Two DeKalb board members: We cannot support school chief choice because of her record

Two DeKalb school board members have sent open letters expressing their opposition to the selection of Cheryl Atkinson of Ohio to lead the system.

Here are the letters from Don McChesney and Nancy Jester expressing their concerns over Atkinson’s record in her small Ohio system.

“Dear DeKalb Citizens:

I think it is important for me to comment on the choice of Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as the prospective school superintendent for DeKalb County. The opinions I express are mine and I do not profess to speak for anyone else.

My first priority in finding a superintendent was to find the best candidate to raise student achievement in the school system and give the taxpayer equity for money spent. The theme for me was the students. Beyond that all else was secondary.

It is not possible for me to support this choice based on the record. This is the most important decision that has been made since I came on the board. We need to get it right based on an informed study of the facts available. It is too serious to go with only your “gut feeling”.

We had several candidates with better records of student achievement but, unfortunately, as you know, their candidacy was plagued with leaks of confidential information to the press. I hope that you will note that there were no press leaks regarding this candidate.

We have read recently published reports in the media that the Lorain City Schools may move up one step on the Ohio ratings scale. These scores have not yet been released by the Ohio Department of Education so we have no confirmation. The most current data available show only 1 of 24 academic indicators being met. Let me remind you that there were candidates not chosen that bested this record. Some showed a substantially better record.

Ohio has Lorain schools on “Academic Watch”. This is step 4 out of 5 on their sanctions scale. The next step is “Academic Emergency”. That is the most serious sanction. Compare this with the rejected candidates.

Let me be clear. No urban school system superintendent in America will have an unblemished record. It is the nature of the business. I do not expect perfection because that record is unobtainable, but there were other candidates with better records.

Do not take my word for it. Do your own research. You will be led to the same set of facts as me. The only difference will be the spin folks attempt to apply to these facts. Also check the contract. See if you see any danger points there.

Dr. Atkinson is a fine person and delightful to converse with. However, a business decision for academic betterment of our students and not a personal referendum on personality was my goal.

Don McChesney

Now, here is the letter from school board member Nancy Jester:

I’m in agreement with Mr. McChesney’s statement. He and I spent hours researching the student achievement records of the candidates that were brought before us. I believe we saw several candidates with significantly better records of student achievement. We also considered professionals who were credible change agents that could help our district attract top-flight talent to key positions and reorganize our district.

If you are interested in examining Dr. Atkinson’s record of student achievement, click here to go to her district’s “report card” given by the Ohio Department of Education. Over the last three years there have been increases in 9 out of 24 state academic indicators. Those increases range from a high of 9.1% to .8%. The remaining 15 indicators have losses that range from -2.9% to -16.3%. All of the academic indicators for the high school grades showed a decrease in scores over the last three years. For the most recent report card available, Dr. Atkinson’s district met only one state academic measurement. Additionally, when compared to other similar districts in Ohio (based on demographic, socioeconomic and geographic factors), they score below the average for similar districts in all categories except one.

The district did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and is on “Academic Watch”. (Ohio rates districts on a 5 level basis and Academic Watch is the next to lowest status. The lowest status is Academic Emergency.) When looking at the AYP determination, I noted that the African American population did not meet AYP for either of the proficiency standards (reading and math). This was also the case for students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and students with disabilities (SWD). The largest demographic for our district is African-American so this record, in a small district, concerns me.

I thought that Dr. Atkinson was very professional and charming. I enjoyed meeting her and believe her to be devoted to educating children. I cannot support Dr. Atkinson’s candidacy for the Superintendency of DeKalb based on her record of student achievement in a small district. We have serious student achievement issues in DeKalb. We are last or next to last in 23 of 25 data points for the CRCT when compared to 8 metro districts (DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, City of Atlanta, City of Decatur and City of Marietta.) If our school system does not drastically improve, the implications for our county are dire. 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.

By state law, districts must announce a candidate 14 days in advance of voting to approve their employment. Additionally, we must make every document we have regarding the candidate available to the public at this time. In closing, I will say that if it is the will of the Board to bring Dr. Atkinson to DeKalb, no one will offer her more service than me. As a mom with three young children, I am invested in the success of our schools with my most precious resources. Thank you for allowing me the honor of serving you.

–Nancy

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

318 comments Add your comment

Lorainite

August 14th, 2011
3:09 pm

Aren’t those two of the worst board members?

HawaiiGirl

August 14th, 2011
3:11 pm

No. They are the two that do research.

Steve Perry on CNN says

August 14th, 2011
3:22 pm

I am against paying any one who claims they are for the children more than $200,000 per year. Period.

Why are superintendents making as much as Supreme Court Justices, US Senators, State Governors? And don’t tell me that it’s a BUSINESS.

Lorainite

August 14th, 2011
3:25 pm

They seem to look off to me. Also aren’t they republicans? Research should of been done on the last guy that was hired and the person before that person that put you in the hole your in. The community needs to blame itself not anyone else. I dont see one person on here taking ownership for the mess they caused by putting people in place years ago.

Tucker Guy

August 14th, 2011
3:34 pm

@Steve Perry, They were advertising a base salary of $275,000 plus perks and benefits.

Just Sayin

August 14th, 2011
3:46 pm

@ Lorainite. Why don’t you leave the commentary up to the people who live in DeKalb county? You seem to have a dog in this fight in unexplained, peculiar ways, although you’re several states away.

Ed Johnson

August 14th, 2011
3:49 pm

My FOI copy of Cheryl Atkinson’s APS online application is at http://tinyurl.com/3u89kfo

It is a PDF to which I added annotations, highlights, and links to additional information.

Lorainite

August 14th, 2011
3:55 pm

@just sayin because last I checked this was a free country. I wont take offense because im sure you didn’t know that

Very Passionate About Our Schools

August 14th, 2011
3:57 pm

Lorainite – you are so far off base that I actually had to laugh. In this particular case, you know nothing about our system and what our children have been put through. School Board members are not elected based on their politics and while people might surmise what party they belong to, they don’t know for sure since politics does not enter into it. I have research for over 10 hours the background and credential of Dr. Atkinson and can assure you that as a parent and living in DeKalb and my children in DeKalb schools, she IS NOT the answer to the problems. And to Just Sayin – I think he/she would like us to think they live several states away but in reality is really one of the incompetent school board members or an incompetent loud mouthed arrogant ex member of the Board and was one of the staunch supporters of the last Superintendent clear up to the end even knowing what a jerk and creep he was.

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
4:05 pm

@ HawaiiGirl – Are you sure about that research? It appears to me that some Board members are inaccurate with their research. You see, they desperately wanted a candidate from Texas (as the talking points from Cere(bration) and the DSW mafia will note), citing how well that candidate was performing. They liked to use the Texas Accountability measurement as the standard; however, this standard, when compared against Georgia’s accountability, was apples to oranges. The closest measurement to GA’s AYP accountability was the Texas AYP accountability, and this district did not meet AYP. Read it for yourself if you would like:

http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/ayp/2011/distcampfinal11.pdf

I’m certainly interested in hearing from others….

tim

August 14th, 2011
4:07 pm

Lately I find schools systems and the idiots that run them repulsive.

Cere

August 14th, 2011
4:15 pm

@Lorainite: The only current member of the board who was part of firing Dr. Brown and hiring Dr. Lewis was Sarah Copelin-Wood. She could be blamed for enabling his (alleged) criminal activities and unchecked personal affairs paid for with his pCard. (So could Tom Bowen and Jay Cunningham.) She voted to hand over about $400,000 to make Johnny Brown go away and put Lewis in his place. She was on the board when they voted to allow him to hire Pat Pope because it was an “emergency”. She endorsed Lewis’ idea to pay Judge Moore over $400,000 to investigate a case of bullying that resulted in a boy’s suicide. The judge found no bullying in DeKalb and cashed her massive check. Wood is also a named defendant in the $100 million Heery-Mitchell construction lawsuit. She has her fingerprint on all of it. But, the voters recently re-elected her. It seems they trust this lady. They think she knows what’s best for their children. Dr. Walker, on the other hand, has made public statements that he “sees color”. He took a $20,000 campaign contribution from a developer seeking tax credits from the county and the school board. Oh, and at that same time, he served as chair of the DeKalb Development Authority – the voting body on the development. And Jay Cunningham has admitted to stealing over $12,000 while working as an Assistant Manager at a McDonald’s while in his 20s. All of these people, along with many other former board members, have friends and family members with high paying jobs in DeKalb County Schools. Many were protected in the recent round of layoffs implemented by Mrs. Tyson. On and on…

So you see, we are a skeptical bunch. We’ve learned to trust the data and not what we’re “told”. There is an abundance of smoke and mirrors to navigate here.

Atlanta Media Guy

August 14th, 2011
4:18 pm

Mandella you love calling us names like the DSW mafia? What? I’m considered a mafia member because I want what’s best for our kids? Please mandella, I’m sure you are probably a friend of Francine Edwards, Zepora “I’m gonna slug you” Roberts or Dr. Walker. Look McChesney and Jester are showing us what documents they were given to give an informed decision. I’m sure there are numbers that look good and bad for Atkinson. But why call us parents who are concerned about their kids education a mafia?

You really lose the debate when you start calling people names. Ernest, Dunwoody Mom and others are always up for a debate, but you won’t see us brow beat each other into submission. The status quo is NOT working, it’s that simple. The numbers prove nothing is working right now at DCSS. Your perception is different, I know.

My wife and I decided we’re going to help the schools our kids are in to succeed. I’d love to help others, but since I am now a mafia member I think I’ll sit this debate out and read more on Atkinson and how she will change our system for the better. I’ll also let my BOE reps know how I feel.

Great Stewardship

August 14th, 2011
4:19 pm

These board members are to be commended. We greatly need informed, measured leasdership of this type throughout the metro area. A warm smile should not be a deciding factor.

Please check theFacts:

Atkinson did not last a year in Charleton, SC. – dis

Kansas City was a disaster!

Lorainite

August 14th, 2011
4:23 pm

@ Very Passionate about our schools. I could careless that you did over 10 hours of research on her you sound foolish. Ive had over fours years worth of research on her. If you can comment on her i can comment on your school system. I can also say that as a concerned parent you need to focus on who you put in office and less on all this other stuff. Maybe if you put 10 hours in to researching your current school board members maybe you would of picked the right one. Or maybe you did put in 10 hours and thought you knew just like you think you know now.

Clear Vision

August 14th, 2011
4:25 pm

mandella – have you noticed that San Antonio only had one failing subgroup in their AYP data (students with disabilities) and DeKalb has 5. Apples to apples. San Antonio wins and it’s poorer.

Lorainite

August 14th, 2011
4:25 pm

@cere great intelligent response unlike the other lady.

Dekalb supporter

August 14th, 2011
4:28 pm

@MAndella you are absolutely correct. But the Mafia does not want to read ALL the information.

Cere

August 14th, 2011
4:38 pm

Thank you Lorainite. At the DeKalb School Watch, we call out these bad board behaviors and the financial waste, fraud and misdeeds of the board and administration – and as you can see, it is we who are referred to as “The Mafia”. I rarely post on the AJC blog anymore, as I have to endure this kind of bashing here. But I felt I had to explain to Ohioans what we’ve been through in DeKalb and why we are so very cynical (and obviously strongly divided).

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
4:40 pm

@ Atlanta Media Guy – Do you think that you are somehow better when you give a name as the one employee that was having an affair with the former superintendent? How about when you like to say everyone that disagrees with you must be employed with the school system or a friend of a Board member (gee, that sounds really familiar). Here is a name that you should get used to – hypocrite

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
4:43 pm

@ Clear Vision – Agreed; however, I just recently asked everyone what would be the measurement that would allow the school system where I live to be considered successful. Many said AYP. My point is that those individuals that were saying that one candidate was somehow a “Superman” were mistaken by their own accountabilty standards (unless they want to quantify their responses with “some” elements of AYP and not all). Your point is well taken though and I understand what you are seeing….

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
4:45 pm

By the way Atlanta Media Guy – I saw the comment you made here on one of Maureen’s blogs before it got removed. Its the slander that is going to be the end of DSW…

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
4:46 pm

@Cere(bration) – just borrowing Mr. Trotter’s words….

Quid Pro Quo!

August 14th, 2011
4:49 pm

New superintendent want to bring systemic reform initiatives.

Sounds like DeKalb is setting itself up for the APS experience. Hall was big on the “systemic reform iniatives and forced teachers to abandon realistic approaches to raise test scores. Incidently, the vendors of these (no bid) programs regularly sponsored paid speaking engagements for Hall to brag about the APS miracle. Scratch my back and I’ll scrath yours!

Please check the facts.

Very Passionate About Our Schools

August 14th, 2011
5:05 pm

@Lorainite and I could care less (two words, not one as used in this sense) what you think. Like I said if you truly are a Buckeye and not one of our incompetent Board members or ex Board member, then you don’t have a clue about anything to do with our schools and just running your fingers across the keyboard to see your worthless words in print. You are the one who not only sounds foolish but act foolish at the same time. You are welcome to comment on the school system and nobody said you couldn’t but comments is all it is, perceived comments if you truly are that Buckeye you claim to be. Hate to break it to you tweetie bird but concerned parents do need to focus on “this other stuff” since “this other stuff” relates to the education of our children. I may not be the smartest I know I am smarter than you can ever dream of being because I sure know more about the DCSS than you think you know about it and I am also smart enough to know that Dr. Atkinson is NOT the answer to our issues. By the way, if you think she is so great, you really should be putting forth your time and effort in trying to keep her and not let her get away. So you see, I am smarter than you and I do know more about our school system than you can ever dream of knowing. By the way, have a good day. You can try to insult me all you want but bigger and better than you have tried it and I am still standing tall.

say what?

August 14th, 2011
5:06 pm

2 concerns that I have based on her resume/application- sorority and number of moves due to spouse relocation. That sorority/fraternity connection mess that should have been left in college is ruining DCSS. If our kids were forever repping colors in a classroom or walking down the street they would be called gang members. Not so many decades ago her particular A/A sorority allowed membership if you met the paper bag color test. Unfortunately, we only allow this pro-sorority/fraternity chicanery to affect leadership in majority minority school systems. Look at Clayton County. People in leadership based on color (pun intended).

Other issue, is she married, or is her spouse expecting her to move again when he gets another position?

These 2 board members should be sharing with the constituents more so than the ajc, to get their point across. Using the media for your benefit is gonna cost BIG time.

Very Passionate About Our Schools

August 14th, 2011
5:09 pm

Oh Lorainite – by the way – I was born and raised in Ohio and went to school in Ohio so I do know about Ohio schools also. And I still have great friends there who one happens to be a college professor; one who happens to have a Ph.D in education; and several former principals and teachers. So you see, I do know people who aren’t exactly dumb.

Ellen

August 14th, 2011
5:23 pm

Honest, high achieveing districts dont’ have ghetto programs or systemic reform iniatives. If you have good teachers and quality staff development you get results. Whats this with paying money for these outside programs and their vendors arranging speaking fees for superintendents to spike their sales. Seems like poor teachers will be forced to CHEAT.

Professional Protocol

August 14th, 2011
5:47 pm

The board members were within their rights to express an opinion
of the candidate,but should have expressed the opinion at the
board meeting. Leaking information and writing open letters to
newspapers is a poor way conduct a search,or hire prospective
superintendents. The manner in which the professional search
for a superintendent has been conducted will have an impact
on future superintendent candidates willing to pursue opportunities
with the Dekalb County Schools. You just don’t treat any potential
candidate in this manner (Previous candidates and the current candidate)
and expect that it won’t have an impact on your organization. Legitimate
questions, or opposition should be expressed during board meetings.

Just the Facts Please

August 14th, 2011
5:50 pm

It would be nice to know who were the other candidates. Were there anymore since the last three dropped out? HRH T-Bow referred to a dog and pony show. Were there any other dogs or ponies other than Dr. Atkinson? Also, has anyone found out about the supposed changing of grades and an investigation involving Dr. Atkinson? If so, please post a link or site where this information is available.

Just the Facts Please

August 14th, 2011
5:59 pm

@ Professional Protocol I agree that the candidate search has been poorly conducted, However, we have some board members that are very unprofessional, self-serving, and (at times) crass. It will be very difficult for this BOE to conduct a professional search considering the (lack of ) character of some of the worst offenders.

Very Passionate About Our Schools

August 14th, 2011
6:03 pm

@Professional Protocol – The Chairman of the Board had already released information to the media before the letter was written. These members were certainly enititled to let us know why they didn’t vote for this candidate. Northing confidential in those letters since the Board Chairman had already released it to the media. @Just the Facts Please – changing grades? Sounds like another Beverly Hall I say.

Nikole

August 14th, 2011
6:11 pm

@ Professional Protocol—-She has already been approved for a vote, once they vote, she is in. This is the exact time for these members (one is my personal representative) to share their opinions. It was inappropriate for the board members that did not want previous candidates, to release info prior to setting up a date for a vote.

alm

August 14th, 2011
6:15 pm

At least they are willing to put their name on their opinions AFTER the board had a chance to meet and discuss the candidate. They may not be my favorite members of the board but at least they didn’t take the cowards way out by leaking confidential information. There STILL has not been an investigation of the leaker(s) as far as I know.

Here we go?

August 14th, 2011
6:20 pm

Until there is a change in our BOE, it is going to be difficult to attract a candidate to DeKalb. Who would want to come into the midst of so much confusion? Support has to be given to the staff in the school house. They are the ones on the front line day in and day out. They have faced pay cuts, larger class size and the removal of their TSA account funding. Please find a way to provide the resources to all school staff people. After all they seem the ones to get the blame for everything. DeKalb has been without a superintendednt this long, please do not rush to make a decision now. I do not know who is the best candidate, but I do feel that the parents and the people in the school should at least have time to review information before someone is picked.
Dr. Brown and Dr Lewis were both chosen without parent or staff input. Do I need to say more?

Bruce Kendall

August 14th, 2011
6:25 pm

First I do not live in DeKalb; I live next door in Henry. My post is probably a waste of time but here goes.

Two questions to ponder: (You may consider them rhetorical, as I will post and go back to writing an article about “Academic Rage.”)

What has your school or school system done about “Academic Parenting?”

What “Academic Parenting” initiatives if any, did the Superintendent candidates support?

If you don’t know about “Academic Parenting,” maybe your focus is misdirected.

Until you solve the root of your problems, they will not go away, regardless of who you hire.

Educators know that AYP in its current form is going away. Gov. Deal is asking for an inventive politically driven waiver to avoid the relentless NCLB march to failure.

If you want to talk about solutions, start with these:

Academic Parenting,

Academic Outliers,

Academic Discipline (not punishment for those who do not know the definition of the word),

Character Development,

Academic Rage,

and Parent Engagement which involves all of the preceding.

What makes me an expert?

Nothing, I am just a single parent with children in school for 36 years and counting, from kindergarten through masters, one with autism, and one currently in the tenth grade.

Conserving

August 14th, 2011
6:26 pm

Looking at all of the information made available to us over the past few days I am in support of the finalist. What has impressed me most is the increase in attendance in her current school system. What plagues Dekalb most is a lack of discipline not academics. The ability to bring parents, students, and educators together and improve an attendance rating so drastically is impressive. Academics will naturally follow priority number one, discipline.

Clear Vision

August 14th, 2011
6:37 pm

Professional Protocol, They didn’t write to the paper. They sent an email to their constituents who signed up for their email. The AJC has just reprinted their email. They also didn’t leak anything. They simply stated their opinion about this candidate based on her public record. That is not a leak. They are doing the public a service.

lorainite

August 14th, 2011
6:40 pm

@ Very passionate Dr Atkinson may not be the answer but thats to bad she will be this year. Your opinion doesn’t matter because if it did you wouldn’t be on here you would be out making a difference. Oh I am glad you know people from ohio but you really should focus on knowing who you vote in office. Nancy doesn’t seem like has a clue or the background to be a board member. Also we are glad you left ohio we don’t need anymore clueless community members.

Fed Up!

August 14th, 2011
6:40 pm

@say what…funny you should mention sororities!!! I was on an interview and was asked if I was ‘Greek’…I didn’t know that was a prequalifier for being a teacher!!!! Once again, no one is trying to do the right thing!! Focus on the students!

Wabashikilababa

August 14th, 2011
6:45 pm

“The most current data available show only 1 of 24 academic indicators being met.”

Outlandish as it may seem, in the upside down world in which we now live this may mean that she and her underlings cheated less.

Charlie

August 14th, 2011
6:52 pm

The DeKalb BOE has learned nothing form the digrace Hall bestowed up our city. Board members McChesnhey and Jester are to be commended for taking exception and speaking out.

We must be vigilant and work together to keep self-serving predators away from our schools and tax dollars.

Dekalb Parent

August 14th, 2011
6:59 pm

@ Charlie. did you say commended? Nancy Jester is the most unqualified person probably in in the entire school district. Look at her resume…nooooo lets first look at her website. Why does she even have one? Thats a person with her own agenda. Maybe if she put the detail in her decision making that she put in her website we wouldn’t be at this point. I know we feel this Dr Atkinson may not be qualified or have the answer to our problems but we think Nancy does? She is in no way qualified to govern a 800 million dollar budget and quite frankly her credibility is shot. LETS LOOK AT NANCYS RESUME

Nancy and Stanley Jester are the proud parents of three energetic children. Prior to being elected to the DeKalb County Board of Education, Nancy was a “full-time mom” dedicated to volunteering at schools and improving education for all children. She is an elder at her church, Shallowford Presbyterian. Before starting her family, Nancy worked as an actuarial consultant. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics with honors from The University of Alaska Fairbanks. Nancy enjoys reading about history, economics and keeping up with current events.

Come on community are we serious? She isn’t qualified to run a Burger King. She knows nothing about business at all. She parades in the media. This is not a beauty pageant these are our children and putting people like her in office is the reason we have this mess.

Cere

August 14th, 2011
7:00 pm

@lorainite – you are mistaken about Nancy Jester. She is very smart – has a masters degree, completed work on a doctoral degree at Emory and was a corporate actuary. She served on the Foundation for her children’s school and has been involved in parent groups since preschool. She is in the trenches. She also serves as an elder in the Presbyterian church, which was what our government order is patterned after – thus the knowledge of Roberts Rules of Order. I don’t have a clue why you would describe her as “clueless”…

Sharon Pitts must Go

August 14th, 2011
7:01 pm

You want your scores to go up???Take Bev Hal…they will go Way Up!! You can probably get her for a steal right now…might need to bail her out of jail.

Cere

August 14th, 2011
7:02 pm

Are you sure you know which one is Nancy? You probably have her mixed up with someone else. Go to this link and look at the pictures of the board members. She’s the one some bloggers cutely refer to as “Snow White”.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/board-of-education

chillywilly

August 14th, 2011
7:06 pm

I agree with Jester & McChesney on this one. Atkinson is a terrible selection and would be worst than Crawford Lewis in my opinion. However, I believe that there are some very well qualified black male candidates out there. I’m sure that Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth and Fulton Counties will disagree with me.

Don and NJ are simply sophisticated bullies

August 14th, 2011
7:07 pm

There is no doubt they are pushing an agenda that works for them and the constituents they actully choose to represent (not all of them). They are as much a part of the problem and the incompetent side of the board.
Montgomery Parent

Mandella1099

August 14th, 2011
7:07 pm

@Cere(bration) – “I don’t have a clue why you would describe her as “clueless”…”

Perhaps for the same reasons that you question those that vote for Sara Copelin-Wood above?

Dekalb Parent

August 14th, 2011
7:13 pm

@cere I know which Nancy it is. We don’t need Snow White running our schools. I don’t care what case work she has done based off her resume she has never really had a job. She is living in a SNOW WHITE world. She may be book smart but those people are a dime a dozen. We need movers and difference makers not NANCY the JESTER.