educational and conceptual research in visual arts and  aesthetic education. VAR typically publishes nine to twelve scholarly papers per issue and remains committed to its original mission to provide a venue for both longstanding research questions and traditions alongside emerging interests and methodologies.

The Atlanta Speech School is the nation’s most comprehensive language center for children and adults. Established in 1938, the Atlanta Speech School’s four schools, five clinics, summer programs
and professional development center seek to help each person develop his or her full potential through language and literacy. Each year, the School impacts the lives of approximately 1,400 children
and adults at the Atlanta Speech School and more than 13,000 students throughout the State of Georgia through the work of its Rollins Center for Language & Learning professional development program.

 

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Chair: Sweeney and Promethean link is ‘conflict of interest’ with BoE

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Cobb County School Board member Scott Sweeney, center, directs questions to Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson during a special called meeting Monday morning to present the proposed 2015 fiscal year budget. Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff

Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Scott Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation.

Sweeney, in the middle of a tough re-election bid against fellow Republican Kevin Nicholas, informed the school board late last year he had been hired by the digital whiteboard manufacturer as a consultant. Though Promethean markets its products directly to school systems, Sweeney said nothing about it, given two previous chances to disclose his interests.

Angelucci, the school board chair, said she would have acted differently.

“It’s concerning to me,” she said. “Mr. Sweeney has to make his own decisions. If he decided to do this and said, ‘I’m going to abstain or recuse myself if a vote comes up,’ for him that’s the ethical choice. For me, it’s a conflict of interest.”

Angelucci said it would be different if the district had nothing to do with the company.

“But we do, and I don’t know to what extent. I’d like to ask more questions to find out,” she said.

The two also took issue with Sweeney’s insistence that he will abstain from any votes pertaining to Promethean.

Angelucci said the role of a school board member is to vote.

“Our job is to vote,” she said. “When you start recusing yourself from votes, you know, we’re supposed to represent not just our post but the district as a whole and it affects the district.”

,b>Other Promethean links to CCSD

Promethean’s ties the Cobb County School District go deeper than Sweeney. The Cobb Schools Foundation, a fundraising group with an employee — its executive director — on the district’s payroll, has multiple ties to the company.

Jim Marshall, CEO of Promethean, is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board. Morten Brante, Promethean’s senior vice president of services for Promethean, is married to Sheri Brante, executive director of the foundation.

Sweeney said his first contact with the company was through Marshall.

Both Angelucci and Scamihorn said they had a lot of questions about the Cobb Schools Foundation after reading the MDJ’s initial story Sunday.

“We should know a lot more than we do,” Angelucci said.

Sheri Brante is paid $43,000 per year by the Cobb school district as a part-time employee. Overall, the district pays the Cobb Schools Foundation $136,000, according to Scamihorn, but the foundation only raises $150,000 to $175,000 for the district.

“It makes me uncomfortable,” Angelucci said. “Perception sometimes becomes reality.”

What’s more, Angelucci said she is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board, but had no idea until recently. She has never been invited to a meeting of the foundation’s board and never received copies of meeting minutes.

The group is chaired by John Crooks, a former Cobb school board member.

Scamihorn, last year’s school board chairman, said he doesn’t recall ever being invited to the foundation’s board meetings either, despite also sitting on the group’s board at the time.

Both said that in a month or two they will know a lot more about what’s going on.

“Our job is to find out what’s going on and ask the questions that need to be asked,” Angelucci said. “And we will.”

Asked directly if she would work for any vendor marketing a product to school systems while serving on the school board, Angelucci said, “No.”

Scamihorn was equally resolute.

“You have to be far enough ahead of that curve that you are above reproach,” he said.

Sweeney says contract is confidential

On Tuesday, the MDJ asked Sweeney if he would be willing to disclose his contract with Promethean in the interest of transparency.

“The contractor contract between Promethean and me is confidential and is stipulated as such within the contract,” he said in an emailed response. “The contract does not include any incentive and/or commission element.”

Sweeney attended the National School Boards Association Conference April 5 to 7 in New Orleans. But he said he went on behalf of Promethean, not the Cobb school board.

Sweeney said he was clear about his affiliations while visiting the crescent city.

“I did not register for the conference and I represented myself as working with Promethean during my meetings in New Orleans,” he said.

Sweeney is finishing up his first term representing Post 6, an east Cobb district including Walton and Wheeler high schools. His re-election bid will be decided May 20 during the Republican primary. The winner between Sweeney and Nicholas will represent the district from 2015 to 2018.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Haisten Willis, April 16, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Chair Sweeney and Promethean link is conflict of interest with BoE)

Political forum panel discussion on education financing this Thursday

There will be a political forum panel discussion on education financing on Thursday April 17, 2014, in the Hightower Trail Middle School auditorium, 3905 Post Oak Tritt Road. State and local political leaders will be in attendance and speaking at the forum.

The focus of the discussion will be the practical realities of the budget shortfall for students, teachers, parents and schools, as well as potential short-term and long-term solutions for education funding and ensuring the high quality of education for students now and in the future. In addition, organizers will focus on the voting process and the upcoming May 20th primary.

For more information, contact Amy Surasky president@trittpta.org or (770) 642-5630 or Jennifer Limeri president@huskyptsa.info or (770) 578-7225. The PTA follows 501(c) 3 practices and invites all candidates from the state representative race for districts; 44, 45 and 46, and the state senate race for district 32, as well as the Gubernatorial race for the State of Georgia. Hosting of this candidate forum should not and cannot imply endorsement of any candidate.

 

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BoE candidates questioned on Race to the Top, superintendent nod

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Candidates discuss the issues during a Board of Education forum sponsored by the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club. Candidates are, from left, Kevin Nicholas, Scott Sweeney, David Chastain and Bill Scott. Susan Thayer, not pictured, was seated to the right.
MDJ Staff/Jeff Stanton

Cobb Board of Education candidates touched on Race to the Top and proposed Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale during a Thursday night forum.

Sponsored by the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, the forum was in the Cobb County commission chambers.

Three of the seven school board members are up for re-election this year.

In Post 2, Tim Stultz is challenged by retired Cobb educator Susan Thayer and Wells Fargo lending officer Jeff Abel for the Smyrna-area seat. Whoever wins the May 20 Republican primary faces Democrat Kenya Pierre of Smyrna, an attorney, in November.

Post 6, representing the east Cobb area, pits incumbent Scott Sweeney against Kevin Nicholas, director with PGi, a global video and audio technology company, who has three children in the school district.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci is not seeking re-election in the Post 4 seat, leaving Lockheed Martin logistics analyst and grandfather of two David Chastain and retired Marietta Sixth Grade Academy Principal Bill Scott to compete for the north-central Cobb seat.

Candidates were given one to two minutes to answer each question.

Scott calls Race to Top ‘innovative,’ Chastain says no

Candidates were asked about President Barack Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and its pay-for-performance component.

Scott said he doesn’t

believe pay for performance works.

“One of the things with that is that teachers become competitive with each other rather than sharing with each other and to have a good school where people collaborate, they need to share ideas,” Scott said.

At the same time, Scott had some good things to say about Race to the Top, which he called innovative.

“Race to the Top is a guideline that I think that we can work through, but it’s something that is able to help us create an innovative way of looking at the best way to help children learn, so it does need some work. We want to make sure that it doesn’t become a mandate, but so far about 44 states have adopted this philosophy of Race to the Top, and I think that we can possibly make it work,” Scott said.

Chastain, of Acworth, had nothing good to say about Race to the Top.

“When you have Race to the Top, who wins? I mean, what was the race all about?” Chastain asked.

Chastain recalled attending Wheeler High School in the 1970s, when the fashionable education concept was “open-space” teaching.

“Let’s take 90 kids, throw them in one big room and have three classes going at once, and I’m sure a lot of educators and people that benefited from that financially embraced it. It was a total failure,” Chastain said.

Another education fad Chastain said didn’t work was Georgia’s “Math 1, 2 and 3,” which he said his daughter suffered through.

“Race to the Top, all these other things, I think we’re helping make corporations richer, and we’re helping lobbyists fund politicians with Race to the Top and that sort of thing. It ain’t happening with my kid,” he said.

Ragsdale praised and poked?

Stultz and Abel did not show up for the event, leaving the floor to Thayer. Some believe Thayer took a swipe at Ragsdale, Cobb’s deputy superintendent of operational support, who the Cobb school board named as its finalist for interim superintendent, in her brief remarks. Thayer was permitted an opening statement, but did not participate in answering questions.

“A big thing that’s facing our system right now is selecting a superintendent,” Thayer said. “I know how to pick educational leaders. I know what to look for. I hope we find someone who does not function always on operational issues, but looks at learning.”

By contrast, Nicholas, who is challenging Sweeney, praised the selection of Ragsdale while referencing Sweeney’s support for Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

“I applaud the appointment today … of Chris Ragsdale as interim superintendent instead of the outgoing superintendent that my opponent supports,” Nicholas said. “With Chris and myself, I think we can start the business of real transparency. There has been some issues as far as transparency with land purchase on Terrell Mill Road, I believe, and also with East Cobb Middle School. We need to enable our students for success. We need to manage the taxpayer money efficiently and earn their trust.”

Sweeney reportedly fought the board’s decision to select Ragsdale as interim superintendent from the beginning, according to sources inside the school system who asked not to be identified.

Funding issues

Sweeney spoke of using special purpose local option sales tax dollars to help reduce classroom sizes.

“I’ve actually worked tirelessly to reduce classroom sizes, and I’ve done so by supporting the usage of excess SPLOST funds, which is legally permitted to do so, which resulted in the preservation of hundreds of teaching positions,” he said.

Sweeney also took credit for “educating” the community about school finances. During a town hall meeting in December, he called on parents to deprive Gov. Nathan Deal of another term in office if he didn’t give the school system more money. Sweeney referenced that action Thursday.

“With this community’s support, which I was largely responsible for getting out in front of the community and educating, I held more than 15 education forums, talking about finance and what it means to fully fund. And the good people of this county made their voices known, made it known to the governor, made it known to the state representatives and senators, that we need to improve the funding mechanism, which will help us reduce classroom sizes,” Sweeney said.

Nicolas said managing existing revenues should also be a priority.

“One thing we do differ on between my opponent and myself is I think you have to manage the money you have without trying to find where the available money is,” he said. “And you have to allocate that as a priority to reducing classroom sizes. I do agree with all of my colleagues up here that classroom sizes directly impact performance. That needs to be a priority in the budget and also needs to be a priority toward students.”

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Haisten Willis, April 11, 2014. Jon Gillooly contributed to this report. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – BoE candidates questioned on Race to the Top superintendent nod)

Chris Ragsdale Named Finalist For Interim Superintendent

The Cobb County Board of Education Thursday named Chris Ragsdale as finalist for interim Superintendent of the Cobb County School District, effective June 1, 2014. Ragsdale was appointed to his current role of Deputy Superintendent for Operations in 2011, having served as the District’s Chief Technology Officer since September 2006. During his tenure with CCSD, Ragsdale has managed the District’s plant operations, provided oversight for the District’s technology integration, and been responsible for planning and execution of capital projects approved by Cobb voters and funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

Prior to joining Cobb, Ragsdale served as Chief Information Officer for neighboring Paulding County Schools, worked in database and network support for BellSouth Telecommunications, and as network manager for IBM. He is 45 years old, holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from Kennesaw State University and is currently enrolled in the executive MBA program at Shorter University in Rome, GA.

Chris Ragsdale will provide familiar, proven, and stable leadership as the Board explores a permanent appointment for Superintendent of Schools. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the appointment during its April 24, 2014 evening meeting.

 

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Cobb Board of Education to Announce Interim Superintendent

The Cobb County Board of Education will announce an interim superintendent for the Cobb County School District during a press conference Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. in the Board meeting room at 514 Glover St, Marietta, GA 30068.

 

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Cobb Named Among 2014 Best Communities for Music Education

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The Cobb County School District is among the Best Communities for Music Education in the United States for 2014, according to a national survey by the NAMM Foundation.

Teachers and district administrators from more than 2,000 schools and systems across the United States participated in a comprehensive survey developed and conducted by The Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, an affiliate of the University of Kansas. They answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, and community support for music programs. CCSD is among just 376 school systems nationwide that met the criteria for the prestigious designation for 2014.

The Cobb County School District remains firmly committed to music education, having earned a spot among the Best Communities for Music Education 12 times in the program’s 15-year history. More than 40,000 Cobb County students are currently enrolled in music elective programs and more than 49,000 elementary students are immersed in music instruction. At the high school level, students can pursue stage and screen dreams through specialized instruction in voice, drama, and dance at The Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School. Our marching and symphonic bands, orchestras and choral groups have performed in numerous state and national invitationals and at national events including the Tournament of Roses Parade in California and the Macy’s Thankgiving Day Parade in New York.

Click here to learn more about the music programs offered in Cobb County Schools. A complete list of the 376 Best Communities in Music Education are available on the NAMM Foundation website.

(Source: Cobbk12.org)

 

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Newsletter to keep people informed on KSU/SPSU consolidation

Kennesaw State University staff has developed an electronic newsletter to keep people informed on the latest details of the consolidation process. The KSU/SPSU Consolidation Update is designed especially for friends and key stakeholders of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University to share progress as two of Georgia’s premiere institutions are consolidated. To view the latest issue of the newsletter, click here.

 

 

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