With the Atlanta and DeKalb County school boards both aiming to fill superintendent positions by June 30, they have adapted to candidate searches under the new restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic, which has closed Georgia schools for the remainder of the academic year, is forcing the boards to rely on technology in their searches for new superintendents.

The Atlanta Board of Education conducted two in-person interviews and two virtual interviews with Lisa Herring, the current superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, before naming her as finalist for Atlanta Public Schools superintendent on April 21.

The DeKalb Board of Education started its own superintendent search last year and voted to dismiss R. Stephen Green from the position. It remains a step behind Atlanta in naming its next leader. The county board is working with Porter Novelli, a public relations consultancy firm, to conduct the search for its third superintendent in less than a year.

“The superintendent search is on track,” the DeKalb County Board of Education said in a written statement. “While we have experienced some small delays due to the coronavirus outbreak, we are excited about the progress made so far.”

Ramona Tyson, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District. (Special)

A new superintendent will succeed Ramona Tyson, who took over as interim superintendent in November 2019. Tyson’s title changed to superintendent on April 15, stripping away the “interim” tag as she continued to oversee district operations through the pandemic. Tyson will retire on June 30.

Earlier in the process, the board was to receive a short-list of candidates in January and narrow down to a finalist for public review.

“We are optimistic that we will be able to introduce a candidate soon,” the board said in a written statement. “As circumstances have evolved, we have used a combination of in-person and virtual meetings in accordance with state guidelines.”

The incoming DeKalb County School District superintendent will lead Georgia’s third-largest school district back to the classroom after the pandemic. DeKalb schools serve approximately 102,000 students across 140 schools and centers, according to the district website.

The Atlanta school board is blazing a trail that DeKalb could soon follow. The board is utilizing technology to complete its hiring process and introduce its finalist to the public. Herring said she did not have any trouble adapting to virtual interviews.

Lisa Herring, the finalist for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent position. (Special)

“Missing the opportunity to exchange human interaction, whether that’s face-to-face physical eye contact, body language and just for individuals to see who you are beyond the barriers of a video screen is always something to take into consideration,” Herring said in the conference call, “but it was not an uncomfortable thing.”

Atlanta school board chairman Jason Esteves said Herring will soon be able to deliver her message directly to the public. The district will run online forums, virtual town hall events, prerecorded videos and additional conference calls with the media.

“Technology gives us so many outlets to engage and communicate,” Herring said in the call. “We’ll take that, I’m certain, day by day, but we’ll be intentional with the community outreach to make sure there is some level of visibility and availability.”

In addition to public virtual events, the Atlanta board will host internal events for Herring to meet with Atlanta Public Schools staff.

“Dr. Herring will have, probably, the benefit of two homecomings,” Esteves said. “One now, and then, once we’re able to get closer to each other and shake hands, I’m sure she will be out in the community for another homecoming, hopefully later on this year.”

Even as Herring prepares to potentially step into a new role leading APS, she must continue to guide Birmingham schools through the coronavirus pandemic as she concludes her third year as superintendent. In a conference call with the media on Tuesday afternoon, Herring said her current school district has established an “academic continuity plan,” putting remote learning in place through May 29.

–Ryan Kolakowski