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Newsmaker of the Year: Thurmond transforms school district in less than a year
by LaTria Garnigan
December 30, 2013 11:23 AM | 2697 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Staff / Katherine Frye / DeKalb County Superintendent Michael Thurmond.
Staff / Katherine Frye / DeKalb County Superintendent Michael Thurmond.
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Michael Thurmond came into DeKalb County amid a cloud of controversy surrounding the school district, tasked with the expectation of turning things around.

At the time, the former superintendent left office and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had placed the district on accreditation probation.

But in just 10 months, Thurmond helped the school district eliminate a $13.9 million deficit, built a $10 million surplus and adopted a fiscal year 2014 balanced budget.

“Working with our internal and external stakeholders, we have laid a strong foundation for the development of a model urban school district where the primary focus is teaching and learning,” said Thurmond. “The district’s current budget includes $27 million in educational enhancements that are aligned to improve fiscal management, academic achievement and operational efficiency.”

Regarding SACS, Thurmond said his first order of business after he took office was to place a call to Mark Elgart, president of AdvancEd/SACS.

“I expressed to him that the DeKalb County School District was fully committed to addressing the problems enumerated in the 11 required action items documented in their December 2012 report,” he said.

In May, SACS conducted a mid-year review of the school district and concluded that “significant and noteworthy” progress had been made, said Thurmond. They returned at the beginning of December and that report should be finalized this month.

Having been very outspoken about the school district, District 40 State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said he feels Thurmond has made a positive change.

“I think he basically came in and established some semblance of order and structure,” said Millar. “And we’ve made positive progress toward our accreditation. I think he’s made a real effort to reach out by visiting schools in the entire area.”

Millar added he does hope Thurmond and the school board will revisit the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition and come to a meeting of the minds.

To help create a sense of permanency for the district, Thurmond signed on to stay as superintendent through June 2015, citing the need to restore trust and a sense of pride in the school system.

“We are engaged in a critical strategic planning process, building our financial reserves, preparing for the selection of a new system structure and engaging all parents to participate in the education of our children,” said Thurmond.

DeKalb County Board of Education chair Melvin Johnson is one of the three board members who were not suspended and replaced by Gov. Nathan Deal last year. Johnson said during his time working with Thurmond that he has been an excellent leader and has worked well in bringing about true collaboration within the district — a collaboration with the board, the community and stakeholders.

“I think he’s a visionary because he looks at the total county and how to involve all of our stakeholders,” said Johnson. “I think the community trusts him and I know we’re working in the right direction.”

Thurmond said he and school officials will continue to transform the status quo by fundamentally changing how they do business.

“We will continue to improve educational opportunities for all of our 100,000 students,” he said. “Our best days are yet to come.”
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