Q&A: DeKalb interim superintendent on academics, facilities, security

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Less than a week before the first day of school, DeKalb County interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley said she’s excited about the year ahead.

Tinsley was hired after the board decided in a split vote to fire Cheryl Watson-Harris from the role about three months ago.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently interviewed Tinsley about some of the biggest issues facing DeKalb this year.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

She said her team is looking at adding a weapons detection software to improve safety, focusing more on early literacy and continuing to recruit teachers. Tinsley also talked about whether she wants the job permanently.

Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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AJC: What’s changed in the district’s approach to facilities maintenance? How will situations like the one at Druid Hills High be prevented in the future?

Tinsley: I think it’s just a basic expectation that we have buildings that are conducive to student learning. We’ve made quite a bit of leeway with that over the summer, but these problems did not occur overnight and so some of them will take a little longer to address.

I feel certain that the facilities team at the district level — working in concert with the facilities managers, the building principals, the custodial teams and the plant engineers — know that the support is there for them to do whatever needs to happen to make sure that our buildings are conducive and clean and safe for our students.

AJC: Is the district doing anything different regarding safety and security this year?

Tinsley: We are increasing our school police officers. We are very appreciative for our board of education for adding 20-plus additional school resource officers, nearly 30 additional campus supervisors into the fiscal year ‘23 budget. That’s going to help us tremendously.

Additionally, we have our own safe schools unit that conducts audits of our schools two times a year to look at just the safety or identify the things or issues that we need to address that could possibly impact the safety of our students.

We are looking at the possibility of procuring services for weapons detection software that we could utilize. And we’re working with the facilities unit to make sure that our doors, and our windows and things of that sort are in working order to help protect the buildings as well.

AJC: Milestones scores showed less than one-third of DeKalb elementary and middle school students are proficient in math and English language arts. How will you improve student achievement?

Tinsley: The results are not where we want them to be, but we anticipated that there would be quite a bit of slide.

We are doing a lot of training with staff. We’re focusing on early literacy in grades K-2. In fact, our teachers and administrators just went through some training with the science of reading. I believe that’s where it starts.

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We’re focusing on the trauma piece as well. We have to realize what students have experienced as they have been out of school and what they’re still experiencing because the COVID-19 pandemic is not over at this point.

We know that once we get them in a great space or a better space emotionally, they will be more apt to receive the instruction that’s being delivered by our teachers and our staff.

AJC: The school year is starting with about 300 open teaching jobs. What’s the plan for getting teachers in classrooms by the first day?

Tinsley: We will continue to recruit, plain and simple. Recruitment doesn’t stop because the first day of school starts. We will have some substitutes that will be in our classes, we will. But we don’t take our foot off the gas.

We have a robust plan that we will be rolling out — and we started components of it already — just for recruitment and retention. You have to remember that it’s all kind of a circular relationship, a symbiotic relationship.

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You can’t forget what we’ve dealt with, with COVID-19. We also want people to understand DeKalb is a great place to work.

Fortunately with the passing of the budget able to increase salaries, we were able to put in additional funds to bring some of our lowest-paid employees up to a decent wage. We were able to give a cost-of-living increase. All of these things are ways to recruit.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

AJC: Do you want the permanent job?

Tinsley: I’ve been with the DeKalb school district prior to my retirement for a total of 26 years of service. DeKalb is home. I’m honored to be here in this seat in this time to help the district and to move things forward.

If afforded the opportunity — because, of course, I serve at the will of our board of education and we work very closely together in advancing the goals and strategic plan of the district — that’s something I’d have to think about long and hard.

But at this point in time, I would say that I am just focused on what we’re doing right now: Getting things ready for Day One of the school year, and also making sure we’re putting policies and practices in place that will help to continue to move DeKalb forward.

AJC: But that’s not a no?

Tinsley: It’s not a no.