Meet DeKalb County’s finalists

Georgia’s third-largest school district, DeKalb County Schools, is in the final stages of selecting a new superintendent. Thursday, the three finalists attended a public forum to meet the community and answer questions. Here’s a look at the applicants and their take on some key education issues.

Arthur Culver: superintendent, Champaign, Ill.

Student population: 8,900

Years on the job: about nine

Reported salary: $226,000

Highlights: Former superintendent in Longview, Texas, a district of about 9,000 students. Area superintendent in Fort Bend Independent School District, a Texas district of 56,000 students. Thirty years in education as a teacher and administrator.

Improving the dropout rate:

“We put kids on individual learning plans, even at the elementary level. If they get a good base at the elementary level, they will be successful at the middle and high school levels. You have to be monitoring those kids so close that when they get off track, there are ways they can regain credit in a fast way.”

Attracting and keeping top teachers:

“You have to let teachers know you appreciate them. You give them praise, respect. I believe in rewarding high performance. It happens in business, why shouldn’t it happen here? If there’s a way to come up with a merit-based structure, I think that would be a good thing. A pat on the back is good, but it’s good to give people something they can take to the bank.”

Charter schools:

“If a charter school can do a better job than what we’re doing, then I am for that. It’s all about student success. Sometimes they can do things we can’t, like lengthen the school day. Sometimes they’re more effective at performance-based evaluation systems for teachers. We need to make sure they are effective and we’re monitoring what’s going on.”

Lillie Cox: superintendent, Hickory, N.C.

Student population: 5,000

Years on the job: about two

Reported salary: $150,000

Highlights: Assistant superintendent in Alamance-Burlington, N.C., Schools, enrollment 23,000. Executive director in Guilford County, N.C., enrollment 73,000. Former middle and high school teacher and principal.

Improving the dropout rate:

“When I arrived in Hickory, our dropout rate was 8.65 percent; the state average was 4.65. That dropout rate didn’t happen overnight. Children in Hickory had been leaking out of the system for years. I opened the Hickory Career and Arts Magnet School. A big part of combating the dropout rate is making school interesting for students. I provided an opportunity where they can come to school and [learn about] a fireman, criminal investigation, culinary, cosmetology.”

Attracting and keeping top teachers:

“We need to be the best and brightest district. That’s how you recruit the best teachers, is your reputation. People want to be in a culture that’s innovative and moving us forward. So we have to create a climate and culture where people want to work. We need to recognize teachers for their accomplishment.”

Charter schools:

“Charter schools provide a lot of choices. I think our parents are looking for choice. However, I think we ought to use caution because charter schools could take resources away from the public schools. So my goal would be to create a school system that provides high-quality choices, so maybe charter schools may not be the top option.”

Gloria Davis: superintendent, Decatur, Ill.

Student population: 8,700

Years on the job: about five

Reported salary: $175,000

Highlights: Former superintendent of Dodge City Schools in Kansas, enrollment 6,200. Assistant superintendent in University City, Mo., enrollment 3,200. Experience as a teacher, and elementary and middle school principal.

Improving the dropout rate:

“In my current district, our dropout rate is 2.4 percent, it’s one of the lowest in the state. One of the ways we did that is to address attendance. Dropout rate has to do with who is coming to school and how often. They can’t learn if they’re not there. It’s about sending a message that you have to be here.”

Attracting and keeping top teachers:

“My plan is looking at trend data related to the achievement of teachers. I am a data person. It takes the personality out of crucial conversations. I start with the premise that everyone wants to do a good job. But I believe some need extra help and support, some need extra nurturing, and sometimes, we need to help people find another field.”

Charter schools:

“I believe charter schools have a place as long as the charter proposal is in keeping with the philosophies, the policies and procedures of the Board of Education, if it is approved by the board. Choice is important. I believe the structure and procedure for the establishment of those schools is the critical element.”