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.
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.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog