It will be the School Board’s first meeting since Deal suspended the six longest-serving board members on Feb. 25.
Five of the six replacement board members – John Coleman, District 1; Michael Erwin, District 3; David Campbell, District 5; Karen Carter, District 8; and Thaddeus Mayfield, District 9 – took the oath of office on March 13 from Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson.
Dr. Joyce Morley, District 7, was out of town and will take the oath at a later date.
Deal said that many outstanding community leaders offered themselves for service.
“The high caliber of the candidates reflects well on the county,” he said. “I truly believe the board members will do an incredible job for DeKalb County.”
The new board will meet at 6 p.m. in the Board Room of the Administrative and Industrial Complex, 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain.
The replacement of the bulk of the DeKalb School Board was precipitated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing the 99,000-student school district on accreditation probation on Dec. 17 for governance, ethical and financial management problems. A federal judge upheld the legality of the suspensions.
Deal replaced Nancy Jester, District 1; Sarah Copelin-Wood, District 3; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, District 5; Donna Edler, District 7; Dr. Pam Speaks, District 8; and Dr. Eugene Walker, District 9, under a state law passed in 2011.
Since the suspension was announced, the board, which was left with its three newest members – Dr. Melvin Johnson, District 6; Jim McMahan, District 4; and Marshall Orson, District 2 – who were sworn into office in January, canceled three meetings because of the lack of a five-member quorum.
Parents, some of whom attended the swearing-in ceremony, seemed impressed with the new members.
Greg White, the Southwest DeKalb High PTA president, said he is hoping for progress.
“Overall, I think the new appointees will make a difference,” White said. “I think they’ll be pressured to make a difference and we should see some positive results.”
Marcia Coward, the DeKalb County Council of PTAs president, said the new board offers a fresh start.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get behind a new group of people to show them that we’re holding them accountable,” Coward said. “They’re not tainted in any way. And they now know they serve us.”
South DeKalb community advocate Joel Edwards, who helped organize two recent town hall meetings on the School Board crisis, is impressed with the new members’ educational achievements and the fact that some have backgrounds in mediation.
“I think they’ll do well in moving the school system forward and they’ll have enough time to work with [School Superintendent Michael] Thurmond on ways to solve the probation crisis,” Edwards said.
His one big regret about the replacement process is that Edler and Jester, who had been on the board less than two years, got caught up in the net.
Edwards said Edler probably shouldn’t have been suspended because she campaigned for change.
“I thought it was somewhat heartbreaking that she didn’t get a chance to serve with the three newly elected members,” he said.
Carter, who replaces Speaks in District 8, said she raised her hand for the appointment because she wants to work in partnership with Thurmond, the district’s new interim superintendent, to ensure the future of the district’s students.
“We’re getting to work immediately,” she said. “All jobs are difficult, but the idea is to get to work.”
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.
“Ninety-nine thousand students who deserve the opportunity to grow and be talented is why we’re here,” she said. “I know that’s why I’m here.”
Campbell, who replaces Cunningham on the board, said his business experience will help eliminate governance and financial issues.
“I have a history of being a team builder,” he said. “I have strong accounting skills and I’m able to work across the system as a whole.”
Erwin, who replaces Copelin-Wood, said the 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.”
“First thing we’ll have to do is clear out business left by the old board,” he said.
Coleman, who replaces District 1’s Jester, 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,” he said.
Mayfield, who replaces Walker in 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?’”
Mayfield, who has served on citizens groups that helped with school consolidation and the passage of SPLOST, said that getting off probation is clearly an issue they must address quickly.
“But that’s not the end goal,” he said. “The goal is to make this into an elite school system. And we will do that.”
Northlake parent Jennifer Hatfield said the new board will need positive input from stakeholders.
“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 help reshape the district and go in the right direction.”