By Rick Callihan
A Dunwoody View: DeKalb schools superintendent position demands attention
A self-imposed deadline for hiring a new superintendent for the DeKalb County School System has now passed with no results, aside from giving us more of the same — the ‘same’ being a three month extension of Ramona Tyson’s contract as interim superintendent.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the southeast’s school accreditation association, has given DeKalb until October to hire a full-time superintendent.
I’ll be polite and not give the school board an ‘F’ on their assignment quite yet, but will instead issue an ‘incomplete’ grade. Instead of hiring an impressive candidate from a large school district in Texas, our school board remains deadlocked, while the city of Atlanta, Cobb County and Fulton County school systems all successfully hired new superintendents in time for the start of their school systems’ fiscal year.
Recently Dunwoody Sen. Fran Millar suggested Brad Bryant become our new superintendent. Bryant served on the DeKalb board for 12 years and more recently served on the state’s Board of Education. The problem with Bryant is that he is a DeKalb insider and has no classroom experience. If a person like Bryant is hired, he needs to quickly surround himself with experts in curriculum.
It’s no secret DeKalb has a bloated central office and a new superintendent is needed to clean house. Much of this bloat was started when Bryant was on the board. Also, Bryant is very familiar with the problems in DeKalb schools. Why did he do nothing regarding DeKalb while he had his power position on the state Board of Education?
Our next superintendent needs to be from outside of Georgia. We need fresh ideas and a new set of eyes and ears in DeKalb.
Dr. Robert Duron of San Antonio, Texas, is the candidate I’d like to see hired by DeKalb. He is from a large district, a district that resembles DeKalb more than other districts in metro Atlanta.
Duron has demonstrated results in a school system like our own, something our previous superintendent and current interim have not done. The school board has four members strongly behind Duron, yet a fifth is needed, needed desperately.
Two weeks ago the state released Criterion Referenced Competency Test results by district. I’m a firm believer that parents needn’t ruminate on system-wide test data and should instead focus on their child’s personal progress. But some systemic problems just can’t be ignored.
In reviewing CRCT data from eight metro Atlanta school systems – DeKalb, Cobb, Fulton, Clayton and Gwinnett county systems and the city systems in Decatur, Marietta and Atlanta — the results are embarrassing for DeKalb. The school testing data is surely not something local Chamber of Commerce offices will be printing in brochures to lure new residents and businesses to DeKalb.
In comparison of test data from third, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth grade DeKalb students to their peers, DeKalb comes in last or next-to-last in 23 of 25 categories. Categories include reading, math, science, social studies, and language arts (for each grade level).
That’s right, the folks in Clayton County, once the poster child for state intervention, have bragging rights over DeKalb. Hats off to Clayton County. They had to hit rock bottom before making changes. No doubt there are many great students and teachers in schools throughout the DeKalb system, but the system as a whole is broken. Parents, business owners, and taxpayers alike need an outsider to right this massively bloated ship.
By not choosing a well-qualified candidate, the school board is setting itself up for a huge defeat in November when a vote on extending the penny sales tax (the special local option sales tax, or SPLOST) is on the ballot. How can the school board expect us to vote to tax ourselves when the system has not demonstrated the ability to use its funding to do more than build itself an elaborate central office complex?
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Not In the Column, but worth mentioning:
I have no problem with State Senator Fran Millar suggesting a specific person for superintendent. I'm actually glad to see some state folks taking a close look at the mess we have here in DeKalb. I wish Mr. Millar would just look a little further than our own backyard for new leadership. Mr. Millar bailed out the school system a few years ago, salvaging millions of state dollars the school system failed to secure due to ignorance.
Although I am for local control of schools, I don't consider 100,000 kids and $1.5 billion budget (more than the DeKalb County budget, including police, fire, sanitation, etc.) as "local". I propose Mr. Millar (and Rep Tom Taylor) work on legislation that eliminates these mega school systems. Gwinnett County will soon (within 10 years) be in the same position we are now. Next time the General Assembly meets I hope a Constitutional amendment allowing charters and new school districts is the main topic. Perhaps legislation that allows for new school districts to be formed in cities that have MARTA. Or maybe allow new school districts to be formed (divided) when a district exceeds a student population of more than 65,000 students.
In regards to SPLOST, as of now I am against it. The SPLOST thing started 20+ years ago in Georgia. The original intent of a SPLOST was for voters to vote themselves a penny tax to pay for a special project. Once the project was paid for, the SPLOST was gone. Now, the SPLOST (for schools) is being used for standard budget items like school maintenance, sports fields, fancy chairs and catered meals for upper management at the DeKalb central office. Before voters approve a SPLOST for DeKalb schools, let's see some significant cuts at the central office. Tyson or Bryant aren't the ones we need to make significant cuts. Tyson has done nothing to trim the excess fat off the pig of a bloated school system.