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Key Atlanta Public Schools leader is sole finalist for top job in Portland, Oregon.

Atlanta Public Schools could lose a key player in Meria Carstarphen's turnaround plan with the announcement today that Donyall Dickey, APS chief schools officer and the chief academic officer, is the sole finalist for the superintendent's job in Portland, Oregon.

In a release today, Portland Public Schools said,

Dr. Dickey is an innovative educational leader who has advanced quickly in his career delivering notable results as a teacher, principal and district-wide leader for thousands of students in several large school districts.

“Donyall’s career has been driven by a commitment to equity, instructional excellence and accountability for results,” said PPS Board Chair Tom Koehler. “His repeated success in turning around underperforming schools in large urban school districts in a short amount of time demonstrates his unique ability to put in place operational systematic changes that support teachers, spur student achievement and improve schools. His leadership style engages the community to motivate and deliver results for students.  This is exactly the kind of academic leadership and community experience we need at this time in PPS.”

Dickey came to Atlanta in the fall of 2015 from Philadelphia. At his arrival, the AJC reported: "Donyall Dickey, chief academic support officer for the Philadelphia schools, will focus on turning around low-performing APS schools and helping school clusters implement new programs in line with the district's move to a 'charter system' structure. His role of chief schools officer is a new position."

According to the Oregonian newspaper:

Some Portland school board members and perhaps other district-watchers will visit Atlanta to make certain they think Dickey has the right skills and experience to lead Oregon's largest district. Portland would be a significant shift in culture and responsibility for Dickey.

Atlanta Public Schools, which is a tad larger than Portland with 51,000 students, is very different from Portland Public Schools. Three-fourths of its students are black. Just 15 percent are white. And nearly 80 percent of students are low-income.

Charter schools, including schools run by large charter management organizations, are big players on the Atlanta education scene. Georgia's Republican governor, whose office is just blocks from the school district headquarters, keeps a close eye on the district's problems and successes.

The district's performance is mixed, with some of its schools excelling compared to others in Georgia that serve similar students and others with profound and chronic achievement deficits. Overall, the district's test scores hover just above the level that the Georgia Department Education deems a failure.

In Atlanta, Dickey reports directly to the superintendent. Being at the helm of Portland Public Schools would require him to be a quick study in school board politics and district finances, areas where he is relatively untested. This year could bring new school board members, harsh budget cuts and a $790 million construction bond.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.