Chamblee’s Search for the Perfect Principal


Photo by Ashley Veazey.

Robert Williams stands at the heart of Chamblee Charter High School.

Ellie Furr, Staff writer

Over the last four years, Chamblee Charter High School has struggled with keeping a principal. Following the departure of Dr. Rochelle Lowery, who the Chamblee community was very fond of, we were lucky enough to find Dr. Norman Sauce III, who was also a great fit. But for personal reasons, Sauce moved on from Chamblee after only two years.

Then came Rebecca Braaten, who in a year and a half at Chamblee, created an unpleasant atmosphere and had a generally low approval rating not only from teachers and faculty but also parents and students. In December 2018, she requested reassignment from Chamblee to the DeKalb County School District’s central office.

Braaten’s departure leaves the CCHS community and DCSD officials with a daunting task: to find a new principal who will be a good fit for our school. For some people, though, the Chamblee community (our staff, students, parents, the Governing Board, etc.) has not been involved enough in the selection process.

“There were parts of the process that had teacher, parent, and community involvement, but nowhere near as much as I’d like and nowhere near how much the charter says there should be,” said Andrew Milne, math teacher at Chamblee and Faculty Representative on the Tricameral Advisory Council (TAC) for the Governing Board.

As a charter school, Chamblee is unique in that we are allowed to operate more independently from the school district. This includes operations such as selection of principals and other staff, as Russell Brooks, a Chamblee parent, pointed out.

“The charter provides them [the Governing Board] ‘substantive control over such areas as personnel decisions,” said Brooks, referencing our charter.

Historically, the DeKalb County School District hasn’t always been supportive of Chamblee’s charter, which is why there has been low community involvement in the principal selection process. However, the charter is an important part of our school, and Milne believes a good Chamblee principal should see that and appreciate it.

“A principal at Chamblee has to be much more willing to stand up for our right to do things differently from the way other people do them,” said Milne. “They have to be willing to battle their bosses a little bit for us to be able to do things the way we need to do them and as we’re allowed to under the charter.”

A principal who actively exercises our rights under the charter could bring some great improvements to Chamblee.

“I would love to see a principal who decided that our charter is awesome and we should do it and prove to DeKalb County and everyone else that we can find creative solutions to all the problems of education,” said English teacher James Demer.

Chamblee is recognized nationally as a very academically successful school. Interim Principal Robert Williams believes Chamblee’s principal should recognize and respect that fact.

“A principal needs to have a knowledge of the tradition of the school and what some of the things are that have made it stand out as a school for high achievers and has championed student success,” said Williams.

This involves collaborating directly with students.

“I want someone who works with what the students want to do and tries to move the school up in ranking and improves the quality of the programs and education students are getting,” said Student Body President Jason Allen.

Chamblee also has many other positive attributes that we pride ourselves on. One such attribute is our diverse student body and faculty. While diversity is a positive attribute of any school, it presents a unique set of challenges to the principal.

“We have a very diverse population, so the principal has to be able to solve problems with a diverse group of kids,” said Demer. “He or she can’t just say that it’s a one-size-fits-all–that’s never going to work in a school like ours.”

Despite these challenges, a good principal should value our diversity.

“We have an incredibly diverse and complex community, and our principal must see this as a benefit rather than an obstacle,” said parent Jen Brock.

Another important quality that a Chamblee principal needs to have is the ability to cooperate with and support Chamblee’s teachers. Under Braaten, many teachers felt unappreciated and unheard, even though teachers have a direct connection to the students.

The atmosphere that Braaten created for teachers specifically was undesirable, and Demer hopes to see that change under the new principal.

“Job number one is making it a place where teachers want to teach and can do their best work,” said Demer. “If the environment is one where teachers are happy and are able to do the best job they can do for the kids, the principal’s got an easy job.”

Another important job of the principal is to be there to support the teachers.

“I want my principal to be able to back me up when I need it, especially when you’re dealing with tough situations with a parent or something like that,” said anatomy teacher Leila Warren. “They should first find out the story and see what’s going on, then be there to support you.”

Teachers are also looking for a principal who allows them to do the things they want to do without imposing too many restrictions.

“Teaching is the world’s hardest job, but we’re a creative and problem-solving crew here, so we can do great things,” said Demer. “The principal has to empower us to do them and has to be intrepid.”

One skill that is important in supporting not only the teachers, but also the students, parents, and community, is communication. Without communication from a school’s principal, that school cannot function.

“The new principal should possess the ability to communicate effectively with the CCHS community and the ability to listen, not merely dictate to the students, faculty and CCHS community,” said parent Dave Maxwell.

An important part of communication is the effectiveness of that communication. For example, students find it important to actually see their principal and know who they are so that they can talk to their principal about their opinions and problems they see.

“I think a good principal should be present at school and in the halls every day,” said junior Debbie Kitzler.

Freshman Marvin Crisostomo shares Kitzler’s sentiment.

“He should be around and make sure students can see him,” said Crisostomo.

In addition, connecting with the students and faculty is integral to healthy and effective communication.

“[The principal] needs to be a person who is a strong human relationist, and by that, I mean someone who is able to build relationships,” said Williams.

In order to build relationships, the principal must make an effort to engage with the community.

“The more people you talk to with all their various backgrounds and experiences, the better picture you will have of what needs to be done and what is working well,” said parent Bonnie Buell.

If the principal can communicate properly, the principal will easily get along with teachers, parents, and students.

“I’m looking for someone who believes in collaboration and cooperation and community and believes in bringing people together to solve problems,” said Milne.

In any school, unity and teamwork are vital.

“A principal should be willing to work with teachers, parents, and students without being difficult and hard to work with,” said sophomore Nic Yen. “They should not think only about what’s best for them but what is best for the school as a whole.”

Though collaboration is important, a principal also has to be firm.

“A principal should be firm in their beliefs but not a tyrant,” said Allen. “They should respect the teachers, students, and staff without being walked on.”

Some students even want a principal who is strict.

“If they’re strict, they’ll make sure that kids do what they’re supposed to do and not allow disruptions or distractions during school,” said freshman Marvin Crisostomo.

However, students also want to be heard.

“I’m looking for a principal who I can rely on to listen to me when I ask for a change or at least consider the students whenever making decisions relating to the school,” Yen.
Senior Sidney Britton shares a similar viewpoint.

“I’m looking for a principal who takes everyone’s voice into account,” said Britton.

A great principal at Chamblee will do his or her best to listen to and accommodate the wishes of the parents, teachers, and students while still doing what is ultimately best for the school. Additionally, the principal must always support the community and encourage people in order to make Chamblee successful.

“CCHS is blessed with an amazing community of teachers, students, and parents who have been a steady factor in shaping one of the top high schools in Georgia through the tenure of many principals,” said Brooks. “I think that a principal who is able to inspire that community and focus their talents on the challenges that still face CCHS will be best situated to lead the school forward.”