Georgia’s first school turnaround chief picked

Eric Thomas of the University of Virginia will lead Georgia’s school turnaround program.

The Savannah native emerged as the preferred candidate after he and two other former Georgians interviewed in public Tuesday with the state Board of Education.

Eric Parker, who grew up in DeKalb County and is the superintendent for laboratory schools on the Eastern Kentucky University campus, and Lannie Milon, Jr. an Atlanta native who leads a high school in Houston, were the other finalists.

The three were winnowed from about 60 applicants.

They were interviewing in downtown Atlanta because of House Bill 338, which passed along bipartisan lines during this year’s legislative session. Gov. Nathan Deal readily signed it, after backing the bill as a comeback from a political miscalculation. Last year, he hoped voters would let him create a statewide “Opportunity School District” with authority to take over schools deemed “chronically failing,” but they rejected his constitutional amendment in November, preferring to keep schools under local control.

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HB 338 requires a more collaborative approach, though school districts could still lose control of schools that do not improve. That puts the turnaround chief in a delicate position, as both the person targeting schools for state intervention and an ally coaching them to improve enough to avoid that fate.

Thomas, is chief support officer of the University of Virginia’s turnaround program, and works with schools across the country.

People who interviewed him said he possessed a winning combination of expertise and the ability to articulate a vision to different audiences.

Assuming an agreeable contact with Thomas can be negotiated, the school board will hire him Oct. 25, after Tuesday’s unanimous vote to give him the job.

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