Do we have a principal problem in DeKalb?

We are hearing a lot of reports from parents stating that they have either a newly assigned interim principal, or a recently hired or transferred principal or back to back new principals every year or two at their child’s school. Without getting into a discussion about the qualities of your school’s principal or otherwise offering personal critiques of them (be respectful!) we would appreciate it if you could leave short statements highlighting the tenure of the principals at your schools and how it affects teaching and learning and other programs. We are doing this not only because one of our bloggers asked, but because we have believed for a very long time that in order to improve student learning, we need better, more experienced principal leaders who are left in place long enough (5 years?) to assimilate into the community and make a difference at their school.

Report away! Again – be very respectful. We will delete critical personal commentary. We just want the facts.

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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95 Responses to Do we have a principal problem in DeKalb?

  1. tracy white says:

    My daughter worked as a teacher at Forest Park in Clayton for three years. Every year she got a new principal, and every year she said it took them 6 months to figure out who was who and then *POOF* they were gone. Let’s keep wasting time and energy on turnover at the upper levels and ignore the fact that NOTHING GETS DONE the first year.

    Just saying – been there, seen that.

  2. Big Bird says:

    Briarlake has had 4 principals in 7 years- Petrides, Trankina, Culbreath, and Jenks.

  3. whyaminotsurprised says:

    At Briarlake, Culbreath was principal at least from 2007 to 2012. She left to go back to Austin, which she had been at before. She was there when we moved here, and she left this year. Jenks is the new principal, but she’s been at Briarlake for years… I believe someone told me 15.

  4. just another teacher says:

    At my school, where I’be been for 10 years…4 principals and 6 assistants in that time period.

  5. Another Dekalb Teacher says:

    At my school, we have a principal who is in her second year. She has no clue what to do! Some of us think that on Mondays when she is not there she is going to principal niceness/kindness classes. Lord knows she needs them! When she is there Tuesdays through Fridays, she is harassing and bullying teachers. It is really bad! One teacher has transferred, one has quit, and some are thinking about it!

  6. Coralwood Parent says:

    Coralwood’s principal of ~10 years was just transferred out last Friday, along with every non-special-ed Pre-K teacher (some of whom are possibly being replaced; I’m not sure).

  7. TuckerMom says:

    I’ve been told that Coralwood’s principal chose to retire from DCSD so she could take a job at the Georgia Dept. of Education. Livsey’s principal of over a decade was transferred to Coralwood with only a two-day notice. Livsey’s new principal (there’s been no word that he is “interim”), Dr. Jamie Wilson, was reassigned from Pleasantdale. He had been filling in for their principal, who is on maternity leave.

  8. TuckerKmom says:

    Long time Principal at Livsey was transferred to Coralwood Friday “because she has special needs experience”. They made it sound like Coralwood was looking for a new principal for awhile. New principal started Monday, transferred in from Pleasantdale where he’d been filling in for a Maternity leave. Pre-K teacher was transferred out too.

  9. concernedmom30329 says:

    Actually, Coralwood’s principal left for the state. The pre-k teachers, if they are not new to DeKalb this year, need to get out of Pre-K or they will face a 1/3 or more pay cut. If you followed the budget process, DeKalb has been paying pre-k teachers more (sometimes much more) than the state reimburses for the position. (Remember the pre-k program is funded by lottery dollars.)
    Slowly but surely, all pre-k teachers who don’t want to take the lower salary are being moved out as other positions become available.

  10. concernedmom30329 says:

    The position for Coralwood was posted for a while. Are you certain that the Livsey principal didn’t apply? Coralwood is a pretty plum position.

  11. whyaminotsurprised says:

    The PreK teacher transfers are going to keep going for a while. Dekalb decided to quit paying above what the state pays for PreK teachers – which is basically entry level, bargain-basement salaries. However, the PreK teachers were already under contract, so they were told they’d need to transfer to older classes to keep their salaries, then they’ll hire desperate newbies to take the PreK slots. They “froze” the PreK teachers and wouldn’t allow them to transfer over the summer. So, all the older class spots were filled. Now, they are basically waiting for attrition to occur, and moving PreK teachers as spots become available – on no notice, to whatever happens to be open. So, someone might go from PreK to 5th grader science teacher on 1 day notice.

  12. wondering says:

    At Chesnut ES our principal retired at the very beginning of the school year for health reasons. The two years prior to that had been a little tough because he was often out for treatment. During those times the assistant principal stepped in, and for one period we had a replacement principal, both of whom were great, but it was a little less than ideal to not have continuity. I am not criticizing anyone for this, as of course the principal needed to attend to his health concerns, and even while he was out he was really very involved (remotely) and working for the kids. It was just a tough situation.

    DCSS assigned the former assistant principal to be our new principal just a few weeks after his retirement was announced, which I thought was very smart — not only is she great, it helped give the school some stability to have someone who was already known by teachers, parents and students after having had a couple of years of uncertainty. So this was one time that the county made the right choice and the one that was actually best for students!

  13. Cigi says:

    Principals are leaving as soon as possible. There is a lot of pressure put on them. They do not get very much support. They are not allowed to talk to the superintendent of deputy. If they call AIC, for information or questions, lots of luck in getting someone to answer or call back. My principal was helping me get some information that I needed. He called and left messages and never got a return call.

  14. whoshelpingthekids says:

    At Briarlake, Culbreath was reassigned to Austin about 1.5 weeks before school started and they announced the Briarlake AP would move to principal the week before school started; At Oak Grove, they are on 3rd principal in 5 years; Hawthorne Elem. has new principal this year. Heard McLendon just had a change; Several Dunwoody schools have new principals: Austin principal left – think it was for job in anouther county; DES has new principal – their’s was moved; Vanderlyn has new princiapl, Dunwoody High School has new principal – Swanson was moved to another school; International Center and DOLA have new principal this year (Segovis); Ashford Park has new principal – Bob Moseley; Druid Hillls HS AP is now an area coordinator;

  15. Chesnut Mom says:

    I have wondered about this, too. I have a child in first grade, so I’m just getting started in the joy that is Dekalb County schools. The Dunwoody area had several principal changes this year. I grew up in Dekalb County and I had the same principal at my elementary school the whole time I was there (grades 1-7 back then). The same at my high school. I do believe that makes a huge difference in the sense of community at the school. I think it’s a big problem that it is now like musical chairs every year. What can be done to make this a job people aspire to and want to keep, rather than just a stepping stone on the way up the ladder?

  16. Coralwood Parent says:

    Some of the information from my 6:36am post was wrong — Coralwood’s principal did retire of her own accord (we’ll miss her!); she wasn’t transferred. Most non-special-ed PreK teachers are indeed gone though, and will apparently be replaced.

  17. The Deal says:

    DeKalb has also failed other schools with respect to principals in another way: a principal who has been at a school for years and has done nothing to improve the school. Numerous complaints, letters, and meetings from many parents over years, and nothing has been done.

  18. TuckerMom says:

    I am certain that Livsey’s principal did not apply for the Coralwood position (though she will do a great job). Knowing that the position had been posted for a while makes me wonder why the county couldn’t have made the transition process more gradual and thoughtful for everyone involved.

  19. Jill says:

    I taught in DeKalb for ten years and worked under five principals. Enough said.

  20. Mad Dad says:

    There continues to be the influence of Womack on the Tucker community, seeking to downgrade the property values and chase people toward the Lakeside end of the district. We hope McMahon did not have a hand in this as we do know he had a meeting with the Livsey parents shortly before the election and now he has dropped out of the public eye, along with Marshall Orson. Are we to believe these guys are just staying out of things and waiting on hiatus? This is exactly why we thought that changing the election from the state law of November to July was a bad idea. What organization tells a leader they are being let go and then let’s them hang around for the next several months? There is no telling what kind of damage Womack will do to whatever areas he blames on his downfall. He needs to look at his own actions if he wants someone to blame.

    The school system has been wanting to close certain schools for a while. Livsey is one of them. They obviously know that a good principal can gain the respect of the community and will be less likely to screw everyone over by doing things like agreeing to a cell tower without alerting the neighborhood or agreeing to downplay a closure list in order to prevent any community activism to save it. Livsey saved their school from closure and told everyone about their great achievements on the CRCT’s, among other things. Their reward? A lawn full of trailers and a shipment of immigrant students that they had to educate without even letting them use the regular building. Talk about segregation! Womack likely heard about the great love everyone had for the principal and the good job she was doing, so they snatched her up in a flurry to upset the community and have taken her over to the soon to be multi-million dollar “special needs” pre-school, along with a lot of highly qualified “non special needs” pre-K students so that we, as taxpayers, can fund a public daycare and pre-K program for the Lakeside / Oak Grove elite for non-disabled children in an environment that is supposed to promote acceptance and understanding. How much time do you think the children really interact with one another? The school is primarily white and will not have a cell tower. Down the road, Margaret Harris, a K – 12 school for the disabled, gets no new improvements other than a cell tower that may cause some of the kids further harm and difficulties esp. if they have hearing aids or cochlear implants that can be damaged by the radio frequency waves.

    And, since when does school watch maintain it’s “rights” to delete items? Are we now supporting censorship? That’s not the freedom of speech we thought we were getting when we signed up for this blog. Exactly who asked about the principals and what are you planning to use these comments for, DSW?

    It looks like it might be time for a School Watch 3, imo. Maybe Denise McGill can moderate it since she was deemed too controversial or angry during her candidacy. Personally, if you are not angry any longer, then you need to retire just like DSW1 because we don’t need people running a watchdog program, volunteer or otherwise, that does not have the same drive we do in exposing the truth, even if it means criticizing a teacher, or principal or board member if that is what it takes to stop this abuse of our system and our money.

  21. Leo says:

    Ashford Park does in fact have a new principal, Dr. McMillan who was previously at Arabia and Cross Keys. It is not Bob Mosley. Prior to Dr. McMillan, we had the same principal and vice-principal team in place for 5-6 years. That principal retired during the middle of last school year and we had an interim principal placed in the school for the second semester. While I think change can be difficult on everyone, in our school’s case, I think we’ve mostly seen positive change out of the moves we’ve experienced. Our principal who retired did a great job of building up the school academically. Our interim came out of retirement to assist and knew how to make stuff happen in Dekalb and was very open and welcoming to parents, so she made it possible to implement programs and changes that the community wanted (although I heard grumblings that the staff didn’t love her). All of those changes were in place for our new principal then when she started, who I like as a parent and who I’ve heard good things about from our teachers. I hope that she sticks around for a while!! Having the same VP in place during all 3 principals likely helped us immensely during all of the change. I suspect we will lose her at some point she gets promoted (and she’s fantastic, so I expect that it’ll happen even though I selfishly hope that it doesn’t!!). All in all, change has enabled us to do good things at our school.

  22. no name says:

    MadDad @ October 4, 2012 at 11:51 AM – you asked “Exactly who asked about the principals and what are you planning to use these comments for, DSW?”

    MadDad, I suggested this topic last night in the “Is DeKalb Following Georgia Law Regarding RIFs?” topic area on DSW2 — it was the post that I made at October 3, 2012 at 10:53 PM.

    As for my motivation for suggesting the topic, multiple studies have shown that principal turnover adversely impacts school performance.

  23. no name says:

    Here is a great report by Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Public Education, titled “The principal perspective: full report”:
    http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/principal-perspective

    If you don’t have time to read the entire report, try skimming thru the “Principals impact their students’ outcomes, particularly at the most challenging schools.” and “Principal turnover adversely impacts schools.” parts of the report.

  24. OakGroveParent says:

    This does not surprise me.

  25. OakGroveParent says:

    The principal at [school] is a bully to the teachers and to the students. I suspect that is who Another DeKalb Teacher is referring to. DeKalb needs to address their problems from the top down but that will be a challenge because the problems are existing at the top levels primarily and seem to be rampant. The “leaders” at the county and school level (at least at my school) seem to be drunk with their perceived power.

  26. TuckerMom says:

    Jim McMahan came over to Livsey yesterday morning for Walk to School Day and helped hand out drinks and fruit to the students. Then he spent over an hour talking to the parents and answering questions about the school board.

  27. @Mad Dad: To Melvin, Marshall and Jim’s credit, they are not officially on the board yet. We completely agree that holding the election in the middle of the summer was a big mistake, but it’s done. It would be obnoxious and rude to stick their noses in the board and school system business right now. We’re glad they’re showing restraint. That said, we’re hopeful that they are listening and learning so that when their terms begin in January they can hit the ground running.

    Also, as far as the deletion of comments go, yes, we do have a right to delete comments we consider too opinionated and mean-spirited against school based employees to publish. We have always said that the board, the superintendent and the ‘cabinet’ are pretty much fair game, as they are either elected or highly paid servants to the public. And yes, if you would like to start an angrier blog than this, it’s easy! We recommend that you do it! But we are going to try to keep ours at some sane level of civility.

  28. Dekalbite2 says:

    Since Lewis, principals have been let go en masse as a way to deflect blame/responsibility from the Central Office. The principals are blamed for low test scores, replaced, and then that buys the Central Office a few more years while taxpayers wait to see some positive results. This has happened over and over. How many times can you “clean house” at the principal’s level and still see not progress and still continue to blame the mid level employees.

    Meanwhile, the Central Office personnel and the BOE who set all of the policies, procedures and programs the principals and teachers must follow get a “pass”. This is not to say that we do not have some ineffective principals in DeKalb, but even good principals are expected to tow the party line that more often than not has nothing to do with increasing student achievement. Principals are not asked how their school can most effectively spend Title 1 funds or if they want all those non Instructional coaches, directors, coordinators, data specialists, lead teachers, etc. in their building rather than personnel who actually instruct students (also known as teachers). Nor does anyone ask them if those multimillion dollar scripted learning programs like Springboard, High Schools that Work, America’s Choice, Success for All, etc. are efficacious for their students. No one consults them on technology needs or purchases.

    Principals have been the main scapegoats for the failures of the Central Office administration. It’s the classic “bait and switch”, calculated to take the taxpayers’ focus off the main problem.

  29. oh what I could say but won’t, it’s not nice. nuf said.

  30. whoshelpingthekids says:

    Orson and McMahan are very busy – don’t be fooled. Communicating with central office staff and other BOE members……they have their own agendas too so get prepared.

  31. teacher/taxpayer says:

    Mad Dad: Your reference to “shipments of immigrants” is rude and racist. I feel badly that you are sending your child such a bad message with your negative attitude. Children of immigrants (many of whom were born here, by the way) deserve an education at a top notch school just as much as any other children do. My grandparents were uneducated Polish immigrants who came here in 1910, and by 1984, 3 of their grandchildren had Master’s degrees. Those of us with such a heritage value and are proud to teach childen of immigrants. It is payback for the gift we were given.
    As for Livsey’s CRCT scores, it is easier to get top scores when most of the students are from white-collar families who could afford a good pre-school and can help them at home. I am sure the teachers at Livsey are up to the challenge of working with children whose parents do not speak English as a first language.

  32. teacher/taxpayer says:

    Mad Dad: Oh, by the way, how many languages can you speak fluently? My students are smarter than I am — I only speak English. I would get really low scores on the CRCT if I had to take it in Spanish.

  33. Person says:

    Too frequently DeKalb principals are just motivated by salary and prestige; they are not necessarily dedicated leaders who put children and their families first. Many are merely climbing the career ladder as opposed to having a genuine interest in building better school environments.

    Principals do need many years to improve failing schools. They also need many years to build community in excelling schools.

    I feel that the principal should always be a good match for the student population the school serves; mostly refugee population?-the principal should have experience with diverse cultures and should have overseas work experience at some level. Mostly transient population?- the principal should have social work experience. There are good people out there who are good principal material. DeKalb just needs to find them and keep them.

  34. @whoshelpingthekids…Bob Moseley is at Jolly, not Ashford Park. Fact check please. ;). Not sure about your other claims.?

  35. @dekalbite2,
    True about the principals being scapegoats…I was at a recent meeting with an area superintendent who was asked by a teacher what DCSD’s responsibility is in improving the morale of the teachers with all the recent cutbacks and difficulties. Basically, the blunt answer was it is not the district’s duty to please the teachers. It is the principal’s job. If they (“top bosses”) sense any hostility at a school during a visit they ask the principal what he/she is doing to boost staff morale. That may explain the greater turnover in recent years of principals as they are put under the tracks by the district. I am hopeful the new “leadership academy” they are forming will help. Of course it will take some years to form and many principals will be traded from school to school in the meantime. This is likely the only thing keeping me from pursuing a leadership position at this moment. Still considering though…

  36. BTW, my school has had 5 principals in my 12+ years teaching. The year before I arrived was the final year for the beloved principal who was there for 15+ years. The few that remain from that time still talk highly of him. My experience however…
    Principal #1. 1 year
    P#2. 5 years
    P#3. 1 year
    P#4. 5 years
    P#5. Currently in first year
    Additionally, 8 assistant principals in that time, 4 of which are or have been lead principals.
    Guess it keeps a school on it’s toes….but trust me when I say this year tops them all with all new initiatives.

  37. concernforthekids says:

    Can you imagine Womack doing this?
    Check it out and let me know what you think.
    CFTK

    http://www.livseypto.org/

  38. DunMoody says:

    I wonder if Atkinson is moving principals around to keep their allegiance to her, not to their schools. It’s human nature … if your job security is subject to the next “corporate/educrat” move, you’ll pay more attention to the top office, not to your current placement.

    As for principal changes: We have had three different principals at Austin Elementary, then two at Peachtree Charter Middle, and now our fourth at Dunwoody High in the past 14 years.

  39. sodekalb teacher says:

    i’ve been at my school for 18+ years; we have had 9 principals in that time, most of them office sitters; principalship in dekalb appears to be a program in which county officials place their buds for 3 years before they retire so they can get a few extra unearned $.

  40. Concernedmom30329 says:

    In N. DeKalb at least, as far as I can tell, almost all principals who moved did so because they got better offers from another system, asked for a transfer, retired, etc. In almost every case, the person appointed to the position had a connection with the school, ie Culbersch moving back to Austin, the AP at Briarlake being moved up to principal there. With the exception of the timing of the move at Briarlake, I thought Atkinson was very savvy, appeasing the vocal N. DeKalb parents. Livsey appears to be an exception.

    I think Atkinson wasn’t trying to “buy” the loyalty of those employees, rather she was trying to avoid angry parents.

    I can’t speak to what has happened in S. DeKalb in terms of leadership changes. Anyone care to share if they see/saw a pattern?

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