We have had these speeches stemming from the September 6 Work Session in our possession for a while and wanted to post them mainly for archiving. The public communication between board members during the superintendent search should be recorded so that everyone can read what each person actually said, and not what the gossip mills say people said.
First, Nancy Jester and Don McChesney each made statements at the August 29 meeting before taking the vote on the new superintendent explaining their personal decision to vote "no". Pam Speak's made a statement directly after the vote, highlighted in the August 29 post where she states, "The search for a new super has been an arduous and painful endeavor. I expected arduous, but not painful. I expected that we would interview highly qualified candidates. I did not consider that person needed to look like me. I will support Dr. Atkinson. I pledge my full support to her." All three stated that if hired, they would support Dr. Atkinson fully.
While Nancy and Don spoke, several of the other board members "walked out" of the board meeting. It was not recorded on camera, however, several print and internet news sources reported this behavior. At the next meeting, Donna Edler and Gene Walker each made speeches in defense of their actions and in support of the superintendent. The statements included some accusations about each other that simply weren't true. This is why we want to go ahead and post or link to every word that was said.
Dr. Walker's statement was posted on the AJC "Get Schooled" blog and can be read here. Nancy Jester posted her statement at her website. It can be read here. And Don's statement can also be found on Nancy's blog by clicking here.
The text of Donna Edler's statement has not been published. We transcribed it from the video and it follows here:
It has been reported that I walked out of the Friday, August 29 called meeting for a brief period of time during the reading of comments by Mr. McChesney. I walked out shortly after Mr. McChesney started his diatribe accusing board members, those in a minority faction, those present in the room did not support the candidate. He accused those board members of 1) leaking confidential information, 2) not caring much for the rules and oaths that we had taken and 3) seeking power and direction. He followed this defamation of our character by stating, “The real losers here are all the children of DeKalb.”
I realize that my exit may be perceived by some as neither respectful nor professional. If any persons were offended by my acts of civil disobedience and personal protection, I apologize, as that was not my intent. Please know, however, that I will protect my person and my health from bullying and insult whether that bullying and insult comes from persons in the general public or from member or members of this board. Unless and until such actions are curbed, I will not dignify such bullying, insults and innuendo with my presence.
Not only were Mr. McChesney’s statements hurtful and provocative, they were untrue. That is, leaks were obviously done by a minority faction of those present in the room. There was absolutely no justification or provocation for Mr. McChesney’s inflamed comments. Not only did anonymous leaks occur, the source of the leaks remain unknown. There was also at least one breach that was indentifyable. All breaches compromise the search process to some extent. The board was not silent on the issue of leaks and breaches, as Mr. McChesney indicated. The matter was discussed at length in executive session. I, for one, promoted public acknowledgement and condemnation of such breaches. It was the will of the board that we not make addititional attention to the board, I’m sorry. Mr. McChesney would have you believe that it was only he, and other selected few who were against such breaches. Mr. McChesney’s insulting comments, not his opposition to the board’s choice for superintendent were offensive, uncalled for, unprofessional and certainly not productive.
As a board, we are not going to agree on every issue. It is our duty, however, to both argue our position during executive session and/or during our board meetings as appropriate and accept the majority vote to execute it with professionalism and unified manner. With respect to the selection of the district superintendent, I along with others on the board, researched and shared that research with the entire board. During executive session, every voice was heard and all positions were fully deliberated. A host of candidates, including a couple of my favorites did not arise to the level of finalist. Like Dr. Speaks indicated in her statement, gender or the need to look like me was not part of my evaluation matrix. However, unlike Miss Jester commented, I am not disappointed in the outcome of our superintendent search. The process, despite some breaches, was inclusive, thorough, and just. I am happy to welcome Dr. Cheryl Atkinson as our new superintendent. I thank the entire board of education for its full participation in the superintendent search and selection process. Thank you.
I will post the text of Don's speech so that you can decide for yourself if he was "bullying" or "intimidating" anyone's "health or person".
August 29, 2011 SUPERINTENDENT STATEMENT by Don McChesney
The entire superintendent search process has turned out to be entirely different than I imagined it would be. I eagerly looked forward to being able to contribute to a transformation of ideology and direction of this school system. I felt we all wanted progress and we would reach consensus on new leadership and direction for DeKalb County. Now as a grizzled veteran of the process I realize it was not to be.
Our first candidate was not my number one choice. I saw some flaws, but also strengths, most of which centered on curriculum and the understanding of how children could learn and progress. When I saw a majority of the board coalescing around this candidate I put my personal choice on the back burner. I realized I needed to try to be part of the team. As you know this candidate was lost because of leaks to the press and media about confidential contract negotiations. This was obviously done by a minority faction of those present in the room that did not support the candidate. I expected at least a general public rebuke by this board condemning such action. There was silence. At this point my innocence of the process exited. I knew that rules and oaths meant little to some. I now realized that a street fight was on for power and direction. In this case doing questionable things produced a win for those with the minority opinion. The candidate withdrew because they questioned the board’s ability to keep information confidential.
The real losers here were ALL the children of DeKalb County.
Now candidate number two comes in. In my opinion this one was the best fit for DeKalb and was my first choice. The system they were coming from was the right size. The demographics even more challenging than those facing DeKalb. However, this candidate had a wart in the record. The system had declined in the first two years after they came according to the official record. I continued to probe the record. The official record showed steady progress right up to the start of this school year. Even today, as I speak, this system is in official academic good standing with their state and has shown steadily rising test scores in a system that is 93% disadvantaged.
What was the result? Another leak that led to the candidate being shot down before they can get to the starting line. Another win for those who discard the rules. I waited for an official rebuke from our board. Once again silence. The losers here…once again the children of DeKalb County.
It was after the second leak that I and others spoke out in public about the issue.
Now let’s look at where we are today and the way I evaluated each candidate interviewed. For the most part I asked every candidate the same questions. I then consulted the “official state records” of each candidate. This record is kept nationwide on every public school district. It is the scorebook so you the public can evaluate and
wise choices about your child’s education. There would not be a scorebook if it was not important. When the voters ask me about DeKalb scores they often reference this official record. The record is how you start to level the playing field and make comparisons. Please understand that no urban school superintendent in America will have an unblemished record. I tried to take that into consideration in my evaluations.
There is one question that haunts me about where we are today. Why is Lorain officially, by the state of Ohio, ranked one step below the number of passed state indicators in 2011 than it was when the superintendent started the job?
I remind you that this was the same reason given for the rejection of candidate number two in the leak to the media.
I know that I interviewed candidates with better “official records”. I announced to my colleagues some weeks ago that if any candidate was brought with a weaker record than candidate number two that I would vote to reject them. I will follow through on that statement.
Now, in conclusion, let me say this. If Dr. Atkinson is confirmed by this board I will not go rogue. She has stated that she cannot do it alone. She is right. It will take all of us. The children of DeKalb County have been marginalized by Board politics for at least a decade or more. It must stop.
I will work as hard as I know how to make Dr. Atkinson a success. She will not have to wonder about my commitment because I will strive to make her the best superintendent she can be.
These were my "thoughts" that I wrote after this board meeeting. also shared my views with a letter to AdvancedEd, i.e. SACS...
For years now, parents and stakeholders of the DeKalb County School System have sat by and watched Board of Education members, past and present, provide Superintendents with blank checks, allow Central Office personnel to grow exponentially while teachers face furlough days and suspension of payments to their retirement accounts and other actions that take money from teachers’ paychecks. At the same time, we’ve seen class sizes grow right along with the number of people employed in the Central Office. We’ve seen Board of Education members fail to ask basic questions that would have uncovered the illegal actions of Crawford Lewis and Patricia Reid sooner than they were and now costing the school system and our children upwards of $15 million+ in legal costs. We’ve seen Board Members more concerned with making sure their friends and families’ jobs are secure within DCSS than with the education of the children within the DeKalb County School System. But, yet Board Meeting after Board Meeting, these members do not ask, “How are our students performing? What academic information can you share with us and other stakeholders?” This is not recent news, the blogs and at times, the media, have reported on this for years.
We know the crisis this school system is in and we need a functioning, adult, Board of Education to guide Dr. Atkinson, school house administrators, teachers, parents and children through this difficult time. This Board of Education is divided, dysfunctional and toxic. In its present form, I do not believe that they will be able to “take care of business” and move this system forward.
The behavior of certain Board of Education members during and following the recent Superintendent search has reached critical mass and I have to ask, is it time for SACS to step in and place the DeKalb County School System on “notice”, i.e. probation.
The first instance of the board “behaving badly” deals with the leaking of the contract information to Richard Belcher of WSB-TV, for Dr. Lillie Cox, which caused her to withdraw from consideration for the Superintendent job. The second instance of this Board of Education “behaving badly” occurred when discussions surrounding Dr. Duron of Texas were leaked to a former board member, Zepora Roberts who in turn discussed this openly during Citizens Comments at a recent Board Meeting.
Both of these acts are direct violation of Board of Education Ethics Policy, BH:
17. Board members shall not disclose to anyone confidential or privileged information, including information discussed and documents distributed during executive session.
Three (3) Board Members voted against the selection of Dr. Atkinson, Dr. Speaks, Mr. McChesney, and Mrs. Jester. While they did vote “no”, all indicated that they would support Dr. Atkinson 100%. It is important to note that I, personally, also did not support the selection of Dr. Atkinson as I believe her to be accepting a job that is way more difficult than her experience and expertise can handle. However, as with the Board Members, I plan to support Dr. Atkinson 100% as well.
During the Board of Education Meeting of 8/29, three (3) Board of Education members, Donna Edler, Sarah Copelin-Woods and Jay Cunningham walked out of the meeting during the time Mr. Donald McChesney was voicing his opinion on the selection of Dr. Atkinson. This action was not only disrespectful to their fellow board members; it was an act that reflects badly on the school system and ultimately our teachers and students. A lack of decency and a lack of class was on display by these 3 Board Members that evening..
Once the contract for Dr. Atkinson was approved, sane people would assume the School Board would now move forward and prepare for Dr. Atkinson’s arrival. But, as last night’s Board of Education meeting showed, two (2) current Board Members, one (1) former Board Member and David Schutten, who “supposedly” represents DeKalb Teachers, were not willing to “let this go” and verbally attacked those board members who dared to voice their concerns over the selection of Dr. Atkinson weeks earlier. Donna Edler’s speech was especially vile while Dr. Walker read the article that he submitted to the AJC on 9/6/11. The Board Member comments were embarrassing to watch and I was deeply angered that we have adults on our Board of Education that seem to have maturity levels lower than the children they are making education decisions on behalf of.
The actions of Dr. Walker, Ms. Edler, Ms. Copelin-Woods and Mr. Cunningham are in violation of Board of Education Ethics Policy, BH:
3. Board members shall work with each other in a spirit of harmony and cooperation even when there are differences of opinion. Board members shall interact with each other in a respectful and professional manner. Disagreements among Board members shall be handled in a professional and non-confrontational manner.
I’m just one frustrated and angry Mother. I am a product of this school system and I value and appreciate the education I received. I want to know “what happened” to MY school system? At this point, I feel helpless. Is SACS the only savior for this school system? If SACS places the DeKalb County School System on probation the Governor can, at that point, step in and remove members. Would he do this? I do not feel our school system can wait until November 6, 2012, and hope and pray that these members of the Board become “former” members.
Are you certain this was all that was said or is this what he was reading from and altered as needed. McChesney is known for not having tact and being insulting. I have been in meetings in which he was speaking and I walked out because of his choice of words. I am just wondering if this was the only thing hw said and we don't have the transcript.
Both the 9/6 Board Meeting and the August 29th Superintendent Vote meetings are available on PDS-24. Watch them and see for yourselves.
Very well said, Dunwoody Mom. I agree with you 100%+.
BTW - @Anon - This is what Don said. Exactly. Now, what was said at their numerous meetings behind closed doors -- I have no idea. But I don't think it's pretty... from any angle.
It's curious to me that McChesney had no problem voting for Crawford Lewis and every appointment that Crawford Lewis made, but now he's so very interested in the quality of the superintendent. It's kind of like locking the Henhouse after the fox has made off with the chickens.
I suspect McChesney "went along" with the majority of the Board regarding Lewis. I think it is somewhat disingenuous for him to be critical of Edler. It would be prudent to remember he voted for Lewis and never raised objections regarding the many questionable practices of the Lewis Group.
Where was McChesney's criticism when Lewis and his upper administration was literally running student achievement into the ground? I've read most of the BOE minutes and I don't see him asking Lewis why all those non-teaching positions ineffective programs were not producing results for students and in fact were decreasing achievement for DCSS students. Why don't we see him asking for the specific ROI of programs and departments that have coast taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars?
We have negative results from programs and departments that have been around for years and years, and yet he never demands accountability. This is why it's hard to hear him discuss student achievement.
I'm sorry, where was McChesney critical of Edler?
No one is giving the board members a pass for their lack of supervision with regards to Crawford Lewis. However, that some board members did attempt to make sure the next Superintendent was qualified for the job, and not rubber-stamping this decision, was good to see.
@ anonymous 5:16
Clearly, McChesney's criticism extended to Edler.
"The real losers here were ALL the children of DeKalb County."
Why didn't McChesney worry about ALL of the children of DeKalb County when he voted to raise high school class sizes in DCSS math, science, social studies and language art classes to 36 and 39 for all other subjects?
Why didn't McChesney worry about ALL of the children of DeKalb County when Lewis cut 275 teaching positions and Tyson cut over 300 teaching positions while keeping virtually all administrative positions?
Half of his job is to vote for a superintendent, but the other half of his job is to vote for the budget and personnel hires and cuts for DCSS. Cutting teaching positions while leaving administrative Central Office positions intact was bad for kids.
He and every BOE member who voted for this (Edler and Jester were not on the BOE at that time) have not put students first.
Is it any wonder student declines have been so dramatic since Lewis, Tyson and the BOE gutted the classroom?
I was at the August 29th meeting. Both Nancy Jester and Don McChesney read prepared statements--it was not Don's typical blunt "calling someone on the carpet" manner---but a very careful slow burn of what he knew would make the others angry. He seemed to have an ethical need to carefully say publicly his reasoning behind what was one of the most important votes he knew he would ever make. I respect him and Nancy for it.
I was much more greatly moved by what Pam Speaks said. With all the time she has spent on policy scrutiny and changes satisfy SACS, and how rarely she says anything that isn't aimed at calming others. Her's was by far the most heart wrenching to watch her.
If SACS gives the board a pass on their behavior in regards to the hiring of a superintendent, than we are wasting the money that we send them for accreditation, as it means nothing. I feel that something needs to happen to the school board, so that they and others that come after them get a clear picture that our schools are about the children and not politics. IF SACS gives the board a pass, we really are wasting more money than even I had thought before.
Nice letter to SACS Dunwoody Mom. I hope that they take what you said to heart.
@ Dunwoody Mom
Your letter to SACS was logical and factual. Good job. I hope that SACS personnel read your letter. They don't seem to solicit or welcome parents/taxpayer comments.
It's clear that even if Dr. Atkinson were the absolute best choice for Super (and she clearly wasn't), she has no chance at reforming or improving DCSS while having to answer to this Board of clowns and hustlers.
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