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DEKALB: Atkinson hired as new superintendent | People

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DEKALB: Atkinson hired as new superintendent
People, Schools
DEKALB: Atkinson hired as new superintendent

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- With a 6-to-3 vote, Dr. Cheryl Atkinson has been hired as the new DeKalb County School Superintendent.

Monday morning's school board meeting was so divisive three board members walked out while one of their colleagues criticized the selection.

"Why did we reject other candidates with better records?" asked Nancy Jester, one of the school board members who voted against Atkinson.

"I'm proud of the selection," said board member Dr. Eugene Walker. "There are novices on the board who declare themselves experts on school systems."

All of the board members have said they would support Atkinson now that she has been approved as superintendent.

Atkinson gained support from parents after a frank question and answer session over the weekend.

"Dr. Atkinson said a lot of good things," said Gil Hearn, head of the newly-formed group called Parents for DeKalb Schools. "The important thing to realize is that for her to implement her vision, the board needs to back her 100 percent."

In a Saturday morning meet-and-greet session with DeKalb County parents, Dr. Atkinson promised to turn the district around, beginning with a top-to-bottom review within her first 90 days on the job.

She also promised better communication, announcing plans to organize "fireside chats" with principals, teachers and parents.

"I'm also going to be in the schools," Atkinson said. "You can't run effectively a school district from behind the desk. I want to see first hand what's going on in our schools."

Atkinson was the only finalist for superintendent. She will start in mid-September with a $275,000 yearly contract.

Some parents had questioned the fact that her district in Lorain, Ohio, is more than 10 times smaller than DeKalb and did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2009-2010.

But many parents at Saturday's meeting seemed impressed with their future leader.

"I think Dr. Atkinson's directness is refreshing," said parent Sherry King, adding that Atkinson's commitment to engaging parents is "just what the district needs."

For Orrin Hudson, a father of two DeKalb County students, Dr. Atkinson's presentation was enough to change his mind.

"Initially I thought they may have made a bad decision because they needed someone with more experience," he said. "But after further review, now that I know a little bit more about her and her ability to communicate, I believe they made a brilliant move."

DeKalb has been without a permanent superintendent for a year and a half. The former superintendent, Dr. Crawford Lewis, is facing criminal charges for running a criminal enterprise using the system's construction money.

People, Schools