Former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond: Good guy but can he lead DeKalb schools?

Michael Thurmond (AJC photo)

Michael Thurmond (AJC photo)

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.

According to the AJC’s Ty Tagami today:

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

70 comments Add your comment

bu2

February 4th, 2013
8:51 pm

Inside the system is part of the problem. If there is an interim, it shouldn’t be someone inside. Millar should stick with state items. Although I do agree appointing a new superintendent, even an interim, is an unnecessary distraction until the accreditation issues are resolved. I don’t believe Atkinson is the one to fix the problems, but she didn’t create them and isn’t the top priority.

Still, you never know what goes on behind the scenes. The SBOE and DCSS BOE may have both been upset Atkinson couldn’t arrange to be at the last meeting or even have a representative.

TheGoldenRam

February 4th, 2013
8:57 pm

Criminal defense attorney, DFCS, welfare-to-work, unemployment insurance & vocational rehab. From what I’ve heard about the future of Dekalb County, this might possibly be a match made in heaven. You only need someone with a background in education when your system is focused on the kids.

Melanie

February 4th, 2013
8:58 pm

Michael is a nice guy and did a good job as Labor Commissioner. However, DeKalb needs someone who can lead this system out of this deep hole we are in. We need a proven experienced educator who can surround him/ her self with a successful high quality team. Get the politics out of this school system. Walker is too much, already. This is a chance for the Board to get this right!!!! Stop the bleeding, now.

The Deal

February 4th, 2013
8:59 pm

I don’t want anyone who is a friend of Dr. Walker to be interim. TheGoldenRam, great summation.

bu2

February 4th, 2013
8:59 pm

If you are going to hire a politician to lead, you need to have people who know what they are doing underneath him. Yet the most common complaint seems to be about the layers of management between the superintendent and the schoolhouse. It doesn’t seem like a good choice.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

February 4th, 2013
9:07 pm

I respect Senator Millar’s opinion. He was one of the few state legislators I saw attend the redistricting meetings in 2010. I wonder, though, if his remarks are solely based upon politics. Of course, this is all “simply speculation” at this point…right?

living in an outdated ed system

February 4th, 2013
9:13 pm

I have to agree with Millar on this one. I can’t imagine why Thurmond would want to jump in with a dysfunctional board. Better for him to wait until the board situation is resolved. I must say, it seems like amateur hour in Dekalb Schools. This is not how school governance, or any governance for that matter, is supposed to work!

DunMoody

February 4th, 2013
9:16 pm

I appreciate Senator Millar’s advocacy for public education, but disagree strongly that an insider is a good option for interim superintendent. I also am very uncomfortable with Mr. Thurmond’s ties to Walker. We need someone who can clean house, not warm the chair for the next superintendent or come in with political allegiance to the current DeKalb power brokers.

My fear is that any current member of the Central Office staff will not treat the interim office with the vigor and independence required to get rid of the cronyism, nepotism, and financial mismanagement that are at the heart of our current situation.

Concernedmom30329

February 4th, 2013
9:27 pm

Walker’s ties to Thurmond are deep and wide. More than twenty years ago they worked together to right battles over reapportionment — not against Republicans mind you but other Democrats. Those kinds of battles really bind people together.
Plus, this Board already has 9 politicians. We don’t need another one.
I am disappointed that apparently qualified candidates aren’t interested. Now is a good time to come in, the Board will at least have to try and be on good behavior.

WillinRoswell

February 4th, 2013
9:29 pm

I think Thurmond could be a pretty good pick – if he can hire a knowledgable assistant who can translate all the acronyms he will run into.

Teacher Reader

February 4th, 2013
9:50 pm

Thurmond has ties to Walker and is a poor choice. This is the problem with DeKalb now, friends and family first, children last. If Thurmond gets the job, our kids are doomed. I blame the state board for not firing the Dekalb School Board last month, as it really appears to me that no one in charge of the system gives a hoot about the kids, and they are why anyone in the school system has a job at all.

alch

February 4th, 2013
10:22 pm

I’ve been reading this blog forever. The bloggers seem to have all the answers. How about y’all getting involved…run of the board, make moves to be the superintendent and other administrative staff. Continuously whine and criticizing the incumbents is just….making noise! BE ABOUT IT….and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!

Old timer

February 4th, 2013
10:41 pm

There are locally..as in the greater metro area better qualified people…Sam King???

Old timer

February 4th, 2013
10:49 pm

Oh..not an educator

RCB

February 4th, 2013
10:54 pm

Oh lord. Another politician. What else would you expect from this board? After all, they chose Atkinson. I wish they were not even allowed to choose an interim right now. It’s just a few weeks til their next review and they think this helps them?????? The Dekalb BOE is despicable and Fran Millar needs to butt out.

Home-tutoring parent

February 4th, 2013
11:15 pm

I think Mr. Thurmond’s candidacy is okay, if there are no payoffs (monetary
to friends, no hidden back-payments. Where I lived, there were school-bond payments with signs in front of the construction projects, announcing school-building, budgeted at $3000 per sign. Actual cost, $200. John Taylor Gatto wanted certain books for his class. The district budgeted $20/book, but he found them on his own at $3 per book.

Wow! Where was the money going?

How about selecting teachers from the top 10% of college entrants, and letting them run their own classes and schools.

Jettison all the administrative overhead. Teachers being paid $60,000 to teach 12 kids, add heating/cooling and maintenance costs, good books and technology, nobody in administration making more than $80,000, total cost less than $9,000 per head (student).

bootney farnsworth

February 5th, 2013
12:17 am

no, no, and no.

friends and family, pt. 2

waltbellamy

February 5th, 2013
1:14 am

More of the same. DeKalb schools continue to circle the bowl. No end in sight.

gdfo

February 5th, 2013
6:11 am

Whoever takes a new position with DSS needs to be someone WITHOUT close ties to anyone currently on that Board, including and especially Mr Walker.

mountain man

February 5th, 2013
6:37 am

I don’t know anything about his qualifications, but at least he is the right color. If an all-white school district said “we need a white superintendent, because a black just can’t understand our students”, they would be skewered and roasted. So does the best candidate for DCSS Superintendent always end up being black?

agent

February 5th, 2013
6:49 am

Dekalb will never learn. We should just let it continue to burn. I have an idea, let’s hire a politician to do a superintendent’s job. Better yet, let’s hire a politician who is friends with a hack board member, i.e., Walker. Unbelievable how far Dekalb has fallen since just my college days.

agent

February 5th, 2013
6:53 am

Something else to think about…Thurmond all of a sudden goes and offers his services as superintendent. It’s clear Walker put him up to this to protect him on the board.

catlady

February 5th, 2013
6:57 am

I think very highly of Thurmond. I was impressed with him in Athens. And perhaps he would bring much-needed clarity of vision and put out to pasture all those who have preyed upon the DCSS for so many years. Then again, as former Labor commisioner, he might be reluctant to put so many out of work, no matter how obvious it is that they are extraneous.

Dunwoody Mom

February 5th, 2013
7:03 am

Despite looking into the face of extinction, this BOE continues down the same old path…friends, friends…Are Walker and Company that clueless or that arrogant?

I was thinking last night who currently within DCSS might be qualified for “interim” superintendent. Nope, got nothin’.

Fed Up

February 5th, 2013
7:15 am

DunMoody

February 5th, 2013
7:42 am

alch: evidently you don’t read deeply enough. Posters are a cross-section of involved parents, teachers, public education advocates, and administrators, past and present. Not sure how much more involved we can get since “Emperor of Education” isn’t an option. Nor should it be. What you call “whining” I call advocacy.

bootney farnsworth

February 5th, 2013
7:46 am

@ dunwoody mom

having met several of the players involved, I’m going with just that arrogant.

besides the fact Mike has connections to the uber tarnished board, I have a hard time accepting in a city this size with this many regarded schools (primary and college) Mike is the best person to steer the boat through stormy waters.

why isn’t that idiot Deal appointing someone?

bootney farnsworth

February 5th, 2013
7:50 am

I understand Bill Campbell has time on his hands.
how about Beverly Hall? she’s available

wait, I know. lets get the best, most qualified person to run this mess: Tony Soprano

Pardon My Blog

February 5th, 2013
7:50 am

The State should take over the BoE and then appoint a truly qualified candidate as the INTERIM Superintendent (and it should NOT be Thurmond and should not be based on the color of their skin). @Dunwoody Mom – it’s obvious that Walker is that arrogant, did you see the pics of him sleeping at the hearing????? Clean house, streamline the system, make it lean especially at the Central Office, and put real resources into the education of the students. Thurmond is a big NO, NO, NO!

Joella

February 5th, 2013
8:17 am

Other districts have been able to find superintendents and interims. What has happened to DeKalb? Consider the impact that this is having on the schools, staff and students. This is the time of year that the budget process begins. Last year teachers got their contracts late. They were not informed of their pay until they returned to school in August.
We have new staff in just about every key department. So many people left that there is no one to train them. The district is now hiring retired staff members to work in Special Ed, Region Offices and Scheduling. How is this cost effective? The new administration hired new people. Now they have to hire the same people that were eliminated to provide support to the people that they hired. Each day people are leaving. The District Leaders needs to be honest with the staff, students and parents. If not we will continue to lose students, staff and parents. We have been in this storm too long. There are many wonderful teachers, para educators, counselors, social workers and principals that love their jobs and are focused on students. There are also good people at the district level.

catlady

February 5th, 2013
8:17 am

Well, if he does have a big buddy like Walker, it is a no-go. Let Dekalb teachers teach; clean house completely in the Palace. When is “time up” for the BOE?

alm

February 5th, 2013
8:35 am

How much are we paying Ms Tyson these days?

skipper

February 5th, 2013
8:36 am

I say give him a shot. He is a proven leader, and leadership is what is needed the most.He certainly cannot screw things up any more than they are. Remember, he does not have to be primarily an educator. We have presidents who are commander-in-chiefs that have never served a second in the military or had training. The man can probably make something good happen…..

Dunwoody Mom

February 5th, 2013
8:39 am

If Michael Thurmond was meeting with the BOE in “Executive Session”, so that the public cannot keep an eye on the BOE, then why is he (Thurmond) talking to the media? Should his proper response should have been that he could not comment instead of giving an interview to a local tv station?

Grob Hahn

February 5th, 2013
8:43 am

Sounds like they have hired an enforcer for the school-to-prison pipeline.
Grob

Fed Up with Idiots

February 5th, 2013
8:45 am

Why is no one at the AJC or the local TV stations looking into the millions of dollars that disappeared from the State Labor department during Michal Thurmond’s term as labor commissioner?

[...] McChesney raises his concerns now because he presumes that the DeKalb board will be embarking on yet another search because Atkinson appears ready to bolt. Neither Atkinson nor the school board will confirm her resignation, but it certainly appears that the board is interviewing interim candidates, including former labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. [...]

concernedmom30329

February 5th, 2013
9:22 am

Skipper

Do you understand how deep his relationship is with Walker? I was working at the Capital back in the 90s. These guys are friends.

While we can use a leader, we need someone with no ties. None. Nada. Nothing.

Lisa

February 5th, 2013
9:35 am

The fact that Dr. Walker is trying to hire one of his friends as interim superintendent is clear proof that he has no intention of changing his friends & family culture at DCSD, despite the SACS criticism and probation. He told the State DOE he understood the gravity of the situation and is serious about fixing things on the Board. He also said he wants to be judged by his actions. Well, despite his statement at the DOE hearing, his actions in trying to hire yet another personal friend couldn’t send a clearer signal that nothing will change in DCSD unless he is removed.

Smoke Rise Mom

February 5th, 2013
9:45 am

I worked at the Department of Labor during Michael Thurmond’s tenure there. He is first and foremost a politician. He is not what we need in this position.

whatever

February 5th, 2013
9:46 am

Politickin, Lawyerin, Crony is absolutely NOT what we need in DCSS. This is typical, so typical. He is the last person who would put the F & F plan folks out of a job. He ran With Gene and Cynthia,McKinney. Maybe we should ask her back for a look see too? NO, NO HELL NO. I will pick up my pitch fork at that point. Next.

DeKalb Defender

February 5th, 2013
10:08 am

The faster that State School Board recommends the ouster of this incompentent school board to the Governor, the better. I believe with proven leaders appointed to the Board, they can attract a proven Educator who can begin to raise us out of this sink hole. All the current board can do for me is search for their new jobs. Let the current superindent resign and take her subpar administration with her. We do not need a star Interim Superintendent, let Romona Tyson serve as interim again, at least she cares as she has children in the system. Let the Governor’s newly appointed Board find the right person, otherwise, our accrediation and school system will be toast when SACS revisits later this year.

Disgusted in Dekalb

February 5th, 2013
10:16 am

TheGoldenRam, I know you are out of state, but would you be interested in the job?

alm

February 5th, 2013
10:24 am

I don’t see how talking to a potential candidate before Atkinson is let go/quits is going to help matters. It just reinforces their bad image. The next state hearing can’t get here soon enough.
I don’t know much about Thurmond but if he’s as close to Dr Walker as everyone says then NO he should not get the job.

Disgusted in Dekalb

February 5th, 2013
10:27 am

Walker is proposing that the man formerly charged with maintaining full employment in the state is the solution to DCSS’s problems? If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.

Beverly Fraud

February 5th, 2013
10:52 am

“how about Beverly Hall?”

Experienced. Dedicated. Compassionate. Focused exclusively on the children yet works exceedingly well with the business community.

Heed the clarion call! It’s time for the triumphant return of Beverly Hall.

Atlanta Media Guy

February 5th, 2013
5:13 pm

It is starting to make sense. New BOE member Orson misses last weeks meeting, so they can not elect a new board chair. Now we hear this news about another FRIEND. Shocked, I tell ya…NOT! We must have an interim who can come in and FIRE everyone at the Palace. Why is Tyson still drawing a Super salary. The fact she is still in the Palace, is pretty telling.

We must find someone with no ties to the system and someone who will find resources for the schools NOT the Central Office. Enough of the cracker jack ridiculous SFA and one size fits all learning from a box. Can we allow our teachers to create their own lessons that actually fits their own classes needs, OLEASE!

Taxpayer and Teacher

February 5th, 2013
5:45 pm

What is his background as it relates to educational leadership and/or experience in classroom instruction?

DrDr

February 5th, 2013
7:49 pm

Dekalb County Schools need John Boehner for superintendent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is Race the true problem?

February 5th, 2013
9:32 pm

Mountain Man why do you assume that race or the color ” black” or “brown” is responsible for the failure, exploitation, and overall “good old boy” practice of hiring one’s family and friend? If I remember correct those that are the as you say “right color” have only been in control and the majority for about 15 years. Are you really ignorant enough to think that millions of dollars, corruption, sex , hiring of ones uncles, cousin or that sister who is soooo smart that she supervises those of the “right color” with only a high school degree, did not thrive for close to hundred years? So once again the seeds were planted many, many years ago. The answer to the problem is professionalism, honor, pride and dedication. NOT race. A pig is a pig no matter how you dress them up . And, the skin color is just that a pigmatation. White is right? If that were so you would have made a more intelligent analysis of the problem.