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Decatur Schools’ first equity employee announces departure

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Decatur Schools’ first equity employee announces departure

Dr. Lillie Huddleston. Photo courtesy of City Schools of Decatur.
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This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur announced on Tuesday that Dr. Lillie Huddleston, associate superintendent of equity and student services, is leaving the district effective Dec. 31 to pursue an opportunity in the private sector.

Her departure comes as the district sharpens the focus of the equity department on student performance.

“Dr. Huddleston has agreed to continue as a consultant for the district, providing continuity in services and ongoing support,” the announcement says.

A spokesperson for the district said the school system hasn’t made a decision about whether to restaff the job.

“Dr. Huddleston just informed Dr. Whitaker of her plans, so no decisions have been made about the position. We remain grateful Lillie has agreed to continue to support the work of equity and student services in a consulting capacity,” the spokesperson said.

Former superintendent David Dude hired Huddleston as the district’s first equity director back in 2017 and tasked her with addressing racial disparities in academic achievement and student discipline.

During a recent school board retreat, the school board discussed how many of those problems still persist. A report presented at a school board meeting in October found Black students are performing lower academically than other subgroups in reading and math in grades one through eight.

Huddleston was eventually promoted to associate superintendent of equity and student services under former superintendent Maggie Fehrman.

CSD’s new superintendent, Dr. Gyimah Whitaker, has recently made it clear to the equity department that the equity work in the district needs to be student-focused. Her priorities came to light during a recent investigation of equity coordinator Anthony Downer, who was found to have violated district policies when he sent an email about Israel and Gaza to central office staff. Downer is still employed by the district, according to a central office staff directory and his LinkedIn profile.

The investigation, a copy of which was provided to Decaturish, notes how in a meeting with the equity team, Whitaker told staff, “The shift of student equity would be ‘student focused.’ For example, we have students who don’t necessarily come to school, let’s find out why. Let’s identify barriers. Define equity at a student level. We discipline black students more than we do any other race. How do we fix that? We have to determine why.”

In a press release announcing Huddleston’s departure, Whitaker praised Huddleston’s contributions to CSD.

“I want to sincerely thank Dr. Huddleston for her compassionate leadership and groundbreaking work in equity and student services for the students, staff, and families of City Schools of Decatur. She has truly been All In,” Whitaker said. “Her expertise and insights into the district’s culture have also been instrumental in my transition. I am grateful for her service and look forward to her continued support in our efforts to ensure positive student outcomes for all students.”

Here’s CSD’s full announcement about Huddleston’s departure:

Associate Superintendent of Equity and Student Services Dr. Lillie Huddleston has announced she is leaving the school system to work in the private sector after seven years at City Schools of Decatur.  Dr. Huddleston has agreed to continue as a consultant for the district, providing continuity in services and ongoing support. Her resignation will be effective December 31, 2023.

“I want to sincerely thank Dr. Huddleston for her compassionate leadership and groundbreaking work in equity and student services for the students, staff, and families of City Schools of Decatur. She has truly been All In,” said Superintendent Dr. Gyimah Whitaker. “Her expertise and insights into the district’s culture have also been instrumental in my transition. I am grateful for her service and look forward to her continued support in our efforts to ensure positive student outcomes for all students.”

In addition to her current role, Huddleston has worked for CSD as executive director of Equity and Student Support and equity director. During her tenure, Huddleston has had primary oversight over student psychological evaluations and analyses, counseling and school social work, and student activities. Her accomplishments include leading the school health team through the challenges of the pandemic during a time of unparalleled mental health needs. She also oversaw the expansion of CSD’s mental health services and supports including the addition of a second location of the Decatur Student Center. Additionally, she has partnered with school teams and district administrators to create positive, inclusive school environments as the district leader in implementing Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions and the Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices.

Before joining CSD in 2017, Huddleston was a clinical assistant professor of Health Promotion and Behavior at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. Huddleston has spent many years in K-12 and higher education as a school psychologist and ten years as a music teacher for Atlanta Public Schools.

Huddleston received a Ph.D. in school psychology from Georgia State University in 2012.  She also holds an undergraduate degree in music education from Mississippi University for Women, and an ED.S. in education, and two master’s in psychology from Georgia State University.

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