Tyson: ‘We’ve got work to do’
The DeKalb County School System must prove to its accreditors the administration and school board have the policies and internal controls to prevent future malfeasance, interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said Sept. 13.
Tyson was the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce’s guest speaker, during which the schools chief offered her most frank assessment to date of the system’s status as it struggles to restore its credibility in the wake of a number of scandals including the May indictments of former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Pat Reid and two others.
“It’s been a long six months,” Tyson said. She took over for Lewis after he stepped down in February. “It feels like 50 years. … I’m here to serve until my season is over. … I say my season because I’m counting down” until I’m done.
The biggest issue facing the system is its compliance with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which oversees school accreditation. The system recently sent a 2,500-page document to answer a series of questions SACS asked after the indictments were announced. The organization asked about school system policies related to purchasing, conflict of interest, hiring practices and nepotism, among others.
The deadline to send in its response was Sept. 11.
“We want to make sure we were telling the truth,” Tyson said.
The system will direct about $18.3 million in federal money back to school-level staff’s salary and benefits, she said–part of about $400 million in federal dollars given to the state.
“Our school system staff is going to get something back, and that’s good news,” Tyson said.
But for the most part, she said, she still struggles to find time to deal with and consider school-related and instruction-related issues.
“I’ll be honest with you: I spend most of my time dealing with crises,” she said. “But if that’s what it takes to change the culture of this district…then bring it on.”
Tyson also drew attention to several newly approved school board policies that address staff and school board ethics. The district also recently became the first school system in the state to adopt a whistleblower policy. The board is also in the process of reviewing all 247 of its policies to make sure they’re up to date. They haven’t been updated since 2000, she said.
“We will stand up and we will be a school district of strong ethics moving forward,” she said.
The district continues its struggle to meet federal academic standards–a goal it shares with thousands of districts nationwide. When a school doesn’t make progress on state-standardized tests, it’s required by federal law to offer students’ access to schools that are making improvements. It’s a requirement that’s straining many systems, she said.
“It’s going to take some time and deliberate plans to address (academic improvement),” she said. “There is no silver bullet solution.”
Dave Schutten, head of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, asked that Tyson consider applying for the superintendent position. The school board plans to search nationwide for Lewis’ replacement, and Tyson has said she’s not interested in the permanent job.
Reginald Turner, a chamber member with Westwood College, said he liked what Tyson had to say.
“I think she’s on track for where the school (system) needs to go,” he said.