Speculation mounts that DeKalb school chief is leaving

Dr. Cheryl Atkinson

Dr. Cheryl Atkinson

Speculation is high that DeKalb School Chief Cheryl Atkinson is stepping down.

Dr. Atkinson called me yesterday to set the record straight on her reaction to the Ralph Taylor plagiarism case, saying that she never attempted to protect him. Her only concern, she said, was ascertaining that he could be held accountable for actions that occurred while he was a consultant and not an employee of the district.

She explained that she has been dealing with her father’s illness and death, so she had let staff handle the media communications about the Taylor controversy.

Then, I asked her the question of the hour: Is she leaving her job at DeKalb after 16 months?

“I can’t say anything about that,” she told me.

This is not the first rumor that Atkinson was resigning. The earlier reports  turned out to be false.

But I was surprised that Atkinson did not respond to my question with the standard issue, “I am not going anywhere. I am committed to the children of DeKalb County.”

It made me wonder.

Folks are telling me that it’s Atkinson’s choice to leave and that the school board was surprised. The delay in announcing her resignation, they say, is due to finding an interim school chief.

The school board has met in executive session over a personnel issue this week, and meets again Monday, according to this announcement: “The DeKalb Board of Education will hold a called meeting at 1:00pm, Monday, February 4, 2013, in M-201 at the Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center at the DeKalb County School System’s Administrative & Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain. The called meeting will adjourn to executive session for the purpose of discussing legal and personnel matters.”

So, we shall see. I know that many of you believe Atkinson was in over her head, but I still wonder whether the never-ending crises — some real, some political — kept her from getting to the real challenges in the district. I wonder if she just wearied of the grind.

Before the allegations that I am being an apologist for her, let me point out a reality: DeKalb students are growing poorer. Poverty is a main factor in student achievement, whether in Finland or Stone Mountain or Tucker.

Many of Atkinson’s loudest critics hail from the more upper middle-class areas of the county, and have a different set of concerns about their schools.

But the main challenge in DeKalb remains how to educate children with fewer resources, both in the home and in the schools.

DeKalb is a school system in transition and needs strong leadership. I’ve no doubt that there would be a lot of folks seeking the DeKalb superintendent’s job. I can’t vouch for the caliber of folks who will apply, but many will.

I also wonder about the leadership vacuum if the school board is ousted by the governor. But I don’t see that occurring for many reasons. I would bet the school board stays in place for the time being.

No matter what happens, brace yourselves for a rough 2013 in DeKalb.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

126 comments Add your comment

Principal Skinner

February 1st, 2013
2:02 pm

Ugh:-(
This is like having a band-aid pulled off a fraction per second. Just rip it off, expose the scab to the sunlight and oxygen, and then the healing can begin!

living in an outdated ed system

February 1st, 2013
2:12 pm

Well, my feeling is that Dr. Atkinson should step down due to “job failure.” I think I agree with @Maureen on the salient points – the school system has really screwed things up, because you have a situation where both the school board and superintendent have failed the children. Who would take this interim job right now? Has Errol Davis done an effective job at “stabilizing” APS? Perhaps not. This is really extraordinary and if she stepped down, it’s because she can’t take the heat. It will certainly make the Governor’s decision that much more challenging.

Seems to me like Dekalb may need to be converted into a charter system. Truly sad, and more funding is not the answer, sad to say.

Ernest

February 1st, 2013
2:16 pm

Only commenting about her response about Ralph Taylor, everyone should know that you NEVER discuss personnel issues in public. We live in a VERY litigious society and you must be guarded when asked publicly about someone’s employment status. In the Emory situation with misreporting data, the president indicated he would not reveal the names of those involved. It served no purpose and also would not provide an opportunity for those involved to possibly sue Emory.

It was easy to predict how the Ralph Taylor situation would turn out. Regardless of the evidence, everyone is entitled to due process, whether we want to afford that to them or not. I would speculate after an internal investigation, he was given several options and choose to resign. Remember David Patraeus and the scandal that led to his demise? We see this every day.

Teacher Reader

February 1st, 2013
2:17 pm

Hope she leaves quickly and takes those that she brought with her, and that door gives her a swift kick in the arse on her way out.

Hopefully this rumor is true, the board will be removed, and our kids will have a chance.

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
2:23 pm

Since one person approved of it (thanks Ros) we will give it an encore…

Cheryl Atkinson as Colonel Kilgore in the DCCS remake of Apocalypse Now.

I love the smell of incompetence in the morning; it smells like…Victory; Victory in Every Classroom.

Rick L in ATL

February 1st, 2013
2:25 pm

As Nancy Jester has pointed out, Atkinson is an expert at excuse-making (”we can’t possibly generate the spending reports the Board wants”) and stonewalling; and now Atkinson’s abysmally poor judgment is also now on full display (no real educational “leader” thinks about it for more than a nanosecond before throwing a plagiarist like Taylor out the door; spare me the lame “we had to consult our HR folks” bull).

The last thing metro Atlanta needs is another whatever-it-is, it’s-not-my-fault school superintendent. Right, Beverly Fraud? : )

By the way, if the DKSS board is not ejected, what is the likelihood they’ll hire yet another glib pretender? I put it at about 99%.

The Deal

February 1st, 2013
2:26 pm

Getting rid of Cheryl would be a good first step in a multi-step improvement process. I still think this system is still too big to manage. If we could get an innovative super who would be willing to hire regional supers with true local control, we could get somewhere. If the state constitution won’t allow smaller districts, then get a super who can replicate that situation within DeKalb.

Mary Elizabeth

February 1st, 2013
2:26 pm

I am posting the following information which was sent to me today via e-mail regarding three Superintendents of School who will be speaking next Wednesday, before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committee, on how their school districts are helping to increase student achievement. Two of the speakers are Superintendents of Charter School Systems. See below:
===================================================

“The Senate Education Committee will meet on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 1:45 p.m. in Room 506 CLOB. . . .

Immediately upon adjourning the Senate Education Meeting we will begin the Joint House and Senate Education Meeting at 2:00 p.m.-4:00p.m. in the same Room, 506 CLOB.

Agenda for Joint Education Meeting

· Student Finance Commission – REACH program

We have scheduled three Superintendents who will discuss how they are using flexibility and innovations to improve student achievement. They are:

· Dr. Jody Barrow – Ware County Schools

· Dr. Chuck Ledbetter – Dublin City Schools, a Charter System

· Dr. Robert Avossa – Fulton County Schools, a Charter System”
==============================================================

Mike

February 1st, 2013
2:28 pm

does anyone really care?

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:38 pm

Perhaps she’s drawing heat from DeKalb School Board members who feel that she threw them under the SACS bus…calling on the union for superintendents, SACS. Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents (SACS). I think that this is part of the problem, Maureen. Plus, she’s obviously in over her head. DeKalb County is no Lorain, Ohio.

Dunwoody Mom

February 1st, 2013
2:40 pm

The BOE that hired Dr. Atkinson in the first place should be allowed to stay to hire the next Super? No, no way.

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:41 pm

@ Mary Elizabeth, you might want to check on what the new superintendent is doing in Charlotte to clean up some of the mess that Robert Avossa apparently left up there…dealing with student stats.

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:43 pm

By the way, folks, she won’t stay.

southern opinion

February 1st, 2013
2:48 pm

Teachers are going to leave DCSS. Get new leadership and maybe they will stay. Don’t wait until contracts are issued. Showw progress to slow the exit.

dekalbite@Maureen

February 1st, 2013
2:51 pm

“Before the allegations that I am being an apologist for her, let me point out a reality: DeKalb students are growing poorer. Poverty is a main factor in student achievement, whether in Finland or Stone Mountain or Tucker.”

That is true of most of the metro Atlanta school systems as most students are growing poorer due in large part to the Great Recession, but most of them have seen a greater rate of improvement in student achievement, even the demographically comparable ones.

Being a school system with a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students means that you can’t have the luxury of gross budget cutting like a system with more middle class or economically advantaged students. Rather, DeKalb must use great care in who, where and how you cut the budget.

DeKalb County budget cuts have primarily come from the classroom in the form of:
1. Reducing teacher compensation
2. Reducing the number of teachers by allowing teacher positions go unfilled when there is teacher attrition

Both of these gross cuts have been horribly detrimental to our economically disadvantaged students. Attracting and retaining good teachers is difficult in any environment, but when you are asking teachers to teach in schools where student achievement is lagging, you cannot afford to use teacher compensation as one of your main ways to cut the budget. When you increase class sizes to unmanageable sizes as you eliminate teaching positions, you are negatively impacting students who need more individual attention in order to master the content of math, language arts, science and social studies. Economically disadvantaged students have a more difficult time in classroom with 30 to 40 students. Class size matter the most for economically disadvantaged students and students with leaning disabilities.

DeKalb has used a meat cleaver on the budget when they should have been using a scalpel. They should have been protecting the classroom, but they chose to protect adult jobs in the non teaching areas. DeKalb did not have the luxury of cutting teacher’s compensation and eliminating teaching positions like school systems with more middle class students. The last area you cut when your business is in trouble are the core areas of your business, and yet that is exactly what DeKalb has done.

DeKalb needs a Board and Superintendent who will concentrate on ensuring the basics of the classroom which is that every child has a competent, well compensated teacher with a reasonable class size in a clean, safe environment.

Mountain Man

February 1st, 2013
2:51 pm

So Atkinson is backpedaling furiously now over her comments on Ralph Taylor? Too little, too late. If she thought he was wrong, why not fire him? No, let’s just let him resign. Same with the BOE, if they were the least bit effective, they would have fired Atkinson, but , no, they are going to let her “resign”.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

February 1st, 2013
2:52 pm

While I don’t subscribe to some of the cries for blood that are so common to this blog, I do think that Dr. Atkinson has been overwhelmed by the challenges of taking on the superintendent’s role from Day one. She hasn’t done much to endear herself to her constituents either – school calendar, new car, teacher cuts, jobs for texts, not showing up at the State BOE meeting, etc., etc. She just keeps saying “victory in every classroom” and it’s one blunder after another. Folks are sharpening their knives now…

Whatever is decided, they better do it quick…we’re already 15 days into the Board’s 30 days of “improvement.”

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:53 pm

Cherry, Henson, Freeman, Brown, Lewis, What’s her name — the interim?, and Atkinson. DeKalb.

Grindle, Fox, Dolinger, Haro, Van Arsdale, Wilson, Cindy L., and Avossa. Fulton.

Crim, Harris, Butts, Canada, Strickland, Hall, and Davis. Atlanta.

Edmonds, Stroud, Lovin, Livingston, Hairston, Colwell, Chavis, Pulliam, Duncan, Thompson, Lee, Heatley, and Jackson. Clayton.

They come and go. I stick around. Ha!

Mary Elizabeth

February 1st, 2013
2:58 pm

Dr. Trotter and all readers,

I offered the information in my 2:26 pm simply as a communication of Georgia’s legislative action, which I will – from time to time – post on this blog. Please know that, unless I state otherwise, those communications of mine will not shared for the purpose of either condoning or condemning the speakers or the agenda, but simply to inform.

However, the information that you shared with me in your 2:41 pm post should certainly be looked into by all readers of this blog, I would think.

dekalbite@Dr. Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:58 pm

Well, Cherry was the superintendent for 25 years so maybe he did stick around.

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
2:59 pm

In DeKalb, I left off the cat after Freeman and before Johnny Brown. What was his name? He and his twin brother worked in the system. Nice fellow. Halford. Right. That’s his name. Named a stadium after him, right? DeKalb will survive this next round of superintendent selection. Maybe this time they will go a’knockin’ on Dr.Sam King’s door in Norfolk, Virginia. After being named Superintendent of the Year in Georgia while in Rockdate County, he took the superintendent’s job in Norfolk. I bet he would leave Virginia if mama came a’callin’. He started off as a teacher in DeKalb.

Disgusted in Dekalb

February 1st, 2013
2:59 pm

I agree with Maureen that the income level of a household affects student achievement and in that regard Dekalb has an uphill slog. But I disagree that the failure of the system is due to “fewer resources.” $750 million is enough to educate 100,000 students IF it is properly managed. God help us if the current school board chooses another superintendent. We can only hope that the state board recommends that the current board be removed and that the Governor has the guts to follow their recommendation. The replacement board needs to hire a super who will overhaul the system by rightsizing the administration/teacher ratio and restoring teacher morale. The amount we spend on lawyers alone could run some systems in this state.

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
3:02 pm

I understand, Mary Elizabeth. Sorry to have caused some confusion. I thought that you were offering Avossa up as some enlightened educator. I am sorry — I see that he was simply a speaker.

20/20

February 1st, 2013
3:04 pm

Hope Erroll Davis follows. Atlanta is in bad shape as well. The board is paralyzed and Davis can’t be trusted at all!

Mary Elizabeth

February 1st, 2013
3:09 pm

Dr. Trotter,

No problem :-)

The Deal

February 1st, 2013
3:14 pm

@Disgusted, unfortunately DCSD’s entire budget is closer to $1B, which is certainly sufficient.

indigo

February 1st, 2013
3:16 pm

The good news: Atkinson may be leaving.

The bad news: If so, her replacement won’t be any better.

Smoke Rise Mom

February 1st, 2013
3:19 pm

Amen Dunwoody Mom. If a new superintendent has to be hired, the board must be dismissed. They’ve proven they’re not capable of that job. It would be hard to consider the loss of both this super and board a vacuum of leadership. I would call that a fresh start and step in the right direction.

The Deal

February 1st, 2013
3:22 pm

Just today the board approved hiring ANOTHER law firm, this time to handle their state board of education hearing and SACS actions. At this point we should apparently just fire the entire board and replace them with a law firm because that’s where all of our money is going.

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
3:28 pm

Is anybody out there thinking what I’m thinking; now that she’s had time to “pause and reflect” is this not be perfect time for the triumphant return of Beverly Hall?

Home-tutoring parent

February 1st, 2013
3:34 pm

I just recently discovered Maureen’s column. She’s an “A-grader”.

Here are some things for you AJC readers to consider:

Cheryl Atkinson went to U North Carolina-Charlotte. Not a great college. Try hiring an alum of U North Carolina- Chapel Hill. UNC-CH is a serious university. Or, closer to home, try alumni of UGA, Georgia Tech, or Emory. You have brain-talent, use it to lead your schools.

Most smart people are choosing private schools, or home-education. Why? Figure it out.

What urban, mostly-minority/underperforming student schools should do, are two things:

Go to 240-day school years. (Okay Finland only operates 190 days, but Finnish teachers are selected from the top 12% of university entrants. Also, nearly half of Finnish students do vocational training after age 15, which is to say that academic training fails them.)

In East Asia, 240 days instruction is the norm. Studies have shown that middle-class+ American students read in the summer, and their knowledge increases. Poor students forget what they have learned, and lose knowledge over the summer. Solution: offer enrichment classes, not just remedial classes, for 6+ weeks over the summer.

In a lot of states, 60-year old teacher-retirement is really expensive. Reduce pensions and hire these retirees to teach, and also tech/ engineer retirees. Think about reducing class sizes to 1-2-4-6 students. Buildings and physical space are actually pretty cheap. Who said 1 teacher for every 20-30 students is “good enough”?

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
3:38 pm

” Poverty is a main factor in student achievement, whether in Finland or Stone Mountain or Tucker.”

Maureen wrote that? The same person who, when she first took over the blog, wrote discipline isn’t a “pressing issue”?

Perhaps she has learned something while at the helm of Get Schooled

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
3:43 pm

After graduating from the very rigorous 6th grade at the Jethro Bodine School of Education and Brain Surjery, I too was offered a job in Finland, but turned it down because I didn’t want to relocate to South America.

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
3:48 pm

“So Atkinson is backpedaling furiously now over her comments on Ralph Taylor?”

If she were to backpedal any more furiously, she’d be wearing the yesrej wolley in the Ecnarf ed Rout

No, not a typo. LOL

Cindy Lutenbacher

February 1st, 2013
3:49 pm

Let’s not forget that Atkinson is an alum of the Broad Superintendents Academy–known for towing the corporate line.

Are you kidding?

February 1st, 2013
3:53 pm

I live in the middle of the county and volunteer at my child’s elem school weekly. I see kids with money who have every advantage, and those without, many who don’t speak English as their first language. Many kids who have practically nothing come in with parents whose emphasis is education. And guess what – those kids learn and are some of the best. So let’s skip the “all the money in DeKalb needs to go to the increasing poor” drivel. It isn’t accurate. And it further separates the county.

IMCOVERED

February 1st, 2013
3:56 pm

You came and you made promises to people of not losing their jobs and you did not keep that promise. When you starting making cuts, you should have started at the top where the big money makers were and not in the classroom with the teachers, psychologist, social workers, counselors, and I can go on and on. You came here and got a big raise and took away the life of people that worked in DeKalb for years. Now you get to resign and probably walk away with a big bonus. One thing I do know, it ain’t over until God says it’s over. You remember that. Some of us still may not have a job and still getting unemployment because of your mismanagement, but what you have done to DeKalb County and our children is just wrong. You did not fix the problem lady, you added to it and the Board needs to run right behind you for allowing you to do so.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
4:03 pm

You can blame poverty, etc., and it does carry a little weight. However (elephant in the room) until the overall culture of much of Atlanta (especially the poorer areas) changes with more parental involvement in the actual studies, not just bellyaching about everything, only Jesus himself can improve the situation, and he would probably react like he did when he turned over the tables in the temple. You are asking the schools to do what everybody from LBJ to Superman could not do (especially LBJ, by the way who helped cause much of this mess) and that is save the world. There has been gross injustice in the past, granted. The present culture (see unwed mom’s and mom’s who are 15-16 and absent good for nothing sperm-donors who do not qualify as dads ) will not work….and no this is not specifically about just blacks….it is about culture. A black guy I graduated with is now chief of staff at a hospital (surgery) so it sure is not just about that. But the inner-city mentality and thug culture has taken hold over much of the area….and not a dad-blasted one of the posters on this blog has any idea what to do to improve it, education and all. By the way, I include MYSELF in the number as well. The school system is the red herring here…..its much bigger than the schools.

Dr. John Trotter

February 1st, 2013
4:07 pm

Ah…there it is again…the Broad’s Superintendents Academy. Ah…sounds so official, doesn’t it? It gave us lightweights like Bobby Avossa and Ho Ho Hinojosa, Edmond the Teffific Heatley, and other giants in public education. Yes, B-R-O-A-D…pronounced like Road. What does it stand for…besides lots of insurance money…like billions? Because Rich Oligarchs Are Demanding…demanding more of the almighty school money. They are salivating. Yes, as Beverly Fraud as suggested, it may be time for a return of the National Superintendent of the Year, Beverly Hall! Ha! Was that an award given to her by BROAD? Or SACS? Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents.

Looking for the truth

February 1st, 2013
4:16 pm

I’m so glad my family got out of DeKalb. Fortunately, we only had one son to go through DCSS when it was an excellent school system.

Now, it reminds me of a train wreck. There will be no survivors among the children and teachers, but the administrators will exit the wrech unscathed.

Looking for the truth

February 1st, 2013
4:17 pm

Sorry, that should be “wreck unscathed.”

skipper

February 1st, 2013
4:24 pm

The entire system is pretty much broken, and you cannot make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t…….the whole dynamics need to be overhauled, and the system there that allows “fools to vote for fools” should minimally not be in the education field………..I believe folks should ALL have the right to vote. The voters in this case, however, are more corrupt than the folks they vote in….or they would actually be more interested in education!

muddy waters

February 1st, 2013
4:33 pm

I knew Atkinson’s head must’ve been getting ready to roll when my comment/post several days ago foretelling her much-needed resignation miraculously “evaporated” from this board.

Maureen apparently didn’t learn from her mistake, continuing to champion Hall when there was clearly something very rotten in Denmark. Then her own newspaper exposed it. Same thing here w/ Atkinson and her plagiarist home-boy Taylor. Sheesh, don’t you read the paper, Maureen?

Beverly Fraud

February 1st, 2013
4:42 pm

@Muddy Waters despite the fact that you disparage Hall, it must be noted that even after cheating was exposed, APS still managed to rate within the top 170 school systems in Georgia, ranking at a robust 169th. That’s quite the legacy, I’m sure you’d agree.

So you can’t say that a decade’s worth of data driven researched based best practices didn’t produce documented results.

SallySally

February 1st, 2013
5:11 pm

Just heard that Atkinson resigned yesterday. Anything in the newswire?

dougmo2

February 1st, 2013
5:29 pm

Maureen perhaps she is fleeing the asylum known as the DeKalb County BOE. Also Maureen please find out why it taking so long for Paul Howard to indict The Beverly Hall Mafia. The silence from the DA’s office about the APS scandal is deafining.

Pride and Joy

February 1st, 2013
5:41 pm

So Atkinson did her dog and pony show a few months ago and handed out unnecessary laptops to kids — cheap trick. Only parents who never pay taxes are impressed with getting a free laptop. For taxpayers like me, if I want my child to use a laptop, he or she can use the one I have at home. I want my kids to learn to actually write with a pencil and paper at school.
The only regret I have with Dr. Atkinson resigning is that I’d like the satisfaction of firing her.
Good riddance to the dog and one trick pony.

Susan

February 1st, 2013
5:51 pm

“Many of Atkinson’s loudest critics hail from the more upper middle-class areas of the county, and have a different set of concerns about their schools.”

That is sooooo not true. Some of her most vehement critics are from south DeKalb. And actually, they DO have the same concerns (in fact, what ‘different’ concerns would they have?) The truth is, they don’t contact you, Maureen like the people in the north end of the county contact you. You are not hearing from everyone. Why? Don’t know. But I tell you true – there are A LOT of Atkinson detractors in south DeKalb. A LOT!!

DunMoody

February 1st, 2013
6:19 pm

To say that most of Atkinson’s critics come from north DeKalb is to denigrate every parent in DeKalb County, every teacher who has to suffer mutely, every taxpayer who sees little return for an ever-increasing tax bill. Disappointed that our news media would play to easy hits (page visits and resulting drama) rather than recognizing that a silent majority is everpresent in this debacle.

Vince

February 1st, 2013
6:37 pm

Atkinson gets a lot of blame for the dour state of affairs in Dekalb. Some is of her own doing and some is not. Has anyone noticed the brain drain of employees leaving the system since last summer? There was much dissatisfaction with the public uproar over Atkinson’s request for a two mil increase in property taxes. Parents overwhelmingly let it be known that they preferred additional furlough days to a $40 increase in their property taxes. The resulting cut in salary (four years in a row) spoke volumes to the hard working teachers and administrators in the county. Those who can easily find work elsewhere are leaving in droves….and just wait until this summer.

That being said, while many respect Atkinson, there is considerable dissatisfaction with some of the staff she brought to DCSS. Someone should teach them that you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.