While neither the DeKalb County School Board nor Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson will confirm or deny it, there has been much activity indicating that leadership changes may be coming. As the DeKalb County School board goes into yet another executive session to discuss “legal and personnel matters,” today, questions still mount as to the fate of Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson. There have been rumors that several people have been interviewed by the School Board for a possible interim superintendent position.
State legislators are accusing DeKalb County of “secretly” trying to hire a new superintendent. On Tuesday, State Senator Fran Millar of DeKalb told WSB-TV’s Erica Byfield he personally knows someone the board tried to recruit and doesn't understand why the board is trying to hire anyone.
Millar said, "To be hired by this board, which potentially may not be the board in another 45 days or something, is a little bit silly, they need to focus on the accreditation issue."
Former Georgia labor commissioner, Michael Thurmond may be the latest candidate tapped for a replacement. Thurmond, who has served with School Board Chairman Dr. Eugene Walker in the Georgia General Assembly in the 1990s, spent time with the board on Monday fueling speculations that he could be a candidate.
But Thurmond says while his qualifications came up in the meeting he was there to help the school board prepare for the Feb. 21 suspension hearing before the Georgia Board of Education. This is DeKalb’s second hearing before the State Board to determine if the Board will recommend that Gov. Nathan Deal suspend the DeKalb board members under state law based on the school district’s probation status, as well as deficiencies spelled out by the Dec. 17, 2012 Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) report. The SACS probation placement is one step away from loss of accreditation.
On Tuesday, Thurmond told the CrossRoadNews, “I made it clear I was there to help in any capacity I can as an attorney, adviser or other ways. I'm a great believer in the power of public education; I'm a product of the schools myself.” Michael Thurmond is credited with turning around the Department of Family and Children's Services as director and improving operations at the Labor Department while commissioner. He said he has the expertise to help the board with the governance issues that caused SACS to put the district on probation.
Another issue surfacing centers around a lawsuit just filed over an alleged request that Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson not turn over her emails and text messages, under Georgia Open Records Act, in exchanged for reinstating about a dozen people back to their jobs. Also under the microscope are issues of nepotism among School Board members. Among the problems cited by SACS included ineffective governance and nepotism.
The DeKalb County School System says it cannot comment on pending litigation. Superintendent Atkinson is just returning from bereavement leave since the death of her father on Jan. 23 and is not commenting on her job or the email controversy.
Dr. Cheryl Atkinson joined the DeKalb County School System Sept. 2011. She replaced the outgoing superintendent, Dr. Crawford Lewis, who was indicted on racketeering charges.