Originally published on April 21, 2023 in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:
Dear Dr. Horton,
First off, congratulations and welcome to DeKalb County, Georgia. It’s a little more humid here than Illinois so get the fans ready. We say y’all, even when we try not to, and we love our sports teams even when they break our hearts. We love our food here, barbecues in the yard, we love our crape myrtles in summer, azaleas in the spring and what winter we have … well just keep your umbrella handy.
No. 1, however, we love our children. I have to say that your coming here is under a heavy cloud of which I’m not sure you’re fully aware.
My family and I found a home eight years ago in a little neighborhood within walking distance of our public elementary school. With great pleasure, I’ve donated energy to the elementary and middle schools — baking cookies when I hate to bake, working the register at book fairs, climbing ladders to hang streamers and hauling my sloshing Crock-Pot to soup days, not to mention less glorious tasks like cleaning dog poop from the playground and serving on PTA boards.
All done alongside other parents from all walks of life who are doing the same things I’ve done and more. Single moms, aunts and uncles, caregivers who just want to help their kid’s schools succeed. They help with no political agenda, no ax to grind, no ulterior motive, just to help their kid’s public school.
Meanwhile, DeKalb Schools leadership has a history of baggage decades long, packed with political strife and the inability to work together for the good of all children. There have been years of tribalism in the way the school board has governed itself, which comes down to a basic incompetence of elected members to settle matters judiciously and civilly.
One bad actor, multiple, we’re not sure. Dysfunction, unfortunately, seems to be the primary term used for district leadership. Its history includes financial mismanagement, nine superintendents in 13 years and an undercurrent of deep political strife between north and south DeKalb County.
My hope is that you have no tolerance for political infighting at the board level and your primary goal will be unity. I ask you to hold leadership accountable for attitudes of favoritism and hostility. Seek for every voice to be heard and take a rational stance when there is discord; no child should succeed at the expense of another.
Knowing no child, no region, no color or creed should be valued above another, see no place for combativeness in your administration and take action when it is necessary to find and expose the root of the problem.
The county is beautifully diverse in race, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomics. And we’re all united by a hope to see our children grow and learn in high-quality schools. But right now, we have teachers leaving in record numbers, falling attendance rates, plummeting enrollment, major unaddressed capital needs and, on top of all these issues, consistent news coverage of unprofessionalism.
Right now, this is what unites us, and we’d like that to change. We’d like to be united by an unrivaled measure of academic excellence for all kids, in all schools, all the time.
I’m sure you’ve gleaned from town halls that we are an opinionated bunch of people and, frankly, are also a tired crew. Tired of the drama, tired of the hirings, firings, board bickering, warnings from local and state leaders about ‘if DeKalb doesn’t get its act together, we’ll … .” The NAACP most recently issued a warning about chronic incompetence.
Can you blame us for our exasperation?
I’m asking you enter this position to prioritize professionalism, tact and competence, seeing all children as equal and valuing educational outcomes as your highest priority. What a job this is that awaits you. To stand at the helm of a school district serving 93,000 when you’re accustomed to one the size of 6,500 is going to be quite the learning curve. It’s going to be difficult but we ask that you persist in keeping education, not name making, as your top objective.
There’s a lot of skin in the game.
Our amazing teachers have kept the boat afloat all these years. The librarians, front office staff, cafeteria workers, custodians, student teachers, veteran teachers and the seasoned principals are committed. In no way do we doubt them.
However, the center will not hold without good leadership.
We are interested in educating our children with the best and highest achievement standards. Coffee chats and town halls are fine, but we need someone to roll up their sleeves and get to brass tacks.
Please make yourself at home here and settle in. We are hopeful you will have many successful years here, making it your daily duty serving all the children of DeKalb.
I am grateful to live in DeKalb County, grateful to have sent my children to teachers whom I trust, honored to have donated time. I have an immeasurable amount of gratitude to the community of educators that have contributed to the successes at the school level. I request that you take the thousands of DeKalb County teachers’ lead and show up every day looking for ways to educate our children better.
DeKalb County resident