The low-key announcement came in an email announcing the agenda for the School Board’s Feb. 8 work session. On it was a vote on a “separation agreement” with Atkinson, who joined the district on Sept. 15, 2011.
Two hours later, the district released a statement saying that Board of Education and Atkinson “have mutually agreed to end their relationship effective Friday, Feb. 8, 2013.”
“The Board and Dr. Atkinson each determined and believe that it is in the best interest of all concerned that there be a mutual separation and they wish each other well in all their future endeavors,” the statement said.
Board members are expected Friday to name former Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as interim Superintendent.
Board chair Dr. Eugene Walker wouldn’t comment directly about reports that Thurmond had been offered the interim superintendent’s job, but said late Thursday that only a few formalities stand in the way of a vote for superintendent at the board’s Feb. 8 meeting.
“We want to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t's are crossed as we make the final transition to the new person,” he said.
Atkinson joined the district after a national search to replace Dr. Crawford Lewis who was indicted on racketeering charges and is awaiting trial.
Her abrupt departure comes as the district is struggling to escape probationary status from the Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS). In a highly critical Dec. 17 report, SACS point to “dysfunctional governance, declining student performance and serious fiscal problems.” Boardmembers will face a suspension hearing before the State board of education on Feb. 21.
Spokeswoman Lillian Govus said Thursday that technically, Atkinson’s departure is not a resignation.
“It was a separation agreement,” Govus said. “That means she did not resign and was not fired. The two parties mutually agreed to separate.”
Atkinson will be paid $22,916.66 a month through June 30 for a total of $114,583, plus payment for any unused vacation.
In exchange for the payments, she will agree to cooperate with the board, its attorneys and agents in any administrative actions or suits pending or filed against the board, any administrator, teacher, staff or employee.
Atkinson has been on bereavement leave since the death of her father on Jan. 23, and has been unavailable for comment.
The school board has been meeting in closed-door executive sessions since Jan. 28 to discuss “legal and personnel matters.”
Earlier this week, there were unconfirmed reports that board members had talked to a number of candidates about a interim superintendent position.
On Monday, Thurmond spent two hours with the board. Valya Lee, a former assistant superintendent in Rockdale and Clayton counties, reportedly also met with the board.
Thurmond told CrossRoadsNews on Tuesday that the board invited him to the private session but he wouldn’t say whether the superintendent job was discussed.
“I made it clear I was there to help in any capacity I can as an attorney, adviser or other ways,” said Thurmond, who lives in Stone Mountain. “I’m a great believer in the power of public education. I’m a product of the schools myself.“
Thurmond said he has the expertise to help the board with the governance issues that caused SACS to put the district on probation.
He is credited with turning around the Department of Family and Children’s Services as director and improving operations at the Labor Department while commissioner.