DeKalb Schools board: Superintendent pick was never a done deal

Rudy Crew was expected to become the DeKalb County School District’s superintendent. (HANDOUT PHOTO)
Rudy Crew was expected to become the DeKalb County School District’s superintendent. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

Less than three weeks ago, the DeKalb County Board of Education announced Rudy Crew as its superintendent-in-waiting during a livestreamed public video meeting in which several members touted his experience.

Behind the scenes, though, members bickered over his age — Crew is 69 — and salacious allegations in his past. They also debated whether others already in the district were better equipped to address the needs of the county’s 98,000 students.

In the end, board members voted 4-3 on Monday not to offer Crew a contract, citing various reasons for the decision in a stunning reversal of the April 23 public announcement. Board members said Tuesday they have not yet decided what path will be taken to find another leader.

“I felt like we were going to be OK,” said Vickie B. Turner, a school board member on Tuesday. “We weren’t where we wanted to be, but we were hopeful we had the time and a persuasive argument to get where we wanted to be.”

A single finalist often is a shoo-in for the job, suggesting the board largely has agreed on an heir-apparent. That fell apart for DeKalb before decision day, with many suggesting Crew was caught in a political perfect storm as board members could not agree on what direction the district needed to head.

Some cited Crew’s past controversies. One said the district did not need new leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During the April meeting, five board members rattled off reasons why Crew was the right fit for DeKalb, touting his decades of experience and track record at some of the country’s largest districts.

One board member, Stan Jester, voiced concerns with allegations in Crew’s past; that he had sporadic work attendance; had clashed with leaders and had obstructed a rape investigation. Board member Michael Erwin said nothing during the meeting.

Friday’s meeting, where the board was expected to give Crew a contract, ended abruptly after several hours of unsuccessful off-camera deliberations. Officials gave no public notice that the meeting had ended until a reporter questioned as much on social media.

By Monday, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also had emerged as an issue as school board members deliberated publicly during their monthly meeting.

The delay will only hurt the students, said Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner, whose group publicly supported Crew.

“Instead of spending their time on the need of children and families, this has negatively and adversely affected the district,” said Turner, a retired educator and longtime DeKalb County resident. “These people act as if children don’t exist. And lives are at stake.”

In recent weeks, community conversations on social media have suggested satisfaction with current Superintendent Ramona Tyson — who said when she replaced outgoing Superintendent Steve Green in November that she planned to retire in late June — may be pushing people in another direction.

“We’ve had a de facto superintendent for 13 years,” board member Joyce Morley said Monday, referencing Tyson. “We always want to try something new. [Crew’s] very accomplished. He’s great on paper. We have to do things that are right and at the right time.”

Crew emerged in early March as the frontrunner of a field of about 70 candidates vying for the job. President of New York’s Medgar Evers College since 2013, he spent just over four years with New York City Public Schools — the nation’s largest school district — as its chancellor from 1995 to 1999. He spent about the same time between 2004 and 2008 leading Miami-Dade County Public Schools as its superintendent.

School board Chairman Marshall Orson, in announcing Crew on April 23, said the board weighed Crew’s past but chose to focus on his track record of thinking innovatively and using cutting-edge strategies.

On Tuesday, Orson said he was not sure exactly what changed to have the majority of the board reject Crew.

“I don’t think we had any substantively new information,” he said. “Obviously, some members of the board decided to vote otherwise. I just saw it as a terrible lost opportunity for our students.”

DeKalb parent Despina Lamas said Tuesday she was glad the board listened to its constituents and voted against Crew.

“I am confident the next superintendent candidate will better reflect both the (board’s) goals and the goals of (its) consituents,” she said.

Jester said Tuesday he felt public concern voiced by parents from across the district changed the course of thinking among several board members. Now, they will head back to the drawing board, likely to pick an interim leader to begin working on July 1 and restart the search for a permanent fixture.

“Everything’s on the table,” he said. “The right superintendent for the DeKalb County School District is out there.

“We need to find them.”

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