The DeKalb County School Board announced that it has selected Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as the final candidate in the system’s long-running superintendent search, but not all members are in favor of her.
Atkinson is currently the superintendent of the Lorain City School System in Ohio, a district serving approximately 7,626 students.
Although that number pales in comparison to DeKalb’s nearly 100,000 student population, Atkinson has had experience in several larger districts. She was formerly the deputy superintendent of the Kansas City, Missouri School District, a district with more than 38,000 students and more than 70 schools.
The board plans to publicly vote to install Atkinson into office after a 14-day waiting period consistent with state law.
However, board members Nancy Jester and Donald McChesney said that Atkinson is not the right person for the job. In a recent open letter both board members said that, based on her record of academic achievements, they could not in good conscience support her.
“I do not see anything in Dr. Atkinson’s record with her current district that convinces me she will be able to move our district in the right direction,” Jester said in the letter.
In his letter, McChesney also stated that the most current data available show only 1 of 24 academic indicators being met in the Lorain system. Ohio also has Lorain schools on “Academic Watch”. This is step 4 out of 5 on their sanctions scale. The next step is “Academic Emergency,” which is the most serious sanction.
In a statement regarding the letter, School Board Chairman Tom Bowen said that “the Board [had] no comment on any individual board member communications as those actions do not represent official actions of the Board.”
“I would say that there is staunch support for Atkinson but board members are required to make their decision based upon all the information available to them,” Bowen said of the looming vote.
President of the Organization of DeKalb Educators David Schutten said he had spoken to several people involved in education reform in the Midwest and they all had positive feedback about Atkinson. He said that he thought Jester’s letter was “much ado about nothing.”
“I’ve looked at her background and she’s qualified. I think at this point the school system is going to have to have a new superintendent…we can’t stretch this out,” Schutten said.
In a statement released by Atkinson, she thanked the school board and briefly outlined her plans for the DeKalb system.
“It will be a privilege to work with the board and the district to build coalitions and implement strategies to raise academic achievement,” Atkinson said. “Together, we can improve test scores, raise graduation rates and enhance student success in all educational environments.” Additionally, Atkinson served as associate superintendent for school administration for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, a district with more than 125,000 students and more than 150 schools. She was also one of three finalists in the Atlanta Public Schools recent superintendent search.
The DeKalb system was given a deadline of Oct. 31 to hire a new superintendent or face loss of accreditation by AdvacED, the parent corporation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Earlier in the search process, several candidates pulled out of the running after negotiations details were leaked to the press.
The school has been searching for a new superintendent since former Superintendent Crawford Lewis was fired in April 2010.
“There is a combination of both excitement and relief. Excitement in [the sense] that there will be an opportunity for the district to have a [strict] academic focus that it hasn’t been able to [have] over the past,” Bowen said. “And relief that there were some bumps in the road, but we still made it through the process.”