Kansas City school superintendent says he's taking job leading Atlanta-area district

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The superintendent who was at the helm when the Kansas City school district shed its unaccredited label said Wednesday he's leaving for a job leading an Atlanta-area district that is seeking to put its troubled past behind.

Stephen Green made the announcement on the same day that the DeKalb County School District's Board of Education said Green was the sole finalist to lead the 101,000-student Georgia school system. By law, the district must wait 14 days before offering a contract.

Melvin Johnson, chairman of the DeKalb County district's school board, praised Green for his "impressive track record," saying in a written statement that the Kansas City leader had "demonstrated innovative approaches to teaching and learning and moving student achievement forward."

Green said the job was attractive because two of his children and three of his grandchildren live in the Atlanta area.

"I very much love Kansas City Public Schools," Green said at a news conference in Kansas City. "I love the work that we are doing here, and at the same time I love my children and I love my grandchildren. The opportunity to continue some of the work in a different location and be close to them is a unique intersection of an opportunity that we could not pass up."

Both school systems are poor, with predominantly minority student populations and checkered histories.

Green took over leading the Kansas City district in September 2011 after previous superintendent John Covington left abruptly to oversee a state-operated Michigan district that was tasked with helping struggling schools. Covington's tenure included closing nearly half the schools in the Kansas City district, which had seen its enrollment drop to about 17,000 from a peak of 75,000 in the late 1960s.

The aftermath of Covington's departure was tumultuous, with the district losing its accreditation and facing the prospect of being subject to a law that allowed students to transfer from unaccredited to accredited school systems. Eager to avoid a budget-busting exodus of students like two unaccredited St. Louis-area districts endured, Green aggressively pushed for improvements, and the district in August regained a form of partial accreditation that allowed it to avoid the transfer provision. Green said the district's performance this school year will make it a candidate for full accreditation.

"He stepped into an impossible situation and immediately set to work aligning staff efforts and student focus toward achievement," Kansas City district school board chairman Jon Hile said. "In the past four years, student achievement has improved, enrollment has increased, school finances have stabilized and perhaps most importantly the board and superintendent have worked closely and collaboratively to forge a new day and a new identity for Kansas City Public Schools."

Hile said the board is looking at two internal candidates to serve as the interim leader as the district searches for a new superintendent who is "every bit as successful."

In DeKalb County, Green is poised to take over for outgoing superintendent Michael Thurmond, who began leading the Georgia district soon after an accreditation agency decided in December 2012 to put it on probation. The decision followed a six-month investigation that found evidence of nepotism, fiscal mismanagement and school board members influencing which schools athletes chose to attend. One year later, in December 2013, the former chief operating officer of the DeKalb County district, her ex-husband and the district's ex-superintendent were sentenced for their involvement in a racketeering and theft scheme.

The search for Thurmond's replacement took a dramatic turn earlier this month when the DeKalb County school system fired its search firm, ProACT Search, amid what the district described as "disturbing allegations." They included a federal investigation into a related business, SUPES Academy, stemming from a $20.5 million no-bid contract. SUPES Academy officials in suburban Chicago have acknowledged turning over records to investigators.

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