State hires advisor to oversee school repairs in DeKalb County

druid hills high school
Druid Hills High School students on April 11 published a video detailing the health and safety problems at the school, drawing outrage from the community. (Dean Hesse/Decaturish)

Starting June 1, the DeKalb County School District will get some help making sure its buildings are repaired. The Georgia Department of Education has hired Tanzy Kilcrease as a “special appointed advisor” to oversee the school system’s progress on building upgrades and maintenance.

Kilcrease is retiring from the Bibb County schools, where she served as chief of staff, overseeing operations including facilities and maintenance. She says her first step in DeKalb will be to run an assessment.

“I don’t think until I’ve actually been able to be on-site myself and also have the opportunity to really delve into the current data that exists so I can see the current reality, that I will be able to begin to think about, ‘How do we move forward in developing those long-term plans for sustainability?'” Kilcrease says.

Students at several DeKalb schools have documented severe building damage via videos they posted online. The school board approved a plan to address the most serious problems, but State Superintendent Richard Woods told them they need to do more.

Board Chair Vickie Turner penned a response to Woods, blaming former superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris for the current state of facilities in the district.

Despite that underlying tension, Turner says she’s glad Kilcrease will be advising the district.

“Ultimately, while she may be coming in at the request of Mr. Woods, guess who benefits?” she says. “Our students. Our families. And that’s how I look at it.”

One of Kilcrease’s responsibilities will be ensuring DeKalb carries out the repairs detailed in its Corrective Action Plan, which includes some updates that need to be completed immediately. Kilcrease says the deadline to finish those is June 30. She says she’ll have to assess the full scale of needed repairs before establishing a long-term timeline.

“This is a collaboration,” she says. “It’s a partnership. It’s our goal for them to be successful in assuring that we have standard quality facilities for all of our students in DeKalb County.”

Turner says that’s what the board wants too.   

“You’ve got to take the egos out of the way,” she says. “You’ve got to take politics out of the way and you’ve got to look at the core. And the core of this is to serve our community in a better, more efficient way. There’s no other way to look at it.”