#TBT – Superintendent Search

Mostly Culled from the Fact Checker >>

superintendent_searchA DeKalb School Board member said at the last school board meeting, “[The Emory Lavista Parent Council] wants the board to understand the history of Superintendent searches in DeKalb. All of which have gone extremely well from what I’ve heard.”

LOL! Boy, there’s some revisionist history going on right there! Today’s #ThrowBack Thursday will pay homage to our previous Superintendents and the “searches” (and lack thereof) that brought them to us.

But first, here is the status of the Current Superintendent Search:

At the April 1 2014 Board Meeting, the Board announced their plans to commence a Superintendent search. The current Superintendent, Michael Thurmond, intends on completing the 2014-2015 school year, and the new Superintendent will start sometime in the summer of 2015.

At the September 8, 2014 Board Meeting, we learned that on August 21, 2014 an RFP for a national search firm was issued. The proposal deadline was Sept 16. Between now and the Oct 6 board meeting, the school board will conduct interviews with a list of finalist search firms picked by the administration.

Recapping the timeline – Superintendents & Searches

2004:  After conducting a forensic salary audit that revealed serious over-payments to many senior staffers, Superintendent Johnny Brown (who was hired after a supposed full public search via search firm) was fired. The Board extended to him a $400,000 “exit” package, voted to “forego a search” and simply replaced Brown with long-time senior administrator, Dr. Crawford Lewis. (Click here and here for more on the salary audit findings.)

2007:  Ironically, amidst early allegations of racketeering and fraud, SACS fully accredited DeKalb Schools declaring, “Effective leadership at all levels.”

2010: As we all now know, after enjoying over 5 years as top dog, Superintendent Crawford Lewis was fired and, along with his COO Pat Reid Pope and her former husband Vincent (Tony) Pope, was charged with racketeering and theft by a DeKalb Grand Jury.  Lewis was given an $85,000 exit package by the Board and allowed to retire with his full pension. The Popes were given nothing but hefty jail terms and fines.  Lewis has avoided serving any jail time for reasons still unexplained.

DeKalb Schools is run by Lewis’ senior administration, with senior staffer Ramona Howell Tyson at the helm as Lewis’ hand-selected “Interim” Superintendent, approved by the Board without a search or much discussion. Tyson coyly states that she will “reluctantly take the job for 3 months” while the Board begins a search. Tyson’s tenure lasts nearly two years and still today she serves as the right hand to the Superintendent at a very high salary ($180,981; FY 2013).

2011:  At the behest of SACS, DeKalb Schools begins a new Superintendent search.

The search for a new Superintendent, according to Don McChesney, is “the most arduous and difficult task I dealt with while on the Board.” The original search criteria, as McChesney goes on to say, was a Superintendent with a track record of raising student achievement and removing central office bloat.

The board offered Dr. Lillie Cox (a white woman) of North Carolina a contract. That effort was thwarted by members of the board, according to 11 Alive News, “after details of her negotiations, including her requests for vacation time, severance and salary, were leaked to the media.” The discussions got heated and racial tensions were high, with Board Chair Dr. Eugene Walker proclaiming “I see color. I love color.” as he pushed the search for an African-American Superintendent.

Aug 2011: In the end, the board majority “lost focus on the students.” The Board brought back Superintendent candidate Dr. Cheryl Howell Atkinson, who had already been eliminated from consideration by Atlanta Public Schools and who DCSS had passed on in earlier interviews. McChesney and Nancy Jester voted against hiring Atkinson, but majority ruled and Atkinson was hired — despite her questionable record at a tiny school district in Ohio, application materials demonstrating a lack of attention to detail and quality, a history of personal bankruptcies based on overspending, and highly questionable answers on her DCSS application and background check documents. You can read letters to the public from Jester and McChesney about their thoughts on that decision.

Dec 2012: A lawsuit is filed against DeKalb Schools, “[accusing] the school system of violating the state open records law in failing to release Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s text messages”. Atkinson takes an extended leave of absence “to care for her ailing father,” but never actually returns to her post. DSW was unable to confirm if her father was ill or living at the time. DeKalb County Schools was essentially without a superintendent for several weeks.

Feb 2013: DeKalb School Board hastily approves by a vote of 5-4, a separation agreement with Atkinson’s attorney that pays Atkinson $115K to leave.

Facing removal by the Governor, the board skips a formal Superintendent search and on the same day votes (7-2) to bring on Michael Thurmond as Interim Superintendent until a permanent Superintendent is found. The AJC reports, “Thurmond said the search for a permanent superintendent would begin immediately and he would leave as soon as one is found.”  Thurmond continues to lead DeKalb schools yet today and will for at least the next year, for a total tenure of over 2 1/2 years.

Why Thurmond and whose idea was it?  Marshall Orson said, in the same AJC article, “he’s the one who brought up Thurmond’s name.” He had seen Thurmond speaking publicly and in small groups over the years, and was impressed.  Thurmond’s lack of a track record in education or any educational experience at all “seemed an asset,” said Orson. Thurmond was hired by the previous Board and fought hard at the Capitol for the Governor to leave them in their posts. In the end, the Governor fired 6 of the 9 and replaced them with his own hand-chosen members. Most remained in place after May, 2014 elections, with Stan Jester (Nancy’s husband) winning unopposed in the seat for District 1 and Vicki B. Turner winning over incumbent Thad Mayfield in District 5.  This newly elected Board will take their seats January 1, 2015.

Sep 2014:  The process of selecting a permanent Superintendent has begun.  The current Board is looking to hire a professional search firm. Hopefully the elected Board will finish the task after January and will interview candidates, choosing the very best based solely on credentials. The new Superintendent should take office in the Summer of 2015.

If we were betting people … we would bet that whichever high-priced “national” search firm is hired, after spending a lot of taxpayers’ money, will eventually come back to say that they could not find a better qualified superintendent candidate than Michael Thurmond (or some other high-ranking DCSD official).

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10 Responses to #TBT – Superintendent Search

  1. howdy1942 says:

    Thanks for this long, sordid, and pitiful history of the past 10 years at the Dekalb County School System. It’s about time that this board, after being in place for a year and a half, got around to finding a new, permanent superintendent. I don’t know whether Mr. “Interim” Thurmond will be around after next year, but I’ll be shocked if we do actually find and employ someone who is competent, qualified, and committed to fixing Dekalb.

    I have always wanted Dekalb to consider all candidates of any color and choose the most qualified person, but I full expect the the next superintendent will more likely fit the qualifications espoused by Eugene Walker and I doubt that much will really change in the Dekalb County School System. Look at the makeup of the next school board and you’ll see why I say so. Except for someone from Dunwoody who will actually attend school board meetings, little will change. In addition, I expect that Stan Jester will be prepared and ask many excellent and searching questions, but that will matter very little. I really deluded myself into thinking that this current board, given it superb “on paper” credentials would actually get control and make some good decisions that would place the focus of attention and finances on the classroom. Instead, this board has stifled innovation and focused on the mediocre. Given all the money that we have spent on “training” this new board, I would have expected better, much better.

    The future of education in Dekalb County rests in the establishment of either independent or true “charter” schools managed by those who live in the communities and focused on the student, the teacher, and the classroom. I live in Tucker and I am strongly in favor of a Tucker Charter or an independent school system that is run by, managed by, and focused on the children who live in our community. Our community is made up of many different races and nationalities so race cannot possibly be a factor. The majority of the Dekalb County School Board do not represent the views or priorities of our community and I say that having lived here for 40 years. I go to church here, shop here, attend local civic meetings, and participate in community functions. It’s just so disheartening to hear so many parents who live here struggle to make decisions of where to send their children to attend schools even though any alternative to the DCSS would be a financial challenge. For what we pay in taxes, that should not be an issue.

    Coming back to the point of this blog – the Dekalb County School System has been managed, governed, and lead into a ditch. The history of the last 10 years points to corruption, mismanagement, and selfishness. And little has been done to clean it up and out. I have already contacted representatives and senators to encourage them to create some alternatives that would allow parents the opportunity to have options other than the DCSS to educate their children. I want to have an option to compensate our teachers at a level that would allow us to employ the best and brightest and to treat them fairly and with respect, I want an HR department that can recruit and retain outstanding teachers, I want an administration that has strong internal controls to protect the value of the taxpayer’s dollar, I want a system that maintains discipline in the classroom and that challenges and prepares students, I want a system that truly involves the community and listens to them, I want a system that focuses on the classroom and subordinates the size and function of administration to serving that classroom, and I want a system that emphasizes student achievement. I don’t think that is what the history of the past 10 years shows.

  2. thedeal2 says:

    This timeline is thorough and exhausting :-(. At this point, I have completely given up hope that there is any chance for success with DeKalb School District as we know it. The place where the problem is is the central office. The central office has deep connections with board members. The board members hire the superintendent. The superintendent runs the central office. There is nothing that will improve in the school system until the central office is cleaned out. The only person who can clean it out is the superintendent. The only type of superintendent that will do that is an innovative, forceful, confident professional. Our current BOE will not hire that type of person because they do not want their friends in the central office to be fired. A competent, powerful leader is going to take one sniff of the situation in DeKalb and run in the opposite direction anyway.

    I hope and pray for the peaceful resolution of the cityhood map battle and hope all of those groups will work together to force a change in the state constitution. DeKalb Schools is going to go down kicking and screaming as the new cities carve off bits and pieces until it is a fraction of what it is today, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

  3. howdy1942 says:

    @thedeal2 – I fully agree. With incorporated cities, there is at least the hope that the Legislature will provide structured entities some relief to their concerns about the schools. I suspect that this will come in the form of removing the absolute authority of the Dekalb County School Board to reject charter school petitions, such as that of Druid Hills, rather than reaching for the long shot of actually amending the Georgia Constitution. That scene that played out at the school board when it rejected the Druid Hills Petition on a 5-4 vote only magnified the support in the County for at least providing some appeal process through the State Board of Education. John Barge is a Republican and I expect that the next person to head the State Board of Education will also be Republican and there will be great pressure from the strong Republican base in North Dekalb for the Republican Legislature and Republican Governor to grant that authority to a Republican-led State Board.

    I also think that you are correct in the hopelessness of actually employing a superintendent of the caliber that you cited that we need. The majority on the next school board will not allow that to happen. And I also agree with you that those possessing qualifications most likely will not even consider the vacancy. Given the extremely poor management and broken confidentiality exhibited by the last board, would anyone? Any such candidate is likely to already have a very good job and would not take the risk.

    The people who will suffer the most because of this mediocre leadership (at best) are the kids, especially those who are from the poorest communities and/or the poorest performing schools. I’ve reviewed the comments made by Eugene Walker, the NAACP, and some members of this board who seem to want to deny those kids and their parents the very opportunity to obtain a good education and find a way out of their situation. In their view, that is essential to maintaining power and authority – education would pose a direct threat to that status. I think that this board is afraid to allow the teachers any degree of control or input and intentionally make it difficult to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers because that would likewise be a threat. When one only sees “color”, that person is deliberately denying qualifications that may exist in other “colors”. And I suspect that this current school board and the next will only see “color”.

    Although I live in Tucker, I support Lakeside’s quest to become a city, as I do our own efforts. Each area needs to allow the other to at least be viable, to have the tax base necessary to support a city. I sincerely hope that the two parties can reach a mutually acceptable agreement and not have one imposed by the Legislature. Wherever the boundaries are set, Lakeside and Tucker will always be next door neighbors and we need to find common ground. In any case, I think that these areas will soon vote to incorporate.

    As for the Dekalb County School Board, I am just amazed that it continues to ignore the realities of what is going on about them, the risks to the very system they hope to maintain if they are unwilling to entertain any change, and the the likelihood that the result will not be in the best interests of the kids who live here. Change is coming and it just seems to me like it would be in the best interests of this school board and administration to reach out and find some solutions other than the ones it seeks to forcefully impose on all of us.

  4. teachermom says:

    Howdy, I like how you think, but I am not amazed that the board continues to ignore what goes on around them. It is, as they say in the movie, “just Chinatown.” This is the status quo and many have been rewarded very well for keeping it the same. They are still in charge and will go to great lengths to keep control of the cash cow that is made from DeKalb tax payer’s money. The effort will need to be great and probably legal to end this corrupt system. Follow the money.

  5. Superintendent Search Update
    (From the Fact Checker)

    The Dekalb Schools is scheduled to have a new Superintendent by the summer of 2015. Search firms had until September 16, 2014 to reply to an RFP for a Superintendent Search Firm. Over the next few weeks, the administration will review and rate the various search firms that responded. At the next board meeting, the school board will select the search firm from a list of finalists put together by the administration. Here are the highlights from this Search Process Timeline 2014 – 2015, from Stan Jester.

    November – December 2014

    Seek input on superintendent position from community, students, and employee stakeholders
    Publish and distribute information about the superintendent position (i.e. qualifications, characteristics, expectations)

    January – February 2015

    Accept applications through search firm
    Complete initial screening through search firm

    March – April 2015

    Select semi-finalists/interview semi-finalists
    Select finalist/complete finalist interviews

    May – June 2015

    Ratify employment contract
    Conduct meet/greet events and team building activities
  6. former dekalb parent says:

    Not the super, but the fabulous folks at the palace looked long and hard and dug up a fired Deputy Commissioner from the Atlanta Watershed Department to head up or assistant Head of the service center…quality candidate..look at the AJC..Debra Henson.


  7. DSW2Contributor says:

    That’s very interesting, former dekalb parent.

    “Debra Henson, MA, PMP, Mtr Blk Belt Six Sigma Program Manager” spent three years getting an Ed.D. “degree” from Argosy “University”, according to her linkedin profile:

    Argosy “University” is where lots of F&F have gotten their “doctorates”. Last year, Argosy “University” agreed to a $3.3 million fine to the state of Colorado: “Our investigation revealed a pattern of Argosy recklessly launching doctoral degree programs without substantiating or supporting that they led to the advertised outcomes,” Deputy Attorney General Jan Zavislan said in a statement. “That is illegal under Colorado law and why we are holding Argosy accountable.”

  8. Is Argosy the “University” that Jamey Wilson (former head of DCSS HR and now a principal at an elementary school) taught? He was teaching courses there – while also working as the head of HR for the school district (explains a lot doesn’t it). Or maybe it was another one of those kinds of “Universities”. At any rate – we consider those kinds of doctoral degrees far less impressive than a real doctoral degree from a real university. It appears to just be a way to scam the system for a bigger paycheck. That’s why we don’t like to refer to the holders of these for-profit types of doctoral degrees as “doctor” although they just love to call each other “doctor”. We haven’t met one of these ‘doctors’ yet that is effective in the classroom – or even cares to be in the classroom. And that’s where the rubber meets the road. Hopefully we will find a new superintendent with a real degree and many years of classroom experience – not just a few. But then again, we have hoped that for years now.

  9. dsw2contributor says:

    Here’s the deal about Jamie Wilson: When he was HR director, Jamie Wilson was directed to do illegal things. He refused. The Palace then punished Jamie Wilson by demoting him back to Principal and doing other things to him that are not public knowledge.

    The Palace also promoted Tekisha Ward-Smith to HR Director because they needed someone to do the dirty deeds that Jamie Wilson refused to do.

    Mr. Wilson had (or hired) legal counsel. His attorneys got in touch with at least one of DCSD’s legal firms and pointed out the blantant retaliation suffered by Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson then ended up with a settlement that included paying him a HR Director’s salary. That is why DCSD is paying for two HR directors: the former HR Director obtained a settlement.

    In exchange for his confidentiality agreement, Mr. Wilson gets to have a cushy (for a principal) assignment. His elementary school has a lower enrollment, minimal socio-economic problems and, during many board meetings, the school is represented by the empty chair.

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