|Thurmond officially takes reigns as DeKalb's interim superintendent|
|Saturday, 09 February 2013 11:11 | Written by Valerie J. Morgan|
Atkinson exits, Thurmond officially on board as DeKalb's interim schools chief
A tense DeKalb School Board voted twice Friday (Feb. 8)to approve Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson's separation contract, both times yielding a 5-4 vote.
The board approved with just one round of votes, however, former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as Atkinson's replacement. Thurmond's photo is already posted on the school district's web site as interim superintendent. He will be sworn in on Saturday privately, officials said.
The board voted 7-2 to formally hire Thurmond for $275,000 for one year. Officials said Thurmond's pay and benefits are the same as what Atkinson received when she was hired in September 2011 with a three-year contract.
Thurmond said after the board¹s votes that he is committed to getting the district on track and working with the board to conduct a national search for a permanent superintendent.
"I'm not here to be the permanent superintendent. I'm here to get the job done and resolve these critical issues," said Thurmond, who plans to return to his law practice.
The board's actions today marked the end of several days of long executive sessions as the board worked to reach a mutual separation agreement and find a replacement for Atkinson.
The toll of those secret meetings played out today as members of the community waited for the board to finalize Atkinson¹s agreement and Thurmond's contract. When one of the board members requested to vote again on Atkinson's separation and board Chair Eugene Walker granted the request, some in the audience begin grumbling the board did not want to give Atkinson "her money."
The board and Atkinson had agreed last week that she would be paid $114,583 through June 30. The contract was published on the school board's web site on Thursday. Today's vote merely finalized that agreement.
Atkinson was not present for today¹s meeting and no one made any comments on
It was unclear why a second round of votes were cast concerning the separation, but Walker said each board member was entitled to vote the way he or she saw fit.
"It does not mirror hatred. It does not mirror a bunch of wild cattle acting inconsequential or ignorant. Each individual up here is independent, a free thinker, and he or she is entitled to the position that he or she takes," said Walker.
Board member Marshall Orson, who represents District 2, said he believes Thurmond will help stabilize the district. He called him a respected leader across the state.
"We have a leadership deficit and this is the immediate thing we need to address and I believe that Michael Thurmond is the right person for us at this time," said Orson.
Paula Caldarella, a Dunwoody parent, disagreed.
"I'm beyond angry," said Caldarella. "His only qualification seems to be that he's friends with a couple of board members. It's almost as if these people are arrogant enough to think they can do whatever they want to."
Business and community leaders expressed hope with Thurmond's selection, adding that the education of students must come first and open communication with the community also must be a priority.
Said DeKalb Chamber of Commerce President Leonardo McClarty: "The DeKalb Chamber respects the job Michael Thurmond did as Labor Commissioner and his other public service roles. We look forward to working with Thurmond in the days ahead. Our primary focus as a business community is on stabilization of the system addressing the SACS recommendations and bringing to bear the right resources that our children deserve."
DeKalb NAACP President John Evans reiterated his concerns for the district's probationary status, saying that he hoped Thurmond would be able to get the system on track.
"There are still too many unknowns for the staff and others within the school district. There is a lot of anxiety and the person coming in is going to have to deal with all of that and the things going on with SACS," Evans said.
DeKalb Commissioner Lee May, presiding officer for the Board of Commissioners, echoed Evans' concerns about moving the district forward.
"I think Michael Thurmond definitely has the capacity to move the district forward. But it¹s still going to come down to the district having a comprehensive plan to get off probation and onto a path where the school system can succeed," May said.
David Shutten, who heads the Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE), said he believes that Thurmond will be effective in working with the board, schools officials and the community.
"ODE is here to provide the best education possible and we will work with Michael Thurmond the same way we have tried to work with all of the superintendents we have had for the last 20 years," Shutten said.