DeKalb County School System Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson has proposed an action plan which officials say will help the system be more accountable and give principals more power to run their schools.
The plan, which was backed by each member of the board of education, is an effort to bridge the gap between high-performing and low-performing schools and make the system successful across the board.
DeKalb School System spokesman Walter Woods said the plan is two-fold. Woods said schools will be allowed more autonomy while the ones that are struggling will receive more help.
“That level of autonomy gives the principals some pull over hiring and firing and how they select their team and manage the school’s budget,” Woods said. “Right now there are pockets of excellence and it needs to be district-wide.”
Woods said allowing principals to have increased involvement in staffing and budget issues would be different from the way the system is currently operating.
“There’s not a consistent policy. Some principals feel like they have a great level of autonomy and some don’t…Another piece of this is curriculum is, everyone needs to have a sense of what’s expected with parents and teachers,” Woods said.
In addition to allowing principals from successful schools more management power, the system has hired Kathy Howe as new director of teaching and learning. It is also in the process of hiring an external auditor to maintain transparency.
Woods said the new initiatives are part of Atkinson’s plan to execute a top-to-bottom reform of the school system. Recently, Atkinson has been holding fireside chats with parents and teachers throughout the system. Woods said a common theme at the chats was making the central office more efficient.
“People in the community are clambering for it and demanding it. Every parent forum we’ve had, people have talked about central office staff and it has been an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed,” Woods said.
To address the issue, the system has hired a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm to do a comprehensive reform of its current organizational structure. The firm, Management Advisory Group Inc., will examine every job and salary within the system.
“The first phase is looking at central office staff. In January we’ll present to the board a new organizational chart,” Woods said.
Although the action plan would not grant the new superintendent any additional power, Woods said Atkinson wanted to run it by the board to make sure it understood what she was trying to do.
School Board Chairman Tom Bowen said Atkinson’s plan was well received by the board because them helped it understand what kind of changes the system needs and why.
“The overall thing is that we need to improve student achievement,” Bowen said.
Bowen said shifting more responsibility to individual principals or schools would be a good thing but it has to be done on a case-by-case basis, based on whether the school has established itself as a leader in the system.
Since her appointment in September, Bowen said, Atkinson has “hit the ground running” in developing her 90-day entry plan and identifying what the system needs to do to build student success and address inefficiencies.
“It has been critical—just as she promised in her 90-day plan—that she would be transparent. I think that the fact that she’s held so many focus groups and meetings to get unfiltered input has shown everyone that she has,” Bowen said.
Bowen said the most important thing is for Atkinson to take action on all the points she addressed in her proposed plans.
“The public is holding its breath until they see the action on the input,” Bowen said.