Some news first: The governor’s handpicked nominating committee notified DeKalb school board applicants late Sunday night to show up today for interviews. Of the initial 400 applicants, 300 of them followed through and responded to the email questionnaire.
Out of those 300 questionnaires, the committee chose 60 applicants to see. Questions focused on the ability to work with diverse groups of people, vision for the district and ethics.
A nominating panel worked all weekend with the goal of producing a list of 12 finalists to present to Gov. Deal later this week.
DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond told the AJC: “I’m expecting by the end of the week to have a quorum, which is at least five if not nine” members.”
According to the AJC: The five-member nominating panel has said it will weigh each candidate’s race and background as it decides who will lead Georgia’s third-largest school system. Each applicant will be rated on how they “represent the diversity of the community,” along with their education experience and vision for the system, according to a scoring document.
Last night, I went to the Dunwoody Homeowners Association meeting to hear interim school chief Michael Thurmond speak. I returned home and started to write about the meeting when I realized that I hadn’t heard anything new from Thurmond.
I’ve heard him speak several times since his appointment last month and talked to him one-on-one at length.
There was nothing Thurmond said last night that he hasn’t said before and in similar fashion. So, I give him points for consistency and staying on message no matter the audience.
But I think Thurmond needs to move beyond the platitudes and the generalities and speak in more detail to DeKalb citizens.
Both he and the 104 members of the audience last night were polite and deferential to one another. They seemed to be sizing each other up – I think Dunwoody parents liked what they saw in Thurmond. He didn’t criticize them for exploring the possibility of a constitutional amendment ending the prohibition on new school districts and thus enabling the City of Dunwoody Schools in two years.
Do what you have to do for your kids, Thurmond told the parents. You only get one shot.
(And that was all he could say considering he pulled his own child out of DeKalb schools and sent her to Woodward Academy.)
But while that process is occurring, Thurmond said, he still has to educate their kids and he wants to do a good job.
In general, these parents have heard much of what Thurmond said from his predecessors. (DeKalb has had a revolving door of school chiefs in the last decade.) All of those school chiefs also proclaimed that the classroom was sacrosanct, that cuts would come from the central office.
But classrooms were cut. And one reason — which Thurmond failed to cite — is that the state cuts have been deep and corrosive and unrelenting.
Perhaps, it was the presence of all the state-level elected officials in the room, but Thurmond didn’t mention state cuts. Instead, he focused on the money that will be saved from his tightening of legal spending, something he pledged will be part of the 90-day plan he will unveil when the school board is intact.
“I am an attorney by profession. We are spending way too much money on lawyers…That’s going to change. That will be part of the 90 day plan,” he said. “In a school district that can’t buy every child who needs a textbook a textbook and can’t give our teachers raises, we can’t afford to spend that kind of money on lawyers. We can do better. We will do better.”
Among his other comments:
“I come this afternoon to remind to you that the challenges are great, but the opportunities are greater.”
“I have an assets-driven philosophy. I first looked to see what assets did we possess. And there are many. Our No. 1 asset — our intelligent, incredibly bright boys and girls, 98,000 assets.”
He revisited textbook-gate, saying, “I am happy to report that in December we knew where the textbooks were. In January, we knew where the textbooks were. In February, we knew where every textbook that was ordered received and placed in every classroom was.”
He said that while there is a hiring freeze on for the central office, he has no freeze “on anything that affects classroom. No hiring freeze on teachers or anyone else that has a direct impact on the classroom.”
Thurmond said he wants to decentralize power, vesting more of it in regional superintendents.
“I meet people every day..strangers come up to me and say, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ We are going to prove people wrong. They don’t believe Republicans can work with the Democrats even to save our children. They think partisan bickering will supersede even the desire to educate our own children. They don’t believe white folks and black folks will ever sit down and create a school system that will serve all our children, and they are all wrong.”
On a question about Dr. Atkinson’s decision to adopt a balanced calendar with a shorter summer and more breaks during the year: “We are going to look at all pending policies, rules and regulations…The day it was announced that I was the new superintendent, I went out to get my mail, and my neighbor came running out of the house and said, ‘My wife hates the balanced calendar.’ At that point, I wasn’t sure what the balanced calendar was.”
As to whether he will urge suspended board members to give up their legal challenges, Thurmond says these are important and historic issues to those board members mounting the legal fight: “When you deal with individuals not having the right to vote or having that right abridged, taken away or denied, and you’ve seen individuals brutalized trying to get the right to vote, it supersedes every and anything else. If that right is diluted, it dilutes not just school district, but it dilutes democracy. They believe it honestly and believe it sincerely.”
“I went to a meeting with Dr. Atkinson when she was first brought in and she spoke a good game and we were all let down. And you are here speaking a good game,” said one man. “Please, don’t let us down again.’”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog