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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.

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.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.