State aims to help all DeKalb schools, not just Druid Hills High

Druid Hills High School sophomore Santiago Gonzalez-Cassavoy holds a sign reading, “Fix Our School,” outside of a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting in Stone Mountain, Georgia on April 18, 2022. The Georgia Department of Education is intervening to make sure repairs are done at the school. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Druid Hills High School sophomore Santiago Gonzalez-Cassavoy holds a sign reading, “Fix Our School,” outside of a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting in Stone Mountain, Georgia on April 18, 2022. The Georgia Department of Education is intervening to make sure repairs are done at the school. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

In all her time working in schools, Tanzy Kilcrease said she’s never heard of a situation like what’s going on with Druid Hills High School.

She is the new adviser hired by the state to help the DeKalb County School District address problem facility issues.

What started as a student video showcasing electrical issues, plumbing problems and water damage at Druid Hills High has snowballed into the state Department of Education intervening in the way Georgia’s third-largest school system manages its buildings.

“I have not heard of this particular incident or this type of assessment or even this type of — I haven’t heard of it, just yet,” she said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ExploreGeorgia officials tell DeKalb school board to fix Druid Hills High

Appointing Kilcrease was an “unprecedented” move, said state spokeswoman Meghan Frick.

It happened after the DeKalb County Board of Education opted three times not to implement extensive updates at Druid Hills High, estimated to cost $60 million.

The board’s reluctance, coupled with community outcry, caught the attention of Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods. He said in a letter to the school board in April that the state would withhold funding for projects districtwide if DeKalb didn’t address the “egregious” conditions at Druid Hills.

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Tanzy Kilcrease was hired by the Georgia Department of Education to help the DeKalb County School District with facilities improvement. (Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education)

Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education

Tanzy Kilcrease was hired by the Georgia Department of Education to help the DeKalb County School District with facilities improvement. (Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education)

Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education

Combined ShapeCaption
Tanzy Kilcrease was hired by the Georgia Department of Education to help the DeKalb County School District with facilities improvement. (Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education)

Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education

Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Department of Education

Public outcry over poor conditions at Druid Hills High happened shortly before the school board fired Cheryl Watson-Harris from her superintendent position in April. Woods blamed the school board for not supporting modernization plans of the school, which Watson-Harris had backed. The board, in turn, blamed Watson-Harris for the problems.

After a state facilities team evaluated the school, the Department of Education issued a corrective action plan outlining a list of improvements the district must make if it wants access to millions of dollars in reimbursement. It hired Kilcrease to help make sure those improvements happen.

Kilcrease starts her position in June. She has been the chief of staff of the Bibb County School District, where she supervised maintenance and facility departments. She’s also served in assistant superintendent and associate superintendent roles, and was the director of school improvement in Peach County.

ExploreDeKalb school board favors districtwide fixes over Druid Hills repairs

While most of the corrective action plan centers around issues at Druid Hills, it also requires updates at other schools and calls for an evaluation of maintenance practices. Kilcrease said her goal is sustainability.

“It’s not just about one school to me,” she said. “It’s about all the schools in DeKalb.”

The plan requires that some issues at Druid Hills and in the district’s operations be addressed immediately, with a deadline of June 30. But other long-term goals could take more than a year to accomplish, Kilcrease said.

“It is our goal for DeKalb County to be successful and for us to partner and collaborate with each other to ensure that we have standard quality, safe learning environments for our students — and that’s all students in DeKalb County,” she said.