More with Michael Thurmond around DeKalb

Thurmond-At-ELPCIn watching interviews with Michael Thurmond and reading the transcripts, we find that he has five key talking points he covers at every event. He covered these at the “Eggs & Issues” with Leadership DeKalb on March 27. The ELPC meeting this past Wednesday was no different.

Assets – In any crisis situation the first priority is not so much to focus so much on the crisis and the deficit, but to focus on the assets.

You’ve been in meetings in your community, in your church, at your business, in your neighborhood, where you spent minutes if not hours discussing all the things that are wrong. That is a deficit driven strategy. I suggest that what I have adopted are asset driven strategies. I look first at assets in a situation. And for all of my friends that come up and offer me my condolences because I’ve taken this position, I look at ’em and wonder. I really don’t understand what you’re talking about. Because there are challenges and there are problems, but the assets and the opportunities outweigh the challenges. And one gentlemen asked, what asset do you have in DeKalb right now? And I said, Look. First thing is we have 98,000 assets and those are our beautiful, bright and intelligent students. And once you recognize that, the other problems pale in comparison to the opportunities that we have.

Central Office is only 6% of Employees – 6% of the total number of employees actually work in the central office. I was shocked. I didn’t believe it.

One of the things we presented last night to the board, just as a resident of DeKalb, long before I was called to this particular position. Based on the narrative, Number 1, DeKalb has a bloated central office … right … you heard it. Over the past two weeks when we presented it at the board, we looked at all the 14,000 plus employees we have in the district … right. I wanted to know what percentage of those employees, state funded, general fund funded actually work in the central office. What was presented last night, based on the research, is that 6% of the total number of employee actually work in the central office. I was shocked. I didn’t believe it. I said you go back and check it again. I don’t believe the number is just 6%. I invite you all to come to the public hearing that the gentlemen referenced. It maybe should be 3%. It might should be 4%. But it’s not 20%. It’s 6% as presently constituted.*

Parental Engagement – Student achievement is correlated to parental involvement. We’re gonna have a much more aggressive investment strategy and focus on getting parents involved.

[S]tudy after study, go on the internet when you get home and look up parental involvement and academic achievement. Study, study, study show that the individual who has the greatest impact a child’s academic achievement is not the Superintendent, not the school board member, not the principal, not the teacher. The individual that has the greatest impact on the success of a child’s career are who? Parents. Parents. Fuss all you want about school board members. But the individual that has the greatest impact are parents. We have some strong PTAs and parent councils in the district. But in some schools they are very weak or nonexistent. Look at the schools where you have the highest achievement. One of the things that almost always exist is a strong PTA. Look at the schools that are more challenged and you find that the PTA and the parental involvement is weak. Under Title I there is money that can be used to support improving and strengthening parental involvement. I was disappointed in the plan or lack of plan that we had that focuses on or encourages parental involvement particularly in the high poverty schools. That is going to change.

North/South DeKalb Divide – It exists. One side isn’t favored by the administration over another. Often, the ‘extras’ are actually bought and paid for by PTAs.

You can find so many opportunities for common ground. But yet, if I travel from my house there in Stone Mountain, as I did one Sunday afternoon up to Dunwoody. It was just a 15 minute drive. But sometimes, politically, it felt like two thousand miles. What we have to recognize is that some of the dysfunction that we face at the school board is really dysfunction in the county. . . .

We look at Dunwoody and we might criticize them, but if you really think about it. Majority to minority, is a system to move what exceptional bright kids from a large population of kids that may not be as equally as bright to a more segregated location. Right? That’s what that is. If you really look at it.

Enlightened Self Interest – Be self-interested in your own child. Become enlightened when you become interested in other people’s children.

Theme schools as well as charter schools as well as private schools and all of those are ways in which we are trying to deal with a problem. What I’m saying, what we have to do know is, of course, continue to support our gifted kids. But, at some point, we got to deal with the problem of people, young people, students, who come from high poverty background. Right? Who may not live in our neighborhood, who may not attend my school, or may not even live inside my district and recognize what we have … and it’s OK to be self interested. This is what I say to parents a lot on that issue. You must be self interested about your children. You don’t have to apologize because you’re self interested in ensuring your child gets a good education. Should you … no. Not to me, not anyone. But leaders, this is what we talk about in Leadership DeKalb. You must develop what I call enlightened self. Because enlightened self interest will help you understand why it’s important for you to be involved in helping other people’s children get a quality education. Let me tell you why, and I love to do this. How many of you all were born, raised and graduated from a high school in DeKalb county? Raise your hand. Always less than 5%. That meant that the rest of us were educated somewhere else, right? And it was paid for by taxes from other people. You can’t raise my daughter and your daughter and your children in an enclosed, insulated bubble. I want my daughter to come of age in a world where there are opportunities, not just for her, but also for her friends and colleagues. Don’t you? The challenge in DeKalb, and we can do this, all we got to do. Let me tell you what we need to do to ensure that, not only do we respond to SACS, but that we create an elite school system. All we have to do is develop the talent to understand the power of enlightened self-interest. Be self-interested about your child. But then, and particularly as leaders develop the ability to be legitimately concerned about the education of other people’s children. Let me tell you why. God forbid I get sick today and have to spend the night at DeKalb Regional or any hospital. But if I do, I want my nurse who comes around to know how to read and write who be scribblin’ the medicine. Right? That’s why it’s important. If you’re a business owner, we got business people here. Think about your work force. You want to be profitable 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now. Your future work force is sitting in a classroom somewhere in DeKalb county. You want to sell your widgets and your products and you need people who have the resources and can purchase them. Your future consumers are sitting in a classroom somewhere in DeKalb county right now.

Most Unpopular Guy In DeKalb – You not going to be totally happy and no one else. But the tough decisions will have to be made.

One of the most surprising things about, what I’ve learned about DeKalb, nearly 20% of our student population are either English learning or their parents speak English only as a second language if they speak English at all. We’ve not engaged or understood the great opportunities that presents. Now one of the mistakes that we did make was that we fired all the interpreters. OK … right? We did it. Now that’s a mistake that I will acknowledge. When 20% of your population, and I don’t know why I’m surprised, because when I was practicing law [at a former law firm], our office was over on the Buford Highway. I used to ride up and down Buford Highway to go to lunch and I would see Vietnamese, Hispanic and the different signage and various businesses from all over the world. I love to go to the supermarket over there in Clarkston. I see foods and exotic vegetables and fruits and desserts from all over the world. And I used to wonder who’s buying this? I have no idea, it was just amazing to me. And then there’s the Farmer’s Market on Buford Hwy is even more exotic. That is because there is a socio-economic demographic transformation taking place. Our school district is still operating in the 20th century mode. We have not made the transformation which we will have to make, which we are making, which we will make because that is the future. Children 18 and under represent 20% of the population. They represent 100% of our future. All children. And all children with the right support and right resources can learn and can be successful.

In addition, Michael Thurmond talks about the race issue often, and quite openly. Race is a thread he often weaves into every topic of disussion. He always states that his background is as the son/grandson/great-grandson of sharecroppers and that his father was illiterate yet he always helped Michael with his homework. He also comes from a place in Georgia where he attended segregated high schools which have continued to host segregated class reunions. His personal experience informs us much about his perspective and interpretations of the problems in DeKalb.

What we have to understand, and it’s interesting, and I hear it a lot when people say, Well you know twenty years ago, thirty years ago, we had a great school system in DeKalb. How many times have you heard that? And there’s no question that we did. That does not prevent us from having a great school system now. But what we have to recognize is that the school system that existed in DeKalb 30 years ago, that population, is not necessarily the population we are trying to educate today. That population did not have 71% of its students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Just didn’t. Not that children who qualify for free and reduced lunch can’t learn and can’t be successful. And I know for a fact that they can, because I qualified for free and reduced lunch. I am a living, breathing example of the power of public education. Right? The son, grandson, and great grandson of 3 generations of Georgia share croppers that could not read or write. Right? And so for people that doubt or don’t believe that public education can be successful and is being successful every day, look at me. . . .

That’s the question that often times and not just in DeKalb, but throughout America. Public education is a euphemism for race and class. We understand that. We studied the history of public education, particularly in the South, and it’s always been racially charged. From its inception,  post Civil War, Georgia, all the way up today. Often times the steps are ordered and you don’t really know how or why. Forty two years ago I graduated from Clark Central high school. It’s interesting. In the fall of 1970, those of you from Georgia, something historic from the South in Georgia. That was the year we consolidated all black school districts which were then with predominantly white school districts. We were the first consolidated class of Clark Central high school. I was 18 years old and that was the first time in my life I had a conversation with a white person my age. And that was the South. For eleven years I went to all segregated schools and the only people I interacted with were other African Americans. During the 42 years hence, the classmates I didn’t get a chance to meet or desired not to meet when I was in high school, I’ve had a chance to get to know them over the years. It’s been interesting. My most famous class mate who I wanted to meet and stay in touch with was Kim Bassinger. For some reason she does not return my calls. But we’ve changed. We like to think that 40 years, and that’s 4 decades, but look folks. For nearly 400 years you had 250 years where African Americans were denied any access to education. Right? Then you had another 150 years where we were separate but equal. And in 40 years, look at how much progress has been made. You cannot undo and change three to four hundred years of history in 40 years. But we have to recognize and celebrate where we are, but keep in perspective where we need to go. That’s why it doesn’t bother me when I meet people who may have not evolved on the race issue. Or may have subtle or unrecognized issues. This nation addressing the vestiges of a history that luckily we put behind ourselves. I don’t damn anyone for it. I would challenge you to reach out and help people to understand. You have to go to the various communities. You have to open yourself up. That’s what I’ve tried to do over these 40 years and we’ve made progress now. What’s interesting is during those 40 years we had class reunions, but we still had 2 class reunions. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. … We might wish for the good ol’ days when it was just black folk and white folk at each other’s throats. It was simple then wasn’t it? But, it’s not that simple anymore. I think this presents us with a great opportunity to change the conversation, to be more inclusive, to open up our own minds and attitudes, and recognize that if you’re going to have a successful business, if you’re going to be a successful leader, if you’re going to be a successful anything in the 21st century, you must have skills sets that will allow you to engage and work with and understand people of different races, cultures, creed and ethnical intentions. You just have to.

Interim DeKalb County schools superintendent Michael Thurmond is scheduled to speak to parents in Tucker on April 23 (tomorrow).

Thurmond will meet with the Tucker Parent Council at Brockett Elementary School, 1855 Brockett Rd., Tucker. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

The public can ask spontaneous questions or e-mail them in advance to

Download the transcripts we have accumulated so far on our Meeting Notes page found under the DCSS Files tab at the top of the blog’s homepage. Please send any videos, notes or transcripts you may wish to add to the collection. Our email address is

*We didn’t believe the 6% figure either. Read our post on what fun HR had with the numbers:
Oh the budget, budget, budget

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22 Responses to More with Michael Thurmond around DeKalb

  1. Looks like Dunwoody’s not buying much of what Thurmond is selling…
    Town Hall Meeting by Parents for Quality Education in Dunwoody
    Sunday, April 28 from 5 – 6 PM

    Dunwoody United Methodist Church
    Fellowship Hall

    • Get the latest info on accreditation, legislation for a city school system, and charter cluster school system option
    • Sign up for working committees – let’s build a framework for quality education in Dunwoody
    • Share your ideas for quality education solutions

    Since February, community volunteers, public education advocates, Dunwoody City Council, state representatives, and Dunwoody School Councils have discussed ways to improve the quality of education in Dunwoody. Volunteers have gathered information about dual accreditation, charter clusters, initiatives by other high school clusters in DeKalb County, and the legislative process for creating a new school system, and other options.

    During meetings with each School Council in Dunwoody, volunteers shared information about Charter Clusters, presented a Letter of Intent to petition DeKalb County to approve a Dunwoody Charter Cluster, and listened to School Council concerns.

    This idea has moved very quickly. A May 1 deadline for the Letter of Intent and Fall deadline for the charter petition have driven a sense of urgency.Nonetheless, the charter cluster option is too important and complex to press forward without a community forum in the next two weeks (date, time, and location coming soon).

  2. Some info to share from our DSW Fact Checker on Michael Thurmond’s public statements:

    I’m a researcher by heart. I’m not sure people know that. I love to research. So, I said OK. Let’s research the policy to see where we stand related to nepotism. What we found out was DeKalb School District did not have a policy prohibiting nepotism.
    There is an Employment Of Relatives Policy, but it just doesn’t use the word ‘Nepotism’.
    The District permits the employment of qualified relatives of employees, provided such employment does not, in the judgment of the Superintendent or his/her designee, create actual or perceived conflicts of interest. d. All District employees are required to disclose, on an annual basis, whether they are a relative of any other current District employee.

    6% of the total number of employee actually work in the central office.
    DCSD Employees
    10,429 – General Fund
    982 – Special Revenue
    11 – SPLOST
    995 – Food Service

    When Thurmond says 6%, he only means paid from the General Fund. It doesn’t account for the other categories which are 20% of the employees.

    Based on recent legislative decisions, we will have an increase of about $16 Million dollars in expenditures. Mostly health and retirement benefits that the state has dictated.

    DeKalb Tax Assessors Office, revenues, at least the county ad valorem tax revenue will be flat. About $734 million dollars.
    Property values have decreased, but in 2012 the DeKalb County Board Of Education voted to raise the millage rate to 23.98. It is one of the highest in the state.


    We will get a slight increase in revenue from state government because we’ve had an increase in student body.

    [B]efore we go to work, [there] is a [already a] deficit of about 2%.

    When you have a property tax base that declines by $7 billion dollars from the beginning of the recession to right now, the overall ad valor em tax base in this county had declined by $7 billion dollars.
    The property values have declined, but the revenue generated from property taxes has not.

    The state has continued to reduce its investment in local public education.
    DCSD will receive more money from the state this year than it did last year. The state isn’t reducing the QBE amount from last year. QBE, by the way, is just a formula and was never intended to be fully funded.

  3. Embarrassed Employee says:

    Thurmond conducts himself as if he is running for office. He is not entertaining the teachers passionate requests about their pay or the lack of. He is not listening to our disdain concerning the number of employees on the payroll who do NOT see one child during their work day. He has to know we can’t afford Tyson. Heck we really can’t afford him either. He is all talk and the board is a bigger joke than the previous group. There just doesn’t seem to be any progress.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Thurmond is just getting deeper and deeper into the lies. He probably doesn’t have one single competent person to talk to within his circle. It really shows! How can he lie about the 6% because he’s really beating that drum. How can we show he is lying and publicize it?

  5. Former DeKalb school board member makes case to state Supreme Court

    Wonder what’s going to happen if and when Walker wins his case?!

    The new lawyer, Thomas Cox has this to say (in part):

    To permit the Governor, based on a threatened future action by a private organization (which itself is unaccountable to the voters) to overturn and nullify the decisions of the voters in a school district and to replace the lawfully elected board members with hand-picked appointees, smacks of paternalism at the very least, and certainly denies voters’ their constitutionally enshrined authority to elect their representatives on that board.

    It is often said that difficult facts make bad law. But it is also said that ours is a government of laws, not of men. It is vitally important that any potentially difficult facts in this case, including the perceived unpopularity of a particular local school board and the outcry from powerful interests for its removal, not result in a de facto amendment to the state’s constitution that nullifies the voters’ determinations of who shall sit on their elected local school boards.

    We must admit – as much as we wanted to see Gene Walker and crew gone, we are uneasy about stomping on voting rights and the Constitution to do it. Further, we are very unhappy that our best board members, Nancy Jester and Pam Speaks were tossed out as collateral damage, yet the newly elected reps from Lakeside (Jim McMahan) and Druid Hills (Marshall Orson) as well as Melvin Johnson, recently elected to replace Tom Bowen in District 6 were allowed to stay — effectively allowing ONE-THIRD of the county to keep their elected officials and 2/3 of the voters left with appointed reps that they have never heard of.

    Further, one of the biggest ‘positives’ touted by Thurmond regarding the newly appointed members of the Board is that they are not politicians – or known in their communities! How ironic! Lakeside, Druid Hills, Tucker, Stephenson and Stone Mountain and their feeder schools now have powerful, duly elected representatives who know the inner-workings of the system – while the rest have people who literally do not have the slightest clue as to how the ‘game’ is played!

    Add to that, Marshall Orson has become so powerful that he has been given the power to essentially name the new superintendent! Orson has boasted publicly that it was his “brilliant” idea to hire Thurmond – so who is beholden to whom here?

    We’re on a slippery slope folks. That’s all we’re going to say.

  6. Embarrassed Employee says:

    Well now, we see that it was not a brilliant idea to hire Thurmond, now was it?

  7. Ah! But it was waaaay back in February that Thurmond was blaming the voters themselves for the situation we find ourselves in now:

    Thurmond: Voters Partially Responsible for School Board Strife

    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.

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    Unless parents and taxpayers insist that Thurmond stop this blather and talk straight talk, he will continue to abuse his power. He has made a mockery of an honored position. He just loves to talk, and his ego is colossal. Would someone tell him to “shut …”? No more down home, I’s jus a poor Black man….I be scribblin. What if an entire audience walked out when his same song and dance first comes out of his mouth? But, we need to consider that he really doesn’t know what to say or how to admit that he is clueless.

  9. Read about it here:

    Residents across the county are expressing outrage and many are sure this latest stunt [hiring Thurmond behind closed doors] by the board, already in hot water with the accrediting agency known as SACS, will surely lead to a total loss of accreditation. Orson stated his rejection of this idea. He told the group that his recommendation of former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond was a brilliant idea and that the district is already on its way to recovery. He expected that the measures outlined by SACS in its scathing report issued in December will all be met by the time SACS returns in May for its mid-point review on their progress.

    “You have some areas where the district has obviously been deficient,” he said. “Legal fees, for one, but also H.R., P.R., don’t get me started, and finance. And that’s because there has been a belief on the board in the past that it doesn’t really matter if there are long-term repercussions as long as you can enjoy the short-term gain. This is a mindset, not a policy. And it is one we are changing.”

    “You have been a part of a culture that is all about me, me, me and mine, back off, it’s mine,” accused a man seated in the front row. He stated he lived near Briar Vista Elementary School, one that has been targeted for closure and has struggled to maintain enrollment mandates for its Montessori program. “How are we supposed to trust that you are not still about those things now that you are on the board? How do we know we can trust you when, in the past, you have authored or co-authored some very inflammatory statements that many think have cost us the viability of our school?”

    Orson stated his actions as a parent at Fernbank were, at the time, what was necessary to support his interest at Fernbank, but he is now committed to working with every community in his district to help them accomplish what they want with their schools. But, he said it was important for everyone to get away from the wanting of “things” or “inputs” because they see what other schools may have and start focusing on what kind of learning they want to be taking place inside the classrooms. . . .

    But, one woman in the back of the room brought up the Briar Vista issue again, stating that it did not appear her community’s input was really wanted or considered. The decisions were already made. A woman up front added that they have leaking roofs and windows that won’t seal properly. She said that it was clear that Fernbank is getting everything they ever dreamed of while her school is being targeted for closure.

  10. Try to attend tomorrow – and report back:

    DeKalb Superintendent speaks in Tucker Tuesday 4/23

    Interim DeKalb County schools superintendent Michael Thurmond is scheduled to speak to parents in Tucker on April 23.

    Thurmond will meet with the Tucker Parent Council at Brockett Elementary School, 1855 Brockett Rd., Tucker. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

    The public can ask spontaneous questions or e-mail them in advance to

  11. Another comment says:

    Do you think he kept repeating his share cropper story at Lovett? No he didn’t over at Lovett, he bragged about his Law degree!. Stop with the pandering Share cropper story.

  12. dcssfrustratedparent says:

    @DekalbSchoolWatch – glad you may be seeing the “ramifications” of the “throw the bums out” mentality espoused on this blog when the Governor was making his decision. To your question of the 3 being allowed to stay – how could the Governor throw out 3 individuals who were dually elected and were NOT present for any of the mis-management or malfeasance that the other 6 were all part of. If this blog wanted any possibility of a fresh start those 3 had to stay.

    It is very clear the Governor was in a very, very tough situation given he wants to be re-elected. He is being asked to make decisions about dually elected school Board of Education members of a County that is generally Democratic voting ….. I think he made the only decision he could and frankly based on resumes alone – did a darn good job of appointing some smart individuals – correct that that they were appointed and not elected but that is what many on this blog were clamoring for ….

  13. We were clamoring but most here were uncomfortable. Even Don McChesney does not think the Gov can move against the voters decision.

  14. Strange. The budget meeting for the public is scheduled at the same time as the Tucker meeting. Will Thurmond choose one over the other?

    Thurmond will meet with the Tucker Parent Council at Brockett Elementary School, 1855 Brockett Rd., Tucker on April 23. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

    The last board meeting’s announcements

    DeKalb Board of Education Public Budget Hearing, 6:00pm, Tuesday, April 23, 2013, J. David Williamson Board Room, Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain

    DeKalb Board of Education Public Budget Hearing, 6:00pm, Thursday, April 25, 2013, J. David Williamson Board Room, Robert R. Freeman Administrative & Instructional Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain

    South DeKalb Parent Council Meeting, 6:30pm, Thursday, April 25, 2013, Redan High School, 5247 Redan Road, Stone Mountain

  15. Susan Keith says:

    His grammar is so embarrassing.

  16. The concern is that some elected officials were replaced and others were not – regardless of when they were elected. The SACS report even mentioned some ‘issues’ with the incoming elected members in their report. Just speaking from a constitutional angle – can you really disenfranchise some of the voters in the county and not others? It muddies the already murky water.

  17. thedeal2 says:

    DSW, what do you think will happen if the old board is reinstated? This isn’t accusatory. I am curious.

  18. jbgotcha says:

    Michael Thurmond is a self serving politician. This is great for him: collect a six figure salary and then bail to run for some higher office. I’m disgusted and hopeless for Dekalb. My children will be attending private school.

  19. Concerned Citizen says:

    What is it that drives Thurmond? I’ve searched and searched for myself and I’ve listened to others, but I can’t get it. He seems so foolish and boorish….out-dated and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He has just got to go.

  20. Concerned Citizen says:

    “You just have to” kick Thurmond out, followed quickly by the rest of the Palace. How have all these people gotten away with stealing, lying, harrassing, punishing, etc. children, parents, teachers, and taxpayers! Rise up, DeKalb.

  21. thedeal2 says:

    Any word from the meeting in Tucker? Sharecropper story redux?

  22. Acheolus says:

    Heard on the radio today that one of the suspended school board members was going to do an interview tonight. Anyone catch it?

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