DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson swatted back at critics while talking up the school system during a Sept. 28, 2012 community meeting at Dunwoody High.
Atkinson tackled many topics, including the recent notice it received from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that the accrediting agency is looking into allegations against the school board. A team from SACS will visit DeKalb Schools on Oct. 17 through Oct. 19.
The superintendent said the school system is working to address the issues raised by SACS, some stemming from things that occurred before she became superintendent one year ago. She said it’s important for the school community to learn from the past, but not fixate on it.
“When I came to the district, all we talked about was moving forward, moving forward,” Atkinson said. “And I tell people all the time … if you’re driving and you look into that rearview mirror too long, you’re going to hit something. The past is simply the past, and we can learn from those mistakes, but if we dwell on it, it will ruin our future.”
It’s a bright future, Atkinson said. Atkinson cited a list of accomplishments, including improved SAT scores, a balanced budget and restructuring the school system, which she said saved $5 million.
At the same time, the school system has also found itself embroiled in controversy during Atkinson’s tenure. The two most recent dust-ups involved plans for a “balanced calendar” that would shorten the summer vacation and a move to give pay raises to central office staff with short notice.
Atkinson said she has heard from many parents who don’t want the school system to change its calendar because it will affect summer vacation plans. Atkinson said she wouldn’t propose it if she didn’t think it was good for the school system.
“The goal is to minimize the length of time the students spend away,” Atkinson said.
The superintendent defended the pay raises. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the board voted 3-2 to increase the pay of four administrators to reflect new responsibilities they acquired because of the restructuring. The item was added to the agenda with four hours notice. Four board members were absent for the vote, the AJC reported.
Atkinson said as part of the restructuring the school system eliminated positions and invited administrators to reapply for those positions.
“Certain positions within the structure of this district by policy go before the board,” Atkinson said. “It just happened that some of the positions were people who had applied for those positions and happened to already work for DeKalb. It just happened to come at a time that might not have looked good, but you see as superintendent I’m really not going to be worried about those distracters. It’s about doing what is right and for the right reasons and at the right time.”
Some parents who attended the meeting said they are still concerned about the future of their children’s schools.
“I think the governing concern is for teacher morale,” said Ruth Kenny, a Chamblee Charter High School parent. “Some of the vision and big picture stuff looks good. I’m just concerned we don’t have the means to get there.”
Tom Lambert, who has children in two different schools, said parents think there’s a disconnect between the school board’s plans and reality.
“I think the focus still isn’t where it needs to be,” Lambert said. “It seems a lot of the changes, the last thing considered is the student.”