Thurmond: Voters Partially Responsible for School Board Strife

"I'm here to correct some of the mistakes they made but also to correct some of the mistakes you made," the interim superintendent said at Oak Grove Elementary School on Wednesday.

DeKalb County voters are partially responsible for the strife and discord that has pushed the board of education to the brink of its own removal, interim schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond said Wednesday.

Because voters elected the board members, they must take some responsibility for the state of the board and the school system as it struggles to regain approval from its accreditors, he said, speaking before the Emory Lavista Parent Council at Oak Grove Elementary School. It was his first public appearance since the embattled school board hired him last week to replace Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.

"My job is to correct mistakes. I did not make them," he said shortly before the meeting came to a close. "I'm here to correct many of the mistakes [the school board] made but to also correct some of the mistakes you made."

Some shocked parents in the packed cafeteria looked at each other. Others remained silent. Thurmond pleaded with parents to support him in his primary goal: to return the DeKalb County School System to unqualified accreditation.

"If you judge me on that and nothing else – if we win that and nothing else – it will be a major victory for the DeKalb County School System," he said.

The school system has been placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – which oversees accreditation – due to alleged mismanagement. The school board's chairman, Eugene Walker, announced his resignation Monday, and the board as a whole faces a hearing before the state board of education Thursday that could result in its removal.

Amid the chaos, Thurmond said he wanted one thing from parents.

"I've had eight days. I will not undo 10 years of work in eight days," he said. "At a minimum, all I need is an opportunity to try. And as far as superintendents in DeKalb right now, I'm your only option."

The audience chuckled. But Thurmond also said he related to parents' frustration.

"I would question your sanity if you were not angry," he said. "You have every right. ... I need your help, I need your counsel, and, quite frankly, I need your criticism." 

Two parents demanded the school system conduct a forensic financial audit to account for alleged missing money. Thurmond declined to commit to one when pressed but said, "I'm almost certain that I will request a forensic audit."

Many parents seemed to support the idea of removing the school board. When Thurmond raised the issue, much of the audience applauded. One parent demanded board members instead step down before such a move could be made.

"The board has purposefully been quiet about things that have been done," he said.

The school system also needs to cut its dependence on attorneys and stop hemorrhaging cash in the form of legal fees, several parents said. Thurmond said he agreed. 

"We've got enough laywers doing enough legal work. ... We're spending too much money on lawyers," he said. "I'm committed to doing everything necessary. You have to give me a chance." 

"No, we don't!" one woman said.

"Yes, you do," Thurmond responded.

He said one of his jobs will be to determine what's causing issues raised in SACS' probationary report.

"The one weakness in the findings is that they are symptoms and not problems," he said. "We have a fever but what I have to do is figure out what is causing temperatures to rise."

After the meeting, District 2 board member Marshall Orson said he agreed with Thurmond.

"He understands that it's very challenging," he said. "We've got to give him the opportunity to fix these [issues]."

Guy Midvale February 20, 2013 at 06:49 PM
I was very disappointed in Mr. Thurmond. He didn't give a straight answer to one question.
Brett February 20, 2013 at 07:03 PM
No, but he did an excellent job of covering his butt in advance of future disappointments.
MaxB February 20, 2013 at 07:17 PM
I was at the meeting today. Mr Thurmond is clearly a calculated politician. He basically said nothing meaningful as far as future plans. Admittedly, most of his focus is on SACs and not on running the school district. He clearly does not know if he represents the board or the school district. Clearly he is speaking for the board at the state BOE meeting, but says he is representing the district. But to operate in this charged political environment and fix the house without burning it down, he may be what we need? Time will tell. Like it or not , he is ours fro the next year. On a positive note, you can feel Mr. Thurmond's tenacity. He is a competitor and cares about his reputation and legacy. The fact that he admits that he would not send his child to his local poor performing Dekalb school means he at least sees reality. My suggestion to him would be to stop talking about SACS accreditation as an accomplishment and realize it is a minimum standard. We want to hear about ethics reform or standards, transparency, financial reform and reform at the central office. If he and the board can put children first and accomplish 4 items, we will not have to worry about SACS. It is like they are teaching to the test in just looking at these few SACS items presented, but the test is substandard. Is SACS accreditation really a great achievement? No. It is not.
Patti Garrison Johnson February 20, 2013 at 07:25 PM
MIstakes we made? Voters were misled, board members misbehaved. There is a level of expectation for each elected official, it's not our mistake that it wasn't met! To what parental mistakes was Mr. Thurmond referring?
MrMatt February 20, 2013 at 07:35 PM
MaxB - I too was at the meeting and agree with your sentiments. It is plainly clear (since he said it about 20 times) that he has only one agenda - SACS accreditation. He has set that as the measure of success for his 1-year tenure, and will march around touting his success if this goal is achieved. He may sympathize with parents for the poor quality of the school system, but I got zero sense he really wants to deal with any of those thornier issues. I expect tomorrow and the next few months to be a parade of Thurmond demonstrating "apparent" progress against SACS requirements, then we'll come off probation. He'll go home with his $275,000 and perks, and we'll still have a broke (and financially broke) system. As for his comments regarding the 'voters' being partially to blame - he may be factually correct but importantly, the voters don't pick an entire board - they vote for their one board member. Several areas voted in 'change' with new board members...while others voted to keep their existing members. Are those voters perfectly fine with the system as is, uninterested, or operating on some other motive? Who knows. I'd like to see a poll or a recall effort to find out which areas support the status quo now. And then ask why?
Ralph February 20, 2013 at 07:36 PM
What mistakes did he say the voters made, other then electing some incopetent board members. I can't see his purpose in trying to lay pary of the blame pn the voters. Strange statement.
H.A. Hurley February 20, 2013 at 08:08 PM
Why would the Super take a job to fix DCS if he would not even place his own child in a DCS school? I would have to turn down that job offer because of this huge basic reason. How can ne insist that all of us place our kids in their charge? Many families have no options but attend their local school. Another reason is a too-close relationship with several BOE members. Too muddled! Will not work because his leadership requires specific behaviors, which are almost impossible if you are best buds with your employer..BOE. One more bone of contention: $150,000 for REMEDIAL BOE TRAINING. Many of them need Remedial Life 101! They took positions that they have no skills for. They have made a huge expensive mess, are brazen enough to remain and continue to cost us mill of $$. None of this benefits children and teachers. Remember them? Our system is in such bad shape that only a highly proficient superintendent along with many new Board members. Immediately, throw out the two snoozers! Useless!
Meghan Ramsey February 20, 2013 at 08:28 PM
I think he's absolutely right that the voters are at least partly to blame. We, the public, kept re-electing people like Walker and Copelin-Wood. We banded together and changed out a few of them during the last election, but more than half the board is still the same as it ever was. The problem didn't happen overnight, but the voting public is just finally waking up to it. As the public, we might have a little more credibility if we owned up to this. It took the threat of losing accreditation to finally cause the uproar that should have begun long ago.
Mary Margaret Brown February 20, 2013 at 08:28 PM
Just another crooked politician.
Steve Smith February 20, 2013 at 08:45 PM
Hmmm. "We've got enough laywers doing enough legal work. ... We're spending too much money on lawyers," I hope Mr. Thurmond is reminded that he is a lawyer - not a school system administrator.
OakGroveParent February 20, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Are you surprised? Are you familiar with his history? He is famous for being ineffective.... he is what some have called "a professional speed bump" in that he slows progress down.
OakGroveParent February 20, 2013 at 08:54 PM
In a very crooked school district.
dianne joy February 20, 2013 at 08:56 PM
Dr. Walker is the problem and has been the problem. He led the board into one fiasco after another. He has 3 relatives in school district positions. Crooked superintendents, lawsuits, cell tower contracts, construction scandals and all other mismanaged funds all came about under his leadership. He needs to "retire" from the BOE for good. Ms. Brown, Michael Thurmond is not another crooked politician--but he may be one of the few that is not.
OakGroveParent February 20, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Michael Thurmond is not a crooked politician?
Cheryl Miller February 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Many of the behaviors you see in your board member are the direct result of the influence and demands made by those who surround him/her, barrage him/her with emails, make demands, and have the opinion that no other school and no other child matters other than that their own. The corruption runs all the way through the system. It does not start and end with the board. It may have started there at some point, but it is now the standard operating procedure in Dekalb. No complaints about why Oak Grove was selected? This is political through and through. We should ask for our legislature to change the laws to let us vote for an entire board so the responsible voters can outnumber the corrupt minions who do whatever they are told, like show up for public comments and blather on about how great things are while helping fill the slots that should have gone to people with real problems that need to be addressed in a public manner. He did not need to say who made the mistakes. The guilty most certainally know. And Womack's grandchildren attend Oak Grove, don't forget.
Cheryl Miller February 20, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Because he is here to fix a broken, ineffective system. No one should have to subject their child to these conditions. That's why the accreditation is about to be yanked. Don't you get that?
Cheryl Miller February 20, 2013 at 10:29 PM
And, don't forget that we, the people, did not exactly show up in great force at the voting polls, or even the candidate forums to learn more about the candidates. And, we, the people, did not exactly turn out a laundry list of great options for the voters to choose from, did we? Most people didn't even realize it when they changed the election to the dead of summer and didn't even have a finalized district map for us to know which people we would even be voting for. The representatives are representing us so consider their work to be a reflection in the mirror. It's not a pretty picture. I'm personally disgusted. The children deserve so much better and we have the funds here to provide them all with fantastic schools, great and happy teachers and all the attention they need. We just prefer to get by with what we can scavenge off the floor for while the kings and queens feast at the buffet above us and we shrug our shoulders and wonder why the crime rate keeps going up.
Cheryl Miller February 20, 2013 at 10:30 PM
I am actually thankful for that. Maybe he knows just how much of a rip-off we are getting and can reign the others in, or get rid of them. I'm glad he's not a school administrator. They are not good with people. And they don't like children.
gdfo February 20, 2013 at 11:33 PM
SHAME ON YOU Mr. Thurmond. Thats right! What is up with blaming the incompetancy and lack of leadership of the Board on the citizens. That, Mr. Thurmond does not make sense. Yes you are here for a few days. Lots of us want the entire Board gone. That is g-o-n-e. Those folks are grown up men and women and are responsible for their actions and also for their in-actions, and cover-ups and overspending and mis-management. Personally, I am almost outraged that you could state what you did. (I know he probably is not reading this by the way)
lastminutemom February 21, 2013 at 01:14 AM
Make sure you let Jim McMahan know what a great job he is doing (NOT). He is voting with the majority of the Board that helped get us into this mess. Here is his email address: jIM_mcmahan@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us I would tell you to write Marshall but he is so arrogant, he doesn't really care what you think. But just in case you feel like banging your head against the wall, here is his email address: marshall_orson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us
Tracy White February 21, 2013 at 01:19 AM
If he thinks the schools are not good enough for his children to attend, why has he not been working towards improving them already? Of course his first action is to hire another lawyer buddy from the "network".
Robbi McCaig February 21, 2013 at 02:50 AM
Mr Thurmond was correct in his assertion that the voters must share in the responsibility for this disaster. Low information/uneducated voters who pull the lever because they can only see one "side" of an issue are not necessarily doing what is right for their children. They do it to make themselves feel good about "accomplishments" of other people.
M P February 21, 2013 at 03:05 AM
What irony. He says we've got too many lawyers, yet one of his first acts was to hire a law firm to train the board on governance. Wow!
Tom Doolittle February 21, 2013 at 07:40 PM
wow--Low bar is already set for this joker. "If you judge me on that (winning back accreditation) and nothing else – if we win that and nothing else – it will be a major victory for the DeKalb County School System," he said. Folks--first we haven't lost our accreditation. Second--if we had lost it, just getting it back (a slam on the board's actions only--not schools) IS NOT EVEN A START at improving schools. What this says is he is a political fix just to handle SACS. SACS would give us a break with any new hire that satisfies the DOE (and believe me, his hiring was with the DOE board complicity). So the bar has been lowered once again and we'll have to wait until the decision to hire a permanent super before we even begin to slowly (20 years?) right this ship. It actually looks as if the DCSS has resigned itself to charter schools being the only way anything will get "done"...and that will mostly be for affluent kids (who BTW are already taught at home).
Reality & Logic February 22, 2013 at 03:45 AM
Until you get rid of affirmative action and political correctness and face reality, nothing will change. You'll continue electing the same ole useless pukes as these thangs on the board.
Reality & Logic February 22, 2013 at 03:47 AM
Thurmond is nothing but another politically correct employee and is not intelligent enough to do anything of value. I can tell by the way he talks.
Ann April 14, 2013 at 12:40 PM
That is the way he and Peggie Rosser talked to citizens for years while they getting paid tax dollars and benefits for denying citizens vocational rehabilitation services! The way he talks now is the way he has always talked its part of his stump speach because he has no substance. Hiis SOP is to violate public trust by blaming the victims "after" he get his hands on tax dollars. He can't solve a problem; he "is" the problem!
Ann April 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Was a crooked politican when he served as Commissioner of the Department of Labor. Unless it was the intent to continue to produce uneducated children, I can't imagine how Thurmond got himself appointed to anything having to do with education.


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