Final DeKalb School District 428 Board forum ddresses race head-on

March 22, 2019

DeKALB – When DeKalb District 428 School Board candidate December Richardson responded to a question about the district hiring more diverse teachers, she received a rousing round of applause and cheers from the packed community room at University Village Thursday.

“I don’t think there is a shortage of diverse staff [candidates],” Richardson said. “I think there is a problem with people hiring the diverse staff.”

Richardson illustrated her point by reading a letter sent to her by a woman of color who said she’s been unable to find employment with the district despite her many qualifications.

“I am in education with lots of degrees, and DeKalb still won’t hire me as an administrator. We need more blacks,” the letter read. “I have been teaching for 13 years now, have three degrees, two being masters, and I don’t even get a call back from DeKalb.”

Six of the nine candidate running for four spots on the District 428 Board gathered for a final forum before the April 2 election. Orion Carey (who arrived late), Samantha McDavid, Sarah Moses, Jeremy Olson, and David Seymour were all in attendance. Stephen Irving did not attend since he is on vacation in Arizona, moderator Dan Kenney, founder and executive director for DeKalb County Community Gardens.

Incumbents Fred Davis and Rick Smith did not attend.

The forum was hosted by New Hope Baptist Church.

Seymour said the district should better utilize local resources like community groups to provide mentorship to students.

“We need to train up a child in the way they should go, and when they get old they will not depart from it,” Seymour said. “What we can do is perhaps start a paradigm shift and influence young people to consider the vocation of being educators.”

Candidates also addressed the achievement gap, and how to improve low-performing schools like Tyler and Gwendolyn Brooks elementary schools.

“We have to meet [students] where they’re at,” Moses said. “Our district is 60 percent free-and-reduced lunch, so we have a large number of our students living near or at the poverty level which dramatically affects learning.”

Olson agreed, and said its important to acknowledge the socio-economic component of achieving gaps in schools.

“I think one of the biggest things we can do is have a regimented curriculum and continue to raise the bar for our kids,” Olson said. “Schools are inheriting an issue that they didn’t really create.”

McDavid directly addressed a question from the audience about having a potential conflict of interest on the board, since her husband, Maurice McDavid, is dean of students at DeKalb High School, and she works in the Regional Office of Education doing community outreach for early learning.

“If a vote came up on my husband’s contract, I would of course recuse myself,” McDavid said. “I am not going to drop my health insurance because we can’t afford it. But I will be completely transparent about that. I do not see any reason why I could not run, and I will serve you wholeheartedly.”

An audience question card also addressed apparent violent behavior in classrooms. “Somewhere in all of that knowledge is the how and why of this violence in classrooms,”

Carey said. “If we’re not visiting these schools and figuring out what’s going on and finding the source of this issue, there’s no way to fix it.”