Interim DeKalb schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond told a group of parents in Dunwoody that the system would do what it needs to do to avoid losing its accreditation.

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

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the county’s accrediting agency, has put the district on probation, citing past mismanagement. In response, Gov. Nathan Deal removed six board members and plans to appoint replacements.

A week ago, about 300 Dunwoody parents met to talk about ways to take control of their local schools. Rep. Tom Taylor, a Dunwoody Republican, has introduced legislation to allow cities created since 2005, such as Dunwoody, to start their own school districts or to join other nearby cities to start school systems. The legislation would require a constitutional amendment.

Thurmond said past leadership of the DeKalb system “had totally failed” the students.

“The children did nothing wrong,” he said. “This is an adult mess and adults have to change it. … When we do get another board, we will not return to the mistakes of the past.”

He said he intended to decentralize some powers in 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.”

He 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 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.

Although Thurmond said he had been warned that he could expect a hostile crowd in Dunwoody, several parents said after the gathering that he seemed open to hear their concerns.

“He certainly showed to me a willingness to be open to new ideas,” said Bates Mattison, a member of the city council in neighboring Brookhaven.

Allegra Johnson, president of the newly formed Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education, which sponsored the meeting a week earlier, said Thurmond needed to get parents involved in improving the system.

“I think I’ve heard it all before, but I’ll give him a chance,” she said. “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.”

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.