Parent Councils United: Advancing the Superintendent Search

PARENT COUNCILS UNITED — SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH RECOMMENDATION

Parent Councils United, with membership from throughout DeKalb County, works to strengthen our school district by providing a collaborative forum for educational issues. Our focus is promoting a stronger school system with positive education outcomes for students.

Superintendent Search Recommendation

Our goal is to engage leading stakeholders, building on recent positive steps in our school district. We see an inclusive and transparent superintendent hiring process as a valuable next-step in forging a stronger foundation of trust within the district.

Brief Superintendent History

The last 12 years in DeKalb have yielded five superintendents, including two formal searches and two interim assignments. Selected superintendents were ousted early at a cost to tax payers as contract payments continued.

  • 2002 – Dr. Johnny Brown hired. Search and selection process was hazy; even some Board of Ed members questioned how he so quickly rose to the top and was selected. Regardless, the Board and he parted company in 2004. The Board continued to pay his contract.
  • 2004 – Dr. Crawford Lewis was immediately appointed to fill Brown’s position. It was unclear at the time if he was an interim or permanent, but the Board chose to look no further. No formal search initiated.
  • 2010- Lewis indicted; Ramona Tyson appointed as interim.
  • 2011- Board search and selection process for new superintendent seemed publically flawed when a top candidate withdrew. Atkinson was hired with a 6-3 Board vote.
  • 2013 – Rumors of a replacement circulated prior to Atkinson leaving. After her resignation, the Board continued paying her contract. Michael Thurmond hired as interim without formal search & selection process.
  • 2013 – Governor ousts six Board members, appoints new ones, leaves newly elected.
  • 2014 – Michael Thurmond’s extended contract ends June 2015. Search and selection process begins.

Concerns

DeKalb County School District recently sent sealed bid requests to 41 superintendent search firms to assist the Board as it seeks a superintendent replacement. Only four search firms replied. Concerned with the lack of response, the purchasing department rereleased an updated request to 129 entities with bids to be unsealed November 12, 2014.

PCU, questioning why thirty-seven firms chose to opt out, requested the vendor list. The required open records request was denied because of District sealed bid procurement regulations.

We view the failure to attract top-rated search firms and to reach out to the community at the beginning of this multi-step process to be troubling.

Choices

Not all districts choose a sealed bid process for search firm selection.

A cursory internet search shows numerous districts opt for an open selection process. Many boards choose to interview firms publically and ask questions after presentations; seeking not always the cheapest firm but “the best fit.”

A Dallas Morning News report included a list of firms the Plano system was considering, and background on the three firms making the final interview process.

One district website stated:

As part of the inclusive process, there are three major opportunities for the public to be involved: 1) during the selection of an executive search firm in an open Board meeting, 2) identifying characteristics of a future Superintendent and attributes of the community in order to attract qualified candidates, and 3) in the final selection process of Superintendent candidates.

Recommendation

PCU recommends a DeKalb School District Superintendent search and selection process in keeping with those completed in Atlanta and Boston. Both school systems established independent search committees. Both systems trusted a group of local leaders to provide a broad base of experience and perspective to find the best search firm and the best superintendent candidates.

A respected independent selection committee signals to both the community and superintendent candidates that DeKalb County is ready to build on the foundation of change experienced during the tenure of our most recent superintendent.

Briefly

Parent Councils United of DeKalb believes that the level of public engagement and transparency demonstrated by the formation of an independent Superintendent Search and Selection Committee will build a more trusting and inviting environment when we welcome a new superintendent to our DeKalb community.

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DSW Note: We agree wholeheartedly. We need to have an open, public selection process and we need to get started yesterday!

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20 Responses to Parent Councils United: Advancing the Superintendent Search

  1. kirklunde says:

    Way to go PCU!
    I support your efforts.

  2. dsw2contributor says:

    To really understand the DCSS Superintendent Search process, think of Charlie Brown kicking the football. Lucy van Pelt would promise Charlie Brown that she will hold the football while he kicks it. Charlie wouldn’t trust Lucy, but she would say something to get him to trust her. He would then run to kick the football, but Lucy would pull it away and Charlie would somersalt thru the air. He would land on his back and then Lucy would tell him that he shouldn’t have trusted her.

    Lucy is DCSS, we are Charlie Brown, and the yanking of the football away will be the hiring of a current Palace administrator to be the Permanent Superintendent.

  3. howdy1942 says:

    @dsw2contributor – I like you analogy!! And I am a Peanuts fan!!

    I wish that we could have a truly open and effective selection process. But think back to just the most recent selection process for Dr. Atkinson. That process was an embarrassing comedy of errors. Remember how confidential information regarding candidates was leaked (only the school board members could have possible known that information)? Remember how at least one candidate’s position was placed in jeopardy? Remember that then BOE chairman Tom Bowen promised to get to the bottom of it? Do you remember what the results were? Do you remember Eugene Walker and does anyone think that Melvin Johnson is more effective?

    Now, let’s think why so many search firms have so little interest. Given the conduct of the school board in doing just the basics, like keeping confidentiality, is it any wonder that interest would be so low? And, unless things change, I can think of few candidates who are now in good jobs were even entertain Dekalb, even though it does pay at least $275,000 per year. And think about the longevity of recent superintendents. I’m all for consideration of all candidates, but why would any white candidate even apply? (Please don’t read that the wrong way – I’m just facing reality!)

    I doubt that any real changes will come from this selection process. The central administration power structure is in place and it has the support of a majority of the school board. The latitude of any superintendent to make real change will be very narrow. I suspect that Michael Thurmond will make his recommendation and that will be it. No change. Rubber stamp. Move on. We won’t have any change until the grasp of those who led our school system to the brink of disaster and continues to fight any change – until that grasp is broken, little will change.

    But I do think that the Legislature is growing weary of having to be faced with Dekalb every year. It is now in the process of creating a group of five legislators that will break the impasse ot the three cityhood proposals and we will likely see three new cities next year. Governor Deal is a champion of charter schools and I look forward to new opportunities for charter schools in Dekalb County.

  4. sawyerbrown68 says:

    I am trying to understand the principal appointment process in Dekalb County. The principal impacts school too much to let it go unchecked even at Lakeside.

    Let’s look at Mr. Deuce’s resume and credentials. He is homebrewed in the Dekalb system. I don’t think he worked anywhere else.

    He is a creature of the system. He is an insider. Dr. Atkinson picked him for a “free” doctorate at Mercer. Outsiders did not get pick. By the way, the entire Atkinson doctorate class has been an abject failure. Where are these people now? Name one still in Dekalb doing a good job!

    I am calling the superintendent’s office today again. His office needs to hear as many calls as possible from citizens, parents, and concerned homeowners as he forgets that principals do not have tenure and no right to cling to a position they are not qualified for.

    We have damaged goods. I plan to visit Lakeside to ask questions and find out for myself if the teachers still have faith and confidence in the leadership.

    Report of my visit to come. Stay tuned.

  5. dsw2contributor says:

    sawyerbrown68 – “By the way, the entire Atkinson doctorate class has been an abject failure. …Name one still in Dekalb doing a good job!”

    My recollection is that the current Principal of Druid Hills High School was one of Atkinson’s selectees. She’s doing a good job, as far as I know. Back in 2010, the original DSW blog even featured a “great blog entry” by her.

  6. Kim says:

    Brittany Cunningham (DHHS) is a decades long product of Cross Keys attendance area as a math teacher, then admin, and eventually principal of Sequoyah MS. You’re lucky to have her. Our loss.

  7. We agree. Ms. Cunningham is a gem!

  8. sawyerbrown68 says:

    If Brittany Cunningham earned her doctorate at Mercer under the Atkinson program, Atkinson did at least one good deed.

    Ms. Cunningham had actually proven her talent and worth in the classroom. Our man has not done such things!

    Ms. Cunningham was an assistant principal who took over a sinking ship (Sequoyah Middle School) that everyone wanted to avoid leading and steadied its course. Our man did no such thing. He ran away from his school to hide under the skirts of the Lakeside powers and shakers. He played computer games in his office instead of learning how to be an administrator. He had several secretaries leave his side.

    Where Ms. Cunningham seems to be a straight shooter and positive leader, our man is a toxic administrator glued by self-doubts and insecurities.

  9. dsw2contributor says:

    Actually, I am pretty sure that none of Cheryl Atkinson’s chosen ones actually ended up earning a Mercer Ed.D. Atkinson announced their selection in September of 2012:
    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/state-to-approve-phd-grants-for-dekalb-school-admi/nS7X3/
    That announcement said it was a 3-year program, so if they had stuck with it, they would not be finished yet. However, I think Thurmond axed the funding for the degrees, so if they wanted to finish, they had to pay their own way for the remaining two years. Principals had their pay cut at about the same time, so I don’t think they were in a position to keep paying for the degrees out of their own pockets.

    If anyone has time to investigate further, this would be a great topic to writeup for DSW!

  10. Kim says:

    sawyerbrown: I’ll take issue with your “sinking ship” assertion above … Brittany. Cunningham took over as principal at Sequoyah from Mr. Trenton Arnold’s tenure there and they were close associates as she “came up the ranks” at SMS with Mr. Arnold. Brittany certainly deserves credit for continuing the excellent track record of Sequoyah for academic results and discipline. But Mr. Arnold set the bar and passed that baton to her after many years as schoolhouse leader. Not sinking ship in sight …

  11. Kim says:

    Oh! And I would like to add that Ms. Cunningham had been working on her actuarial doctorate or masters long before Atkinson showed up. To my knowledge, she continues on that path at Emory University. DCSD needs to retain these types of leaders and those like Mr. Arnold IN THE SCHOOL HOUSES! Until the career path for the capable and ambitious no longer leds through the Central Office, we will continue to have a “Brain Drain” in the front offices of our schools.

  12. sawyerbrown68 says:

    My mistake. I regret my statement about a sinking ship.

    I heard only good things about Mr. Arnold. My sinking ship reference has been influenced by an earlier regime.

    Mr. Arnold should make every effort to spend the day with Mr. Principal to ascertain his fitness for the job.

    Mr. Arnold should ask for the most very basic documents, ask about the most basic functions, and ask the staff about the frequency and the quality of the faculty meetings. From these exercises, Mr. Arnold would be able to decide when to unplug the patient from the ventillator, now, December 31, or June 30.

    A decisive majority of the Lakeside staff has completely lost confidence in its Principal ability to lead. The survival of the school can’t be less important than the survival of its Principal.

    Just go away, Mr. Principal.

  13. DCSD FOR DUMMIES says:

    Hmm, apparently you don’t that Cunningham and Arnold “worked really hard” to ensure that Sequoyah made AYP. You may want to investigate to see how it was really done and why he (Arnold) was sent to Stone Mountain afterwards. Hmm, I’m not impressed by Arnold at all because I know him.

  14. Kim says:

    Speaking only for myself and, in light of the shocking information DCSD for Ds has shared, I’ll have to discard everything I know and have observed about Mr. Arnold and Brittany Cunningham over the years. Wait, no, your comment in the absence of any information was just hateful innuendo. Nevermind.

    Hmm, DCSD for Ds apparently you don’t know me. I respect what people know when they speak frankly about it not when what they think is paraded around as knowledge.

    If you know something, let’s discuss it. If you don’t, I’ll just take your opinion for what it is worth – an opinion. I have one, too. Everyone has one. Just like armpits …

  15. Kim says:

    I popped my pretty little head into this thread up there to correct a very specific bit of misinformation about Sequoyah MS and its history under the leadership of the two aforementioned folks. I really don’t see the point of turning this into a discussion about what you or I think about these two individuals.

    How does this relate to the Superintendent search again??? I may be passionate but I’m slow. Just ask my wife…

  16. Scott Danielson says:

    sawyerbrown68….by saying that you plan to visit Lakeside and question the staff, I assume that you don’t work at Lakeside. I do and honestly if you came in to question me about my opinion on administration I would certainly not tell you a thing….either positive or negative. People who do talk tend to be very partisan in either direction. Something to keep in mind

  17. concerned citizen says:

    There isn’t anyone anywhere who will be allowed into Lakeside to “visit …and question the staff.” I don’t think the area supt, supt, or anyone else has that authority. And what about what whoever’s findings? Does what happens at Lakeside stay at Lakeside? I think so.

  18. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Scott,

    I refuse to be as cynical as you are about the faculty. Try to contact one of your children’s teachers and see for yourself.

    StarTrek says that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few. Property values and the future of the communty’s children do matter!

    In the days to come, this Lakeside comedy will come to a predictable halt and Mr. Principal will have to face the community’s questions. Soon, he will realize the game is up.

    He can replace every assistant principal and bring in a new administration but HE will not be able to lead. He won’t be able to spin that. He has lost the confidence of the faculty and staff. The investigation makes it clear that Dekalb County had already lost confidence in HIM a while ago.

    I don’t think any good administrator will want to come to Lakeside knowing that Mr. Principal is narcistic and incompetent. Every one at the County knows that HE lies and He doesn’t hesitate to throw every one under the train to save his own skin.

    Mr. Principal is still at the school, one has to guess, because HE has retained a private attorney. Fortunately, attorneys can only do so much with damaged goods.

    In the meantime, parents should “occupy” Lakeside!

  19. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Scott,

    I am sorry. I came back from a trip to India with a little fatigue. I did not realize that you work at Lakeside.

    Thank you for posting.

    How was last week’s faculty meeting? How is the Principal explaining the situation?

Comments are closed.