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