Some candidates for school turnaround chief worked in Atlanta

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Some candidates for school turnaround chief worked in Atlanta

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David Barnes/DAVID BARNES / SPECIAL
April 27, 2017, Atlanta - Governor Nathan Deal signs House Bill 338, which aims to turn around low-performing schools. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The three finalists to lead Georgia’s experiment to improve its lowest-performing public schools are working in Kentucky, Texas and Virginia, and two have experience as school administrators in metro Atlanta.

Monday’s announcement by the Georgia Department of Education comes just ahead of the public interview of the finalists to be conducted Tuesday morning. The candidates are competing for the job as Chief Turnaround Officer, a new position established by House Bill 338 this year.

All have experience leading schools.

Eric Parker, superintendent for laboratory schools on the Eastern Kentucky University campus, was previously a principal of two high schools in Georgia, one in Atlanta and another in Gwinnett County; he also led a Gwinnett middle school.

Lannie Milon, Jr. leads a high school in Houston now, but began his career as a teacher in Atlanta schools.

The third candidate, Eric Thomas, also a former teacher and principal, is chief support officer of the University of Virginia’s turnaround program, and works with schools across the country.

The three were winnowed from a list of 58 applicants by an advisory panel representing most of Georgia’s educator advocacy groups. The panel was required under HB 338 as a way to spread influence over the turnaround effort.

Gov. Nathan Deal backed the bill as an alternative to his failed constitutional amendment last year, which would have given the state authority to intervene unilaterally in “chronically failing” schools. The new law, passed with bipartisan support, establishes a more collaborative approach, though school districts could still face consequences, including loss of control, if they fail to improve their schools.

One of the Education Turnaround Advisory Council members, Jimmy Stokes, said he was pleased with both the process and the people selected. All three are well qualified, said Stokes, who chaired the council, and they are  “very nurturing, down to earth people.” 

Diplomacy will be key, given the delicate task at hand: school districts targeted by the new turnaround chief will be compelled by the Georgia Board of Education to improve their schools, and the Georgia Department of Education will be expected to collaborate though it is not in charge of the project.

The state education board will pick the new chief after interviewing the three candidates at an open meeting at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday at the education department offices in downtown Atlanta.

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