A DeKalb parent sent me this list of suggestions for Michael Thurmond. I thought it was a good list.
Welcome to DeKalb, Mr. Thurmond. As superintendent, you are now responsible for leading the third largest system in the state. You must bring a focus back onto the education of children and teaching and instruction and away from the myriad of adult issues that have plagued this system for far too long. Given that you are new to this challenge, I thought that perhaps some advice might help lead you in the right direction.
1. What happens in the schools must be a priority. Prioritize teacher salaries and class size reduction. Find a way to replace worn textbooks and update old ones. Hire top talent to be schools administrators and remove those not up to the job. Make schools your top priority and you will have instantly impacted student achievement.
2. Streamline the central office. Understand who does what and for what salaries. Other large systems have smaller central office staffs. Look to emulate them.
3. Use your law background to get a handle on DCSS’ complicated and expensive litigation. This system is spending millions on lawyers. Reinstate the independent auditor position. Dr. Atkinson chose to downgrade the position and the auditor left. Remove this position from the legal department and have the independent auditor report directly to the Board.
4. Instruct the Board that, for the time being, all communication with the staff should include you. Instruct staff, from teachers to associate superintendents, that they are not obligated to respond to these board members. A board member should not be able to insist that a certain person be given a job or students administrative transfers. No employee should worry about their job security because they can’t or won’t do what a board member wants them to do.
5. Expect your staff to behave professionally. Set a civil tone yourself and make sure your staff knows that this is your expectation. Dismiss those staff members who can’t work nicely with each other or with community members.
6. Don’t hire relatives of board members or upper-level management. DCSS has been so weighed down with nepotism that it has broken (both financially and spiritually) our school system. This problem is not a recent one, nor is it unique to DeKalb schools. However, DCSS has perfected it. Dr. Cheryl Atkinson made some progress toward breaking this very bad habit; I trust you will continue down this same path.
7. And finally, value your reputation. Remember that you want to practice law again. Treat the teachers in the system as though they are your own child’s teacher. Have high expectations for students, teachers, administrators and school board members. In a year from now, be able to say that, “I have left the DeKalb County School System better than when I started.”
The students of DeKalb are pulling for you. They don’t have choice. You do. Do well by them.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog