In the summer of 2011 three superintendents took over three of the largest school districts in the state – Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools and Fulton County Schools.
It hasn’t been an easy 18 months for any of them, but one superintendent has fared better than the others.
DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is out the door. Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis survived an attempted ouster. Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, who avoided political intrigue, makes speeches about the future.
In 2011, Reporter Newspapers wrote that the superintendents might face a hard road. According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average tenure of superintendents in large, inner-city school districts is 3 1/2 years. The brevity of their terms, the association says, harms school performance. Association Executive Director Dan Domenech called superintendents “better-paid migrant workers.”
Here’s an abbreviated history of what’s happened since the three new superintendents arrived:
DeKalb County Schools
Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson
Previous job: Lorain, Ohio, school district.
What Atkinson said when she got the job: “The difficulties that superintendents face today are the same challenges we face in the communities.”
What happened: Atkinson faced an uphill battle from Day 1. She was appointed in a 6-3 vote of the Board of Education. Her months as a school administrator were spent managing crisis after crisis. School officials discovered funding shortfalls, raised taxes, reassigned school leaders, and tinkered with its school calendar. In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed DeKalb on accreditation probation.
Where things stand today: On Feb. 8, DeKalb County Board of Education approved a separation agreement with Atkinson and hired former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as interim superintendent.
Atlanta Public Schools
Superintendent Erroll Davis
Previous job: Chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
What Davis said when he got the job: “What I hope to achieve in the time I’m here is certainly put out all the fires, identify the major issues, solve as many as I can and hand over a smoothly running operation to the next superintendent. I’m hopeful I can get all that done.”
What happened: Davis was hired as an interim to replace Superintendent Beverly Hall who left after the APS cheating scandal unfolded. He was initially hailed as the right man for a precarious situation, but he made controversial decisions that angered some community members. He closed schools, redistricted others, suspended teachers suspected of giving students answers on state tests, and turned North Atlanta High upside down by removing its leadership.
Where things stand today: Superintendent Erroll Davis received a contract extension through 2014 after the renewal was delayed. The extension allows the board to fire Davis with 90 days’ notice if certain conditions are met.
Fulton County Schools
Superintendent Robert Avossa
Previous job: Chief strategy and accountability officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina.
What Avossa said when he got the job: “Education is a business where you are all in it together to help kids succeed. Our goal is to make each and every child’s life the best it can be by providing educational opportunities that unlock [his or her] potential.”
What happened: Within months of Avossa taking the job, Eddie Echols resigned as principal of Riverwood International Charter School after school officials raised questions about Echols’ use of a credit card, questions that later led to criminal charges. The Board of Education refused to renew the charter of Fulton Science Academy Middle School after an audit raised questions about the school’s finances. Fulton County Schools in 2012 found a surplus in its budget and gave school system employees a bonus.
Where things stand today: Avossa signed a three-year contract in 2011. He’s currently visiting communities within Fulton County, discussing plans to improve the system’s graduation rate and build new schools.