DeKalb fires school chief search firm amid disturbing revelations. Going final mile alone.

At the same time it’s reporting progress on efforts to replace outgoing school chief Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County School District fired its superintendent search firm ProAct Search after troubling revelations about the CEO in a Chicago newspaper.

DeKalb is dumping the search firm it hired to help find a new leader for the district.

DeKalb is dumping the search firm it hired to help find a new leader for the district.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that CEO and former educator Gary Solomon was forced out of an Illinois high school where he worked because of allegations of  racist comments and “immoral and unprofessional” conduct, including kissing a teen and sending suggestive emails to students, including “What are you favorite turn-ons?”

The Sun-Times reported:

In an email to a former female student who had recently graduated, Solomon allegedly referred to African-American people as “mooks, shines, burrheads, yard apes, porch monkeys,” and several other racially offensive terms. He also wrote that black people “will never set foot in his house,” according to a transcript of a state hearing held because Solomon initially fought efforts to remove him from the school.

And, in a personal journal he kept on a school computer, Solomon described another school administrator as an “uppity n—–,” a lawyer for District 219 alleged, according to the transcript.

The documents from the case, which were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sun-Times, also detail what Solomon’s former employers called his “predatory complex.”

“Mr. Solomon would pick on unsuspecting victims, minor female students, most of whom suffered from an eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, psychological self-doubts about themselves, alcohol and substance abuse, and prey on them,” said Anthony Scarino, the lawyer who represented District 219 in its push to remove Solomon from his job there, according to a transcript of the state administrative hearing in 1999.

Solomon has been in the news because of a $20.5 million no-bid contract from Chicago Public Schools to another of his business ventures, SUPES Academy, a leadership development firm.

According to the Sun-Times, “The FBI is investigating the awarding of the contract, and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett — who once worked for SUPES — has taken a paid leave of absence after the existence of the federal corruption probe became public recently.”

ProAct Search received 112 applications for Thurmond’s job, and the DeKalb school board is interviewing top contenders. However, DeKalb dumped ProAct and sent out a short public statement this afternoon.

The DeKalb County Board of Education is pleased to announce that it has interviewed its semi-finalist candidates to be the next Superintendent of the DeKalb County School District. We are impressed by the depth and breadth of their expertise.

The Board is also aware of some disturbing allegations that have come to light regarding the CEO and owner of ProAct, the search firm hired by the Board to assist with its Superintendent search. While these are allegations only, the DeKalb County Board of Education is committed to ensuring that the individuals representing us reflect our values and those of our community. To that end, the Board has elected to end its relationship with ProAct and continue the search independently.

On Sunday, the Fayette County, Ky., school board also fired ProAct. When I noted all the districts across the country using ProAct’s services, I thought it may be time for some ambitious educators to create their own search firm that has less baggage.

 

Reader Comments 0

50 comments
atln8tiv
atln8tiv

How do people like this get in the positions they hold? And how does Dekalb manage to attract trouble like a magnet?

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

I think everyone is overlooking the most important implication of firing the search firm:  The central office ("Palace") Administrators who are supposed to directly report to the Superintendent now get to control the search for that Superintendent!

SS88
SS88

It would seem to me that the DeKalb school board would do some extra due diligence on these candidates to be sure they are not apples from the same bad barrel before announcing they have their semi-finalists.  For all we know the companies "top candidates" are cronies of the owner and no more  qualified or competent to be a school superintendent than Bozo the Clow.

Mandella88
Mandella88

@SS88

What's a "Clow" 


Also your cute SS 88 moniker shows what you really believe in....

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

OMG.  It just never ends with Dekalb Public Schools. Dekalb will be forced to settle big time with the search firm, and pay a big chunk of the fees owed.   More wasted taxpayer dollars.


For the sake of the kids, I pray that these semifinalists are impressive candidates and that their body of work is at least remotely comparable to Meria Carstaphen.   Not saying she is going to succeed, but she was a very quality hire with the right skill set, and thus has the chops to succeed so long as she gets support from the board and from the state.


Dekalb seems to find controversy at every turn.....

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@living-in-outdated-ed


Okay, hopefully you googled "PROACT, Eli Broad"


Now google "Meria Carstarphen, Eli Broad"


There is a reason Carstarphen wants to turn APS into a Charter System, and one would be unwise to believe the reason has nothing to do with Broad.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

TRS HB 152 debated in Coverdale Building Across from the State Capitol, tomorrow.  Be there.  See below for information from T.R.A.G.I.C.  (Thank you, Maureen Downey, for allowing this public information post:)


"****TRAGIC ACTION NEEDED****

As we have posted previously, our TRS faces a sneak attack by members of the Senate Education Retirement Committee. Their usual June meeting has been moved to THIS THURSDAY, May 7, and will be held jointly with the House Education Retirement Committee. At this meeting, HB 152 is on the agenda, and the committees COULD PASS A FISCAL STUDY THAT WOULD BE THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF TRS AS WE KNOW IT.

The joint retirement committee meeting will take place on May 7th at 10:00am-12:00pm Room 606 located at the Coverdale Legislator Office Building. WE CALL ON ANY TRAGIC MEMBERS WHO ARE AVAILABLE TO ATTEND THIS MEETING!!! We need people there to let these legislatures know how strongly we feel about protecting our TRS!"

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady 


That is exactly what the T.R.A.G.I.C. people were pointing out in their various communications, Wascatlady.  Thank you much for highlighting that opinion here.  Appreciated!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaryElizabethSings Of course, if the June meeting were held in JUNE, more teachers could be there.  No wonder it got switched!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Based on the hiring of the last dozen years, I am not sure a professional search committee helps much.



BCW1
BCW1

The drama today in education is unbelievable. No wonder the general public does not trust us any longer.

ErnestB
ErnestB

If comments made by several citizens during the Board meeting Monday night are an indication, I believe you will see and hear more across the county recommend that Michael Thurmond remain as superintendent.  Speaker Bill Joy reminded us of a quote by Abraham Lincoln, "Don't change horses in midstream", meaning don't change your leader midway through a project."  The school district is much better off than when Thurmond started the job, especially from a financial standpoint.   Why change leaders now and have a reset, especially when real and measurable improvements are being made?

You could point to the improving economy as the primary reason however you still had to have the right people in place making recommendations.Thurmond is a proven leader, given his successes from DFACS and the Department of Labor.  He has provided stability, direction and a vision for where DeKalb Schools needs to go.  If he can be convinced to stay for 3-5 years, I believe the school district would be in good hands as it will provide much needed consistency.  Hopefully more citizens across the county will say the same and ask him to stay.

To all the educators, Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@ErnestB 

It seems to me that I've heard this prediction almost from the beginning. 

Mirva
Mirva

These “nation-wide searches” are a preposterous waste of money and time.  Atlanta is a major city with likely hundreds of  qualified local candidates.  Why on earth is Dekalb bringing in a stranger with no ties or vested interest in the community?  Yet again there will be a big flash of photo ops as the new  guy goes around and tries to figure out who does what and how things work.  S/he will have to bring in some new program at great expense to the county that will be introduced with great new fanfare. There will be an upheaval in the schools as the admin and teachers try to implement the “great new idea” and before it gets off the ground, the new guy will be gone and we will be doing this all over again with yet another new guy. 


AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@TheDeal2 @Mirva 


Most of the time the person is in your backyard that you are looking for! Stop this nonsense about someone from outside.  Give these young, hungry educators that have been teaching in the system 4 or 5 years the opportunity to lead the district. I bet changes and success would happen overnight!

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

@Mirva Local candidates often come from the pool of people tied to other people who are engaged in borderline criminal activity.  Look at our county government.  People are fleeing like roaches.  There is very little leadership in DeKalb that isn't tainted.  We need to go outside for someone who has the guts to clean it up.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

Gov. Deal saved the landfill known as DeKalb from losing its accreditation.  The governor will probably have to intervene yet again for this sorry excuse of a county.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

So, out of the thirteen or so Assistant Superintendents, not one is worthy of consideration?  Thurmond has had how long to develop his successor and he has failed to do so?

This whole national search for a superintendent is the biggest racket going nowadays.  They move often enough to keep one step ahead of termination.  Any odds on how long APS's super will last?  I'm doubling down on 3.5 years.

PJ25
PJ25

And people wonder why white folks ITP and OTP send their kids to private schools. 

GB101
GB101

Did he really write "uppity n_____"?  

bu2
bu2

@GB101 

Who knows-see eulb's article.

reasonable40
reasonable40

It is a 14 year old allegation. It reaks of someone trying to harm someone's reputation. Even if is true...if he can provide a candidate of the caliber of Thurmond I couldn't care less what he allegedly said 14 years ago.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

I think it's interesting to compare this process to the one in Florida where Avossa ended up. There, all the candidates' names and resumes were posted, so presumably citizens had specifics to discuss at the public meetings. 

bu2
bu2

@eulb 

Good find.


Note that the school district paid HIM $50,000 to get him to leave.


Hard to believe they really had e-mails and journals when they caved and paid him.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@bu2 @eulb The link in this blog takes you to the Sun-Times story, which has links to the original news stories including why the district chose to settle with Solomon for $50,000.

bu2
bu2

@MaureenDowney @bu2 @eulb 

The other article does as well.  The school district thought they would spend as much on lawyer's fees getting rid of him and weren't sure they would win.  But that calculation works the other way as well.  It would cost him more than $50k to keep fighting.


Basically, they had no case.  They couldn't get anyone to testify.  Odds are their lawyers told them they would lose.


When you throw in things like the Wrigley Field bit during a school day, you are reaching for straws.  Its a red flag that they didn't have anything they could prove.


So how much was fiction and how much is true is hard to tell.  When you have allegations of language and actions that are so bad, especially the racial stuff, you just have to wonder if people made it up to get rid of him.  Would he really be that stupid to put all that stuff on paper and e-mails?  And if he was really that bad, why haven't more instances popped up since then?  Maybe things will come out now that this is public, but nothing has yet.

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

SMH over and over and over

Mandella88
Mandella88

@TheDeal2

Gary Solomon - the PERFECT recruit as the next soldier for DeKalb Schools Watch II!

reasonable40
reasonable40

Not enough corrupt black candidates were identified I am sure. Not a match for the culture at DeKalb. They fired the firm based on allegations, ...that is it? I guess DeKalb should fire the entire board of commissioners...as they all have had allegations made against them. Same stupid point of view that the seriousness of the allegation is more important than the actual FACTS.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@reasonable40 


Why does it have to be about "corrupt black candidates".  This is getting old! Stop playing the race card over and over again.  It is old now. Stick to topic! This is about this piece of garbage not about "corrupt black candidates".

bu2
bu2

Its odd that all this only comes up 16 years later while he has worked with dozens of schools districts.  It would seem that such behavior and attitudes would have been expressed repeatedly.  What is alleged are not slips of the tongue or minor indiscretions.


It sounds like criminal behavior if he is "preying" on minor females.  Yet there is no discussion of criminal charges.

bu2
bu2

eulb found an old article above.  They ended up paying him to leave.

bu2
bu2

After the last search, maybe no one wanted to work with DeKalb.


They've already provided candidates that we have interviewed, apparently to narrow the field down to 3.  Now that they've done virtually all the work, we fire them.  So is DeKalb going to refuse to pay them and instead pay a bunch of lawyers to fight the ensuing lawsuit?



FedUp DeKalbGOP
FedUp DeKalbGOP

@bu2 No one wanted the job.  I have two friends who work for well respected search firms and they both ran as fast as they could.  No $$$ was worth the likely disastorous outcome.  

APS fired ProAct during their most recent search, right @MaureenDowney 

redweather
redweather

This is so not a surprise.  I've lived in DeKalb County now for thirty-five years and never imagined we would one day rival Clayton County for sheer incompetence, and that's putting it as nicely as I can.

FedUp DeKalbGOP
FedUp DeKalbGOP

@redweather Clayton is actually performing better on nearly all (all?) metrics than Clayton, especially as it relates to student achievement.  In fact, 

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

@amomwhocares @redweather 


"Clayton is actually performing better on nearly all (all?) metrics than Clayton..."


Clayton is performing better than itself?????  Good God you folks of DeKalb and Clayton are truly incompetent.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Maybe it's time to dump national search firms and hire someone who lives here, grew up here and has some regional pride. I'd like to think that's how smaller municipalities do it. Whenever we get someone from out of state they either come with baggage or make a mess here.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

How did this company come to be picked?  Maureen, can you find out?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady DeKalb didn't have a choice.

As the AJC reported: 


The DeKalb County school board revealed Monday that the only firm interested in taking on the job of finding the district's next superintendent is PROACT Search, an outfit that was dismissed by the Atlanta school board during a similar search.

DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond's contract expires in June, so time is running out to find a successor. So far, the school board has had little success even finding a firm to help. This is the second time the district has issued a "request for qualifications" for search firms; the first attracted little interest.

PROACT was fired by the Atlanta school board in July 2013 because of concerns that the company would be unable to land a top-tier leader. Atlanta Public Schools later hired Meria Carstarphen.

Members of a committee overseeing the Atlanta search worried that PROACT's time and staffing were divided between several school districts, and a similar concern arose at a DeKalb meeting Monday, when one school board member noted that PROACT will be working for a district in a neighboring state. Board members also were concerned that the firm did not get all of the 100 possible points in DeKalb's rating process.