DeKalb County Schools

Martha Dalton / WABE

Students returned to class this month after a summer filled with tragic events, like the murder of nine African-American church members in Charleston, South Carolina. That and other high-profile cases have added fuel to movements like “Black Lives Matter.” Here in Atlanta, social studies teachers are having discussions about race and politics in their classrooms.  

WABE spoke with a group of teachers at the DeKalb School of the Arts to see how they approach those conversations.

Making Connections

A second grade student gets right to work as classes start at Greenwood Elementary School.
Phil Roeder /

Some DeKalb County parents are upset with the county school district for scheduling mandatory testing on Jewish and Muslim holidays.

The DeKalb School District has slated the Cognitive Abilities Test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills from Sept. 8-11 and Sept. 14-25, respectively. The two tests are mandatory for children in grades 1, 3, 5 and 7, and help with placement in gifted and special programs.

This year’s testing dates, however, fall over the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.

Martha Dalton / WABE

It's the first day of school for many Atlanta-area students, but some school systems are still looking for teachers. 

DeKalb County schools have job postings up seeking close to 200 instructors in various positions. Clayton County needs about 115 teachers.  

"We do have about 800 or 900 substitute teachers – these are people with four-year degrees. And so we have those people on standby and on call," said Dr. Douglas Hendricks Sr., chief of Human Relations for Clayton County schools. 

Martha Dalton / WABE

Some parents of children with special needs in the DeKalb schools are not satisfied with the service they get. The group said the district’s Special Education Department was ineffective – citing poor communication and a failure to get services their kids are entitled to by law.

In an interview, DeKalb Superintendent Stephen Green responded to the parents’ complaints. He said they have a right to be upset.

Martha Dalton / WABE

Georgia's largest school systems are still searching for dozens of special education teachers. The districts only have a few weeks before students head back to the classroom on Aug. 10.

So far, the Gwinnett school district has hired more than 1,400 new teachers. But it still needs to fill nearly 40 special education positions. Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach says a nationwide shortage of special education teachers has made hiring them more challenging.

Nick Nesmith / WABE

The DeKalb school board voted Thursday to offer Stephen Green, of the Kansas City Schools, a three-year contract as its new superintendent. But one board member is not happy with the decision.

Board member Joyce Morley was the lone dissenting vote.

“There was a major conflict of interest that has taken place throughout this process,” she said.

The board hired firm PROACT to lead the search. It later fired the company because its CEO was embroiled in controversy. Morley implied several candidates, including Green, had ties to the CEO. Green denied that last week.

Martha Dalton / WABE

The DeKalb County school system is expected to officially name a new superintendent Thursday. The school board will vote on whether to offer a contract to Stephen Green, who currently leads the Kansas City schools.

It was clear two weeks ago Green would be offered the job. But legally, the board had to wait until Thursday to vote on a contract.

During a visit to DeKalb last week, Green said he’d be a hands-on leader.

Nick Nesmith / WABE

The new DeKalb County schools superintendent is getting ready to take the reins of one of the largest school districts in Georgia.

Stephen Green is the current superintendent of the Kansas City school system. He is scheduled to take over the DeKalb County school system on July 1.

Green will replace former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. Thurmond has been in charge of the county school system for the past two years.

Martha Dalton / WABE

DeKalb County's sole finalist for school superintendent wraps up a three-day visit to the district Thursday. Stephen Green currently leads the Kansas City Schools in Missouri.

Green met with school leaders, staff and parents during his trip. He said he’s coming in with an open mind, but he’s also taking inventory.

“I am taking stock, not just in terms of the facility and the resources — financial — but also, human capital,” he said. “I’m assessing: What do we have here? What do we preserve, protect, keep, enhance, and what do we need to change or modify?”

Martha Dalton / WABE

Stephen Green, from the Kansas City Schools, has been chosen for the job of DeKalb County superintendent. The DeKalb County school board made the announcement Wednesday night.

Green has led the Kansas City schools since 2012, after the district lost accreditation. DeKalb County school board chairman Melvin Johnson credited Green with turning things around.

“Dr. Green brought back the Kansas City school district to provisional certification,” Johnson said. “He has demonstrated innovative approaches to teaching and learning and moving student achievement forward.”

Elle Moxley / WCUR


The DeKalb County School District has picked a superintendent finalist. Sources tell WABE the district has tapped Stephen Green, the head of the Kansas City Schools in Missouri.

Green took over the Kansas City Schools in 2012 after the district lost accreditation. The DeKalb school board is expected to announce his candidacy at a press conference Wednesday night. The board will have to wait 14 days before offering him a contract.

Nick Nesmith / WABE

The DeKalb County School Board has fired PROACT, the firm that was leading its superintendent search. PROACT’s CEO was embroiled in a controversy over allegedly using racial slurs in emails while he was dean of a Chicago high school. The FBI is also investigating a PROACT subsidiary, also run by its CEO.

ELSA device
Tasnim Shamma / WABE

In DeKalb County schools, teachers who need to speak with parents who don’t understand English well are getting a little help from technology. 

The district bought 200 translation devices that can translate up to 180 languages.

Sara Lawson teaches sixth-graders at Freedom Middle School in Stone Mountain. She demonstrated how to use the ELSA ("Enabling Language Service Anywhere") device. 

She hits a button on what looks like a small remote, which connects her to an Amharic translator. Amharic is a language spoken in Ethiopia.

Stan Jester
Stan Jester / LinkedIn

The public safety chief in a metro Atlanta school system says one of the school board members still hasn't undergone a national background check that's required for employees.

Board member Stan Jester said he received a background check from Dunwoody and DeKalb County Police. Jester has said that he believes undergoing the school system's background check would be a conflict of interest, since he oversees the system as a board member.

WSB-TV reports that because of the dispute, Jester has not received a paycheck from the district and has not been issued an employee badge.

Martha Dalton / WABE

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it" is a phrase often quoted by historians. 

Republican lawmakers in some states, including Georgia, are worried students taking a new AP U.S. History exam won’t learn the “right” lessons.

Jose Gregory’s Advanced Placement U.S. history class at the DeKalb School of the Arts begins with the Pledge of Allegiance. Today’s topic is World War I, specifically America’s entry into the war.

Piedmont Park and Midtown Atlanta during the winter storm on Jan. 28, 2014.
nickmickolas / Flickr/nickmickolas

Next time it snows, Forsyth County children won’t be able to sleep in or have snowball fights with their neighbors.

They’ll have to go online and log on to a virtual classroom says Jennifer Caraccialo with Forsyth County Schools.

“It could have what they’re covering in class, it could have assignments, you could have discussions with your peers… you can also interact with your teachers.”

This is an effort by the school system to not lose school instruction to snow days.

Martha Dalton / WABE

Several metro Atlanta school systems have updated their health policies to include Ebola guidelines. The DeKalb County school district was one of the first to do so after delaying enrollment for two students who came from a country affected by the virus. Now, the students need to have their medical documents approved by the district superintendent before they can attend class.

Dan Raby / WABE

Some metro Atlanta school districts are updating their health policies to include guidelines for the Ebola virus. Some districts, like DeKalb and Cobb, announced this week students from Ebola-affected countries won’t be able to enroll until the superintendent approves their medical documents. Cobb schools spokesperson Kyler Post says it’s a proactive move.

John Phelan / Wikimedia

DeKalb County schools officials say no new students from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa may enroll without proper medical documentation and the superintendent's approval.

Officials said in a statement Thursday that the district has notified all principals and administrators of the policy, which includes new students from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and other areas.

Nick Nesmith/WABE News

Hundreds of immigrant children and their families spent the night outside the DeKalb Schools’ International Welcome Center last week. Parents apparently thought if they didn’t register their children for school last week they wouldn’t be admitted to school this year. But DeKalb Schools Spokesperson Quinn Hudson told WABE the district is accommodating all 21,000 students.

An overview of the new school districts in DeKalb County. A link to a detailed PDF version of this map of the districts appears below.
DeKalb County

The DeKalb school board race will be critical for the community and the metro Atlanta region. DeKalb has the third-largest school district in the state. School and county leaders have urged residents to invest in the contest.

DeKalb County Board of Education meeting
Nick Nesmith / WABE

DeKalb County teachers will have a new clause in their contracts for the upcoming school year. Teachers will be held accountable for ‘liquidated damages.’

DeKalb teachers will  have to pay a fine of $750 if they break their contracts.

“Teachers are pretty upset about it,” says David Schutten, the president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators. “DeKalb is facing a crisis in terms of retaining teachers.”

At a recent board meeting, district officials complained that several teachers violated their contracts by not showing up at the beginning of the school year.

DeKalb County Court System

A DeKalb County Superior Court judge recently rejected a plea deal involving former DeKalb Superintendent Crawford Lewis. The County District Attorney charged Lewis and two others with racketeering. Judge Cynthia Becker’s decision means the case may not end any time soon.

The deal allowed Lewis to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge in exchange for testifying against co-defendants Pat Reid and her ex-husband, Tony Pope. Lewis would also receive 12 months’ probation instead of jail time.

Nick Nesmith/WABE News

Former DeKalb schools superintendent Crawford Lewis and two others were sentenced Monday in DeKalb County Superior Court. The three will serve jail time for their roles in a racketeering scheme.

Judge Cynthia Becker sentenced Lewis, former district Chief Operating Officer Patricia Reid and her ex-husband, Tony Pope during a special hearing.

Reid was sentenced to 15 years in prison for steering contracts to Pope’s architecture firm. Pope received an eight-year sentence. 

DeKalb County Board of Education meeting
Nick Nesmith / WABE

The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously upheld a 2010 state law authorizing Gov. Nathan Deal to suspend six members of the DeKalb County school board. Former DeKalb County school board chair Eugene Walker challenged the constitutionality of the law in federal court. Federal Judge Richard W. Story asked the state's High Court to determine whether the statute complies with the Constitution. 

State officials released an audit of the DeKalb County schools this week. The report covered the school system’s finances from July 2011 to June of 2012. 

The audit found weaknesses in the district’s accounting practices, including a $14.4 million deficit and poor oversight of a federal technology grant. Chief Financial Officer Mike Bell says the district improved its accounting during the 2013 fiscal year.

“Within the general fund budget for ’13, as of June 30, 2013, we had collected about $26 million more than we spent,” Bell says. 

Martha Dalton/WABE News

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding a new set of education standards called the Common Core. Georgia is one of 45 states that have adopted the standards. But some state Republican lawmakers want Georgia to opt out. Others strongly support the Common Core.

As legislators debate the standards, Georgia English/Language Arts and math teachers still have to teach them. WABE visited one DeKalb County high school to see how they’re doing that and whether the controversy has had any effect.  

Dr. Crawford Lewis, former DeKalb County School Superintendent, in a photo from 2008.
Milken Family Foundation

Former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis is taking a plea deal with the state.

And as WABE’s Rose Scott reports, Lewis now will become a witness for the prosecution.

In May of 2010, Crawford Lewis and three others were indicted on charges that included racketeering.

It stemmed from a lengthy investigation into how contracts were given for school construction projects.

Now, Lewis is taking a guilty plea of obstructing a law-enforcement officer.

Martha Dalton/WABE News

It’s no longer “interim superintendent.” Now, former Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond is the DeKalb County school district’s superintendent until June 2015.

The board unanimously agreed to extend Thurmond’s contract, which otherwise would’ve ended in February. His annual salary of $275,000 won’t change.Thurmond said he’s pleased to stay in DeKalb.

Martha Dalton/WABE News

State officials choose 28 Schools of Excellence each year: 2 from each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. State Superintendent John Barge said a school can be chosen for one of two reasons. The first is having the highest score on a state-issued report card.

“The second way a school is chosen as a Georgia School of Excellence is being the school in the congressional district that makes the highest progress from year to year in improving student achievement,” Barge said.