The DeKalb County School System could have a new superintendent by April, according to a school district’s statement attorney to school board members late last month.
But some board members said they wanted the search timeline accelerated considerably either because they believe the district has gone too long without a superintendent already or because a quick selection process would hinder unwanted, outside political influence.
“If we prolong this too long, we are going to have to take what’s left,” board Vice Chair Zepora Roberts said at a June 30 meeting. “We need to speed this up.”
Roberts said she wanted a new superintendent in place before the November election because she said outside interests would seek to politicize the job search.
The school district has been under the direction of interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson since former Superintendent Crawford Lewis resigned from the position in February as the district attorney’s investigation into school construction corruption honed in on him. Lewis and former construction chief Pat Reid were indicted in May on racketeering charges.
The board remains in the early stages of its superintendent search and has not signed off on a timeline. The timeline board members disputed was designed by Atlanta law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, which works for the school district. The timeline suggests the board hire an independent search firm by Aug. 16 to find a qualified superintendent. The firm would hold meetings throughout the county, seeking citizen input regarding what characteristics they’d like to see in a superintendent.
The position would be advertised by Oct. 15, according to the timeline, and the board would settle on most likely candidates by Jan. 14. Following interviews and background checks, the board would narrow that list to between one and three candidates for the job by March 31, and the board will give final vote on April 15.
While board member H. Paul Womack didn’t say he supported the timeline, he did encourage the board to move at a slower pace to make sure the district gets the right candidate and not take “knee-jerk” action soon. Officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools also advised the board to take its time, he said.
Board member Don McChesney also said the board should proceed slowly.
“We really need to get the right person, and I don’t think we can get that done in three months,” he said.
Board members also discussed for the first time publicly the sort of characteristics they’d like to see in the district’s next chief. Board member Jim Redovian said the district needs a new face – someone not from inside the school district.
“The number one issue and the number one thing this district needs is a culture change,” he said.
An incoming superintendent will also need heavy administrative skills and experience in managing large budgets, he said. The search firm also shouldn’t limit itself to unemployed candidates, Redovian said. If the right candidate for DeKalb County is employed, the school board should attempt luring him away.
The next superintendent will also need “impeccable character and integrity,” board member Gene Walker said. The candidate would also need a talent for selecting principals and be free of “hidden agendas,” he said.
Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood said she wanted a more transparent superintendent who was more honest, trustworthy and communicative with different kinds of people. Also important to Copeland-Wood is someone who could boost districtwide test scores.
Board Chair Thomas Bowen agreed the next superintendent will need experience running a large school system, and it could take time to find that person. He or she might already be working somewhere else, he said.
“I want to get the right person over someone who was just available,” he said.