DeKalb school board needs work to operate well, accreditation group says

The DeKalb County Board of Education has made “little progress” toward working as an effective team, accreditation agency Cognia found in a recent review of the district.

The agency renewed DeKalb’s accreditation about a year ago, but conducted a planned progress review in November. The district released that report on Friday.

“Interviews with all seven board members indicate there is not a clear commitment to the vision and mission of the DeKalb County School District by all board members,” the report stated. “Every issue before the board is a special issue, even when it is not particularly special to every individual board member.”

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Board members often focus on their own regions rather than the district as a whole, the report stated. It also outlined a lack of organization within the board and several instances where procedures, like what to do when a board member is out of line, are not always followed.

Several school administrators told reviewers that they were “determined to continue to lead their schools and support high-quality learning and teaching ‘in spite of’ the board,” the report stated.

Dysfunction among school board members has had steep consequences for DeKalb in the past. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal suspended six DeKalb school board members a decade ago after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the district on probation for leadership mismanagement.

School board chair Diijon DaCosta said in a news release that the Cognia report outlines much of what they already knew.

“The good news is that my colleagues on the board and I have a shared vision of helping improve and sustain an exceptional, world-class public school district,” he stated. “While we may have different ideas on how to get there, we are individually committed to collaborating to support our district leadership and each other in achieving this standard.”

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In the weeks following the district’s accreditation review in March 2022, the board came under fire from state officials over poor facilities conditions at Druid Hills High School and for firing Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris in a split vote after less than two years on the job. Members of the community continue to come to board meetings to ask the board to work together and better the district.

Both the original accreditation review and the progress report commended the district for its commitment to teaching and learning, holding itself accountable and ensuring the well-being of its students and employees.

The board will participate in a retreat in February to further discuss and implement Cognia’s recommendations — most of which have to do with the board committing to following existing procedures.

The district is accredited through June 2027.