At Devon Horton’s first school board meeting as DeKalb’s superintendent on Monday, the board approved five new hires — four of whom previously worked with him.
Two of the new hires work in the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 in Illinois, where Horton most recently served as superintendent. One owned a business with Horton and was removed from a principal position this year. And another was listed as a reference when Horton applied for the DeKalb position.
Board member Joyce Morley, who was the only board member to vote against hiring Horton, said she has a problem with Horton adding to the district’s central office at his first meeting.
“You said you were going to observe and assess. You haven’t observed and assessed anything,” she said at Monday’s meeting, referencing statements Horton has made about his early plans as the district’s leader. “You haven’t had a chance to see what the need is.”
Morley was the only person to vote against the hires.
Horton did not respond to Morley’s comments at Monday’s meeting. His first official day as superintendent was July 1. His focus, he said in a news release, is on “elevating excellence.”
Other board members didn’t comment on the new hires directly, but before the meeting ended welcomed Horton to the new role and thanked him for the work he’s already done. Board chair Diijon DaCosta said he read their resumes and stayed up all night researching the new hires, because hiring the right people is a priority to him.
Board member Allyson Gevertz said she heard throughout the superintendent search process that people wanted stability.
“The way we do that is to bring the right person in, and give him the leeway to bring the right team to the table,” she said.
Morley specifically objected to the hiring of Antonio Ross, who will be DeKalb’s director of leadership development. Ross was removed from his position as principal of Hyde Park Academy in Chicago Public Schools after an investigation “substantiated findings” against him, local news outlets reported. Chicago officials did not disclose the findings.
Horton started an LLC with Ross shortly after he was hired to lead District 65, a parent found via records requests. Horton did no work with the LLC, he said, and it was dissolved. But a separate business owned by Ross was also the recipient of a no-bid contract from District 65 during Horton’s tenure, the parent reported. Ross’ company was awarded a two-year contract totaling more than $90,000 to help support students’ post-pandemic social and emotional needs. The Illinois district said in a statement that the superintendent was authorized to make budgeted purchases. Horton has not discussed his prior business ties with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The DeKalb school board also hired Michelle Dillard, who currently works as the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. She was an assistant superintendent when Horton worked there as the district’s chief of schools. He listed her as a reference when he applied to lead DeKalb schools. In DeKalb, she will be the associate superintendent of leadership and schools.
Markisha Mitchell was hired as DeKalb’s associate superintendent of continuous improvement. Mitchell currently serves as the chief of staff in District 65.
Elijah Palmer was hired as DeKalb’s director of organizational effectiveness. He is listed as District 65′s director of culture and climate.
Yolanda Williamson, who currently works in DeKalb as the executive director of board operations, was also hired as chief of community engagement and innovation partnerships.