Residents of DeKalb County gathered Saturday at a realty company in Decatur to discuss findings in the report on DeKalb County's School Board issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in December.
SACS has placed the district on Probation. A panel of community leaders also presented highlights from a Grand Jury investigation into school system finances. Three grand juries have called upon the District Attorney to convene a special panel that would delve further into their concerns.
Viola Davis, the event's organizer and a Patch contributor, has established a new group called Restore DeKalb, intended to return the county's school system to one that is focused on the children first, and accreditation second. That is in contrast to the stated mission of the new Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond who has vowed to make accreditation his number one priority.
The meeting appeared to be a success in reaching stakeholders from all parts of the county who wanted to learn more about the dire circumstances they are facing, but some expressed disappointment that there were not more people in attendance.
"I know you all vote," stated one panel member who rose to address the crowd of close to 100, "but if you know someone who doesn't vote, please talk to them. Tell them about what is going on. We have to get more people to show up at the polls so we can vote for more responsible leadership. Our rights will only help us if we are willing to use them."
This Thursday, the state Board of Education will continue a hearing with DeKalb's board members. Once it has concluded, the BOE will have 15 days to make a formal, written recommendation to Governor Nathan Deal to remove or keep the board. Deal will then determine if he will follow the recommendation. The decision had many attendees voicing concerns about whom the Governor might appoint and what that decision might mean for the future of the schools.
Willie Pringle, a parent at Southwest DeKalb High School, has been speaking out in his community and at local school board meetings for years. He stated that the board has had plenty of time to make changes but have put their own needs and desire for money first. He believes Atkinson has helped uncover a lot of problems and the board now wants to use her as their scapegoat to blame instead of owning up to how they contributed to those problems.
Betsy Parks, a resident of the Lakeside High School district, attended the two-hour meeting along with others from her area. She felt the system was in such bad shape that she removed her child first and then help spearhead efforts to remove the entire board from their positions. Parks is only a few signatures away on a petition she started that asks for the board's removal. She plans to deliver the final 1,500 signatures and comments to the state board on Wednesday.
One former system employee - who wanted to be known only as Barbara - admitted to knowing where missing funds mentioned by SACS are probably located. She disagreed with Pringle's accusations against the board and thought Dr. Atkinson was to blame.
To that, Davis replied, "until I see with my own eyes a principal who can hold up a brand new textbook and say 'look, we've found them. We have the books here,' then I still say the board has to go. If they can't show us the books or find the money, they are a part of the problem and they have to go."
For more about Restore DeKalb and the mission of Davis, Pringle and others who want the children to be the top priority, visit the group's upcomimg website. Davis is also a leader who has worked with Get the Cell Out - Atlanta and the Unhappy Taxpayer and Voters, two groups established to demand higher accountability from elected officials in DeKalb County.