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DeKalb residents protest against schools superintendent selection

A protester holds a sign that reads "imposter" in red capital  letters outside the DeKalb County School District headquarters on Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain on Friday, May 1, 2020. (MARLON A. WALKER/marlon.walker@ajc.com)
A protester holds a sign that reads "imposter" in red capital letters outside the DeKalb County School District headquarters on Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain on Friday, May 1, 2020. (MARLON A. WALKER/marlon.walker@ajc.com)

About two dozen residents held signs and lined the street outside the DeKalb County School District headquarters in Stone Mountain Friday morning, protesting a superintendent selection they say is too much of the same thing.

DeKalb County Board of Education members on April 23 approved Rudy Crew as the district's single finalist to become Superintendent this summer after current Superintendent Ramona Tyson retires. He has previously run school districts in New York City and Miami. But Crew's history includes allegations that he obstructed a rape investigation, misspent funds and bullies subordinates.

Representatives from the advocacy group Educate Dunwoody, government watchdog group Restore DeKalb and other residents held signs calling for the school board to start its search over, seeking a forensic audit of the district’s functions as well as more accountability from its leadership.

“The school board and Mrs. Tyson have done a great job trying to steer things in the right direction,” said Educate Dunwoody member Despina Lamas, who has two students attending DeKalb County schools. “They’re taking a step backward with Dr. Crew, who has a consistent pattern of instability and questionable choices in the past.

“He’s all style, no substance.”

Joel Edwards of Restore DeKalb said the district should restart its search process and emerge from it with someone whose reputation is on par with their skill set.

“We understand he’s a good academic,” said Edwards, whose four children attended DeKalb schools. “But that’s only half of the pie. We’re tired of being tired of the same old thing happening in the county.”

Eric Oliver said he wants answers from school board members about what they see that supersedes Crew’s questionable history.

“Here we have an historically ineffective board that seems intent on insulting our intelligence by bringing in a guy who has a host of the exact problems that makes this board ineffective,” said Oliver, whose children attended DeKalb schools.

DeKalb Schools is still rebounding from its own scandals. In 2013, then-Gov. Nathan Deal removed most of the district's nine school board members amid concerns with mismanagement and a $14 million deficit. When the board hired Steve Green in 2015, its focus was on improving student achievement and continuing a path of sound fiscal management established by his predecessor, Michael Thurmond. Green left in November with questions surrounding missed financial audits and small increases in standardized test scores, though the district touted its highest graduation rate ever in recent years.

In defending the board’s selection, chairman Marshall Orson said Crew’s past controversies “do not distract from the positive leadership we think he’s going to provide for DeKalb County,” touting work he did in New York City and Miami-Dade County Public Schools to address student achievement and equity issues.

“Some of the reforms he’s introduced were called cutting-edge, or seen as innovative,” Orson said. “We’re confident he will lead us with the kind of thoughtfulness and attention to detail we need.”

Crew, 69, is halfway through a 14-day waiting period between the time a school district announces finalists and can offer someone a job. He's fielded questions from local reporters as well as DeKalb County parents and taxpayers through Zoom meetings and town halls where questions were collected beforehand.

Friday morning’s protest initially was set up as a car caravan to convene outside school board offices at 10 a.m., but district police officers guarded the entrance to the district, pushing protesters to Mountain Industrial Boulevard, a few hundred yards away.