The DeKalb County School District has made headlines lately. The school board recently parted ways with former superintendent Stephen Green more than six months before his contract ends.
Green is the subject of an investigation by the state’s Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers. Last week, reports surfaced that Kansas City Schools attendance records were falsified during Green’s time as superintendent there. Meanwhile, the DeKalb school board has started looking for a new superintendent.
Things have been worse for the DeKalb schools, though. In 2012, the district’s accrediting agency placed DeKalb on probation. A blistering report accused the school board of poor governance and financial mismanagement. The board severed ties with then-superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and brought former state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond on board as interim superintendent. Thurmond remembers the shape the school district was in.
“We were on probation, one step away from losing accreditation,” he said. “We were facing a $27 million deficit, low morale, lagging test scores, and graduation rates.”
A series of events occurred. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal replaced six of nine school board members. Without an education background, Thurmond said he leaned on employees who had more expertise in the field than he did.
“It’s about communication and building trust, particularly with the people you work with and, more importantly, with the people you serve,” Thurmond said of the job. “And it’s about leadership, and it’s about allowing people who have experience and talents and abilities to demonstrate those.”
Slowly, things improved. The district regained accreditation and hired Green in 2015. Green seemed to enjoy a good start as superintendent. Recently, however, some parents have complained that he handled complaints about the district’s special education program poorly. Some board members have been open about their disapproval of Green’s leadership.
When it became clear last summer that Green didn’t have the board votes to get a contract extension, he announced he’d leave when the contract ends in June 2020. However, the board approved a separation agreement with Green earlier this month, severing ties early.
Ramona Tyson, who has filled the role before, is DeKalb’s interim superintendent. Thurmond is optimistic that her leadership will help guide the district forward, despite some recent bumps in the road.
“Much is at stake, but I’m not discouraged,” he said. “I still have great faith that adults will allow themselves to examine the issues and analyze the problems and come up with the solutions.”
One of DeKalb’s accrediting agencies (now called Cognia, formerly AdvancEd) doesn’t seem too worried yet.
“We work with all of our districts partnering with them to reach their improvement and education quality goals,” said Dr. Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of Cognia. “We are available to assist if needed, but there are no implications for us at this point.”