State to approve Ph.D. grants for DeKalb school administrators

A proposal to send DeKalb County school administrators to graduate school at taxpayer expense is likely to get approval from state officials.

Administrators in the Georgia Department of Education will approve Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s plan as soon as she puts it in writing with some changes, a spokesman said Thursday.

Atkinson has garnered criticism from parents for her decision to spend about $345,000 over three years on Ph.D.s for eight of her administrators. The district has been reeling from $78 million in budget cuts that resulted in fewer teachers, classroom aides and other educators. Parents have been calling for cuts from the central office instead of classrooms.

The money comes from a Federal Race to the Top grant that covers training. Ernest Brown, a DeKalb parent, said he thinks many parents would rather see it used to train teachers.

“You prefer to see it go back directly to the classroom,” he said. But he said he also understood Atkinson’s rationale. “Investing in strong leadership will have a multiplying effect in the classroom,” he said.

DeKalb schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson said teachers will get trained. The money for the Ph.D.s — $114,000 in the first year — is a small portion of the overall grant, which also covers teacher development. “Most of this is going to train hundreds of other educators,” he said.

The Georgia Department of Education oversees the federal dollars, so Atkinson needs state authorization. State officials initially rejected the proposal, but after additional clarification from DeKalb are prepared to approve it with some changes, said Jon Rogers, a spokesman for the state agency. DeKalb’s grant includes more than $1 million for one year for teacher professional development, he said.

Atkinson has said the eight — a regional superintendent, a program director, three principals and two assistant principals — will study nights and weekends while working full-time. They’ll attend a three-year doctorate program at the DeKalb campus of Mercer University. They committed to stay with the district two or three years after completing their doctorates, Dickerson said. Each has been with the district at least 10 years.

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