John Coleman sees the next year as “critical” for DeKalb County’s schools.

Coleman is one of six people appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal on March 13 to hold seats on the DeKalb school board. Coleman and his fellow appointees replace board members Deal suspended from office after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, put the district’s accreditation on probation. The agency criticized the board for meddling improperly in school affairs and for financial mismanagement.

“The next year is critical for accreditation,” said Coleman, a 31-year-old Brookhaven resident with a Masters of Business Administration degree from Harvard University. “Then, I think we need to address long-term issues.”

There are plenty of issues to address in DeKalb’s school system, the third largest in the state. While officials work to address SACS’ complaints and retain the system’s accreditation, groups of north DeKalb parents are discussing how to wrest control of their schools from the county. Meanwhile, some ousted board members are contesting their removal in court, saying Deal’s actions thwarted the desires of voters.

Former board Chairman Eugene Walker said in a statement released March 18 that SACS created the perception of many of the problems the system faces.

“SACS and its agents distorted the actions of the school board and intentionally diminished the level of trust and confidence held by the constituents of the board members,” Walker said. “This was done through accusations, allegations and innuendos without providing proof or supporting documents. The SACS report was rife with unsubstantiated allegations and general statements with the intent of creating a false negative perception of the school board and facilitating a reason for probation.”

Coleman believes he and the newly appointed board will be able to avoid losing the system’s accreditation, which parents fear could hamper high school graduates’ efforts to win scholarships and admission to some out-of-state colleges. “I have a high degree of confidence we will be able to address this [accreditation],” Coleman said.

“For me, the focus is to make sure we address many of the issues raised by SACS,” Coleman said. “I do think we can make a big difference.”

He’s confident, in part, because of the accomplishments of the people the governor appointed to the board. “I can’t tell you how impressed I was when I saw the list of board members,” Coleman said. “It seems like an awesome group…. I do think it’s going to be a good group to try to address the issues.”

The list of new board members, chosen from more than 400 applicants for the jobs, includes a second person with an M.B.A., a Certified Public Accountant, a lawyer, a Ph.D. and a member with a masters degree in counseling education.

Coleman is not the only school official promising publicly that the district will not lose accreditation.

“Failure is not an option,” Interim schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond told about 100 parents and local officials gathered at the Kingsley Swim and Racquet Club clubhouse on March 10 for a question-and-answer session sponsored by the Dunwoody Homeowners Association.

“The children did nothing wrong,” Thurmond said. “This is an adult mess and adults have to change it. … We will not return to the mistakes of the past.”

Thurmond said he intended to decentralize some powers within the school system and to get the district’s finances under control. “We are going to put our fiscal house in order,” he said. “We’re moving in that direction, where we will be back in the black and not in the red.”

Distrcit 2 school board representative Marshall Orson said at a March 19 forum at Cross Keys High School in Brookhaven that he believes Thurmond, the state’s former labor commissioner and a former state legislator, is the right man to help turn the ailing school system around.

“He’s well-respected regardless of your politics,” Orson said. “He’s a man of his word and he gets things done.”

Like Coleman, Orson is confident in the system’s new leadership. He told parents and teachers at Cross Keys High School that he thinks the system is “turning a corner.”

Thurmond asked the Dunwoody parents to support efforts to change the system from within. But, in response to a question about efforts to create a new school district in the area, he said, “as a parent, you need to do what you believe is in the best interest of your child. If you believe creating a separate district in Dunwoody is in the best interest of your children, I’d be the last” to oppose it.

Rep. Tom Taylor, a Dunwoody Republican, introduced legislation that would call for a constitutional amendment to allow cities created since 2005, including Dunwoody, to start their own school districts or to join other nearby cities to start school systems.

Members of Dunwoody City Council informally agreed March 11 to spend up to $50,000 to help finance a study of the feasibility of operating a city school system. The council is expected to vote on the expenditure during its April 1 meeting. “Time is of the essence,” Councilman Terry Nall said. “We need the study to be completed by October to be effective in the Legislature.”

Taylor told council members that his bill has been assigned to the education committee in the state House of Representatives, so a feasibility study is not a requirement. But, he thought a study – similar to ones done during the process of starting new cities – would help him convince other lawmakers to approve the bill. “I need to go down there with ammunition,” he said. “I need to go down there with a concise study.”

Taylor said the time required to win approval of the necessary legislation meant a vote on the constitutional amendment would not be held until next year. The earliest a new school system could be created, he said, would be in 2016.

Thurmond said he had been warned to expect a hostile crowd in Dunwoody. But several parents said he seemed willing to hear their concerns.

“I think I’ve heard it all before, but I’ll give him a chance,” said Allegra Johnson, president of the newly formed Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education. “If he wants me to give him opportunities, then he needs to give parents opportunities as well – opportunities to help. It’s a two-way street. I’m encouraged, if he listens to our opportunities.”

Coleman said he applied for an appointment to the board because he saw the job as a way to make a difference in his community. “It’s a pretty critical point for DeKalb,” he said.

Asked whether the challenges facing the board gave him pause, he said he found his feelings about the job hard to describe. “I think the feeling is more of a sense of responsibility,” he said. “You want to make sure you do a good job. My goal is, over the next year and a half, that I can comport myself with the right amount of dignity that the focus becomes on the kids and staff and not on me.”

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Here, listed by district, are the people Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to the DeKalb County school board:

District 1, John Coleman

Coleman, who replaces Nancy Jester, is a strategic planning manager at Invesco. Previously, he held a variety of leadership roles at McKinsey & Company. He also serves on various nonprofit boards. Coleman has a master’s in business administration from Harvard and a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. He resides in Atlanta.

District 3, Michael Erwin

A U.S. Navy veteran who has been a research assistant at Duke University Medical Center and the University of South Carolina, Erwin has worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Services and is past chair of the NOAA fisheries committees on fish species and fish diseases in Maine and South Carolina. In 2008, he earned a Ph.D. in Biological Science from the University of South Carolina. He has been a member of the faculty at Georgia Gwinnett College since 2009. He graduated from North Carolina Central University with a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in biological science. Erwin resides in Decatur.

District 5, David Campbell

Campbell is a senior manager with Georgia Power Co., where he supports the company’s energy conservation efforts. He is a certified public accountant. Campbell received a degree in Business Administration from Albany State University. He is a former chair of Leadership DeKalb, a member of the DeKalb 100 Black Men and an active member of St. Phillips AME. He formerly served on the Stephenson High School Council and resides in Lithonia.

District 7, Joyce Morley

Morley is the chief executive officer of Morley and Associates and is a public speaker and trainer. She is a certified counselor, a trained mediator and serves on several local and national governance boards. Morley has a doctorate in counseling, family and work life from the University of Rochester. She received her specialist’s and master’s degrees in counseling education from the State University New York College at Brockport, and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the SUNY College at Genesco. A Stone Mountain resident, Morley has lived in DeKalb County for more than 22 years.

District 8, Karen Carter

Carter serves on the faculty of Georgia Perimeter. She received a bachelor’s degree in speech communications from Denison University and a law degree from Ohio State University. Carter has served as a classroom teacher and has held several senior administrative roles in the field of education. She is a graduate of Leadership DeKalb and is an active community volunteer and a PTSA member. Carter is a resident of the Lakeside Community.

District 9, Thaddeus Mayfield

Mayfield is a senior partner with FOCOM, Inc., a Georgia-based business development firm. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from Mercer University and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tougaloo College. He co-chaired the successful Friends of DeKalb Education SPLOST IV Campaign and is an active member of several business and civic organizations in the metropolitan area. Mayfield is a resident of Lithonia.

Source: governor’s office

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.