Didn’t see this coming. It appears the DeKalb school board is talking with former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond about the job of interim DeKalb school chief — if and when current Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson departs.
(I also find it surprising that the DeKalb school board has not confirmed that Atkinson is leaving. Pretending otherwise — until an interim is in the bag — seems a silly charade at this point.)
I have attended several editorial board meetings with Thurmond over the years, and he seems like a bright, capable guy.
When he left the labor department after 12 years in 2011, the AJC wrote:
Thurmond, who turned 58 on Wednesday, is a sharecropper’s son from Clarke County who once worked as a criminal defense lawyer. He spent six years in the General Assembly and later directed the state Division of Family and Children Services. He also guided former Gov. Zell Miller’s welfare-to-work reform.
At Labor, Thurmond was essentially CEO of a 4,000-employee agency with a $450 million budget, most covered by the federal government. He administered the state’s unemployment insurance fund and vocational rehabilitation programs.
Thurmond won national praise for his Georgia Works program, launched in 2003, which matches the jobless with potential employers. More than 60 percent of the program’s enrollees found a job within 90 days, the labor department says.
Thurmond is “most proud of” his department’s role in building the soon-to-open Roosevelt School, a residential and vocational complex in Warm Springs.
It may seem like an abrupt transition from the job of Georgia labor commissioner, but Michael Thurmond said he has a lot to offer the troubled DeKalb County School District.
Thurmond met privately with the nine members of the county school board Monday. He would not confirm if he talked to the board about taking a job as interim superintendent, but said his leadership philosophy was on the table and the words “interim” and “superintendent” came up.
“I’m here today because I’m interested in the future of public education in DeKalb County,” Thurmond told several reporters outside the district head office, after leaving the meeting. “I made it clear: I’m here to help.”
Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson is leaving her job. She’s declined to comment about them.
State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, was until recently chairman of the Senate education committee and has been monitoring developments in his local school system.
In a telephone interview Monday about Thurmond’s visit, Millar said he became convinced last week that Atkinson’s departure was imminent. He wouldn’t reveal his sources, but said he knew of several people who were approached to replace Atkinson on an interim basis, including one person with whom he spoke directly. Millar said none of them was interested because of the board’s precarious situation.
Millar said he thinks the DeKalb board should focus on the accreditation issues. He said Thurmond is “a very fine man and was a good labor commissioner” but that the DeKalb board should appoint a “placeholder” from within the system while it addresses the accreditation issues and prepares for its showdown with the state. He thinks the DeKalb board is trying to find a big name successor to bolster their own efforts to remain in office.
“What I am not happy with is that this board is willing to sit on this resignation, or whatever you want to call it, so they can say they have this wonderful interim,” Millar said. “This smells of desperate people trying to maintain their positions.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog