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New superintendent tackles DeKalb School District’s problems with Phase 1 of a restructuring plan

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New superintendent tackles DeKalb School District’s problems with Phase 1 of a restructuring plan

Superintendent Dr. Devon Horton attends DeKalb County School District’s annual Back-to-School Rally at James R. Hallford Stadium in Clarkston on Saturday, July 22, 2023. “Today is an amazing day for our students and staff, families and community to be able to come together and celebrate as we begin to embark on our first day of school. It’s exciting seeing the families and the community partners that have brought their businesses and resources to our families and it means a lot for us,” Horton said. “I am excited, and I really believe as we talk about leveling up its going to be a great year.” Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

DeKalb County, GA — Superintendent Devon Horton laid out a $12 million reorganization of school district staff, including the addition of 70 positions, at a Board of Education retreat on July 17.

Horton said $9.7 million will come from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, while $2.4 million will come from the district’s contingency fund.

Some of the new or repurposed positions are administrative. An administrative assistant position in the superintendent’s office will be eliminated and replaced with a Director of Organizational Efficiency.

However, most are support staff focused on things like literacy, math, mental health, English language learning, and behavior. Half will be placed in the district’s Horizon schools, which are those which score lowest on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index.

“This reorganization is a direct response to feedback from school leaders and draws from research-based best practices. One of the highlights of this new structure is the specific support tailored for our Horizon schools, addressing their unique needs and challenges,” Horton said in a statement.

Additionally, some existing staff will be moved to offices in underutilized schools, which will also make them more accessible to district teachers and superintendents.

“It’s better to have some central office people out in the schools,” Horton said.

At the retreat, board member Allyson Gevertz asked if putting ESSER money, which will eventually run out, into staff positions was sustainable. The deadline to spend ESSER II funds is January 2024, while the deadline to spend ESSER III funds is January 2025.

Horton said that careful budgeting and use of Title 2  funding would take up the slack.

“We definitely can sustain it, we just need to be strategic with the dollars that we spend,” Horton said.

While Gevertz along with board members Anna Hill and Whitney McGinnis had questions about funding and the distribution of positions, board member Dr. Joyce Morley was vocally opposed to the plan entirely.

“Is Cheryl Watson-Harris in the room with you? Is Marshall Orson in the room with you? This is the same plan,” Morley said.

Morley went on to say that Horton had not lived in DeKalb long enough and did not know the county.

“I can’t support this until you’ve had time to evaluate.  You need to be out there trying to secure teachers,” Morley said.

DeKalb has approximately 350 teacher vacancies, compared with Fulton County at 94, Gwinnett at 252, and Atlanta at 114.

Board member Vickie Turner asked what was being done to fill teacher vacancies. 

Interim Human Resources Director Dr. Tekshia Ward Smith said that at a recent job fair, the district hired 200 people on the spot for all staff positions. Horton said that he was gearing up a teacher residency for 150 to 200 teachers, and trying to get it ready to go by January.

McGinnis noted that some departments, such as maintenance, had not been touched by this initial restructuring.

Board Chair Diijon DaCosta asked for planned phases so the public will know what’s coming.

HIll agreed. “Be open and transparent about this,” Hill said. Both Hill and Turner indicated the need for evaluation in order to determine success.

Gevertz acknowledged that problems that have persisted for years would not be resolved easily. 

“This is a heavy lift over the long haul. Our staff is disengaged. This is a lot of work over a long time,” Gevertz said.

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