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