DeKalb Schools to hold mandatory staff event, in Gwinnett, the day before school begins

The DeKalb County School District will gather its staff for a mandatory event to “celebrate” ahead of the new school year.

But the event is being met with criticism from teachers on social media for several reasons -- it's being held in Gwinnett County, and on the last teacher planning day before school begins on Aug. 7.

The event will be held at the Infinite Energy Arena in Gwinnett County on Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon. It is expected to cost upwards of $50,000 for the event, required emergency personnel and busing attendees there.

Teachers said in comments posted online that the event was planned for the most inopportune time, when they should be putting final touches on lessons and classroom decor before students arrive. Many teachers did not share their names for fear of retaliation.

“We’re celebrating our accomplishments and getting the charge for the new year,” spokeswoman Eileen Houston-Stewart said. “It’s only a couple hours long. They’ll be there in the morning and back in their classrooms in the afternoon.”

Houston-Stewart said the event was being held in neighboring Gwinnett County because no facility in DeKalb County holds the district’s 13,000 employees. She said her office has received only positive feedback from staff about the event.

Superintendent Steve Green, in an emailed statement, said it had been 15 years since a similar event took place at the school district.

"The event is a professional development opportunity," he said. "Preparation for a new school year can happen inside and outside of the classroom."

DeKalb Schools employee Kaycee Norman said she eagerly anticipated the convocation, as it had been successful to jumpstart the year in other school districts where she worked.

“The purpose is to motivate and set the tone for the new school year. What is a few hours out of the day going to hurt?” she said. “At least they are trying to show new and veteran teachers some district spirit. Everything doesn't always have to be negative. It's all of what you make of it.”

The last such celebration occurred during Johnny Brown’s first year as DeKalb’s superintendent, with the district’s staff gathering at a Clarkston Stadium, met with greetings from area politicians, high school bands and motorcycle riders revving their hogs.

He decided against it for his second year. He didn’t finish his third.