When most of his peers were silent about the governor’s dreadful plan for state takeovers, one school superintendent Steve Green of DeKalb County spoke out. He is a hero of public education. He joins the honor roll of this blog.

Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia is working hard to promote his constitutional amendment to allow the state to take over public schools with low test scores and turn them into charter schools. He calls this an “Opportunity School District,” modeled on the Achievement School District in Tennesssee, which failed to meet its goals. The OSD is an ALEC-inspired ploy to privatize public schools and gut local control.

Do you believe that right wing politicians like Nathan Deal can be trusted with the lives of Georgia’s most vulnerable children? If you do, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

One superintendent has spoken out loud and clear about the Governor’s misguided plan: Steve Green of DeKalb County. Green lived through a similar battle in Kansas City. He knows that the state doesn’t have a plan or an idea about how to help low-scoring schools.

He writes:


I have said it before, and I’ll say it again now: I am opposed to any state takeover of local schools no matter what it is called.

For me, the state of Georgia’s effort to take control of 26 DeKalb County schools … and schools elsewhere … is déjà vu all over again.

When I became superintendent of the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools in 2011, my team and I found ourselves in a desperate fight for survival and for control of public education. An appointed Missouri state employee was attempting to take over the school system under a conspiratorial smokescreen – by creating a special statewide district for low-performing schools.

Sound familiar?

In Georgia, the state wants control of schools it has stigmatized as “failing,” based on standardized testing. This takeover effort comes despite strong evidence that standardized tests can’t fairly take into account … or accurately measure … the extreme complexity of teaching and learning in a district like DeKalb County, with 135 schools and 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages.

We fought … and won … the battle to keep schools in Kansas City under control of parents and professional educators and out of the hands of politicians. I am probably the only school superintendent in the state of Georgia to lead a system through this unique experience. Key members of today’s DeKalb schools leadership team also worked beside me in Kansas City. These academic professionals are battle-tested in holding onto local control of schools.

Striking parallels can be seen between the struggle in Missouri and ours in Georgia.

The real issue in Kansas City involved powerful, ambitious officials exploiting a political situation rather than working with local school systems to address root causes of underachievement and provide what schools needed to succeed.

It was ruthless aggression – like predator and prey. A rapacious state political system wanted to take over the weakest, most vulnerable schools.

Georgia feels painfully similar. We see racial, socio-economic, and political parallels. The names are different, and the titles of the people who want to take over are different, but the goal is still the same – seize local control of public education….

As Green and fellow citizens fought the state takeover, they knew the stakes were high:

“We’d seen the failed results of state takeovers of local schools in New Orleans and Memphis. (After being unable to take over schools in Kansas City, the Missouri commissioner did manage to take over the school system in nearby Normandy. That state-controlled education experiment failed miserably – students performed more poorly under the state regimen than under local control.) It was also abundantly clear to us that too much power and secrecy concentrated in the hands of a detached, uninformed, faceless state bureaucracy would ultimately fail students, schools, and society.”

Green and his team created an effective plan to improve the Kansas City schools:

Progress came by design – our team made strategic, systematic, intentional, student-by-student improvements. The key? We built a foundation of trust and a sense of purpose among parents, school leaders, teachers, and the community.

Here in DeKalb, our own progress in just two years using this same model has already earned national and international attention. Of the specific 26 DeKalb schools targeted for takeover, 15 are within five points of the 60-point threshold. Ten others need more intensive support, and we’ve launched strong remedial measures. In all schools, we’re laser-focused on the classroom experience, where any lasting improvement in education must start.

There are no quick fixes, no short cuts. Turning around schools takes deep, hard, intimate work. It means fighting poverty and all that it brings. It means helping new arrivals to our country anchor lives and hopes to our communities and country. It means giving special needs and pre-school students and others among our most vulnerable the schooling, security, and stability that allows them to be their best.

That’s the kind of work going on right now with our most challenged schools and at others all through our system.

We stand for something in DeKalb County – education with rigor, relevance, and relationships. Our goal is nothing less than to be recognized nationally for academic excellence and for world-class service to kids, caregivers, and communities.

In my opinion, you’ll look far and wide before you find a politician in Georgia who goes to bed at night and gets out of bed in the morning with this same ambitious goal.

In DeKalb, we have 15,000 teachers and staff who work 365 days a year to reach our goal of excellence. We are professional educators … not predatory politicians.

Who do you want teaching and looking out for our children?