No family, but a few friends in high places in DeKalb

An AJC story this morning talks about the new DeKalb school chief’s hiring of three former colleagues at six-figure salaries. Each is a top-level player in the transformation that Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson intends for DeKalb and each is being paid $159,800.

According to the story: Atkinson’s point person for instruction is Kathleen Howe, a former colleague of hers as a deputy superintendent in Kansas City, a district of 17,400 students and 2,300 teachers and other employees. Kendra March is DeKalb’s new deputy superintendent for school leadership and operational support. March worked with Atkinson in Charlotte at a district of 125,000 students. Gary Brantley, the chief information officer, will be in charge of all computers and technical equipment, such as digital “smart boards” for the entire district. He held a similar post for the Lorain City Schools in Ohio, where Atkinson was most recently the district superintendent.

It is not unusual for new CEOs in the private sector to assemble their own “cabinets” and pluck people from their pasts to serve in those cabinets. I don’t think we can fault Atkinson for creating her own team and reaching back in her career to find the best people.

But a retired school administrator sent me a note this morning about the part of the story talking about March:

Here is the section of the story that worried the reader:

Atkinson’s other top educator is March, deputy superintendent for school leadership and operational support. March has been a school principal at all levels to high school, and in affluent as well as economically struggling neighborhoods.

“I was able to improve student achievement in all of those schools,” March said. “That’s what our mission is here in DeKalb.”

Her first priority is to make sure that each of the schools in the district has an effective principal, and in turn, that person sets the tone for the classroom. March helped school districts boost their student achievement goals by assisting in creating student assessment tools, or ways to closely track student progress. She also helped improve curriculum of science and math instruction.

Here is what the reader said after reading it:

Should we worry about a Kendra March because of her statement “I was able to improve student achievement in all of those schools …”?  Or should we simply conclude that it was taken out of context and not indicative of her proven practice? For in addition to it being politically incorrect to use the “I” word for what was so obviously a team effort, it is foolish when beginning a position which will take the cooperation and support of a large number of her new colleagues.

In my reporting over the decades, I have seen the power of one leader to transform a school, but a critical piece of that transformation has been the assembling of the right team.

But I have also seen the deflation that can occur in a school when a charismatic leader walks out the door. So, even though the team was still in place, the leader was the catalyst who provided the energy that electrified the school.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

67 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
8:56 am

As one who had serious reservations about Dr. Atkinson’s hire – I actually don’t have a problem with this. Let’s not nit-pick words that can be taken out of context until we see what the results of these individuals efforts are. I promised to support Dr. Atkinson as long as she puts our students needs first and I am not going to look at every move with suspicious eyes – That I have reserved for the Board of Education.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 25th, 2011
8:58 am

Dekalb will be the bust it has been for the last several years.

WATCH AND LEARN!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 25th, 2011
8:58 am

PS…Happy Thanksgiving, Maureen.

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
9:02 am

As one who had serious reservations about the hiring of Dr. Atkinson I do not have a problem with this. It seems these individuals are more qualified for these jobs than their predecessors. I promised to back Dr. Atkinson 100% as long as her decisions are “student-based”. I am not going to nit-pick her every move with suspicious motives (though I think DCSS stakeholders are just naturally going to view every move in such a manner – it’s just habit – it will take a long time to break this one). I will, however, continue to reserve my suspicious nature for certain members of the BOE – they deserve it.

Concerned DeKalb Mom

November 25th, 2011
9:26 am

Is anyone being replaced or are these just add-on positions?

catlady

November 25th, 2011
9:33 am

Sounds like she fits right in. Same old, same old. Perhaps a page out of the BHall playbook?

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
9:38 am

justjanny

November 25th, 2011
9:40 am

CLewis hired friends with little, if any competence. At least, Dr. Atkinson’s former colleagues have experience with improving instruction. Isn’t that what the education business is all about? Give me an example of one superintendent who hasn’t looked to the known v. the unknown regarding personnel. Besides, who in DCSS is qualified to do any of the high level work? Do you suggest the family and friends of the current board members? Pul-leeze!!

pierre1852

November 25th, 2011
9:42 am

Concerned Mom, I think that certain peoples’ contracts won’t be renewed at the end of the school year, and in this way it will not be the same old story of moving new people in and setting down the old crowd in useless new positions with the same benefits and salary. My thinking is that she’s got to let people like Beasley et al. serve out their 2011-2012 contracts, and come the new school year they’ll be gone. If they’re still there come August 2012, then it’s business as usual in DeKalb…

And 1

November 25th, 2011
10:06 am

The major problems with Atkinson bringing in three new administrators paid over half a million in salary & benefits (a whooping $160k STARTING salary):
-Teachers have not received a pay raise in years, and now pay more for their benefits.
-The Tom Bowen-led Board of Ed. decided last year to save money by significantly increasing class sizes, instead of looking at the spending and staff’s of wasteful non-school departments. Not a peep from Atkinson about teachers having 30, 35 or more students in their classrooms, while she adds more highly paid administrators.
-AND THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: SHE DIDN’T LET THE ADMINISTRATORS GO WHO NOW HANDLE THESE DUTIES GO!!! ADDING INSTEAD OF REPLACING? WHAT THE …???

“Atkinson’s point person for instruction is Kathleen Howe, a former colleague of hers as a deputy superintendent in Kansas City, a district of 17,400 students and 2,300 teachers and other employees.”

-So will Morcease Beaseley and Audria Berry be demoted and receive a lesser salary?

“Kendra March is DeKalb’s new deputy superintendent for school leadership and operational support. March worked with Atkinson in Charlotte at a district of 125,000 students.”

–So will Bob Moseley be demoted and receive a lesser salary?

-As pointed out above, Kendra March thinks very highly of herself: ““I was able to improve student achievement in all of those schools,” March said. “That’s what our mission is here in DeKalb.” That’s a Pat Pope-like ego. I’m guessing that the teachers and staff who worked with her would have greatly appreciated her using “We” instead of “I”.

“Gary Brantley, the chief information officer, will be in charge of all computers and technical equipment, such as digital “smart boards” for the entire district. He held a similar post for the Lorain City Schools in Ohio, where Atkinson was most recently the district superintendent.”

-Current MIS head Tony Hunter was in the business world, and was brought in with great fanfare. So will Hunter be demoted and receive a lesser salary?

“Atkinson’s third hire is Brantley, who in Lorain helped the district move from relying on printed textbooks to electronic tablets that have all the textbooks loaded on them. “Society is moving fast and kids today need to be plugged in,” he said. “Technology can help us do that.”

-Why hasn’t that happened under Tony Hunter and current MIS leadership? They have a great budget, getting everything they ask for from the Board of Ed. MIS may be the most underperforming of all DCSS departments. If Brantley just adds on staff instead of REPLACING staff, another major red flag.

Then again, if Brantley can stop from having so many computers walk away, and actually seem to care about DCSS computers seemingly disappearing like a 50% off flat screen on Black Friday, he’s worth every penny (from March 2nd: Tony Hunter – asked for money to install software to track stolen computers (like a Lojack). Jester – any update on the status of the extensive theft of computers at Henderson? Tony Hunter — we don’t have the budget to replace all stolen equipment).

Dr. Atkinson had been well received across the county, including the DeKalb County School Watch blog, and everyone is on board to be positive and give her time to right the bloated, rotting, fetid Central Office.

But she knew coming in that downsizing the Central Office machine was a top priority, and hiring these three in addition to current staff instead of REPLACING current staff is a major red flag.

Seaisland

November 25th, 2011
10:14 am

MASSIVE waste and misapplied money.

Remedy: Unless you supervise teachers, you shouldn’t earn a dime more than the top teacher salary. Period. Top teacher salary 10% above federal median income. Principals 10% more than top teacher pay, Superintendent 5% above principals.

Blue

November 25th, 2011
10:16 am

Howe already has a $73,000 per year secretary and the hire to be made for Brantley’s secretary was jettisoned after it only asked for a GED or high school diploma for a $52 – 73,000 paid position. I wonder if they went ahead and hired the person (or moved someone into the position) they had in mind for Brantley at $73,000 with no leak to the press. It may have been a done deal even when the announcement for the position was withdrawn.

Even if Atkinson wanted to get rid of those who are being replaced, DCSS(D) Human Resources will protect whom it’s told to protect. Watch and see if Beasley, Berry, Mosely, Hunter, et. al, remain employed after 8/12 in different guises.

Corruption breeds corruption and unless Atkinson roots it out at the source it will remain the viable mode of doing business within DCSS(D).

Dunwoody Mom

November 25th, 2011
10:32 am

Maureen, are there posts stuck in the filter?

mETFAN lOU

November 25th, 2011
10:41 am

Boy, are you parents suckers and you actually believe all this achievement crap they throw out. Parents should be marching on their school boards, the state capitol and refuse to pay their school taxes until charter schools are established. Until this happens all these people will do is steal money, live in million dollar homes and drive Mercedes. The children will continue to suffer-suckers one and all. This money should be going for merit pay to teachers. 79,000 a year for a secretary-wow-sign me up.

William Casey

November 25th, 2011
10:42 am

Get over it folks. The DCSS has functioned as a “jobs program” for years, no more, no less. The jobs always have vague titles and high salaries. It isn’t just DeKalb but they are the worst.

WAR

November 25th, 2011
10:44 am

amazing how so many posts talk about what atkinson is doing with her hires. would anyone hire people unfamiliar or familiar. problem is she hasnt got a sense of principals in the buildings and she wont get one. she will rely on hearsay, thus heresy in dekalb will continue. hope she does better than lewis.

north fulon teacher

November 25th, 2011
10:45 am

This comes as no surprise to me. Cindy Loe attempted to make Fulton Co. schools the west annex of Gwinnett with most of her hires. Robert Avossa is bringing in people from NC left and right to fill positions. It is what it is …

north fulton teacher

November 25th, 2011
10:46 am

ugh … typo in my name … how sad … :)

And 1

November 25th, 2011
10:57 am

I welcome her bringing in new staff, albeit at exorbitant salaries. Just let the ones they are replacing go!

WAR

November 25th, 2011
11:07 am

so no one on this blog would hire familiar, professional, qualified staff? cronyism is when you hire people who are not qualified for a position, but they are related to you or a friend of yours or a friend of a friend… every so often we do the same thing except we call it voting and the people we hire are legislators.

And 1

November 25th, 2011
11:14 am

“I was able to improve student achievement in all of those schools,” March said. “That’s what our mission is here in DeKalb.”

Kendra March will fit in very well with the other inflated ego’s at the DCSS Central Office.

I wonder if she earned her degree from a real college, or if it was from one of the online diploma mills so favored by other DCSS administrators, many of who work on their advance degree’s in their office during the work day. For real, no exaggeration. Love it when Central Office staff lists University of Sarasota on their resume, when its really just a branch of the online Argosy diploma mill. Many the Office of School Improvement “coaches” and “instructors”, who are supposed to assist actual classroom teachers, are famous for working during the school day on their advanced degree.

Ole Guy

November 25th, 2011
11:58 am

Let’s take a closer look at K.C. 17,400 students and 2,300 teachers and other employees cranks out to about eight teachers and support personnel per kid…is this the norm in 21st Century education? Perhaps the “other employee” headcount has become the new “lean n’mean” in education. It would be interesting to see a breakdown, by states, and perhaps a few municipalities, of student-to-teacher/staff ratios, AND rates of college graduation among in-state students.

If nothing more, I rather suspect education leaders might be “shamed” (if that’s possible) into tightening up their acts. Left unchallenged, this crap will continue well into oblivian.

say what?

November 25th, 2011
1:30 pm

sO WILL Brantley leave once smart boards are in all classrooms? guess he will be gone soon, as this project has been ongoing for several years now. March is interesting seeing that her last position was as an ES principal, and poof just like that she is 2nd in command of DCSS. Will K.Howe complete her dissertation now that she has been giving a new job? Beasley may have been paper trail heavy, but he is a trained mathematical teacher, so he should remain somewhere with DCSS.

It is sad that 2 people are being paid for each position- Beasley and Howe, March and Mosely, Hunter and Brantley, yet the new ones are the only ones making decisions daily. Inneffective use of personnel and salaries under DCSS’ new hope for the future. Hunter is not under contract, so why have 2 people in the same position? It is the same old stuff, different day, different group of meglamaniacs.

my2cents

November 25th, 2011
2:12 pm

Let the games begin!

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 25th, 2011
2:24 pm

“First its the washing machine then us then the wash powder, I mean it doesnt matter its all a big joke anyway.”

d

November 25th, 2011
3:12 pm

Beasley is dealing with Race to the Top – he has a properly executed contract with the district to have a job and a salary, so he can’t receive a pay cut even though he is (thankfully) out of the teaching and learning area. Moseley is now an area superintendent, but again with his contract, there wasn’t much that could be legally done as far as removing him from the county. It’s one of those unfortunate “costs of doing business” for the new administration that I expect won’t be a problem in 2012-2013.

Ed Johnson

November 25th, 2011
3:29 pm

“But I have also seen the deflation that can occur in a school when a charismatic leader walks out the door.”

Deflation, surefire evidence that the “charismatic leader” wasn’t a leader, at all. Few, if any, were lead away from where they were. Absent the charismatic leader’s constant pressure, a system will simply spring back into its normal state.

frustrated educator

November 25th, 2011
3:34 pm

“She developed a reading program in the 2008-2009 school year that boosted student proficiency by two grade levels in just one year.”

Was Howe a member of the Beverly Hall team? Sure sounds like it.

Raquel Morris

November 25th, 2011
4:27 pm

We have no reason to believe these folks are not qualified for the positions. Further, there is nothing untoward about Atkinson hiring people with whom she’s worked before. If she promoted from within DCSS for the spots, some of you would have a problem with that.

RAMZAD

November 25th, 2011
6:06 pm

People are never able to truly solve a problem until they take ownership of it.

You can not change a spare tire standing in a bath tub. So, it is reasonable for Dr. Atkinson to bring in people whose work ethic, temperament, commitment, background, and work history she understands. All these aspects of solutional autonomy are not only appropriate but encouraged. These people are getting on the road of no excuses. Let them!

About those yapping about class size and teacher salary- talk to the union or get on board to build the tide that will raise all boats. Get over it already. You are working. There are one million ways for that to change.

say what?

November 25th, 2011
6:19 pm

thanks d and Rachel for stating what some employees are saying. I want
DCSS to change for the better. I pray that they are not snowed by the window dressing in some schools, and begin to look at how things get done-intimidation of staff all while claiming “it’s all about the children”. When leaders use buzz words and can cite Rubye Payne’s work at the drop of a dime, I cringe. Non-negotiables, negotiables, directives, school’s culture, mandates, benchmark, data rooms, war rooms, content planning, professional development during teacher planning, etc. It’s enough to wonder when do kids have the opportunity to learn. Sadly, looping kids with the teacher who everyone in the building knows is good at teaching testing strategies, is unfair to the student, the school, and the community.
Can we get principals assigned to schools where their homes are in the communmity and the success/failure of the school impacts their property value? It is not a bad idea to have school staff committed and vested in the community.

Jerry

November 25th, 2011
7:14 pm

@Ramzad Please spare us the cheap jargon (one cannot “own” a problem, and “solutional” is not a word). The steps that can be take are quite simple. For example,

- publicly cut ties to Tyson and let it be known that Ramsey, among others, will not be returning
- use the audit to reduce the size of the central office by a set percentage (40 would be good)
- personally examine the credentials of all area supers (whose positions could probably be eliminated through the audit), principals, and ap’s, announce open, national searches for their positions, and offer clear explanations as to why those who will be staying on are qualified to do so
- establish clear guide lines for getting into and advancing through the administrative system (a minimum of ten years of classroom experience for all ap’s and principals)

This would be a good start. Will it happen? I’m not holding my breath.

No need to make it sound more complicated and profound than it is. That’s one of the big problems with all of these undereducated educators.

Burroughston Broch

November 25th, 2011
7:22 pm

We, the voters of DeKalb, are going to pay for our SPLOST vote. We had a chance to send a clear message to DCSS by voting against SPLOST, and we blew it.
The new team will be not much different than the old team, and we will be paying for both teams.
Sigh…

Dekalbite@d

November 25th, 2011
7:53 pm

“Beasley is dealing with Race to the Top – he has a properly executed contract with the district to have a job and a salary, so he can’t receive a pay cut even though he is (thankfully) out of the teaching and learning area. Moseley is now an area superintendent, but again with his contract, there wasn’t much that could be legally done as far as removing him from the county.”

Why do you say that? That’s simply not true.

DeKalb contracts for certified personnel (Mosley and Beasley and Berry singed contracts as certified personnel) specifically state that the salary and assignment listed in the contract are NOT guaranteed. Certified personnel are merely guaranteed a JOB in a certified position, but the county has listed in the contract that they cannot guarantee the position or salary that the certified employee currently has.

Dr. Atkinson can move a Director to an Assistant Principal (AP) or teaching position of she wants. Witness Ralph Simpson who was involved in the Title 1 funds to buy his book fiasco. He was moved from an Assistant Superintendent position to an AP. Ms. Tyson did not have to use “cause” to do this. She was able to simply move him because he signed a contract to work for the school system in a CERTIFIED position. DCSS was not bound by contract to continue his employment as an Assistant Superintendent.

Johnny Brown moved many personnel from the Central Office to AP and schoolhouse positions. He could do this because the contracts DO NOT bind the school system to keep employees in the same positions they were in when they signed their contracts.

Read the DeKalb employment contracts to see this very clear clause. Are you a certified employee? If not, ask a certified employee to show you his/her contract.

I have no problem with Dr. Atkinson hiring her own people. My problem is that she would leave redundant personnel intact and leave personnel in high level positions when their poor decisions have failed to move students forward academically. Taxpayers and students simply cannot afford this.

bootney farnsworth

November 25th, 2011
9:12 pm

that’s the nature of education – what you know? who cares.
who you know? that’s the ticket

dekalbed

November 25th, 2011
9:27 pm

Is no one else disturbed by these salaries? Can someone please explain why it is that during this economic downturn with furlough days, increased class sizes, and reduction in programs DCSS can continue to offer such inflated salaries?

There must be some administrators in it “for the chidren.” Or does this platitudinous mantra apply only to teachers?

And RAMZAD there are no unions in Georgia. There are elections. But when so few citizens vote and DCSS maintains a jobs programs, there is little teachers can do but try to still teach in spite of ineffective mandates.

Fair Compensation

November 25th, 2011
10:27 pm

The salaries are in the range of what is appropriate
compensation for the positions.Maybe Ms. Kendra
March used the word “I” ,because many reporters
and citizens often ask what did “you” ,(or “she”)
accomplish in your (her) last position regarding
student achievement.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

November 26th, 2011
1:14 am

If these hires help the DCSS’ new SOS improve the ability of DeKC kids to learn what they’ll need to know to become functional citizens, I don’t care if they’re her friends or her enemies.

As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t go near the office of SOS in the DCSS without a cohort of competent, conscientious, courageous friends with me.

Beverly Fraud

November 26th, 2011
1:47 am

I would think a forward think DCSS would contract with an astrophysicist; you know, to attract high quality to the system.

In this case “high quality” would be an astrophysicist working in collaboration with an asteroid willing to change its trajectory in order to land squarely on top of the administrative offices of DCSS, as that is probably the best chance DCSS has of affecting positive change.

d

November 26th, 2011
7:34 am

@dekalbed – I am a teacher in DCSS and I know what my contract says, you’re right, the salary isn’t guaranteed but it is based on state funding, not just because they want to change the salary or position. In other words, if funding isn’t available, then the salary can be reduced. As far as Ralph Simpson goes, it is my understanding he was one of the best paid assistant principals last year, but until they release the numbers on opengeorgia.gov for this year, we won’t know for sure.

redweather

November 26th, 2011
7:45 am

The new superintendent could have taken a major step toward her much vaunted goal of transparency and accountability by putting out a press release regarding these important new hires. That would have been good public relations. I would think that Gary Brantley, the new chief information officer, would have known that.

Beverly Fraud

November 26th, 2011
8:24 am

***I don’t think we can fault Atkinson for creating her own team and reaching back in her career to find the best people***

But we can, especially in light of what JUST HAPPENED with the secretary position, fault Atkinson for not being OPEN and TRANSPARENT.

DCSS best bet: The citizens of DeKalb collectively hold their vacuum cleaners skyward, and hope the cumulative effect is strong enough to draw an asteroid out of its orbit. Farfetched I know, but really, is it any more farfetched than believing Atkinson is going to bring real tangible change to DCSS?

carlosgvv

November 26th, 2011
9:01 am

There is a problem here but it is not about who’s in charge and those hired. The problem is, no matter what people are in charge of DeKalb education, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

dekalbed

November 26th, 2011
9:15 am

Fair compensation,

I work in education. I’m one of the many plebians in the classroom. I genuinely don’t know or see the benefits of “the positions” for which these people are earning generous salaries and benefits.

However, I have seen the consequences of overcrowding classrooms because $20,000-$25,000 paraprofessionals and $30,000-$45,000 teachers are too expensive to employ. Also, from what I can tell (since Dr. Atkinson has offered no explanation) these new hires are receiving these “fair wages” in addition to their “fairly compensated” colleagues who are doing what?

Because the current educational mantra calls for “individualized instruction” in the classroom and there are numerous assistant principals earning “appropriate compensation” (one inflated position allows for another and so on….) for school-based decisions, I also don’t understaand how, specifically, this one person decide the instructional needs for so many high schools, middle schools, and elemenatary schools?

I understand the superintendent’s need to surround herself with qualified people, but I don’t understand how overpaid secretaries and out-of-school “chiefs” are evidencing Atkinson’s purported “Theory of Action of Change.” Seems like alot of the same to me.

Jacksmum

November 26th, 2011
9:42 am

Just out of curiosity, how many students are currently in the DeKalb school system. The numbers for the previous systems served by these new employees sounded low to me, but I have no idea if that is accurate.

Inman Park Boy

November 26th, 2011
10:09 am

DeKalb salaries are incredible! Is this in line with similar positions in Cobb & Gwinnett??

Ole Guy

November 26th, 2011
10:48 am

As Atlanta burned, the peasants roasted weenies…as they walked among the ashes and ruin, all they worried about was “WHERE’S MY WEENIE”!

MM

November 26th, 2011
2:17 pm

Charisma comes down to just an act. With a “charismatic leader” the question is whether he/she can bluff and BS enough people to get an outstanding work effort from them. In contrast, an “idea person” can be overlooked as insufficiently entertaining. It’s difficult to see beyond the BS especially when our popular culture is so driven by actors on TV and in politics and overpaid blow-dry corporate execs but we need to understand the terrible cost of being misled by a dazzling smile and an act.

Dekalbite@d

November 26th, 2011
2:52 pm

” the salary isn’t guaranteed but it is based on state funding, not just because they want to change the salary or position. In other words, if funding isn’t available, then the salary can be reduced. ”

In 2008 a umber of first year Gwinnett teachers were let go after they had contracts and had started teaching. Gwinnett decided they did not need as many teachers as they had hired so they let them go in early fall. I personally know some teachers that applied to and taught in APS the rest of the school year. Contracts are mainly to guarantee due process before you can be let go during the school year. DCSS has experienced dramatic state funding cuts. Dr. Lewis and Ms. Tyson chose to eliminate 600 teaching positions in two year be use state funding was cut. They could have eliminated on the asmin and support side. Can you eliminate all those teachings positions, and then say your budget is fine and can accommodate redundant Central Ofifice personnel? All contracts are contingent on certified personnel being placed in the positions the school system deems necessary for instruction. Dr. Atkinson should not keep personnel in redundant positions. Taxpayers can’t afford that.

Dekalbite@Jacksmum

November 26th, 2011
2:53 pm

DeKalb Schools has 98,000 students according to the Georgia Department of Education website.