Search firm lays out timeline for finding next DeKalb Schools leader

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Superintendent Steve Green speaks at a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting in Stone Mountain on Feb. 13, 2019. AJC FILE PHOTO

By Marlon A. Walker

The group tasked with finding the next DeKalb County School District leader said it would do so through a transparent process involving input from the school board, other employees and the community.

A BWP & Associates search firm team leader also suggested confidentiality for job candidates to allow access to those who do not want their current employers knowing they are looking at jobs elsewhere.

“In the state of Georgia, you have a lot of latitude in how you can deal with the issue of confidentiality,” said Kevin Castner, a retired superintendent leading the DeKalb superintendent search team. “This isn’t South Carolina where you have to announce the three finalists. This isn’t Florida where everything is ‘Sunshine’ (that state’s open-records laws dictate candidate information is available through open-records requests).”

BWP, based in Libertyville, Ill., was selected in September during a special meeting to run the process for finding a leader to succeed Superintendent Steve Green, who announced in May that he would leave at the end of the current school year. The search firm team includes three retired superintendents, including Percy Mack, who worked nearly 20 years in DeKalb, rising through the ranks from teacher to area superintendent. The firm boasts a 94% success rate for candidates fulfilling the terms of their initial contracts, with 90% being signed to additional contracts after the first one ends.

The process will be carried out in four steps, they said, which includes engaging the district community to determine needs and wants, recruiting candidates, performing assessments on potential successors and selecting candidates. The group is expected to schedule and host several community meetings in the coming weeks, as well as interviewing board members and other key stakeholders.

“The board is the decision-maker and I think again one of the important aspects is getting the community to recognize that it is the school board’s decision,” said Debra Hill, a BWP managing director and member of the DeKalb search firm team. “That’s currently why you were elected to the school board and the community should be able to provide input, but they don’t get a vote. Consequently, the notion of transparency becomes important, becomes critical and allows us to help you find the best person for the job.”

Castner said the team expects to provide a finalist list of up to seven candidates to the school board by January.

“The fact is, this is a destination for people,” Castner said. “You have an excellent system. You have challenges, but you’re in a good place.”

Board members have said the district’s next leader should be someone willing to be collaborative and engage with the school district’s community, among other things.

Green was charged in 2015 — when he came to DeKalb County from Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri — with increasing student achievement in a district dogged by management scandals and a financial deficit as students continued lagging behind the state’s average on standardized test scores. In the four years since, the district has seen its highest graduation rate, a five-year accreditation renewal and modest test-score improvement. It continues to score below the state testing averages.

How Green fared with the school board is unclear, as his reviews are kept confidential based on state law. The board, though, decided not to extend his contract in 2018 and 2019, after approving one-year extensions in 2016 and 2017.

Some have argued the next superintendent should be given reasonable — and public — goals to further advance the district and improve student achievement.

“The leader at the top sets the tone,” Hill said. “So you want to have someone who is setting the tone, but is setting the tone based on what you’ve identified as your needs and desires in order for the students to be successful … and globally competitive.”

Read the original story on AJC.com.