DCSS Superintendent Ken Dyer: Instructional Support is Needed to Increase Student Achievement

Staff Report From Albany CEO

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

To say there has been concerns raised over the last week surrounding the Dougherty County School System’s use of Educational Epiphany, an educational consulting firm, would be an understatement.  Having read the limited information reported in the article in last Sunday’s edition of The Albany Herald, I would be concerned as well, if I did not know the whole story.  After requesting a meeting with the paper’s interim editor, Carlton Fletcher, and the reporter who wrote the story, I was able to voice my concerns regarding the misquotes and mischaracterizations it contained.  They agreed to publish an article clarifying several things in the Wednesday edition of the paper, primarily using information that was provided Friday, but for some reason did not make it into the original article that ran Sunday.  Mr. Fletcher also agreed to have me place a guest editorial in today’s paper to provide the DCSS’s stakeholders and constituents with the rest of the story.

Who is Donyall Dickey?  Dr. Donyall Dickey is the CEO and lead consultant for Educational Epiphany.  He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Loyola University – Maryland, and George Washington University, where he earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership & Policy.  Dr. Dickey is a nationally recognized expert in the field of education. His successful professional career includes work as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional superintendent, and chief academic officer. As a consultant, his client list includes school leaders, schools, school systems, state departments of education (including the Georgia Department of Education), among others in numerous states across the nation.

We were aware of his issues in Portland, where the board’s decision to accept Dr. Dickey’s withdrawal was widely reported as some scandalous indication of his past, Board Chair Tom Koehler said “Donyall has exceptional education credentials and we believe he has a great future ahead," according to an article in the Portland Tribune.

Much has been made about the lack of a criminal background check. The district’s policy for vendors who aren’t unaccompanied in schools doesn’t require a background check. Even so, Dr. Dickey’s previous bounced check conviction when he was in college and the settlement with a former homeowners’ association over a dispute in fees -- incidents Koehler referred to as “minor blemishes” on his background -- has no impact on his education philosophy.

What services will Educational Epiphany provide for the DCSS?  Also, when and where will the services be provided? The team of Educational Epiphany instructional support specialists will provide the DCSS with professional development / training for every teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal, principal and district-wide instructional leader (approximately 1,100 employees). That professional development includes six site-based training visits per school, as well as the district. The training will be focused on the development of performance-based objectives, that are aligned with the Georgia Standards of Excellence (the state-approved curriculum). In addition to the training, the DCSS will receive instructional materials, including performance based objectives for every content area at every grade level. Also, Educational Epiphany will provide constructive feedback on district-developed performance-based objectives. Travel expenses for the Educational Epiphany team are also included.

Please note that the cost of the training (including the 114 total site visits, over the course of eight to nine months, and associated travel costs for the Educational Epiphany team), instructional materials, and feedback on district-developed performance-based objectives amount to slightly less than $450 per employee.  Never before has the DCSS attempted to train every teacher in the DCSS to this level of depth.  It is a bold and ambitious undertaking but, one that is aimed at increasing student achievement.

Why did the DCSS choose Dr. Dickey and Educational Epiphany? Currently, the DCSS has what I call pockets of excellent in our system.  Our goal is foster systemic excellent in every classroom, in every building.  The single factor with biggest impact on student achievement is effective instruction. The district’s framework for the comprehensive needs assessment and district improvement plan invited district, school and community leaders to engage in conversations related to improving student achievement in the district. As a result of the team’s work and the needs that surfaced, one of the two goals identified was the development of a coherent instructional system.

A critical component of an effective instructional system is the common understanding of and approach to what to teach.  Educational Epiphany’s work goes to the very core of that goal, as it will address curriculum and instruction in a systemic manner to foster common language and understanding across the district.

DCSS instructional leaders were first exposed to Dr. Dickey’s work during a Georgia Department of Education Instructional Leadership Conference in Macon during the month of October 2017. We received a tremendous amount of feedback that Dr. Dickey could support the curriculum and instruction needs in the DCSS. We explored his work and invited him to present to district and school-based leaders on two occasions, November 13th and December 8th. After both sessions, we received positive feedback about the impact his work could have on teacher practices and ultimately student achievement.  The results of a survey conducted with school leaders, show over 90% favored moving forward with Educational Epiphany.

This proposal was presented to the Board of Education during its January 24th meeting, after receiving a unanimous vote of support from the BOE Instructional Accountability Committee.  Because it had not yet gone before the BOE Finance Committee, a formal BOE vote was not taken; however, for the sake of time and its impact on the implementation schedule the BOE gave its consent for district leaders to move forward with the work.

Is this a good use of tax payer funds? We take our fiduciary responsibility seriously.  Over the last several years, we have made difficult, but necessary decisions regarding the allocation of resources to put the DCSS on sound financial footing.  While we constantly look for ways to reduce cost and operate more efficiently, we also look to increase our investment into efforts that will improve student performance.  We believe that the work the DCSS as begun with Educational Epiphany is a step in the right direction.  It is an investment in the future of our children that offers tremendous returns, in the form of consistent, high quality instruction, and ultimately, increased student achievement.

Helping shape the future of our next generation of leaders is a tremendous responsibility, one we do not take lightly.  We have made much progress in the DCSS over the past few years; but, we have much work left to do.  We will continue to work diligently on behalf of the students and citizens in Dougherty County Schools. With your support, we can build on the recent gains and reach new levels of success that will not only impact the students we are called to serve, but the entire Southwest Georgia region.