DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Former Georgia labor secretary Michael Thurmond was sworn in on Saturday morning as DeKalb County Schools interim superintendent.
"I'm excited. I'm truly blessed to have this wonderful opportunity," he told Channel 2's Amanda Cook, minutes before the ceremony.
Thurmond smiled and shook hands with the large group of teachers and staff, who happened to be at the DeKalb schools headquarters for a volunteer curriculum training.
Thurmond was named to run the state's third-largest school district on Friday, a move that comes just hours after the district ended its contract with Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.
The school board officially voted to terminate Atkinson’s contract on Friday. The board and attorneys for Atkinson worked out an agreement which allows her to leave at midnight Friday and pays her $114,583 through June 30.
The vote for Thurmond was a 7-2 vote in favor of naming him interim superintendent.
"I'm here today because I'm interested in the future of public education in DeKalb County and I came and offered my support to help the DeKalb School Board overcome the challenges that were faced," Thurmond said on Friday.
The board met in executive session several days this week, eventually deciding to end the superintendent’s term after just 17 months on the job.
The school board asked a private law firm to begin an investigation into texts and emails by Atkinson last year.
Channel 2’s Erica Byfield first reported that an attorney representing several former school employees alleged that the superintendent authorized the district’s legal counsel to offer former employees new jobs with the school system if they would drop their open records request to see the superintendent’s texts and emails.
Byfield questioned Thurmond after he met with the school board behind closed doors on Monday. Thurmond would not acknowledge at the time he was taking the position, but simply said, “I’m here to help.”
On Saturday, Thurmond told Cook his goal is to get back to the business of educating children. He also said he does not want to be the permanent superintendent of DeKalb schools.
"It's not my job. I think we need to find the very best educator in this nation (to permanently fill the position)."
Thurmond takes the helm not long after the district was placed on accreditation probation, and as the entire school board faces a hearing with the Georgia Board of Education. All of the school board members could lose their seats.
"Failure is not an option. I'm absolutely convinced we'll be able to provide the answers the accrediting agency and the State Board of Education are seeking," Thurmond said.