Some DeKalb County parents want the next superintendent of schools to have qualities similar to those of Eastside High Principal Joe Louis Clark, whose true story was told in the 1989 film Lean on Me starring Morgan Freeman as Clark.
“We need someone with experience bringing something up from the bottom,” parent Julia Byrne said at the first community meeting about DeKalb County School System’s superintendent search held Dec. 7 at Peachtree Middle School.
“This person has to have personal integrity, even if everyone who works for that person tries to sabotage him or her. That may mean some pretty major shuffles,” she added.
If life will imitate art is still yet to be seen, but what seemed evident at the meeting was parents’ lack of faith in the system.
Representatives of the candidate search firm Ray and Associates Inc. asked the room of approximately 35 parents and teachers what qualities they thought a good superintendent should have.
“I have noticed a lot of inequalities in the 14 years that I have had children in the school system. It seems to me that the parents who are the squeaky wheel get the most,” Lynn Deutsch said.
“We need someone who will listen to the silenced and acknowledges that every child is valuable. For example, I know of a superintendent who made it his number one priority to teach low-income parents how to harass him. Resources are dwindling. This person can’t just listen to the noise; they also need to listen for what they don’t hear,” she added.
Georgia Governor-elect Nathan Deal recently warned that there would be education funding reductions in the state budget and that cuts to K-12 have not been ruled out, according to reports.
The school system is paying $38,000 plus out of pocket fees to Ray and Associates Inc.
Some parents indicated that they also want the candidate to have a history of successfully handling a multi-million dollar budget, personal integrity, management skills–and mostly no affiliation with the system’s central office.
“This county needs a lot of change. It’s going to be business as usual if this person has to deal with a lot of bureaucracy. Anyone associated with the county or school board [would] not reflect what the community feels and will not get support,” parent Laura Stephenson said.
To that, Ray and Associates Inc. National Executive Director William Newman told the group that his client is the school board and that he cannot block anyone from applying – including central office staff rumored to want the job.
“I can’t deny anyone from applying, but what I will say is that I don’t want to set anyone up for failure. Current average of tenure of our superintendents is eight years,” said Newman.
“I assure you that there will be transparency in this process. We have found superintendents for school systems in a similar situation as DeKalb, like Buford, South Carolina and Monroe, Louisiana,” he said.
Newman said his company thoroughly investigates the candidates’ backgrounds using not only references, but references given by those referenced.
“We track the person’s entire professional career. People will tell you if they have integrity. We try to get the word of people from custodians to the teachers. We ask ‘Was this guy a good communicator? Did you ever see him–was he visible,” Newman said.
Whether parents will have an opportunity to meet the candidates before the school board hires their choice is left to the discretion of the school board.
In addition to two community meetings the system is also collecting input from residents via an online survey. Ray and Associates Inc. will present its findings to the school board Dec. 17 during a called meeting.
At that time the board is also expected to provide a timeline for the firm’s search.