New Decatur school chief gets earful at rally today for school clerk

After listening to a dozen speakers at this morning’s rally celebrate Decatur High School media clerk Susan Riley, new Superintendent David Dude probably wishes he had canonized Riley rather than fired her.

Because this was moving testimony.

A 2001 graduate and a 2016 graduate-to-be both described how Riley’s ministrations and support rescued them, how she saw their suffering and reached out to them when no one else at Decatur High did. A parent credited Riley with saving her son’s life.

Lauri McKain Johnson, the former Decatur High principal, talked about how she would complain about rude students in the library, and Riley would explain all the challenges in the child’s life that might be causing the bad behavior, saying sugar works better reaching recalcitrant kids than vinegar. No matter where a student was, “Susan believed the sky was the limit,” said Johnson.

Junior Alexander Hollins mistakenly tucked a check into a library book that he then returned. He described how Riley went to the storage book room and combed through piles with him to find it. Denzel Taylor, the senior class president, said Riley gave him the confidence to not only speak in front of people, but to audition and win a lead in a play.

University of Georgia sophomore Sarah Stubbs, one of the young organizers of the 7:30 a.m. rally, said she rushed back from Athens this weekend despite midterms and a paper due today at 11 a.m. to right what she considered a terrible injustice. (You can read more about the amazing Ms. Stubbs in this USA Today story.)

Until the school bell summoned them inside, about 40 Decatur High teachers dressed in black, stood sentry in front of the high school in support of Riley.

Before school today, Decatur High School teachers lined up outside the school in black to show their support for fired clerk Susan Riley. (Rick Brozek photo.)

Before school today, Decatur High School teachers lined up outside the school in black to show their support for fired clerk Susan Riley. (Photo courtesy of Rick Brozek.)

And, to his credit, Superintendent Dude came as promised and listened to speaker after speaker condemn what they deemed his abrupt and indefensible termination of Riley based on information he now says may be inaccurate.

Dude fired Riley late Friday afternoon and rescinded it Sunday, saying new information had surfaced so he was putting her on paid leave and searching for a third-party to review the facts. Dude told me he intends to consult with Riley on the arbiter as it is important “Susan is comfortable with the person.”

(One name being thrown out: Former DeKalb DA Bob Wilson, one of the two investigators hired by the state of Georgia to document the extent of the APS cheating scandal. However, Wilson counts the Decatur schools as a client so this presents a conflict that would not seem to meet Dude’s promise of a fair and impartial review.)

How does a bright young school chief who arrived a scant four months ago end up on brisk morning listening to leading citizens, former school leaders, angry parents and upset students denounce him for firing the “most beloved woman in all of Decatur”?

Facts remain murky although there are plenty of theories. Riley never earned an explanation for her sudden termination Friday because she is an “at will” employee. Dude told me  attorneys advise against providing at-will employees with reasons. (Riley was fired with cause, which had people scratching their heads over what she could have done. Decatur’s failure to tell her or the public what that cause is strikes me as character defamation.)

It’s clear a manager mounted a case against Riley. Speaking to Dude at the rally, he says he may have been misled. When I asked if he was lied to, he said it’s possible, and, yes, there will be consequences if that’s proven. While he knew Riley was valued, he said, “I did not realize the scope of it.”

So that raises another set of questions.

Why would anyone in Decatur Schools want to force out a woman, who, while paid a meager clerk’s salary, appears to be serving as a counselor, crisis intervention specialist, technology adviser and general ray of sunshine in what seems to be a building in need of some light? (Dude cited problems at the high school years in the making and that he intended to spend today at the school talking to staff.)

Theories abound, but mostly this mess appears to come down to a conflict between Riley and a new boss. That Dude did not vet the manager’s allegations before dismissing such a longtime and cherished employee ought to raise concerns.

As Decatur attorney and parent Doug Aholt told Dude at the rally, “We know Susan. We are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know you so we don’t know whether you deserve the benefit of the doubt.”

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Sounds like a new purchasing getting rid of all the old vendors without considering that many would have been chosen for good reason..  Not too bright.  Fools rush in ....

Another comment
Another comment

It sounds like Noel Maloof is the toxic cloud and found his kiss butt conduit in Dude! All combined with an EEO hire principal! What a toxic mix!

jefgee
jefgee

@Another comment EEO hire principal? You obviously know nothing about her. And do you really think the COO of CSD is calling the shots for the Superintendent?

What an uninformed and toxic comment!

Stevenandlaurie
Stevenandlaurie

Susan Riley is the person--loving, kind, and honest thru and thru, and  always willing to go above and beyond--that we all should strive to be.  I predict that the independent investigator will find that our three-months-on-the-job superintendent  (Mr. Dude) who fired Susan was lied to or  intentionally mislead by the "complainers" he relied on to provide him with the facts.   Complainers with an agenda that did not include what is in the best interests of the students or  any necessity to be truthful or fair.  If so, these "complainers" should be fired. Dig deep, Decatur.  Get the actual facts.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I would guess that every student who has come through Decatur High School had contact with this woman.  It sounds like she has done the kind of job that won't show up in a d***** evaluation like our "leaders" want us to have (yes, I know as an aide she is not subject to it, but many teachers do things that are well outside the scope that can be measured by VAM).  She apparently has given students what they needed, not what some other entity says her job is.  Reminds me of a sign I saw at FSU in the department lead secretary's office--"Students are not an INTERRUPTION to our work.  Students ARE our work!" God bless her!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

I have been communicating with teachers on Facebook on this issue and wanted to add one comment here that I made there:


Let me add one thing to my coverage of this morning's rally in Decatur. Teachers tell me reprisals are common in their profession so I applaud the Decatur High School staff members who stood outside the high school, across from the rally,wearing black to show their support of their fired/tentatively rehired colleague. With TV cameras and photographers, it was a very public statement.

Stevenandlaurie
Stevenandlaurie

@MaureenDowney Yes.....so brave!!!!! Extra brave given that their fellow staff member was dismissed without stated cause after 19 years of stellar service and with NO opportunity whatsoever to give her side of the facts.  So brave they all were!!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney They were very brave.  There likely will be some "punishment" given them.  Hopefully THAT will be in the news as well!

DunwoodyMom1
DunwoodyMom1

If this were DeKalb schools, I would say someone wanted to force out Riley to hire a friend or family member. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @DunwoodyMom1 This is one benefit of being a small system.   You don't have to adopt bs from another place!  You can serve YOUR students and remember why you do what you do.


Lesson plans a week out are ridiculous, if you are expected to meet student needs.  Sometimes, you end up spending more time on important concepts than you thought you would, based on results you see in YOUR class!


Now, if you are just putting in time, heck, require the lesson plans for the whole#%$&! year in advance!!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@DunwoodyMom1 I talked to several high school staffers this weekend and heard a lot about last year, when the former Dunwoody High principal served at the Decatur principal. They did not like some of the DeKalb policies that he imported to Decatur. One was the submission of written lesson plans a week out. 

Maybe, there are other DeKalb practices seeping into Decatur's culture. 

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@MaureenDowney @DunwoodyMom1 

I've heard from educators in DeKalb that some lesson plans are between 20 and 30 pages long. They have to provide images, websites, etc...

If all of this required...how did I learn anything?

Mandella88
Mandella88

@MaureenDowney @DunwoodyMom1

Wow - Without any evidence whatsoever, Decatur's issues can now be blamed on the DeKalb County School System?  Let's see:


Rained tonight?  DCSS's fault

Trump wins GA primary?  DCSS's fault

Fake/Poor journalism?  DCSS's fault


etc, etc, etc.....