Michael Thurmond arrives in DeKalb to advice and good wishes. And pleas to heal district.

Former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond is at the helm in DeKalb, making his public debut at last night’s school board meeting.

According to the AJC:

For their part, parents and others were largely welcoming to Thurmond, though several made clear their anger with some, if not all, members of the school board. “You have a great task before you,” said parent Willie Pringle. “Our school system needs healing. And since you are at the helm, I’m praying for you.”

Resident Marcia Coward told Thurmond it’s as though a cancer has taken over the school system. “I am one of the few who believe there is still hope,” she said. “We can’t go back. We must move forward. Student achievement must be the focus.”

Dave Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, warned that there will be “a groundswell of anger from citizens” if school board members file suit, challenging the governor’s authority to remove them. “If you lose your jobs, you can’t say it’s anybody’s fault but your own,” Schutten told school board members.

Thurmond already sent out this note to staff:

Dear Fellow Employees:

Today is the first day of a new beginning for the DeKalb County School District. I am honored to serve as your Interim Superintendent.

Maintaining the School District’s accreditation is my number one priority. I need your support and assistance. During this critical period, we must focus on fulfilling the School District’s core mission — providing our students with a quality education. Please rededicate yourself to the important task of improving student academic achievement at every grade level.

Together, we will move this School District forward. We cannot rest until it is once again ranked among the best public school systems in America. This will require a united effort by all stakeholders — students, parents, board members, administrators, teachers, support staff, community/business leaders and taxpayers. Our challenges are great, but our opportunities are greater!

Thank you for serving the children of the DeKalb County District. I look forward to meeting and working with you.

And school board member Marshall Orson posted this note a few minutes ago on Facebook:

Our new Interim Supt. Michael Thurmond has hit the ground running. I truly believe he has the management skills, intellect, experience and leadership traits to make a difference. Business, community and political leaders across the spectrum have praised him, based on these traits and his track record of reforming DFACS and prudently managing the Georgia Department of Labor. I hope all of DeKalb and the Metro region will rally around Supt. Thurmond as he leads the DeKalb School System through these trying times and renews DeKalb’s commitment to providing a high quality education to all DeKalb’s children.

And board member Nancy Jester posted this summary of her comments at the board meeting:

I want to welcome Mr. Thurmond to his first board meeting as our interim superintendent.  You have come to us in tumultuous times.  On behalf of all the children and taxpayers in DeKalb, I wish you much success.

I shared with the State Board of Education, on my blog, and now I share with you -  We have three deficits:
1.  Academic achievement
2.  Credibility
3.  Financial

Please seriously examine and address these deficits.  Focus on returning competence and skills as the only credentials for hiring.  Please make every decision in the best interest of kids and taxpayers.  This sounds simple.  But it often gets confused when the board talks about “things.”  Remember, every dollar spent on something beyond the classroom teacher and other staff directly engaged with children in a classroom, is a dollar not invested in education.

Things don’t teach children.  Programs don’t teach children.  Scripts do not teach children.  Good teachers teach children.  This is especially important for our most impoverished communities.  Nothing can replace the gentle hand of a teacher reading and rereading a passage in a book and encouraging a child to think beyond herself, beyond today and imagine the possibilities of a full future.

Please communicate with the public.  Please don’t let that be one-sided.

Please watch the budget like a hawk.  I will.

Meet every principal and empower them.  Tell them to tell you when they face a bureaucratic obstacle.  Then, remove it for them.  Principals are your CEOs; your field generals.

Empower each school community.  Return discernment to our system.  Don’t let heavy-handed, onerous, administrative regulations put up a wall between the school and the community of parents.  Give principals, indeed every employee, the power to do what is in the best interests of children on the spot.  Support them.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

40 comments Add your comment

Pardon My Blog

February 12th, 2013
1:06 pm

Let’s hope that instead of spending his time calling in political favors and campaigning on behalf of his pals on the Board that he is sincere in wanting to focus his energy where it should be, on providing a quality education for the students. I’m not going to hold my breath, because he has stated publicly his true agenda. He just did not expect the outrage that has produced.

indigo

February 12th, 2013
1:15 pm

If Thurmond isn’t able to get the job done, will a white man/woman be allowed to try?

Not now, not ever, never, you say?

Berny

February 12th, 2013
1:15 pm

Michael Thurmond is not here to help Dekalb schools. He is here to help his friends on the Dekalb BOE. Isn’t that what he said last night? He’s going to use his political clout to stop the hearing scheduled for February 21.

Teacher Reader

February 12th, 2013
1:38 pm

Healing the district will only happen, when the office is purged of every employee and rebuilt with as few employees as possible. These new employees would not be making more than teachers in the school house (especially secretaries). Also all teachers would get their full pay and step increases that they have not received in many years. TRS would also be re-instituted and promises of repayment would be made.

Next, all of the expensive programs the district is paying for using Title 1 funds would be stopped. Quality teacher training (not the current DCSS model, but experts in their field hired) on topics that the TEACHERS and PRINCIPALS feel are weak in their schools.

The bar on learning would be raised. No more no zeroes. If a child does not do his work, he fails. If he does not have passing grades or the skills needed for the next grade he does not move on. If parents don’t like it, then can find another school district for their child, but DCSS should be taking educating children seriously. Look at the middle schools and ask middle school teachers how many students they have that are missing important skills that they should have had in earlier grades.

Lower the student classroom limits. Give teachers a chance to reach every child in their class and give students a chance to learn.

Stop Block Scheduling if parents do not want this in their schools. And with other programs, stop and ask why this is being done and if it helping students or hurting them.

Do a total forensic audit of the finances of the district, find out where the money is/isn’t, and get back to a budget. Be honest in the findings and have a check register on line, so that the public can see where their money is going.

Don’t worry about the board!!! Do what is right for the children, and you, Mr. Thurmond, will have the public behind you!!! If you’re continuing the same practices that got us into this trouble, we will fight you every step of the way.

Principal Skinner

February 12th, 2013
1:57 pm

Good luck. There are many here in DCSS who hope that you can help us.

Of course, that’s what I said to CA as I shook her hand a month or two after she came to town. Look how far that got us:-((((

catlady

February 12th, 2013
2:00 pm

Well said, Teacher Reader!

Prof

February 12th, 2013
2:08 pm

@ Berny, February 12th, 1:15 pm.

According to House Bill 115, approved yesterday and still to be approved by the Senate, a majority of the members of a local BOE can petition to have such a hearing by the State BOE continued. The Feb. 21 one is a follow-up to the one already begun. I think there’s been some counter-maneuvering going on.

Private Citizen

February 12th, 2013
2:09 pm

Any surgeon knows you have to remove a tumor and disinfect the wound. This whole thing really does seem to illustrate where adults use a school system for themselves. It is mind blowing. I was going to ask this before, but it seems like a big question. Does anyone, who can, care to inventory what differences or what has changed since the time when Dekalb County was the best school system in Georgia, and today? Dekalb County used to be really definitive. I know there are a lot more foundations and initiatives and federal political interference in schools that didn’t used to be there.

DeKalb Inside Out

February 12th, 2013
2:12 pm

Teacher Reader suggests enforcing grades.
Question:
If we enforce grades, what do we do with students that fail? Will holding them back discourage them even further? I’m guessing a lot of students are hanging by a thread as it is. Thanks.

Pardon My Blog

February 12th, 2013
2:18 pm

@ DeKalb Inside Out – no, Teacher Reader has it right and it was well said. Unfortunately, most students know that the teacher can’t fail them and most are not motivated to even try. Additionally, if a teacher does fail the kid, “Big Mama” will come spewing obscenities and get it changed.

Teacher Reader

February 12th, 2013
2:22 pm

DeKalb Inside Out, It’s time that we are honest with parents and children about what their kids can do. When I taught, I had gifted kids in 4th grade still doing simple addition on their fingers. Now, I understand that everyone is gifted in different ways, but come on. How does a child get to fourth grade and is still using their fingers to add 3 plus 4?

Talk to a middle school teacher, how many of their kids can read at a fourth grade level in eighth grade. You don’t think things kids already feel stupid???? Let’s be honest with them and teach them where they are and get them to where they should be. Even worse are the number of middle schoolers who can write a quality paragraph.

Let’s give kids a true sense of self esteem!!! Too few of our kids know how to to work and reach a real meaningful goal. One only gets a true self esteem by working hard and reaching goals, not by being told that they are doing a good job when they know that they have done squat to get the compliment.

I’ve worked with eleventh and twelfth graders who couldn’t read in New Orleans, and that is all that they wanted to do more than anything else. We are harming our kids more by not being honest with them and passing them on, than we would be with being honest about their skill level, showing them a solid plan of attack on the problem, and have them work toward the end goal.

DoBoy

February 12th, 2013
2:33 pm

How about we (as parents) start the learning process BEFORE our kids go to pre-K? It is inexcusable for a child to have not been exposed to shapes, colors, the alphabet and numbers (0-10) before walking into the classroom for the first time. We should be our children’s first teacher.

I’m not saying you need to send them to paid tutors like Kumon, Kaplan, etc. but there is too much free educational stuff out there (Sesame Street, the public library, etc.) and stuff that may already be in your house (kids’ channels like NickJr, DisneyJr, Sprout) that can entertain as well as teach.

My wife (a pre-K teacher) sees kids that are already behind the curve academically because the only learning the child receives is the 6 1/2 hours they get at school with little to no reinforcement at home. THIS HAS TO CHANGE.

I think if we do a better job getting our kids prepared for school and stay actively involved as partners with the teachers, everything else will take care of itself.

Very worried

February 12th, 2013
2:35 pm

As a community social worker, I am now worried. If reforming DFACS is in the plus column for Mr. Thurmond we are in a world of trouble.

Old timer

February 12th, 2013
2:37 pm

Amen teacher reader…….

Prof

February 12th, 2013
2:43 pm

Here is the link for HB 115, provided on yesterday’s blog asking the DeKalb BOE to resign, by SouthDekalbParent, February 11th, 4:10 pm:

This was passed by the GA House today, regarding BOE and local school boards:
http://legiscan.com/GA/text/HB115/id/711108

Teacher Reader

February 12th, 2013
2:45 pm

Do Boy, What you are saying is great, but we live in America where people are free to raise their kids the way they see fit. I chose to spend a great deal of time with my child reading to him, talking to him, and giving him experiences, but that doesn’t mean that another parents choice to talk at their child, have the tv on 24/7, and not leave home is better than my own. It’s a different choice than you or I made.

What would wake parents up, are assessments of the kids before entering school, which would put the kids without the skills you mentioned in a different class from those that have them, so that the kids whose parents have worked with them aren’t held back and can go forward, and the ones whose parents have spent little time with them can catch up. Also holding kids back in preschool until they have the skills needed for kindergarten.

Doing such things would require teachers to keep impeccable notes and documentation. With a lower number of kids, it wouldn’t be an impossible task.

Public schools can’t demand parents do anything, but they can do a better job of coaxing better parental behaviors than they do now. Too often parents and children feel that they are owed an education and don’t want to do the work it takes to get one. (Kind of like college graduates who think that they deserve a $50,000, $100,000 plus dollar a year job, that has hours from 9-5 and 4 weeks paid vacation and 15 sick/personal days.)

Angela

February 12th, 2013
2:50 pm

@Teacher Reader, AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DoBoy

February 12th, 2013
2:53 pm

@Teacher Reader – I hear you. Admittedly, I’m annoyed and embarrassed (I’m a DCSS graduate, ‘88) that DCSS is so far gone and all I see is a bunch of complaining about the current state of things without taking a hard look at the lack of parental investment in the child’s education. Personally, I think that’s the single biggest difference between then and now.

HRPufnstuf

February 12th, 2013
3:00 pm

I wonder about Thurmond….he has no experience in education, yet he is supposed to turn the Titantic around? Well he’s the right color anyway. At least that’s a start with a Clayco-like system. Good luck with that.

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:13 pm

seems like rearranging furnature as the house burns.

reminds me of the Kevin Bacon scene in Animal House where he is screaming all is well while Faber riots.

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:13 pm

obi wan thurmond

“this is not the BOE you’re mad at”

Teacher Reader

February 12th, 2013
3:14 pm

Do Boy,

You can’t blame parents, as they are doing what they are able to get their kids through the system. I’ve been told that we can’t hold kids back because the cussing Mama is going to sue. No one cared about the child, just that the parent was going to sue and they just wanted to appease the parents.

I’m not from Atlanta and have only lived in DeKalb/Atlanta for 5 years. I taught in DeKalb for 3, and quit to home educate, because I couldn’t be a hypocrite and send my child to private school while I taught in DeKalb knowing that I was only able to provide a mediocre education at best.

The difference that I see in the sixteen years that I taught in education, is are focus on standards instead teaching and mastering of skills. Teacher are to keep going no matter if kids understand or not, they have to move on. Teachers throw so many things at a child, that it really is difficult to fully grasp eveything well.

Also, the focus on test scores. I was taught that standardized tests show parents and teachers the strengths and weaknesses of a child, this is not how tests are being used. When I first taught my 40 first graders (no teacher aide) on the Southside of Chicago, I had NO books, and the internet wasn’t what it is now. I was on my own and I made sure that my students were imparted with skills and that they enjoyed learning for learnings sake. These kids were all from poor families and were black. Many of their parents were gang bangers and it was dangerous for my white self to be in that neighborhood, but I was desperate for a job so I took it. After the parents were able to get over their feelings of me trying to make kids white by demanding they speak, and write using proper English and having high expectations for them.

I remember my kid’s ITBS scores my first year and was excited to see the growth that the kids made. I was also able to see where my weaknesses were. I also went to the second grade teachers and asked what my kids needed to know that they didn’t know this year, and every second grade teacher was surprised that my kids were better writers and readers than the other 2 classrooms. I was also told how they loved to learn and how they enjoyed the challenge of difficult math problems. Then I found out that because I was white in an all black school, I was given the kids with the fewest skills from kindergarten. I didn’t know that at the time, but my kids made the most growth.

You see, we can’t teach towards a stupid test!!!!! We have to educate!!! The tests the children are given are poorly written and often the answers are questionable.

We aren’t making learning interesting and God forbid, fun! I hated going to school when the focus was on testing, I can’t imagine how the kids felt.

Looking back at growing up in the late ’70s and 80’s, there were parents who spent time with their kids and their education and their were parents who were simply working two jobs and didn’t have time to do it. Both parents wanted their children to be educated. Now parents just want good test scores and don’t care what their kids do and do not know or what they are learning. Also many parents don’t even care if their kids get good test scores or learn anything, as long as they get that 3.0 for HOPE.

A school can’t focus on a test and impart a love of learning and give a quality education. It can’t be done.

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:15 pm

heal! I command you! in the name of Chairman Walker, I command you to heal!

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:17 pm

I absolutely blame parents. if they gave half the damn about their kids actual education as they do bitching about it two things would happen

-the BOE as it is now would not exist
-they would DEMAND results from whatever board did exist

agent

February 12th, 2013
3:18 pm

Today is a good day for Walker and the other hack members.

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:19 pm

in the filter again?

this is getting really old.

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:24 pm

with apologies to Pink Floyd

“we don’t need no educators. we just need Walker in control. no serious learning in the classroom.
hey thrumond! leave that board alone”

bootney farnsworth

February 12th, 2013
3:27 pm

playing in the background when Walker annointed Mike as flunky of the year:

don’t know much about history
don’t know much biology
don’t know (something) science book
don’t know much about the French I took

Bernie

February 12th, 2013
3:44 pm

$275,000 annual salary with option of term or extension,$275,000 insurance policy,$2,600 routine monthly expenses, $750 monthly car allowance,plus a golden parachute either amount of time on contract or 3 months pay, surely family health insurance is a given!

Now will someone please tell me, where in corporate America, one could obtain a position like that with no real job experience or training in the area of managing or supervising a failing and struggling multi million dollar school system the size of Dekalb County? with such a pay package with benefits?

I can Hear the HOWLS of Laughter of the Board of Directors and STOCK HOLDERS
asking are you CRAZY? and Do you really expect us to go for that decision?

I wish Mr.Thurmond well but more than that, I hope it succeeds for the taxpayors benefit of Dekalb county as well as the Dekalb County School system. I will NOT be HOLDING MY BREATH for any monumental changes in operational improvement in management nor educational skill improvement of the students it serves. Open communication is just a very small part of resolving the myraid of issues, that must be reolved in the coming months. Unfortunately, for the Taxpayors of Dekalb county that is where the previous experience will count for more than anything.

And We ALL wonder why America’s schools are failing?

A favorite quote to remember….

“There’s a sucker born every minute” – P. T. Barnum (1810–1891)

Pardon My Blog

February 12th, 2013
4:12 pm

@Bernie – yeah, and that sucker is the taxpayer’s of DeKalb!

Sorry, but Do Boy has a point in that if a parent would take the time to read to the child and actually “be a parent” to the child, the child will blossom in school. Unfortunately, look at the households that alot of these kids come from and that is a direct result of this “entitlement” society. Where is the responsibility? It starts at home.

Pardon My Blog

February 12th, 2013
4:17 pm

@bootney -LOL!

Betsy Parks

February 12th, 2013
6:08 pm

A dysfunctional, power grabbing BOE who has failed to adopt and provide an ethics policy as required by law hires a new Superintendent or overpriced spokesperson for the DKBOE? Just so very unprofessional and cheep but not inexpensive. DSW2 reports we are already on hook for $10,500,000 for legals bill in 2013. Yes, thats MILLIONS!
Show your support to remove this DKBOE….SIGN AND SHARE http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-nathan-deal-and-georgia-state-board-of-education-review-sacs-findings-if-accurate-replace-the-dekalb-county-school-board

Beverly Fraud

February 12th, 2013
6:55 pm

Re: Please rededicate yourself

Please rededicate yourself? The ink isn’t even dry on the contract and he’s already playing the blame teachers first game.

An apology to teachers would have been a better start. God knows a huge number of them in DCSS deserve it.

Private Citizen

February 12th, 2013
7:10 pm

Bernie, I call that the “cult of executive compensation” applied to government. I think the big salaries bring trouble. Somebody making $35k managing a hardware store might be a better executive manager for a school system than this highly paid caste pomp bunch who put networking first on their agenda. And they ‘ain’t networking with the shareholders, either.

People refer to SACS like they’re some local neighbor. SACS is part of some nationalised I-don’t-know-what with a super sophisticated multilayered website where they claim 10,000 schools served or somesuch, and in more countries than the USA. The represent themselves like a multinational corporation.

Huntley Hills Tiger

February 12th, 2013
10:12 pm

DeKalb County Schools has been the subject of 11 posts here just this month, and several more will come. Pulling some of MD’s words from her post headings . . “dubious choices” . . . “falling apart” . . . “under pressure” . . . “hidden political agenda” . . .”can he lead?” These words and the posting & comments that follow do not read like anything I could ever imagine attached to the leadership of the system educating my 3 children. They sound like the CNN analysis of a crumbling and corrupt third world government right before a violent coup. . . . Huh . . .

Private Citizen

February 13th, 2013
4:14 am

You shall know them by their works (words).

Please rededicate yourself

Teacher reply: middle finger

But what is just as telling is Ms. Jester’s repeated use of the word “empower.” This is vacant role playing using buzzwords. It demonstrates a lack of reality and a lack of purpose.

The main thing is this talk of the three deficits demonstrates both a lack of mission and a lack of boundaries. The managers are in the teachers’ business (academic deficit) and are not taking responsibility for providing a steady-state quality work environment through taking responsibility for what is on their side of the fence: financial and ethical integrity.

Private Citizen

February 13th, 2013
4:28 am

we can’t hold kids back because the cussing Mama is going to sue

I took a bunch of kids outdoors for an hour one time and they immediately split up into about five different groups and a couple of them left the playground and set up little talk circles and camps in the woods. It was quite a task keeping an eye on all of them but I liked and supported seeing them do their thing. Mainly I was worried about the kids in the woods getting a stick or brush in the eye.
That was a damn good year, the same year I achieved a 100% pass rate for the entire team, which made a few teachers stop in their tracks and say they had never seen that before. The same year that after the school year they split up and the team and gave us zero recognition, nothing. I guess this was the precursor to when I decided to quit working for this particular school system. I still have absolutely zero interest in having anything to do with them except showing up at a public meeting and giving them the fires of hell with their corrupted little blueprint they mercilessly stamp on everyone – goes like this – high achievement is reserved for their little membership only private academy they run. Everyone else is supposed to be dumb and like it.

I have often wondered in legal concern is why so many children are kept indoors and have little to no outdoor time. It would be wholesome to write legislation severally moderating any parent’s ability to sue a school system or teacher, etc. even if the kid is playing outdoors and gets a broken arm of something. This would be a better system than keeping kids penned up indoors the way it is done now. When I was in elementary school, we had free time. We could go into the woods or to the railroad tracks or have our secret places as long as we returned at about the right time. I wonder if the legal environment has changed since then. I think it is true that the state of Georgia has more lawyers / attorneys in it than the whole country of Japan.

Private Citizen

February 13th, 2013
4:32 am

School system regulation should be based on what is and is not against the law. The law should be clear and and when the law is broken, the person should be accountable. There should be no law suits or suing of a school system permitted, none.

Currently the system is backwards, people are permitted to sue over many things, and school system people are allowed to break the law without personal accountability.

Private Citizen

February 13th, 2013
4:41 am

It would be pretty simple to pass a state law that you can sue a school system or teacher. If someone does something wrong / aggregious, they go to jail. Simple idea.

There might be a general liability policy for extreme circumstances? Individual teachers being required to purchase individual liability policy is an abuse and is inefficient. This is the current system, even applying to teacher trainees and interns who are still in college. This unfairly feeds the insurance industry and also enables the main reason for the existent of these “professional organizations” teachers are required and told to join for the sole purpose of obtaining liability insurance. I have never known a teacher to use one of these policies and yet every teacher I’ve interacted with is required to be paying into this and to annually purchase one of these “protection” policies.

Private Citizen

February 13th, 2013
4:42 am

typo fix: pass a state law that you can not sue a school system or teacher