In yet another move acknowledging the divisiveness of the DeKalb County Board of Education, members Nancy Jester and Don McChesney have spoken out against Cheryl Atkinson, the board’s nominee for superintendent, who is to be voted on and installed in less than two weeks.
In separate statements posted on Jester's website, both members referred to the state of affairs in Atkinson’s current district, Lorain, Ohio, and expressed disdain at the low student achievement, low test scores, and the “Academic Watch” status of the district.
“We had several candidates with better records of student achievement,” McChesney said, “but, unfortunately, as you know, their candidacy was plagued with leaks of confidential information to the press. I hope that you will note that there were no press leaks regarding this candidate.”
He went on to say that “we have read recently published reports in the media that the Lorain City Schools may move up one step on the Ohio ratings scale. These scores have not yet been released by the Ohio Department of Education so we have no confirmation. The most current data available show only 1 of 24 academic indicators being met. Let me remind you that there were candidates not chosen that bested this record. Some showed a substantially better record.”
McChesney added that “Ohio has Lorain schools on ‘Academic Watch.’ This is step 4 out of 5 on their sanctions scale. The next step is ‘Academic Emergency.’ That is the most serious sanction. Compare this with the rejected candidates.”
Jester concurs with McChesney, saying that "he and I spent hours researching the student achievement records of the candidates that were brought before us. I believe we saw several candidates with significantly better records of student achievement. We also considered professionals who were credible change agents that could help our district attract top-flight talent to key positions and reorganize our district.”
Jester offers more insight into Atkinson’s record: “If you are interested in examining Dr. Atkinson's record of student achievement, click here to go to her district's "report card" given by the Ohio Department of Education. Over the last three years there have been increases in 9 out of 24 state academic indicators. Those increases range from a high of 9.1% to .8%. The remaining 15 indicators have losses that range from -2.9% to -16.3%. All of the academic indicators for the high school grades showed a decrease in scores over the last three years. For the most recent report card available, Dr. Atkinson's district met only one state academic measurement. Additionally, when compared to other similar districts in Ohio (based on demographic, socioeconomic and geographic factors), they score below the average for similar districts in all categories except one.
The district did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and is on "Academic Watch". (Ohio rates districts on a 5 level basis and Academic Watch is the next to lowest status. The lowest status is Academic Emergency.) When looking at the AYP determination, I noted that the African American population did not meet AYP for either of the proficiency standards (reading and math). This was also the case for students with limited English proficiency (LEP) and students with disabilities (SWD). The largest demographic for our district is African-American so this record, in a small district, concerns me.”
Notably, Atkinson has been passed over for two Superintendent positions in the last six months, both in the Cleveland Metropolitan School and in the Atlanta Public School Districts.
Although she “enjoyed meeting her and believe her to be devoted to educating children,” Jester says in her statement that she “cannot support her candidacy for the Superintendency of DeKalb based on her record of student achievement in a small district. We have serious student achievement issues in DeKalb. We are last or next to last in 23 of 25 data points for the CRCT when compared to 8 metro districts (DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, City of Atlanta, City of Decatur and City of Marietta.) If our school system does not drastically improve, the implications for our county are dire. I do not see anything in Dr. Atkinson's record with her current district that convinces me she will be able to move our district in the right direction.”
McChesney echoes Jester’s sentiments, saying that “Dr. Atkinson is a fine person and delightful to converse with. However, a business decision for academic betterment of our students and not a personal referendum on personality was my goal.”
“Let me be clear,” he continues. “No urban school system superintendent in America will have an unblemished record. It is the nature of the business. I do not expect perfection because that record is unobtainable, but there were other candidates with better records.”
“Do not take my word for it. Do your own research. You will be led to the same set of facts as me. The only difference will be the spin folks attempt to apply to these facts. Also check the contract. See if you see any danger points there,” he warns.
Jester concluded her statement by saying that if the Board were to vote to bring Dr. Atkinson to DeKalb, “no one will offer her more service than me. As a mom with three young children, I am invested in the success of our schools with my most precious resources.”