Dear Decaturish – How DeKalb’s superintendent influenced an election
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Two years ago, a Facebook friend sent me a request to “like” a City of Lakeside page. I didn’t know exactly what City of Lakeside was, but I reside in the Lakeside High School feeder pattern so I thought I should “like” it.
Within 24 hours I received multiple messages from parents asking me how the City of Lakeside would improve public schools. I promptly removed my “like” and told them the cityhood movement and the school system were not related. Despite remaining publicly silent on this issue, I have listened to the community hash out the cityhood issue for two years. My observations and the Nov. 3 election results demonstrate that education and cityhood issues remain interconnected. The failure of LaVista Hills is correlated to the success of DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Stephen Green.
At the time of the DeKalb Board of Education’s near-unanimous vote to bring Dr. Green to DeKalb, the school system was struggling. Cross Keys cluster parents packed into Board of Education meetings. Parents spoke of terribly overcrowded schools, unfit facilities, and years of neglect. Gov. Deal placed 24 DeKalb schools on the “failing” list for the Opportunity School District. Stakeholders asked how DeKalb would assist those schools. Parents in Dunwoody were pushing for a state constitutional amendment to allow the creation of independent school systems. They felt the movement had a chance of taking broader hold if more DeKalb cities joined the fight. Many Druid Hills residents were seeking annexation into Atlanta because they felt their needs were ignored by the District. Parents in the Druid Hills feeder pattern, but not the Druid Hills neighborhood, were upset that they were being left behind (perhaps without their physical school buildings). South DeKalb residents were pursuing their own cityhood initiatives, wondering if that might help their children’s educational experience down the road.
Elected officials, parents, and civic leaders implored the Board of Education to bring DeKalb a strong leader who would address these issues.
Fast forward six months. Dr. Green has been on the job 126 days. He has revamped and expedited a plan to address Cross Keys overcrowding, while working in collaboration with that community. He has produced a comprehensive plan to remove all DeKalb schools that qualify for the OSD list. He has met with parents in Dunwoody to better understand their needs. He has attended a Druid Hills Town Hall meeting where he pledged to collaborate with the Druid Hills community to keep DeKalb united. He has spent time with South DeKalb parents, listening to stories of uphill battles to move their children to higher performing schools. His reputation as a listener and collaborator is growing.
He is also a leader who takes action. I’ve heard from numerous parents that they are receiving responses from central office employees who have not responded to them in the past. After listening to community concerns regarding the District’s petition to become a Charter District, Dr. Green asked the Board to support his decision to delay submission of the petition. He is talking with other District leaders and researching alternative flexibility options (such as IE squared and System of Charter Clusters). Besides taking thoughtful action on the flexibility decision, he is also aggressively exploring SPLOST V funding plans (assessing facilities and program needs), and redistricting (which was not his idea, but has been requested by numerous stakeholders). On top of all this, he is re-staffing the Special Education Department and the Charter Department, as well as auditing the Curriculum and Instruction Department and the Communications Department. He has pledged to analyze, audit, and (when needed) restructure every department.
This leader, Superintendent Stephen Green, did not come to DeKalb intending to influence politics. His background is in education and he has a history of rehabilitating low-performing schools. He is not from Georgia and is only superficially familiar with the tainted political atmosphere, corruption, and balkanization that has plagued DeKalb for the last several years. He doesn’t realize that he is already proving to be a remarkable change agent in DeKalb. By simply coming to DeKalb, demonstrating a desire to collaborate, truly listening to parents, acting with integrity, and leading with transparency, he heralds a new day in DeKalb. Government reform is coming to DeKalb. Stronger ethics oversight is coming to DeKalb. Dr. Green is already in DeKalb and is modeling the changes we seek. It looks like citizens of LaVista Hills have decided to stick around for the transformation.
– Allyson Gevertz, DeKalb Parent and Public Education Advocate