Tensions flare as DeKalb approves new superintendent - CBS46 News

Tensions flare as DeKalb approves new superintendent

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DEKALB COUNTY, GA (CBS46) -

After a tense exchange of words, DeKalb County's school board voted Monday on a contract to hire Cheryl Atkinson to lead the troubled school system.

With a 6-3 vote, the DeKalb Board of Education officially ratified the contract of Atkinson just before 10:30 a.m.

Dr. Atkinson will begin her service as DeKalb County School District Superintendent on September 15, 2011, with a $275,000 annual salary.

Atkinson is currently superintendent of the Loraine, Ohio, school district, which has a recent history of low test scores and a fraction of the number of DeKalb's students. 

Before the vote, the gloves came off.

"Why did we reject candidates with better records? Why?" asked District 1 board member Nancy Jester.

Jester accused other board members of leaking to the news media terms of one candidate's negotiations, causing that candidate to drop out.

"The real losers here were all the children of DeKalb County," said District 2 board member Don McChesney.

"That's absolutely asinine," said Donna Elder, who represents District 7.

Elder walked out of the board room during McChesney's remarks, along with board members Sara Copelin-Wood and Jay Cunningham.

CBS Atlanta News asked board chairman Tom Bowen the tough question: Can the entire school board now truly support the new superintendent?

"It's a very tough decision, a lot of emotion," said Bowen. "As a board member, this is as big a decision as you ever make."

Each of the three dissenting board members pledged to support Atkinson in her new position.

Atkinson attended a meet and greet with parents on Saturday. She pledged to start advanced placement programs in all courses, make ACT and SAT preparations a part of the curriculum, give every high school student a laptop or an iPad and start non-traditional sports programs like fencing and lacrosse. 

What did parents think about her plans to give DeKalb a fresh start?

"I am an involved parent," said Jennifer Hatfield. "She will know me, and I will hold her to what she has said she will do." 

DeKalb's last permanent superintendent, Crawford Lewis, is awaiting trial on racketeering charges. Also, its school board was under scrutiny from its accrediting agency because of infighting and alleged ethics problems. 

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