In January, after being sworn in, newly elected Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed promised that selecting a chief of police to replace embattled former APD Chief Richard Pennington was a top priority—and true to his word, in less than six months, the mayor has named acting Chief George Turner as Atlanta’s new police chief.
And when the board of directors of BP finally gives CEO Tony Hayward the boot, and they will, I can all but promise you that it won’t take a year or 18 months to hire the next CEO. So why does the DeKalb County School Board need a year or a year and a half to select our new school superintendent?
After a considerable amount of hammering on that issue from parents, teachers and voters, the school district’s attorney is now saying that a successor might be in place as early as next April. That will be a full year from when former Superintendent Crawford Lewis resigned—and 11 months after his indictment.
A school year is only 180 days, six months of actual classroom time. Why should our children wait the equivalent of nearly two school years to expect a credible, respected and disciplined leader to take the helm of our troubled school system?
I am no booster of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, but it took him less than a month to name a replacement for our State School Superintendent—and he reached right into DeKalb County and tapped our 4th District Representative to the State School Board, Brad Bryant.
Yes, DeKalb is a large system, reportedly the nation’s 27th largest, and facing a host of challenges—systemic, financial and institutional. That said, with the right leadership anything can be improved and turned around. Much of what is going right in public schools today is occurring in charter schools and campuses helmed by non-academics or built around an entirely different business model.
The DeKalb superintendent search timeline was constructed by the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, which has been employed by the board and school district. This timeline includes seeking citizen input in public meetings and not even advertising that the position is open until Oct. 15. The board would not see a list of applicants until mid-January (just about the time a new board is sworn in) and interviews with the “short list” are planned for March 31—after next year’s spring break.
This is a system screaming for a turn-around specialist, and someone to make the tough cuts including likely school closures, as well as weed out whatever allowed or led to multi-million fraud and abuse of our school’s construction program.
I personally know several members of our existing DeKalb School Board. The majority are committed and dedicated public servants, but they only manage the superintendent—not every line item in the budget or micro-decision. If they have to wait more than a year to make that hire, what keeps our acknowledged decline from spiraling in the direction of Clayton County’s loss of accreditation?
When a pope dies, the Cardinal College is quickly convened in Rome, and a new pope is chosen within a matter of days or weeks to run one of the world’s largest organizations and enterprises—with offices and operations in more than 100 countries. I assure you that running the Roman Catholic Church has a lot more “issues” and complications than our DeKalb School system.
The new New Jersey Education Commissioner, Bret Schundler, is trying to turn around a system with horrible outcomes, despite the expenditure of $19,000 per year, per student. Schundler began his tenure as a reformer pushing for school vouchers in the 1990s as the mayor of Jersey City. He later started one of the nation’s first charter schools. He has a nearly 20-year track record of demonstrated results.
We do not have to simply hire another system’s school superintendent. We also do not need to restrict our thinking to career educators—in this system and region, or lifelong public school administrators. If we can make lifetime appointments of non-judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, we can certainly bring a little “outside of the box” thinking to the equation here.
And we certainly do not need another huge waste of time like the month–discussion of school closures, only to have a citizen committee vote to close no schools, followed by a board override to close four, and then an override of the override to close none. We need leadership, and we need it now. It’s too bad the pope isn’t available.
Bill Crane is a DeKalb County native and business owner, living in Scottdale, Georgia. He also serves as chief political analyst and commentator for 11Alive News and WSB Radio, News/Talk 750. Contact Bill Crane at Bill@dekalbchamp.com.