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Q & A with John Dean for school board

AllOnGeorgia (AOG) sat down with John Dean (JD) and asked some tough questions. Following are his answers unedited. But first, a little bit about John, in his own words.

 

John was born in Aberdeen Washington, but has been a resident of Paulding County since 1989. He is currently married to Sandra Dean for almost 50 years now. They have 3 children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. John’s parents work for NASA and the US Army Missile Command in Huntsville, AL.

John attended a Georgia Military Academy (now known as Woodward Academy).

John enlisted in the US Marine Corps on January 28, 1968 where he served until being honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) on January 28, 1976. John re-enlisted as US Marines Reservist on November 10, 1986 and retired as Sergeant Major (E-9) of the 4th Marine Division on April 1, 2004.

John received his Master’s in Aeronautical Science Specialization in Management as well as his BS in Professional Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He attended Alabama A&M University where he majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in Math and Physics.

In the mid-80s, John was employed by Rockwell Missile Systems as Manager of Advanced Engineering

John was employed by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, retiring in 2011 where he gained experience in Program Risk Management for the F-22 Product Development and was a Lean Initiative and Process Improvement Coordinator (6 Sigma Black Belt) and Flight Test Instrumentation Supervisor.

(AOG) What experience do you have with complicated budgets? When you are given a 400-page budget for the district, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?

During my career in the US Marine Corps and in the aerospace industry, I have developed and managed several large and complicated budgets. Imagine how complex and dynamic the budget for the 4th Marine Division was during the initial Iraq war or the level of detail and manpower that went into developing the “LANTRIN” budget, which was a 22,000 page document. Although I was not solely responsible for these budgets, I was an integral part of the management team that developed and managed them. 

The process for determining if an existing budget or proposed budget is good and adds value to the process, whether it be large or small, is the same. Each individual expenditure category must be broken down to a level of detail where it can be understood; what do the expenditures do and do they add value to the overall budget. We do this every month with our personal finances and the same measures should be applied to any budget and especially our school board budget – is this value added to the students, parents, and tax payers – the ultimate stakeholders of the budget.

It should be noted that a budget is only a plan. Unless it is integrated with a master schedule with measurable deliverables in a specific time frame, it will only tell you how much will be allocated and to whom. To properly manage a cost account (budget), you have to spread your budget over time with measurable deliverables and progress milestones. This is called an Integrated Master Plan (IMP). 

A budget without schedule only tells you how much funding each department will receive and has very limited cost control management or insight as to where you are with spending – leading to cost overruns and inefficient spending.

(AOG) How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from conservative voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?

(JD) These are two separate questions, but very closely related to each other. When enlisting support for a bond and or public school spending to any voter, conservative – with or without children, is determined by 2 things; past performance and accountability.

As I mention in Question #1, would this bond or school spending plan be value added to the stakeholders. To prosper as a community, we all agree that we need a solid infrastructure base (roads, sewer, police, etc.), but we should not forget that education is a key component in our infrastructure formula. Education, whether it is vocational or academic, is good for the entire community and everyone wins. State and local school ranking is a key element in housing markets, business development, and the overall prosperity and growth for the county. 

How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens? The only way to prove itself accountable is to openly demonstrate logical management skills and fiscal responsibility. This will develop trust between the citizens of Paulding County and our school system. On a personal note, this is not reserved for the school board or local government. Trust must be earned and re-established at the local, state, and federal levels again. Wasteful spending and personal agendas have no place in any part of our government.

(AOG) What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in this district?

(JD) Ironically, I find that many of our opportunities are also our challenges! Take growth as an example. The Paulding County Board of Commissioners’ 7-year plan titled, “Charting the Course”, stated that Paulding County has experienced 284% growth since 1990 and that this trend is expected to continue. It predicts a 50% growth by 2025. With this growth comes increased revenues from business and personal property taxes and better facilities and accommodations for the local residents, but along with this increase in revenue comes an increase in infrastructure demands, including on our schools. Growth is flourishing in Paulding, but so are crowded highways, overcrowded schools, and inadequate sewer capabilities to mention a few. One example of this was in the middle of Paulding County’s initial growth phase, our school board proposed a SPLOST that was voted down by about 70-75%. The next year, the school system was considering double sessions. There were even billboards saying students would be sitting on the floor if a proposed SPLOST tax was not approved. It was passed that year and we also had a property tax increase as well.

The true element in this question is how can we ensure that our current opportunities do not become our future challenges? The answer is proper and early planning for controlled growth. I feel that the School Board should have more direct interface with the Board of Commissioners. Every department in the county needs to be interfacing with each other to ensure we are all on the same page when it comes to advanced planning for our county systems, whether it is the water department, schools, sewer, building permits, economic development or DOT. Communication is the key to a comprehensive plan. I also feel the members of the school board should be more engaged with their individual district and stakeholders to ensure we bring their issues and concerns to the attention of the board.

The same scenario can be made for school security. Today, our school security can be described as basic and presents itself as an excellent area for improvement, but could become a major challenge if not implemented correctly. We should immediately start working on a comprehensive risk assessment plan for each school, which can be developed into a comprehensive security plan. Each school should have its own unique plan because of physical design, location, and risks associated with that individual school. Although individual plans may have similar elements, the Union Elementary plan will differ from North Paulding High School due to physical location and what threats they might be exposed to. These plans, once developed and implemented, must be reviewed and critiqued periodically. 

 

Each plan should be based on prevention rather than reaction and should consist of 5 basic elements. 

1. Secure the exterior of each location, 

2. Controlled accesses, 

3. Badging and identification procedure,

4. Monitoring systems, and

5. Reaction teams to identify and provide help to anyone that might have issues.

It should be noted that included in the commissioners’ “Charting the Course” plan, an independent SWOT analysis/assessment (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) was conducted. Workforce proximity to Metro Atlanta and schools were identified as our counties strengths but they identified Community Involvement as a threat!

“We the People” have to correct this, not our government agencies.

(AOG) In your view, what has the district done well over last 5 years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?

(JD) Paulding County School District has worked hard to improve their educational process as described in the Georgia BOE 2017 College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). Paulding County has a 77.5 score, which was a 1.4% increase from 2016. They have been working under intense governmental regulations and funding restrictions for years and have maintained a quality of education for our students over the years.

Areas I feel we should improve on are:

  1. Coordination and communications with: 
    1. the Board of Commissioners (BOC) and other county agencies to ensure everyone is working towards the same plan and objectives with common data. This would provide a coordinated, county wide plan to ensure that our schools and county infrastructure plans are linked together to provide realistic and planned growth with our limited economic base.  
    2. the stakeholders (parents and most importantly, the teachers and students) to better understand the needs and concerns of the community.  

 

  1. School Security:

Although we have a security plan in place, due to recent events across the country, we need to revamp and enhance security plans. The school board should:

    1. Conduct an independent risk assessment for each school;
    2. Develop mitigation plans and prioritize each risk area identified. Each plan should be based on prevention, not reaction and consist of 5 basic elements mentioned above. 
      1. Physically secure the perimeter of each location,
      2. Controlled accesses – vehicle and pedestrian,
      3. Enhance the existing badging and identification procedure,
      4. Monitoring the systems, and
      5. “Reaction Teams” to identify and provide help to anyone that might have issues.

 

  1. Seek new management approaches to problems.
    1. If there are regulations, county, state or federal, that are restricting the School Board’s ability to provide the best education for our kids, a waiver or relief from a requirement should be sought. Contact the appropriate governmental agency or representative for help. Behind every reason of “you cannot do” lies an opportunity – take advantage of it.
    2. Empower the principals and teachers to do what they are trained to do – teach our children. Teachers should not be “teaching to a test” but teaching our children. Ensure they have the tools they feel they need and not just what the BOE thinks they need. In other word, visit the schools and listen to the teachers, staff, and parents as they are on the front lines and understand the issues more personally. This is also a subset of item #1 – Coordination and Communications.
    3. Review our contracting process. Rather than making a decision based on dollar signs, consider all of factors. Have we established realistic requirements to meet the schools’ and county’s needs? Perfect examples are the Learning Bridge program and Aramark janitorial contracts.

(AOG) To what degree are students in this district on track for postsecondary readiness? How do you know?

(JD) The 2016 CCRPI scores show that the Paulding County’s district-wide score, a 76.1, was several points ahead of the statewide average score of 73.6 out of 100 (which is a slight downward trend from the 2012-13 statewide average of 75.8).

At the local level, elementary students averaged a 75.9 on the test; middle school students averaged a 76.1; and high school students averaged. Statewide 71.1 for elementary schools, 71.5 for middle schools and 75.7 for high schools.” This information was taken from “Paulding Schools’ CCRPI Scores Exceed State Average”, https://patch.com/georgia/dallas…/paulding-schools-ccrpi-scores-exceed-state-average.  (Doug Gross, Dec 8, 2016) and the GA DOE data base.

While the CCPRI scores are above state averages, several other reports from the Georgia Department of Education show that high school students are performing below state averages in both Math and English. We have an 81% graduation rate county wide or 1 in every 5 do not graduate within the 5 years.

According to an article in the Georgia Trends Magazine, From the Publisher: Challenges Ahead – By Ben Young dated April 2018, “Unfortunately, a massive disconnect remains between the state’s business success and its ability to serve all of its citizenry. In spite of Georgia’s accomplishments and rankings, 22.6% of youth under 18 live in poverty, 16% of all residents live below the poverty line, 36.7% of our population has not worked in the past four years and more than 50% of our counties are considered distressed (a combination of these factors) according to statistics provided by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.”

More data from “education-places.startclass.com” states that approximately 35.6% of the Paulding County population has only earned a high school degree. One way to compare education levels is by considering Bachelor’s degree attainment. Paulding County has a lower percentage of people with a Bachelor’s degree than Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Roswell, Metro Georgia, which suggests that this is a poorly educated county.

Present with these facts, the second “C” of the CCPRI data comes into the discussion – Career! Vocational training is as important asset to the county and its economic development. With the recent $3 million dollar grant to develop our Paulding College and Career Academy, students will have additional career choices. The $3 million dollars will be used to renovate labs and classrooms and update technology at the Academy’s planned location inside New Hope Learning Center in Dallas. I was fortunate to receive a tour of this facility and discuss Director Marores Perry’s plans for the College and Career Center. She is extremely motivated with the opportunities that this facility will afford our children – great job Mrs. Perry!

Finally, even though our overall CCPRI data shows we are above state average, we must also remember that Georgia is #31 in the nation out of 50 states and 1 Federal District – or, we are in the lower 39-40% of the nation. The state has made major advancements, but Paulding County is still a long way from the top. I believe that Pam Nail, Chief Academic Officer for the Douglas county school system said it best, “While there are some bright spots in the 2017 scores, we have much work to do in all of our schools.”

(AOG) What is the current per-pupil spending rate in the district? What does that mean?

(JD) Although the exact spending rate number varies from study to study, the trends are fairly consistent. Currently we are spending approximately $8,800-$8,900 per student in Paulding County, which is slightly below the state average of approximately $10k per student, while the US average is approximately $12k per student. Paulding County ranks 152 out of 180 school districts in Georgia in spending per student and after reviewing the state level data, I could not detect a trend between dollars spent per student and performance within the state (except where compared to private schools).

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States spends $11,392 per student every year. This figure, referred to as per pupil current spending (PPCS), varies dramatically by state. Some states spend over $20k per student while others spend less than $7k. (CNBC – Abigail Hess@AbigailJHess, 17 April 2018).

When evaluating the top 10 school systems in the United States by state for a PPCS comparison, we find that 4 of the top 10 school systems (Utah, Iowa, Washington, and Florida) spend equivalent to or less than Georgia. Further research is required to determine if there is a difference in what each system spends their money on, not the total amount. In the 2019 school budget, the vast majority of the budget is spent on the same categories from year to year. Again, the exact number varies depending on who compiled the data and no direct comparison can be drawn between PPCS and system rankings from the data reviewed.

(AOG) How should teacher performance be measured? What are some of the challenges inherent in evaluating teachers? What training do school leaders need to perform fair teacher evaluations? How should the district balance using evaluations for accountability and using them to help teachers improve?

(JD) Currently teacher performance evaluations utilize the Teacher Key Evaluation System (TKES) and the Leader Key Evaluation System (LKES). I have heard mixed comments regarding these systems to evaluate out teachers. Some evaluators may just push it through to get it done and some may use them for retaliation. Any time you have several people evaluating others, even if it is supposedly to the same standard, you will have human factors and inconsistencies occur. Training for evaluators will help, but will never be a completely fair process.

I feel teachers should not be evaluated based on student performance. In my opinion, teachers should be evaluated by their principals or department heads. The evaluations should consist of basic evaluation procedures where performance measures like measurable goals and objective are used in conjunction with education levels, seniority/years of experience, and outside achievements. This process can have disadvantages as well.

I feel that the state Department of Education along with local BOE need to revisit teacher evaluations.

(AOG) In your past professional experience, what criteria do you use to make decisions about hiring people, retaining goods and services, or the effectiveness of a course of action? How will you use these criteria when making decisions as a school board member?

(JD) Past Performance! 

A perfect example would be our current contract with Aramark. Three major issues that are the major topic of discussion during this campaign are; 

  • Redistricting, 
  • Aramark janitorial, and 
  • The Learning Bridge program. 

Although our expectations are high and our contract requirements may not be detailed enough, all indicators show their performance has been minimum at best. From teachers and students having to clean rooms to no paper towels available (in the entire school). In my years of government contracting experience, detailed contract verbiage that defines our requirements and expectations is a must for good contractor performance. I personally think the BOE should revisit the janitorial contract and Learning Bridge programs and seriously consider bringing them back in-house. This would be a challenge to make an in-house program economically feasible, but it would also mean more Paulding jobs for Paulding residents.

Likewise, past performance should be considered anytime when voting for individuals – especially for our BOE. I have a proven track record in the aerospace industry with contract completion and cost account management including numerous Flight Test projects completed ahead of schedule and under budget. I would search for alternative methods to solve a problem before considering raising taxes. Anyone can raise taxes and complete a task, but it takes a manager to execute without it.

(AOG) What are your views on open data and transparency of information? What kinds of school district information should be made public?

(JD) Any documents or information that does not violate any of the following 

  • Items covered under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 (sometimes called the Buckley Amendment). The 4 basic rights under the FERPA are – specifically the third bullet:
    • The right to inspect and review their own student records within 45 days of the date the university receives a written request for access.
    • The right to request the amendment of their own student records if a student believes the records are inaccurate or misleading
    • The right to consent to disclosures of personally identifiable information contained in their student records, except to the extent that law and policy authorize disclosure without consent.
      • specified in his or her job description;
      • Specifically related to the official’s participation in the student’s education;
      • Specifically related to the discipline of a student; or
      • Specifically related to providing a service or benefit associated with a student or student’s family, such as health care, counseling, job placement or financial aid.
    • The right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education concerning alleged failures by UC Merced to comply with the requirements of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act
  • Additional or individual privacy laws not covered under the FERP Act.  
  • Items that require the School Board to enter into an executive session, i.e., land purchases and personnel issues 
  • Individual schools security plans.

(AOG) What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

(JD)I would hold open “listening sessions” with the principals, teachers, administrators, and parents to understand directly what their concerns and issues are (a good opportunity for this would be during teacher workdays). In speaking with numerous teachers, they feel removed or isolated from “3236 Atlanta Rd, Dallas, Ga.” and the BOE.  

I would work to build trust between the BOE, the school staff, principals, janitors and school bus drivers. Open lines of communications not only improve our school, but will enhance their security as well. I would propose policies and procedures that would empower our principals to manage their schools without fear of retaliation. I would propose policies and procedures that would allow teachers to teach to our children rather than teach to a test. I will always be open to any transparency recommendations.

Albert Einstein said it best when he said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”   I have an open-door policy and am happy to address any questions or concerns you may have for me.

Matt Lowe was born in Helena, Montana and grew up in Austell, Ga. He attended South Cobb high school and Chattahoochee Tech. He is an avid outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and 7 children in Dallas, GA. If you’d like to follow more of Matt you can find him on Instagram and Facebook.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. robert walker

    November 3, 2022 at 9:43 am

    what about critical race theory

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