September 19, 2014

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Atlanta latest city on Lorain superintendent’s list

LORAIN — Atlanta is the latest city on Lorain Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s job wish list.

Atkinson

Atkinson

Atkinson is one of three finalists for the Atlanta Schools superintendent job. She was one of three candidates passed over for Cleveland Schools CEO after the district hired its chief academic officer last Tuesday. Atkinson didn’t return calls for comment Tuesday night, but didn’t rule out that she had applied for other positions, in an interview last week.

“I’ve been very honest (with the board of education) about anything that’s coming available for me and will continue to do that,” said Atkinson, Lorain superintendent since 2007. “When it’s time for me to leave, the door will open, and it will be the right fit.”

With some 155,000 students and an approximately $620 million annual budget compared to Lorain’s approximately 8,000 students and $91.5 million budget, Atlanta would be a big step up for Atkinson.

“You can’t fault her,” said Board of Education member Paul Biber, adding that he’d prefer Atkinson stay in Lorain. “It’s a big stage. There’s a lot of prestige. There’s more money, and it’s a step up in personal challenges.”

Board member Tim Williams said Atkinson wants to be a big city superintendent and Lorain residents shouldn’t feel slighted by that.

“Lorain is not the dream, but it is a part of the dream,” Williams said. “I’m not saying (Atlanta) is better, but it’s an upward trajectory she’s on.”

While Atkinson has been unable to get levy increases — the cash-starved school district faces projected deficits of $11.35 million for the 2012-13 and $24 million in 2013-14 — Biber and Williams praised Atkinson for raising graduation rates and adeptly handling school consolidation. Both said Atkinson can juggle her job and job searches.

However, board member Jim Smith, who sees Atkinson as more show horse than workhorse, was skeptical.

“It would be for me very difficult to concentrate on my job while I was looking for another one,” he said. “With most people that would be true.”

While they disagree on Atkinson’s performance, Biber, Smith and Williams all agree that the timing of the search hurts Lorain’s chances of finding a new superintendent quickly if Atkinson leaves. With just about two months to the start of the new school year, they said the district would probably seek an interim superintendent for the upcoming school year.

“We’re looking at a deficit in the next year and trying to find a new superintendent,” Biber said. “That’s not a fun prospect.”

Nonetheless, Biber said Lorain should be flattered that Atkinson came close in Cleveland and is a finalist in Atlanta. Biber said it has to be based on her performance in Lorain, Atkinson’s first as a superintendent. Atkinson’s previous jobs were as deputy superintendent in Kansas City and associate superintendent for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina.

Atkinson made the cut from 70 initial candidates from 23 states, according to the Atlanta Schools website. The other candidates are Orange County, Fla., Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and Prince County, Md., Superintendent Bonita Coleman-Potter. The Atlanta Board of Education met with the candidates last week.

In a news release, Atlanta board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El said he looked forward to meeting the candidates again.

“We will find the candidate who possesses the qualifications and experience to take the helm of APS and lead us to the next level in educational excellence,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.