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Stability issues distinguish 3 metro school systems

Gwinnett sidesteps changes in leadership.

ATLANTA — As much tumult as there is in the Atlanta school system now - with the forced departure of its superintendent – some in DeKalb county say it’s even worse there.  That school system is also losing its superintendent and will search for another for its eighth superintendent in twenty years.  

Go to DeKalb County schools, and you’ll hear complaints about instability. It's a system that lost its accreditation in 2012 and got it back four long years later. DeKalb has seen superintendents come and go – eight of them in the last twenty years. 

It’s not so amusing to Joel Edwards.

"It’s very unstable. And we’re trying to bring the stabilization up so that we can be respected in the county and the state," said Edwards of the watchdog group Restore DeKalb.

DeKalb and Atlanta have faced similar challenges – ranging from accreditation issues to criminal indictments to a revolving door of superintendents. Atlanta’s issues culminated this week with the school board announcing it would not renew the contract of superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

RELATED: APS superintendent on contract: I want to stay because there's more work to be done

Meanwhile, Gwinnett County's school system is exceeding state averages in SAT scores and, some say, is thriving while navigating redistricting, testing and budget controversies.  

Gwinnett County hired Alvin Wilbanks as superintendent in 1996.  He’s still superintendent.

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

"Sometimes it's luck," said former state Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Norcross). But he says some stability on the school board has also allowed Gwinnett to steer clear of some of the toxic politics that beset other school systems.

"If you're looking for quick, fast  silver-bullet results in education -- it takes a long time, usually twelve years to see if you’ve got results. Because you have to see if something you started at first grade or (kindergarten) has made an impact at (grade) twelve," Thompson said.

Recent DeKalb County superintendent history:

  • James Hallford left in 2002, succeeded by Johnny Brown.
  • Brown left in 2004, succeeded by Crawford Lewis.
  • Lewis was indicted in 2010, succeeded by interim superintendent Ramona Tyson.
  • 2011 Cheryl Atkinson became superintendent, left in 2013.
  • 2103 former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond became superintendent.
  • 2016 Thurmond left, succeeded by Stephen Green
  • 2019 Green announced he would depart in 2020.


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