Education

Former MCSD official accused of ruling school with ‘an iron fist.’ Now parents want her out.

Rebecca Braaten
Rebecca Braaten DeKalb County School District

A former Muscogee County School District administrator is embroiled in a controversy in DeKalb County, where dozens of parents called for her dismissal this week as principal of Chamblee Charter High School.

Rebecca Braaten was MCSD’s assistant superintendent for four years. Superintendent David Lewis brought Braaten with him to MCSD in 2013, when the Muscogee County School Board hired him from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent.

Braaten surprised the board in May 2017, when MCSD announced her resignation three days after the board rejected Lewis’ recommendation to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs for $6.4 million annually. Braaten was among the chief administrators who helped Lewis propose the controversial deal.

A story Wednesday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Monday’s meeting of the DeKalb County Board of Education.

The controversy stems from the “racy skits” assigned by German teacher Uwe Neuhaus, who was placed on administrative leave but then returned to his job after parents rallied to his defense, according to the AJC. The episode sparked allegations that Braaten “rules with an iron fist, using retaliation and tough talk and creating a toxic environment where about a half dozen staffers have left the school in recent weeks,” the AJC reported.

Other allegations against Braaten, according to the AJC, include rigging a vote for the school’s teacher of the year, threatening teachers’ jobs and telling staff members during her first meeting with them in August, “You’ll find out real quick that I don’t play, and I will light you up.”

The AJC quoted Jean Cowan, the mother of a Chamblee student, as saying during Monday’s board meeting that “tenured (staff) is hemorrhaging, and if this goes on much longer, this school will be a shell of its former self.”

The Champion newspaper in DeKalb quoted an unidentified parent as listing the following words teachers allegedly have used to describe Braaten: “Dictatorial, intimidating, negative, anxiety, punitive, bullying, abuse of power.” The newspaper reported that dozens of parents and supporters were at the meeting to call for her dismissal.

A petition Paige Moore posted seven months ago on Change.org calls for the dismissal or resignation of three DeKalb County School District employees, including Braaten. Moore alleges they failed to “effectively protect” her son, Nicholas Sanchez, who was “subjected to humiliation, degradation, ridicule, malice, negligence and re-education,” causing him to lose “some 30 pounds,” become “severely anxious and depressed” and begin “self harming” and talking about “suicide nearly every day.”

The petition has 70 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

The Ledger-Enquirer reached Braaten by phone Thursday, but she referred questions to Eileen Houston-Stewart, the chief communications and community relations officer for the DeKalb County School District. Houston-Stewart emailed the Ledger-Enquirer the following written statement from the school district:

“The Regional Superintendent and DCSD administration are aware of the concerns regarding the Chamblee Charter High School leadership,” the statement says. “These are important concerns, and DCSD will work with all parties to resolve them in a constructive and effective manner. As such, the Regional Superintendent and school leaders will be reviewing appropriate information and meeting with stakeholders in the coming days with the goal of addressing the concerns to the benefit of students and staff.”

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