Coach, graduation dates big topics at school district discussion

During the third DeKalb County School District “On the Scene with Dr. Green” of the school year at Columbia Middle School Nov. 29, an issue involving a gym teacher and recently scheduled district-wide graduation dates and location were topics of discussion with parents.

According to parents at the event, a 39-year DeKalb veteran Henderson Mill Elementary coach James O’Donnell was suspended as a result over how he allegedly disciplined a fifth-grade student. O’Donnell is being “pressured” to resign, according to parents.

A group of students and parents wore t-shirts in support of O’Donnell at the event.

“We all feel heartbroken over that situation,” a parent named of Charles said. “We’re also heartbroken that this has happened in a manner where there’s little communication.”

O’Donnell allegedly sent a student outside as a form of punishment during rain.

“This is a personnel matter,” said DCSD superintendent R. Stephen Green.

“It’s confidential and under investigation as we speak. I’m not at any liberty to engage with you or talk with you about this. All I can say is that you’re entitled to your opinion. I will sit and listen.”

Green gave similar answers to three other parents who came to speak on behalf of the teacher.

More than 600 supporters have joined the “Support for Dr. James O’Donnell (OD) Henderson Mill Elementary School” Facebook support page since Nov. 28.

Some attendees at the event expressed concerns about the recently announced graduation dates and Georgia World Congress Center location. DCSD graduations begin May 28 through June 2.

“The decision to move graduation outside of the traditional school year into the summer was a surprise to everyone,” parent Katie Crane said. “It was not communicated until the beginning of November which is terribly late in the school year to announce something that impacts so many people.”

Parents and teachers expressed concerns about students, family members and teachers who may not able to attend the graduations and asked possibly rescheduling the graduations. Parents and teachers suggested that each school could hold graduation services at their school site.

Green and other district officials said scheduling conflicts with various locations caused the later than normal graduation scheduling.

“We know that it’s not optimal,” DeKalb County School District deputy superintendent Vasanne Tinsley said. “We know that it’s not the best move for everyone. But most importantly we’re looking at a venue that can hold all graduations for the 24 high schools in DeKalb County.”

“We’ve rested with the decision that we’ve made,” said Green.
A concerned taxpayer told Green there has been no improvement to the district since Green became DCSD superintendent in 2015 and that Green is a “pass-through” superintendent.

“There has been a dramatic drop in our suspension and expulsion rate,” Green said about the improvements in the district. “It’s dropped 40 percent and that’s average.”
“If you want to talk about improvements,” Green continued. “As an average this district’s College and Career Ready Performance Index score is the highest it’s been since CCRPI was put into place. The graduation rate is the highest it’s been, not in all schools… we still have schools that are struggling and I know that and I own that… but if you look at the average its 75 percent… That’s the highest it’s been in DCSD.”
Heating problems in DCSD classrooms were also discussed after some schools were left with no heat during cold weather. DCSD officials assured parents and faculty members that 18 faculty maintenance members were recently hired to combat heating and air conditioning problems.
The next On the Scene with Dr. Green is scheduled for Jan. 24 at E.L. Bouie Elementary School, starting at 7 p.m.

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