“The DeKalb County Schools community is truly inspirational,” Green said in the departure announcement. “I am proud to have the opportunity to help lead our students to achieve educational excellence alongside our exceptional teachers and staff. I’m excited to see what the future holds for our District and our students – both have limitless potential.”
Green was called a change agent when he first arrived, but results have been mixed under his leadership. The district boasts its highest graduation rate, but standardized test scores have been flat, and teacher turnover continues at the highest rate among metro Atlanta school districts.
District officials recently announced significant gains in the state’s report card for progress.
Green’s tenure has been dogged by problematic hiring decisions that began with him getting the DeKalb County Board of Education to sign off on a national search firm to find candidates for high-level positions, only to hand-pick people instead who had worked for him at Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools.
They included Leo Brown, who previously had worked with Green in Kansas City. Brown was hired in January 2016, and school board members immediately began to question the process of hiring teachers, nurses and other critical employees. Several hires came under fire, including a woman who had been fired in Ohio for allegedly being violent with children, and a DeKalb teacher who was forced to retire for racist statements, only to be mistakenly rehired as a substitute.
“The process for choosing Green was fouled,” said Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers. “I personally said to (former school board chairman) Melvin (Johnson) and the board members I knew, ‘If (former interim superintendent) Mike Thurmond wants to stay on as superintendent until we get a new superintendent, let him.’ Next thing we know, a man was brought in here from Kansas City, and I was appalled. When we talked to our people in Kansas City, they told us the man you just chose would spend money like water and he has a terrible temper. Take that to the bank.”
Thurmond, the current DeKalb County CEO who was school superintendent before Green, inherited a district on the verge of collapse in 2013. He left two years later — with Green selected as the district’s permanent leader through a search process where he emerged as the sole finalist — with reserves of nearly $100 million.
In Green’s four years in DeKalb, the district’s operating budget is up more than 50 percent, from $760 million in 2015-2016 to a proposed $1.161 billion for the 2019-2020 school year. Green, himself, was never known for building relationships with his staff, often showing up to staff meetings after being alerted that everyone else had arrived, then being among the first to leave.
DeKalb set out in late 2014 to find a new superintendent who would lead by example, prioritizing student education and addressing morale issues that pushed teacher turnover well above that at neighboring districts. It got a respected veteran educator who never endeared himself to his staff and reportedly ruled by a my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership.
“In 2015, (Green) said the buses would run on time. They still haven’t run on time,” said Kirk Lunde, a DeKalb County resident and former district employee. “He’s a politician and said what sounded good, but didn’t follow through on what he said.”
HOW WE GOT HERE
The DeKalb County School District regained full accreditation during Superintendent Steve Green’s time at the helm. It was the key point in a process of revival that began in 2013, pushed by Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to remove six of the district’s nine board members amid management problems and a $14 million deficit. The district currently boasts reserves in excess of $100 million. But Green’s time was marred by missteps in hiring, resulting in several controversial employees. Officials admitted neglecting things such as simple internet searches and making contact with references. In May, he announced his intention to leave at the end of the current school year. That announcement came after school board members declined to extend his contract beyond this year.