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Brookhaven Leaders: New Superintendent Only One Step in Right Direction

The entire culture of DeKalb's school system needs to be changed, as local leaders react to Cheryl Atkinson's removal.


Brookhaven leaders believe the removal of DeKalb School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is only a small step in rebuilding the county's school system.

"Like the Ottoman Empire in 1914, DeKalb's system is the 'Sick Man' of Atlanta Metro public education," said Kim Gokce, chairman of the Cross Keys Foundation. "No Sultan could save the Turkish empire and no superintendent can save this system. The problem is systematic and more deep than one individual. Whatever the board does, Cross Keys will be home to 6,500 students who strive for an education and succeed in spite of system leadership, not because of it."

The DeKalb Board of Education is set to approve a separation agreement with Atkinson on Friday. According to a statement from the system, "the Board and Dr. Atkinson each determined and believe that it is in the best interest of all concerned that there be a mutual separation and they wish each other well in all their future endeavors."

"This is a good opportunity for some of the board members to see their way, too," said Cross Keys High graduate Mpaza Kapembwa, now a student at Williams College in Massachusetts. "That way, we can really start rebuilding our system. The last thing we want to have is another circus in choosing a new superintendent."

"The removal of Atkinson is a small step in the right direction," said Shawn Keefe, co-president of the Ashford Park School Education Foundation. "But what needs to be addressed and radically changed, however, is the overall culture of system and that cannot happen until Gov. [Nathan] Deal dissolves the current BOE following the Feb. 21 state hearing."

The DeKalb school system is under probation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The board is set to appear before the Georgia Department of Education on Feb. 21 to determine if DeKalb is making enough progress in meeting SACS standards. The state education department could recommend to Deal that he replace DeKalb's entire school board.  

"I would have more confidence in a board appointed by the governor to choose the new leader of the school system because they will have no political ambitions," said Kapembwa, who is a Gates Millennium Scholar, a Coca Cola Scholar and a Dell Scholar. "The exit shouldn't make us optimistic because board politics will still precede what is best for our system.

"After being put on probation, it is clear some board members are more concerned about protecting their reputation so everyone is coming out saying they are the good guy. Some board members might see this as a chance to redeem themselves if they pick a leader who is competent."

Some local leaders believe that a change in superintendents won't solve the system's problems.

"Although I believe changes are needed, I do not believe changes in the superintendent position solve the board issues specifically addressed be the accreditation board report," said District 3 Brookhaven city councilman Bates Mattison. "As a parent of a child who attends a DeKalb school, I am extremely interested in finding a solution to the problems facing the system."

"The DeKalb School Board has proven how dysfunctional and uncommitted they are to the task of putting our children's education first," said District 4 city council Joe Gebbia, whose district includes Brookhaven's only high school, Cross Keys. "The fact that we are this close to losing accreditation is not only a breakdown in leadership, but also indicative of the breakdown in the board's moral compass.  I hope the new interim superintendent can make the necessary changes and is capable of keeping the focus where it needs to be - on the students and not politics. 

"And as they move forward, I hope they take the task of hiring the most qualified candidate seriously. Unfortunately, Cheryl Atkinson was not that candidate."

Speculation has been mounting over the past week that Atkinson's tenure might be coming to an end.

"I am obviously disappointed with the turmoil surrounding the system, as it does nothing but distract from the only thing that really matters - providing a high quality educational opportunity for our students," said Brookhaven District 2 city councilman Jim Eyre. "I can only hope this is the first step of many to get the system back on track to focusing on the positive growth and development of our students."

Eyre's district includes Ashford Park Elementary School.

"Atkinson has proven that she was not the right choice back in 2011," Keefe said. "What DeKalb desperately needs is a superintendent and board that will work jointly and transparently in making the students and taxpayers (in that order), and not themselves, their top priorities. It is time to bring our educational concentration back to the classrooms and away from the board rooms.  It is time to strive for excellence in our schools and not be an embarrassment."

Related Items:

DeKalb School Board Set to Vote on Atkinson Separation Agreement

Does DeKalb Need a New School Superintendent?

Social Media Ablaze With Speculation About Atkinson's Future

Dunwoody-Chamblee Parents Council Urges Input at DeKalb Meeting

Brookhaven-Chamblee-Dunwoody School System?

DeKalb Schools Probation: 'Upsetting but not Surprising'

Brookhaven4u February 08, 2013 at 12:12 PM
My taxes for Dekalb Schools keep going up and we still have this accreditation issue. This should be a first step. We need to burn the system to the ground and start over. Gov. Deal needs to replace the whole board. The replacements must include someone who has taught, not just administrators.
Road Scholar February 08, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Not only an accreditation issue but a graduation rate and overall learning problem. The whole board needs to go, esp Walker. Why not REQUIRE parents get involved in their students' education? Anyone with a history of discipline problems go to a "boot camp" school to teach them discipline and to stop wasting time of others that want/need to learn. It is also a culture issue that needs correcting. If the student has a discipline issue and they are 18 or older, why not the military? There has to be ramifications for lack of effort, discipline, and just plain stupid actions.
Eddie E. February 08, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Pray tell, who would the Governor (who did not carry Dekalb County) replace the Board with? Do the opinions of the voters who elected the board have a voice? Shouldn't dealing with festering issues of the DCSS take precedence over the invention of new local governments? The process of hysterically jumping from crisis to crisis has little resemblance to 'governance' and is less likely to produce a long-term positive result than serious deliberation among all affected.
Betsy Parks February 08, 2013 at 03:33 PM
Join our our community effort to replace the DKBOE. SIGN and SHARE. http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-nathan-deal-and-georgia-state-board-of-education-review-sacs-findings-if-accurate-replace-the-dekalb-county-school-board
Kim Gokce February 09, 2013 at 01:12 PM
Regarding Cross Keys HS, the article should read, "... the only public high school in Brookhaven. We also have Marist. Our stake in educating our children as a community is such a high priority that our child travel up to 20 miles to go to private schools. Unfortunately, for many parents public education in Brookhaven is simply not among the options taken seriously any longer. The combination of some social issues and many failures in governance have led to a dual model vBulletin in our community for the most part; those with an option for private and those with none. This is not a model for a vibrant, thriving community to attract families. If we do not demand proper governance and support for our public schools unanimously, a legal cancer will continue to grow in our community. Pity to see the optimism the new city has brought to many to be stamped out by the diseases of our public system of education. Every single resident of Brookhaven is directly or indirectly responsible for our public schools and they are a mirror for us to consider closely.
Kim Gokce February 09, 2013 at 01:14 PM
That comment should have read, "our children" ... my wife and I chose public. Sorry for typo ... smart phone, dumb owner.
Kim Gokce February 09, 2013 at 01:16 PM
Sheesh! That should read "lethal cancer" not, "legal cancer" ... I will stop now until I'm in front of a keyboard later today.
Bob Peppel February 09, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Eddie E is right. The governor should deal with the festering issues. The first would be to get rid of Chairman Walker. Then he needs to address why they hired an interim who is not an educator.
Kim Gokce February 09, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Many are advocating for and/or against individual Board members to be suspended, spared, or re-instated. This is wrong thinking. The State must treat the Board as a "whole." While technically the Governor can appoint whoever he may wish, appointing a suspended Board member immediately after suspending them would be irresponsible and “picking favorites” among the elected. No matter how much we argue about our particular favorites we are missing the point – it is not the individuals on probation; it is the DeKalb County Board of Education and the system they are SUPPOSED to be governing. Part of that governance requires that they be able to function “as a whole.” There is a rhyme of “as a whole” that would be more appropriate for how they are operating as a group and that is why the Board, not any individuals, must be suspended. The law provides the correct and best process for individual treatment of Board members – suspend the entire Board, appoint a new Board of whatever makeup, and allow the suspended Board members to go through an appeal process to be re-instated. This seems the only way for any chance of justice. So let it be written. So let it be done. Fingers crossed …
patrick February 09, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Remember that over 50 percent of all voters in school dist.2 ,do not care about the waste of tax money, look at who they voted for,let us ALL hope that we get someone that will not vote to waste tax money after the 2014 election{that is IF voters show up and vote.}
patrick February 09, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Bob the reason is easy and two fold.,one people Do not vote..Second of 50 present that do vote ,just vote for a name, not the best person in the race,we saw that three times last year in our city,1.school dist.2 the person who won was the person that came up with the leader of Dekalb Schools.2. State Rep.dist.81 that is on record for a student that does not make good grades to be handed HOPE money.3. dist.2 city office
patrick February 09, 2013 at 11:08 PM
Kim ,you are right,But if voters do not show up and vote for the best person in the race, we will be back here in 2015. Look at Clayton County to see what happens if the voters do not do what IS NEEDED.
Kim Gokce February 13, 2013 at 01:42 PM
We cannot make voters show up. We can address the malfeasance and misconduct of elected officials.
patrick February 14, 2013 at 09:23 PM
You are correct on one pont, voters can not be forced to vote, But those of us that do, should to be forced to have so many sorry elected officials that we VOTED against.

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