Decatur Schools hires former undercover officer as Operations director

City Schools of Decatur’s central office, the M. Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center. Courtesy City Schools of Decatur
City Schools of Decatur’s central office, the M. Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center. Courtesy City Schools of Decatur

City Schools Decatur recently promoted Sergio Perez to Executive Director of Operations/COO, the last high-level cabinet position that remained opened. Perez is no stranger to the district, serving as Facilities and Maintenance Director since 2018. He replaces the man who hired him, Noel Maloof, who left in in late March to become deputy chief operations officer in DeKalb County.

According to Assistant Superintendent Maggie Fehrman over 50 candidates applied and four were interviewed. But for Perez, who has over 20 years experience in construction, project management, and operations, his job changed dramatically since he initially applied.

Maloof had spent the months before leaving plotting a new round of facilities planning, which almost certainly included figuring how to pay for and build a new Early Childhood Learning Center. That focus changed with the eruption of COVID 19.

“Cleaning—that’s a big part of my job now,” Perez said recently. “We are still figuring out what kind of technology can help us with this process. We’ve got to identify the high touch areas and figure out how many times we need to clean them. We need to retrain our custodians and teach them how to wear and remove the personal protective equipment.”

One of his major projects this summer is installing a cold plasma air purification system, hopefully in each of the 10 schools before they open (if they open) in August. The technology improves indoor air quality by removing odor, mold, bacteria and, especially, viruses. It’s already installed at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, which is running classes this summer.

Perez grew up in Columbia, South America, completing his MBA at Central University and before that earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University Cooperative of Colombia. After several years working in Columbia’s business world he became a police officer and spent 11 years in intelligence and special operations. Or as the normally loquacious Perez says, “I really can’t talk about it.”

He moved his family (he and his wife have three children) to the States in 1999 and virtually rebuilt his career from scratch.

“I was like every other immigrant who came over here, trying to survive, trying to look for better opportunities,” Perez said. “It’s not easy getting a job when you come from another country. You have to go through a process, learn as much as you can and figure out what you’re good at.”

He spent most of the 2000s in building and construction before switching over to maintenance. For six years he was director of facilities and maintenance at the United Methodist Children’s Home, responsible for 33 buildings, a number of them, like several Decatur schools, built in the early 20th century.

His job was eliminated after the 2017 sale of the UMCH property to the city of Decatur, but Maloof hired him almost immediately. With his promotion last month Perez is now overseeing 12 buildings, two administrative and 10 schools.

“It’s always a cycle,” he said. “There’s always something new to buy, or something that has to be replaced, or an inspection that needs to be done. We have 2400 air conditioning units to take care of. Right now we’re changing every light in the schools from fluorescent to LED.

“It never ends,” he added, “and I really enjoy every minute.”