Pandemic alters introductions of DeKalb’s chosen school leader

Rudy Crew, the DeKalb County school board’s choice to become the new school superintendent.

Rudy Crew, the DeKalb County school board’s choice to become the new school superintendent.

The DeKalb County Board of Education announced Rudy Crew on April 23 as its sole finalist to become DeKalb County School District's next superintendent.

That was the last part of the process that would be normal.

Tuesday, Crew participated in a virtual press briefing with various media representatives from across metro Atlanta. Wednesday and Thursday, he took part in virtual town hall meetings where he answered questions collected by the district submitted ahead of time by residents.

Another week remains in the state mandated 14-day period between announcing finalists and making an offer.

Then, Crew is expected to finish his time in New York, where he is currently president at Medgar Evers College, and move to metro Atlanta. He would begin work on July 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered school buildings and seen states under shelter-in-place orders much of the past six weeks, is to blame for the revision of a process that typically gives districts a chance to trot out their top candidate for public meetings. Instead, much of the process has been done digitally, including the school board's last few conversations with Crew before the April 23 announcement.

Georgia’s shelter-in-place order ended Thursday night, but provisions remain in place for the state’s more vulnerable residents. Crew is considered high-risk, given that he is 69, and he may not be able to move on time, or get a chance for a house-hunting trip.

And despite a move by Gov. Brian Kemp allowing some businesses to reopen, many remain closed for now, which could affect — or delay — a move.

Introducing Crew to reporters via a Zoom video conference call on Tuesday, DeKalb County Board of Education Chairman Marshall Orson lamented using virtual means for Crew’s first press briefing.

“In normal times, we would have done this in person, as we would much prefer to have you all interact with Dr. Crew face-to-face,” Orson said. “However, given our current situation and conditions, we had no alternative but to introduce him virtually.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Crew said if the school year begins on time, people should not be surprised to see hybrid attendance models, with some still worried about venturing out opting for virtual learning experiences.

"We need to be responsive to that," he said, mentioning that the coronavirus would keep people housebound for some time. "The health and safety of students come first. We need to give a clear sense both to students and parents that schools are clean and safe and they will stay that way."

DeKalb isn't the only metro Atlanta school district seeing a leadership transition amid the pandemic. Birmingham City School District Superintendent Lisa Herring was announced last week to take over Atlanta Public Schools after Meria Carstarphen's contract ends on June 30. That district also is spending this week offering its finalist to the public via virtual meetings in its 14-day waiting period before voting to hire and extend a contract.

Unlike Crew, Herring is no stranger to the metro Atlanta area. The Spelman alumna also spent eight years working for the DeKalb County School District.