Georgia Has Its First ‘Chief Turnaround Officer’ For Schools

The state board of education hired Eric Thomas as Georgia’s first “Chief Turnaround Officer” to help low-performing schools

Brenna Beech / WABE

The state board of education tapped Eric Thomas to become Georgia’s first Chief Turnaround Officer for K-12 public schools Tuesday. Thomas will oversee efforts to help the state’s lowest-performing schools improve.

The position is a requirement of the First Priority Act, Gov. Nathan Deal’s school turnaround legislation.

Like us on Facebook

Thomas is a Georgia native, who grew up in Savannah. He is currently the chief support officer at the University of Virginia’s school turnaround program. In that role, he’s led school improvement plans across the country. Board members saw a glimpse of Thomas’s leadership style during a presentation Tuesday.

“It’s about being partners,” Thomas said. “Rolling up our sleeves together, being at the table together, sharing conversations, sharing ideas, sharing strategies, giving an external lens to the work you’re already doing, and navigating those barriers together.”

That’s the purpose of the turnaround officer: to provide leadership, guidance and resources for schools. The legislation also allows the officer to hire turnaround coaches.

The board met with three finalists for the job Tuesday. The other two candidates, Eric Parker and Lannie Milon Jr., are also Georgia natives. State board of education chairman Mike Royal said Thomas was the top choice of both the board and the Turnaround Advisory Council, which has been advising the board.

“It’s not just his resume, and his experiences, but we really think that he understands Georgia, he understands the needs, and the diversity in our needs as a state,” Royal said.

Thomas will be assisted by former Atlanta high school principal Stephanie Johnson. The Department of Education recently named Johnson deputy superintendent of school improvement.

The board will take a final vote on Thomas’s contract next week. He’s expected to start work soon afterward.

What is a ‘Chief Turnaround Officer’?

  • House Bill 338, also known as the First Priority Act, says the Chief Turnaround Officer will be responsible for: “… managing and overseeing a system of supports and assistance for the 53 lowest-performing schools in this state identified as in the greatest need of assistance.”
  • According to the legislation, the Chief Turnaround Officer will also name turnaround coaches to serve as liaisons to help schools. It doesn’t specify a number of coaches.
  • The law also says the Chief Turnaround Officer will collaborate with other state agencies to identify schools in need of help.