“We are delighted to serve and our intentions are to work in partnership with superintendent [Michael Thurmond] to ensure the future of our students. We’re getting to work immediately,” said new member Karen Carter, who will represent District 8. She serves on the faculty of Georgia Perimeter College, where she is chair of the Business and Social Science department.
Deal on Feb. 25 suspended the six longest serving board members on the recommendation of the Georgia Board of Education. The state board had recommended suspension on Feb. 21, based on a Dec. 17 report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools citing governance, ethical and financial management problems. SACS placed the district on probation -one step away from loss of accreditation.
In addition to Carter, the new members are:
-- John Coleman, District 1: Coleman is a strategic planning manager at Invesco. He lives in Atlanta.
-- Michael Erwin, District 3: A Ph.D. in biological science, Erwin has been on the faculty at Georgia Gwinnett College since 2009 and teaches undergraduate students in biological science. Erwin lives in Decatur.
-- David Campbell, District 5: Campbell is a senior manager with Georgia Power, where he supports the company’s energy conservation efforts. He formerly served on the Stephenson High School Council and resides in LIthonia.
-- Joyce Morley, District 7: Morley is chief executive officer of Morley and Associates and is a nationally known public speaker and trainer. She has a Ph.D. in counseling, and has lived in DeKalb County for more than 22 years.
-- Thaddeus Mayfield, District 9: Mayfield is a senior partner with FOCOM Inc., a Georgia-based business development firm. He co-chairs the successful Friends of DeKalb Education SPLOST IV Campaign and is an active member of several business and civic organizations in the Atlanta area. Mayfield lives in Lithonia.
Morley was out of town and not present for the swearing-in.
The six nominees replace suspended board members Sarah Copelin-Wood, District 3; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, District 5; Donna Edler, District 7; Nancy Jester, District 1; Dr. Pam Speaks, District 8; and Dr. Eugene Walker, District 9.
“All jobs are difficult but the idea is to get to work,” Carter said. When pressed to explain why she wanted to join a school board that’s in crisis, Carter said she was moved by the plight of the students caught in the middle of the probation fight. “99,000 students who deserve the opportunity to grow and be talented is why we’re here. I know that’s why I’m here.”
New District 5 member David Campbell said his business experience will help eliminate governance and financial issues. “I have a history of being a team builder, I have strong accounting skills and I’m able to work across the system as a whole.” he said.
“First thing will be to take a little bit of the dysfunction out of the protocol for board meetings to allow us to work together in a cooperative spirit,” said District 3’s Michael Erwin. “First thing we’ll have to do is clear out business left by the old board.”
John Coleman said the job is a challenge and opportunity.
“There are nearly 100,000 kids who need a good education. There are 14,000 employees who need good working conditions and need to feel part of the system and there are thousands of folks in the community, taxpayers and parents, who are counting on us to provide some governance and make sure that trust is rebuilt in the system,” Coleman said.
Thaddeus Mayfield of District 9 said communication will be key.
“I have an open ear, an open mind and an open door to anyone who has a concern or issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “The biggest challenge will be ‘how do we set priorities beyond getting off probation?’ Getting off probation is clearly a milestone that we have to address quickly, but that’s not the end goal. The goal is to make this into an elite school system. And we will do that.”
The replacements will join three newly elected board members who were not suspended: Dr. Melvin Johnson, Jim McMahan and Marshall Orson.
“Addressing the SACS issue is really just the first thing we have to do. It’s a floor,” said Orson. “There are so many other things we have to do to ensure that every child in the school system is getting a high quality education. That is our responsibility ... and we have fallen short and I think that has to be our preeminent concern as we move forward.”
The swearing-in ceremony came less than two hours after Deal announced the six appointees.
“We had many outstanding community leaders offer themselves for service, and the high caliber of the candidates reflects well on the county,” Deal said. “It was difficult to choose between so many great applicants. I truly believe the board members will do an incredible job for DeKalb County.”
“This is a good day. This is an absolutely good day,” said Marcia Coward, president of the DeKalb County Council of PTAs. “I’m excited. It’s an opportunity for us to get behind a new group of people to show them that we’re holding them accountable. They’re not tainted in any way as far we’re concerned as parents. And they now know they serve us.”
Jennifer Hatfield, a PTA leader in the Northlake neighborhood, said the new board will need positive input.
“Let’s not sit back and wait for them to do something that we can criticize.” she said. “Let’s really head down the road together in a very positive direction and support them. Yes, let them know we will hold them accountable. But really partner with them and let them draw us into the fold to let us help reshape the district and go in the right direction.”
The district has not yet set a date for the new board's first meeting.