One Man’s Opinion: Let’s Get Schooled

I am a proud graduate of DeKalb County public schools, now the DeKalb County School District (DCSD), still the third-largest school system in the state of Georgia, with just under 100,000 students and 15,000 teachers, administrators, and system employees.

For decades, our DeKalb schools were the hallmark and gold standard for public education in Georgia. Sadly, while there are still thousands of talented educators and students walking into and out of nearly 140 schools and centers each day, the many aging and dilapidated facilities now have the DCSD becoming better known for its mold standards.

Still having a child matriculating within the district, as a parent, citizen, and taxpayer, I am more than appalled at the ongoing bad behavior by a slight majority and cabal running our School Board like it is a small business or personal fiefdom. This board and those before it over the past decade have hired, micro-managed and then typically ushered out or fired EIGHT Superintendents since 2010.

I am really torn on whether to offer newly minted interim Superintendent, Dr. Vasanne Tinsley, my congratulations or condolences. The immediate past Superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris, relocated her family to DeKalb County from New York City, during the middle of this pandemic. She was then the first Deputy Chancellor of the New York City Public School District, with more than 900,000 students. She served as the Brooklyn Executive Bureau Director, managing 188 NYDOE Schools prior to that, and 18 years in the Boston School District, leaving there for NYC as the equivalent of what our DCSD now calls a “Regional Superintendent.”

Despite her sudden, surprise, and unexplained termination a week ago,Watson-Harris spent part of last week defending her doctoral dissertation and completing her Doctorate in Education in Innovation and Leadership from New York University. Her Masters in Education is from Harvard. In addition to this resume, the most recent review by Cognia, the school accrediting agency, is almost glowing in its assessment of Dr. Watson-Harris’ short tenure and progress being made in the system.

From the report - Cognia System Accreditation Engagement Review Report, March 20-25, 2022

“Continuous improvement in the system is a robust, inclusive, formalized process that engages and enlists the input from stakeholders.”

Given that the DCSD lost its accreditation, slightly less than a decade ago, largely due to school board interference, micro-management, and governance concerns, AND then-Governor Nathan Deal suspended and then removed six of the then nine-member school board, you might think this institutional memory would keep current school board members on their P’s & Q’s. Unfortunately not. Here we are again at DeKalb County Dysfunction/Junction, where petty ego battles and airing/re-airing of decades-long divides between north DeKalb and south DeKalb, as well as some justified scarring and aging racial wounds, play out as freshly as if those injuries occurred yesterday.

Board members during the near state take-over, were incredibly parochial, focused on their geographic district, often losing sight of their assigned role as policymakers, budget/financial stewards, and overseers of the Superintendent, with the Superintendent in charge of all day-to-day matters as well as the management of a 15,000 employee workforce and now $2-billion annual budget. Why am I having such a strange feeling of deja vu?

Once again, board meetings routinely go off the rails, a February 14th Valentine’s Day meeting lasted for 11 hours, with four votes submerging seven consecutive proposals, which the same board had requested for development by the Superintendent. The new interim Superintendent was introduced and her contract negotiated, without any input or involvement from at least two board members, and her resume and background were immediately available on the DCDS website, prior to Dr. Watson-Harris being terminated.

This board cabal repeatedly justifies all of their actions, no matter how bizarre, as being “All for the Children.” No, this is them acting like children. With adults on the board, if a change was warranted or desired, finish the school year (three weeks out), sit down with the Superintendent, express concerns, and work out a settlement, as well outlined in the 36-month employment contract. This secret agent version of termination results in paying two Superintendents simultaneously, a new learning curve and team to be built, community dismay and disappointment, and even FURTHER delay on much-needed repairs, with plentiful resources available to complete them. This Board of Education needs to get schooled, grow up and IF the best interests of children are truly what they have in mind...simply resign. It’s for the children.

>>WATCH:

One Man’s Opinion Vlog # 16, “Let’s Get Schooled”


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