I didn’t have much confidence in the chief turnaround office created by Gov. Nathan Deal after voters rejected his more ambitious Opportunity School District.
Nor did I think Eric Thomas, the chief turnaround officer hired in Deal’s final year, would find a receptive crowd in the new governor and Legislature.
Apparently, neither did Thomas.
He is now among six candidates in the running for superintendent of the Canton City School District in Ohio. Thomas has deep ties to the state; he served as a part-time consultant for the Ohio Department of Education and was the chief innovation officer, principal coach, principal and a teacher for Cincinnati Public Schools.
I have reached out to Thomas and will add his response, if he provides one. In his cover letter for the Canton job, Thomas wrote:
As my resume details, I have spent most of my 25-year career in Ohio - as an urban school and district leader. As I consider this prospect, there are three reasons why this is an energizing opportunity and why I believe I am the ideal candidate:
• My skill and passion in leading transformation efforts.
• My experience, along with emerging research, emphasizes Canton’s moderate size bolsters the opportunity for success and sustainability.
• My enthusiasm for public education and the opportunity to directly impact the lives of students many that are likely growing up as I did.
In Georgia, Thomas served as the linchpin of what became known at OSD Plan B, a pared-down version of state takeover in which school districts agreed to intervention. Thomas became Georgia’s first – and possibly – last chief turnaround officer in November of 2017.
Under the new GOP leadership, there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for a program created as a consolation prize for a governor no longer in office.
In 2016, voters didn’t just reject Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state-run school district. They stomped it into the ground.
So, a wounded Deal got the First Priority Act, which established the office of a school "turnaround" chief to work with struggling schools identified by the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
Thomas sought a low profile in his 16 months in the job, working mostly with 11 low-scoring districts in rural South Georgia. He also maintained his distance from the media, thus keeping himself off the public and political stage.
There have been glimpses of stresses between Thomas and the state Department of Education. As my AJC colleague Ty Tagami reported:
When lawmakers were creating the CTO position, state school Superintendent Richard Woods wanted it under his chain of command. But the Legislature put the position under the Georgia Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.
Thomas hinted at tension between him and the state education department last week, when he told the education board that more “cohesiveness” was needed from the superintendent.
Woods, the education department leader, raised a concern of his own, noting that the law is silent about exit criteria and adding that Thomas hasn’t communicated any formal criteria he may have developed.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal this week:
The Canton City school board has narrowed the list of 29 applicants for superintendent to six, according to the Ohio School Boards Association, which was hired by the school board to lead the nationwide search.
School board members will interview candidates Tuesday and Wednesday. The board is planning to hold a second round of interviews with two finalists in mid-April and hire the new superintendent in May.
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