AJC Opinion: ‘DeKalb Way’ is wrong way in school chief search

Originally posted at the AJC blog, “Get Schooled”. CLICK HERE to join their conversation.

By Lynn Deutsch

The DeKalb County school board is making a mess of the search for a permanent superintendent. The state’s third largest school system is in danger of being leaderless when the interim superintendent’s contract expires in June.

The system is in dire need of a strong, proven leader who can make systematic, meaningful and thoughtful changes to address a myriad of pressing issues.

The lack of a sense of urgency and the inability to come up with a transparent process raises questions about this board’s understanding of the challenges facing a system where 11 high schools have a graduation rate of 66 percent or less and more than a third of all 8th graders did not meet expectations in math on the CRCT.

When Gov. Nathan Deal replaced the former Board of Education, I was pleased. I expected, however, the appointed and newly elected board members would immerse themselves in the history of the school system and strive to learn from mistakes made by previous boards.

However, observing the board during this critical time, I believe history is simply about to repeat itself. The board is not setting up a process similar to the one that City of Atlanta used which allowed ample public input and was led by individuals with a long history of civic involvement.

Rather, it seems in DeKalb the board is willing to let bureaucrats be involved with the hiring of their own boss. This does not seem like a model for success. Rather it appears the process is being designed to hire locally. Instead of attracting a nationally (or even regionally) recognized leader, the process seems to be a repeat of previous superintendent searches gone bad.

Representatives from the various regional parent councils within DeKalb came together to form a system-wide parents organization called Parents Council United last year. At a time when DeKalb County is literally falling apart, the need for such an organization is critical.

While I am not a member of Parents Council United, I believe their position sums up exactly what needs to happen with the DeKalb superintendent search and why it is so critical corrections in the process be made now.

Parent Councils United of DeKalb believes 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.

PCU has done more than simply issue a statement; they have reached out to a cross-section of civic, business and educational leaders from DeKalb asking if they would serve on a search committee if invited. It is time for the DeKalb Board of Education to show they understand the “DeKalb Way” so many cling to hasn’t worked out so well.

In fact, it might not be misguided to say the “DeKalb Way” has led to a system that regularly fails students and their community.

I challenge the DeKalb Board of Education to step back and reassess the direction they are headed with the superintendent search. Put in a process that is transparent with a team of civic leaders who can assist in attracting top talent to a system desperate for the right leader.

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Lynn Deutsch is the parent of three children. She has served on numerous committees at the local and state level, including the Citizens Planning Task Force and the Master Teacher and Academic Coach Implementation Committee. She is also a Dunwoody councilwoman.

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18 Responses to AJC Opinion: ‘DeKalb Way’ is wrong way in school chief search

  1. howdy1942 says:

    Lynn Deutsch is right on the money and also expresses my sentiments exactly. This school board appointed, for the most part, by Governor Deal has had a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community, develop widespread support, and unite Dekalb County from North Dekalb to South Dekalb. It hasn’t. Its idea of reaching out to the community is for it (the school board) to make its own decision and then go out to the community hoping for a rubber stamp. That hasn’t worked. To the contrary, it has further alienated the community and enhanced the divisiveness.

    It could have sat down and tried to reach a win-win with Druid Hills. It didn’t. It could have reached out to the Dunwoody, Lakeside, Tucker, and Brookhaven communities to find a common path forward. It didn’t. It could have done so many things differently , but it did not.

    We have an “interim” superintendent who has been in place for 23 months and this board has barely begun to move on what should have been its greatest priority – finding a new, permanent superintendent. I suspect that this board will “persuade” Mr. Thurmond to “stay on”. And, as Lynn has pointed out, it has kept this “selection” process to itself. Perhaps, just perhaps, the communities involved might have suggested some very good candidates. I would also ask what this board has done or is doing to insure that we don’t have a repeat of the terrible mess of a superintendent selection that we had the last time around. I have the names of what I consider to be two candidates worthy of consideration and who both live outside the state, but I don’t think either would be interested unless they could be very assured of confidentiality and full consideration. One is a white male and the other is a white female and, right now, I don’t think either would be considered fully. Both are far, far better than Dr. Atkinson and Dr. Lewis and both have experience as superintendents in systems of 40,000 to 50,000 students.

    One of the most important tests for any school system is the extent to which it has the support of the community. The present board and school system barely has 40% (that is generous) and that is unlikely to change unless this board changes. I read with interest a recent letter from a teacher of seniors at Druid Hills High School who cited an increase in the “poverty” level of students of 11 percent in the past five years. She goes on to say that learning is far down their list of priorities. That is sad. What does that say about the future financial situation of the Dekalb County School System? We already have the highest millage rate of any school system in the State and also one that is maxed out. I doubt that the Legislature is going to grad Dekalb any relief.

    This school board and this administration has a very serious disconnect with the public. And the first thing it needs to do is understand that.

  2. dsw2contributor says:

    GREAT post, Howdy!

    I think you are wrong about one thing. You wrote that you think that the “board will ‘persuade’ Mr. Thurmond to ‘stay on'”. Based upon what I am seeing, I think Mr. Thurmond is leaving and he will be replaced by a current DCSS Palace Administrator.

    DCSS’s “Search” is a masterful combination of a dog-and-pony show and self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Qualified candidates from outside DCSS who do a little research will quickly see that the search is a dog-and-pony show. Those qualified candidates are not going to waste their time nor risk their professional reputations by applying. So, at the of the day, the search firm(s) will be able to honestly tell the board that they were unable to find anyone better than our current Palace Administrator.

  3. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Howdy and Dsw2contributor are castigating the Dekalb County School District for hiring from within or from inside but they welcome principals appointed from inside or within Lakeside ( and perhaps Dunwoody?).

    Howdy is not clamoring for Black, Hispanics, or Asians male or female experienced candidates who have previously led high schools before to be apponted. Instead, at least at Lakeside, settling for mediocrity is acceptable.

    Scouring the internet for previous posting about other schools, I note that turbulence and tumult at other schools are debated ad nauseam (Lithonia, McNair, Cedar Grove) but scant are the posts about our schools ( Lakeside, Dunwoody, Druid Hills).

    To be respected, we must be fair and our interests should coincide with our honor.

  4. sawyerbrown68 says:

    I went to Lakeside today to speak to Mr. Principal and staff. No luck with either.

    HE was not in the building all day was not expected to be back during the day* because HE was attending the Dekalb County Schools “principal meeting”. I thought principals returned to their schools after meetings. When do these meetings end? Do you just take part or all of the afternoon off at the end?

    HE will be back tomorrow to chair the 3 o’clock faculty meeting and the 4 o’clock Lakeside School School Advisory meeting.

    They said the public was actually allowed to attend the Advisory meeting. If you don’t have any plans, why not come?

    *A teacher told me that Mr. Principal plastered a large note on HIS door informing the staff of this all-day absence like a Macbethian figure clinging to the throne as Birnam Wood advances to Dunsinane.

  5. dsw2contributor says:

    Sawyerbrown68, I am critical of DCSS’s Superintendent search because what I am seeing leads me to believe that the fix is in.

    As for Principals, read DSW2’s “Do we have a principal problem in DeKalb?” topic from October 2012 – over two years back:
    https://dekalbschoolwatch.com/2012/10/04/do-we-have-a-principal-problem-in-dekalb

  6. howdy1942 says:

    I’m not clamoring for either a black or white or male or female – I’m clamoring for a well-qualified and experienced superintendent. The two candidates that I happen to know are both white and one is female and the other male. But they both have experience with proven results in leading school districts of around 40,000 or 50,000 students. Dr. Atkinson led a school district of 7,000 students before coming to Dekalb. We got into a lot of trouble with Dr. Lewis, who was promoted from within. We got into a lot of trouble with an inept, poorly executed, and even more poorly managed superintendent search that eventually resulted in Dr. Atkinson only to see her “leave” just 18 months later at the prodding of the school board chairman. Then we had the sham hiring of Michael Thurmond with no consideration of other candidates, no input from the public, and no announcement that there was, in fact, a vacancy. Thurmond was hired before Atkinson left. And to my knowledge, the only credentials that he had for the job were that Marshal Orson met him at some dinner and liked him. Thurmond promised to be an “interim” for no more than one year – we still have him at 22 months and will have him for at least another eight.

    I think any internal promotion would not be in the best interests of healing a clearly divided Dekalb County. Any internal candidate would have internal loyalties, internal baggage, and difficulty managing and leading those who were once his/her peers. We need someone from the outside who would take an objective, non-biased approach. We need someone who is experienced in leading a school district and who has proven results. The chances are small of that happening with the “closed” approach being taken by this school board. This school board needs to be open, to invite participation by the public, and to encourage recommendations. This school board seems to be having difficulty just selecting a search firm let alone a new superintendent.

    The Dekalb County School System is badly broken. When people look for a place to live, they look first at the school system before they even consider whether or not the County government is also broken. The Dekalb County School System has cost all of us in Dekalb County dearly and that just isn’t in the financial waste and corruption that has plagued us all. Our children have suffered, almost being faced with the consequences of losing accreditation. And our property values have suffered and continue to suffer because this school board cannot get its act together and lead, inspire, motivate, and offer promise. Remember, this board was elected with just 10% of Dekalb’s voters actually voting!

    This school board needs to figure out how to befriend the community, not alienate them. It needs to include them at the start of a process and not try to impose its ways on them. Maybe the incoming board will totally surprise me and take some positive steps to heal the divide. It first needs to begin with a new school board chairman whose employment history does not include 30 years as a Dekalb School administrator. Stan Jester would be a very good one, but I doubt that he could possibly be elected. Anyway, there is always hope.

  7. Your new Super Candidate…. Ramona Tyson! The Palace F & F 6 figure workers must remain!
    DCSS mired in the muck of mediocrity since 2000. Haliford Stadium field still says premiere! You have to laugh… right?

  8. sawyerbrown68 says:

    I am certainly not advocating an inside hire. It’s a bad idea at the county level and a bad idea at the school level. It can’t be good at Lakeside and bad a the county level.

    The continued presence of Ms. Ramona Tyson prevents many of the mistakes she made both as an amateurish Technology Head and as mediocre Interim Super from being corrected by her successors.

    Since she remains an powerful figure in the hierarchy of DCSS, her replacements in both former positions have to go softly in making much needed changes. Luckily, changes are being made from one computer grading system to a better one and from one electronic mailing system to a better one.

    By the way, Governor Deal thinks Mr. Thurmond has some good qualities by his appointment to the State Board of something in education.

  9. sawyerbrown68 says:

    A Tale of Four Schedules

    Returning to topic of Lakeside and Mr. Principal, I found out that Mr. Principal was responsible for planning and implementing the master class and teacher schedule for the last 3 years as an assistant principal. The master class and teacher schedule is the document that drives instruction and provides for the assignment of an adequate number of teachers to support the core business of the school.

    HIS first 2 schedules were supervised and repaired by the previous principal, Mr. Reed, who HE now replaces.

    HIS 3rd schedule was unsupervised and unrepaired because HE became Mr. Principal. That schedule apparently went wrong.

    The 4th year schedule, for the current year, was put together by Dr. J. This schedule was created at the direction and under the supervision of Mr. Principal. He had the authority to change it and apply HIS “considerable experience and wisdom” of 7 years at Lakeside to make it workable.

    Dr. J. abruptly left last Friday. She becomes HIS excuse for this year’s schedule problem.

    Lakeside parents and community, how did that schedule work for you?

    Mr. Principal is our own Ramona Tyson. We can do better.

    Attend the Advisory meeting at 4 o’clock today.

  10. Frustrated Dekalb Parent says:

    Does anyone know if there is something on the DCSD site about the superintendent process? I looked and could not find anything. If there are community engagement meetings on the issue, I would like to attend.

  11. Atlanta Media Guy says:

    Frustrated, I am sure the former Technology head, Tyson scrubbed any “process” from the “new” “premiere” website! The Palace must maintain its’ overpaid staff of inexperienced friends and family so the status quo can remain. Did anyone expect changes when no one from the Clew Crew was fired? Some were demoted back into schools, but with their same salary, others were promoted into Palace positions they had no business being in.

    Keep looking, I am sure there will be a process once an insider is hired by the inept board. Is the super’s job even posted at PATS?

    In regards to community engagement, good luck with that. How many Blue ribbon panels, charettes and surveys have gone wasted, while the Palace staff wrote the reports to suit their needs and not the communities. The Palace guard do not care what the community wants or needs, they just want to maintain their gravy train, at the trough of the taxpayer.

    I do not expect many changes until there are wholesale firings at the Palace, like cutting Palace staff by 50% and putting that money saved back into the classrooms.

  12. howdy1942 says:

    Stan,

    Do you know where in this process we are? As I write this, we are at December 3, 2014, and I haven’t seen or heard anything.

  13. The timeline in full >>

    April – June 2014

    Announce decision to conduct a search
    Ratify ad hoc board committee
    Collect information for whole board discussion
    

    July – August 2014

    Draft a search process timeline
    Launch a communication website for public transparency
    Develop draft RFP for search firm
    Issue public RFP advertisement
    

    September – October 2014

    Select/vote on a search firm
    Hold search firm planning meetings with the board
    Establish tentative timeline for search
    

    November – December 2014

    Hold meetings with board and other communication methods (i.e. online survey)
    Seek input on superintendent position from community, students, and employee stakeholders
    Publish and distribute information about the superintendent position (i.e. qualifications, characteristics, expectations)
    

    January – February 2015

    Accept applications through search firm
    Carry out recruitment efforts
    Complete initial screening through search firm
    Develop board interview techniques
    Report initial screening progress to board
    

    March – April 2015

    Select semi-finalists/interview semi-finalists
    Select finalist/complete finalist interviews
    Make decision to offer position
    Announce selection of finalist
    

    May – June 2015

    Negotiate contract
    Ratify employment contract
    Conduct follow-up workshop to establish new board-superintendent team for effective communication and mutual understanding
    Transition any critical business from former superintendent to new superintendent
    Conduct meet/greet events and teambuilding activities
    Provide on-going connectivity
        Internal (board, senior staff, employee groups, etc.)
        External (government, legislation, state, agencies, organizations)
    
  14. So – according to the schedule >>

    November – December 2014

    Hold meetings with board and other communication methods (i.e. online survey)
    Seek input on superintendent position from community, students, and employee stakeholders
    Publish and distribute information about the superintendent position

    Has anyone been asked for input? It’s December 4. When do you think they’ll ask? Probably over the holiday break…

  15. bettyandveronica1 says:

    “The DeKalb way” = oh, just give it to Tyson…she can do something with e job, she already has experience. Bleck!

  16. Stan Jester says:

    A new RFQ for a Superintendent Search Firm went out dated October 6th. Monday’s Work Session should reveal the results.

    Oct 6 RFQ
    https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=4054&AID=567282&MID=36256

  17. sawyerbrown68 says:

    Lakeside is looking for a new assistant principal. Who would want to apply to be an administrator under Mr. Toxic Principal? A thrill-seeker, maybe. A rational person, no.

    Wait!

    Wait for a new principal to be named before you apply if you are “experienced” and you want to keep your job for more than one year. You will soon get sick of HIS lack of knowledge, of HIS lack of experience, of HIS lack of focus, and HIS abundance of charlatanism.

    It will be impossible to do your job.

    Wait for a new principal to be named before you apply if you are “inexperienced” and you want to keep your job for more than one year. You will soon find yourself lost by HIS lack of knowledge, by HIS lack of experience, by HIS lack of focus, and by HIS abundance of charlatanism.

    Get your experience under a good principal.

    Just ask around if you are in doubt.

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