Board members voted 7-2 Friday to approve a 12-month contract for Thurmond. He will get a base salary of $275,000 and a $2,600 a month allowance to cover routine job-related expenses.
His benefits package includes standard medical and dental insurance coverage.
Board members Nancy Jester and Dr. Pam Speaks cast the two dissenting votes.
After the vote, Thurmond told reporters that he is ready for the challenge.
"I'm walking into a great opportunity to serve children, to continue to serve my state and this nation,” he said “I have great faith that the challenges we face can be met and overcome."
Thurmond succeeds Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, whose abrupt separation from the school system was announced Thursday. Thurmond will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9.
Thurmond takes on the daunting task of turning around the beleaguered school system, which the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed on probation in December, placing it one step away from loss of accreditation.
In its Dec. 17 report, SACS criticized the board for "dysfunctional governance, declining student performance" and finances that have "deteriorated to a point that is dangerous."
Board members face a suspension hearing before the Georgia Board of Education on Feb. 21. The state board will decide whether to recommend that Gov. Nathan Deal remove current board members.
Thurmond seemed unfazed by the intense criticism of the board, and his predecessor's complaints that "institutional impediments" prevented her from doing her job as superintendent.
"Obviously if there were mistakes made we're going to learn from those mistakes as all human beings do,” he said. “There are no perfect people on the face of the earth. The first thing you do is inventory your assets and the great assets we have are hard working, dedicated employees. We have wonderful students who are going to do great things with their lives. And with those resources I have no doubt that we will be successful."
Thurmond is credited with turning around a dysfunctional Georgia Department of Family and Children's Services and making organizational improvements at the Department of Labor. He said the board selected him for the job because members recognized his institutional skills.
He said he does not want to stay beyond 12 months and will leave sooner if the issues raised by SACS are cleared up.
But some South DeKalb parents were upset about the board's "secretive " process for selecting Thurmond in closed executive session interviews.
Willie Pringle, a Southwest DeKalb High School parent, said he likes Thurmond.
"I pray he does a good job," he said, “but with all that's going on, Michael's not going to turn it around unless they get rid of that board.”
Jennifer Hatfield, whose children attend school in the Northlake Mall area, said switching superintendent is not enough.
"The appointment doesn't reflect the change that parents and stakeholders in DeKalb were hoping for,” she said, adding that she had hoped that the board would maintain stability by working with Atkinson at least until the state board hearing process is completed.
The School Board also approved Atkinson’s severance of six months' pay totaling $114,583, plus any unused vacation.
It took two votes for the board to approve the package. The first vote was 6-3 against. But members agreed to vote again after Donna Edler said she mistakenly cast the wrong vote.
In exchange for the payments, Atkinson 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 during her 16-month tenure with the school system.