During my first term on the Board of Education, I led the effort to put DCSD in compliance with the GA Department of Audits, realized zero-based budgeting, and pushed for the use of objective data in prioritizing capital projects.
Prior to my work on the BOE, I spent 15 years advocating for our schools. I co-founded and co-chaired Parent Councils United and chaired the following: ESPLOST V Campaign, Emory LaVista Parent Council, DeKalb Chamber’s eduKALB, Construction Advisory Committee, and Principal Advisory Council.
Allyson on the Issues Facing DeKalb Schools
Do you agree or disagree with the school board’s decision to fire Cheryl Watson-Harris as superintendent?
I disagree with the decision. In fact, when the Board was deliberating the ratification of the termination decision, I moved to amend the language so the Board could reinstate Dr. Watson-Harris. My motion failed. Principal reports, student data, and our recent Cognia evaluation, all indicate increased levels of support and accountability to our schools. Dr. Watson-Harris is the most student-focused leader I have encountered in all my years in public education. I join my fellow elected officials at the local, state, and national levels in condemning the subversive actions of a subset of our Board. A Board of Education should set an example of civility, professionalism, and ethics—this was an abject failure.
The board recently opted not to modernize Druid Hills High in accordance with the comprehensive master plan. Instead, it voted to add the most critical projects at each school. If you were on the board, how would you have voted? If you are currently on the board, would you change your vote or do you stand by it?
The agenda item presented to the Board was to place Druid Hills on the Local Facility Plan for modernization. It would not have committed us to completing the project or spending a dime—it would only have qualified it for potential state reimbursement (up to 75%). The surprise amendment removed Druid Hills modernization and added language committing the Board to completing all priority 1, 2, and 3 projects as soon as possible. Requests for additional time to study the proposed amendment were unsuccessful and it was pushed through by the same subset of the Board involved in the unethical firing. It is unclear how the list will align with the $2 million Comprehensive Master Plan which was commissioned by the Board to establish “strategic system-wide goals as the basis for future construction expenditures, planned facilities improvements, and redistricting plans.” I stand by my vote against the amended motion.
What do you think is the most important experience or traits for the next superintendent to have?
The next superintendent should put students first. DCSD has a history of prioritizing adult egos over the best interest of children. Over the last 20 months, DCSD employees have reported a gradual culture shift. Recent moves toward zero-based budgeting (putting classroom needs first), meaningful professional development opportunities, equitable resource distribution, increased accountability, and support for the whole child have just begun to have an impact. Cognia evaluators recently found a strong commitment for these new initiatives and urged us to “stay the course.” I would like the next superintendent to have the experience and willingness to continue on a course toward a student-focused district where every single decision benefits students and keeps our district from sliding back to DCSD status quo.
Lawmakers worked this year to limit discussions of race in schools and prohibit “divisive concepts.” What are your thoughts on those efforts and the role of public schools of educating students about potentially controversial topics?
Over the years, I’ve observed numerous classroom interactions. Often, kids bring questions and concerns to class—this happens regardless of the lesson plan. When children are making sense of the world, it is developmentally appropriate for them to ask questions. Research indicates that curiosity and questioning are prerequisites for learning and critical thinking. Asking trusted adults is preferable to asking peers. Fortunately, teachers are highly trained professionals, adept at handling kids’ queries. In the moment, educators may choose to incorporate a student’s question into the class discussion, deflect the question in order to stay on topic, or defer the question to a later time where the teacher may privately converse with the child and/or parent. Instead of questioning our teachers’ ability to handle potentially controversial topics, I would like to see lawmakers dramatically increase teacher pay to align with our teachers’ tremendous impact on our children and our society.
What is the most critical issue currently facing the DeKalb County School District? How would you have the district address it?
Stability is the most critical issue facing DCSD. In 2014, the AJC published an Op-ed I submitted upon my return from Harvard’s Public Education Leadership Program. I wrote, “It sounds obvious, but outstanding leadership is the most critical component of a successful school system. DeKalb has been through five superintendents in ten years, and we are in the midst of searching for another. It is absolutely crucial that our Board of Education gets this right.” Since joining the Board in 2019, we are now on our fourth superintendent. We have failed to provide stability for our students and staff. To address this, our Board must empower the superintendent to do the job, then hold the superintendent accountable. We must not micromanage, block, blindside, or scapegoat. Shining the light on the Board’s dysfunction, making dramatic changes to our governance approach, and putting students first will ultimately make our system stronger.