Employees and students in the DeKalb County Schools woke up to new leadership on Tuesday. The school district is in transition again after the board let Superintendent Stephen Green go Monday, earlier than expected.
At the end of 2012, it seemed like DeKalb was nearing rock-bottom. The district’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), placed the district on accredited probation. Mark Elgart, the CEO of SACS’s parent company AdvancED, scolded the board for poor leadership and financial mismanagement.
“The current condition of this school system is one that could be classified as one in conflict and chaos,” he said.
Elgart said a pattern of mismanagement developed over a decade.
“There’s been poor, ineffective governance; there’s been a decline in student performance, and there’s been a depletion of the financial resources of this system to a position today that is very dangerous,” he said.
A lot happened after that. The school board dismissed then-superintendent Cheryl Atkinson. It brought former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond on as the interim superintendent.
The district’s probationary status triggered a state law requiring the Georgia Board of Education to hold a hearing. For 14 hours, state board members questioned DeKalb County School District staff and board members. Afterward, the state board recommended then-governor Nathan Deal remove six of the nine DeKalb board members, which he did.
“This is an issue that needs to be resolved as quickly and as thoroughly as possible,” Deal said.
With the help of a committee, Deal chose six new board members. Then, things slowly improved. The district eventually shed its probationary status and became fully accredited again. In 2015, the board hired Green, who was leading the Kansas City, Missouri, school district at the time.
“[We liked] his leadership style, his ability to work with board members in a collaborative way, and certainly his expertise in finance,” said Melvin Johnson, who was DeKalb’s board chair at the time.
Initially, Green seemed to have board and community support.
“When Dr. Green first came in…he came in saying that the district was sick,” said Joel Edwards, president of Restore DeKalb. “And we decided we were going to help him out, to go through the trenches and to get things into a positive direction, and it hasn’t happened.”
Tensions grew as some community members felt the school district wasn’t improving enough. When it came time for board members to consider extending Green’s contract, the votes weren’t there. So, over the summer, Green issued a press release saying he’d leave when his contract ends in June 2020.
“The DeKalb County Schools community is truly inspirational,” Green said. “I am proud to have the opportunity to help lead our students to achieve educational excellence alongside our exceptional teachers and staff. I’m excited to see what the future holds for our District and our students – both have limitless potential.”
The board decided to cut ties sooner, though. In a 6-1 vote Monday, members approved a separation agreement between Green and the board. Board member Allyson Gevertz was the only “no” vote.
“I’m strongly opposed to this motion,” she said. “I don’t think it will have a positive impact on our students. It will be disruptive. I don’t see the benefit of introducing instability when it’s not necessary. It’s fiscally irresponsible. When we’re in the midst of a hiring freeze, we should not be paying two people for the same job.”
Fellow board member Joyce Morley said the district needed a fresh start.
“We can’t keep pretending that things are OK,” Morley said. “We can’t keep putting stuff out to the public and making it look good for the sake of making it look good. The reality is it’s time for us to get our house in order.”
The board has hired BWP & Associates to help search for Green’s replacement. Meantime, Green’s former Chief of Staff, Ramona Tyson, will serve as interim superintendent. Tyson has filled that role before. She stepped in after Crawford Lewis was indicted for racketeering in 2010.