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Jackson holds conference

By Trina Trice

The rift between school board members has reappeared with the presence of the Rev. Jesse Jackson who held a press conference outside the school administration building on the first day students returned to school.

Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens and member Carol Kellam joined Jackson and other representatives of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to report the results of a preliminary study done on the Clayton County school system and Board of Education.

Later Board members Barbara Wells and Linda Crummy crashed the press conference. Both said they had not been invited, although Gail Davenport, a Rainbow PUSH organizer, insists that she notified all board members.

Wells saw the press conference on TV, called other board members who weren't present, and jumped in her car to see what was going on, she said.

"This is why we're on probation right now," Wells said, visibly agitated. "I went to the retreat. We're all supposed to sit down and work together. I haven't been talking to the press, I haven't been on TV. It saddens me this is the first day of school and they've already done something that can affect us getting off of probation."

Jackson later said he wants to meet with Wells and any other board members to discuss the controversy.

Jackson asserted that his presence was one of reconciliation, he did not intend to add to the controversy surrounding the school board since January when a majority voted to oust former Superintendent Dan Colwell.

"It's not right for these school board members to be facing these attacks and threats," Jackson said, referring to Ware, Kitchens and Kellam who stood behind him.

Jackson believes that recall efforts and demands that board members resign are attempts to "sabotage democracy."

Following the school system's placement on probation by accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, several groups such as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce and the Clayton County Education Association requested the resignations of Ware, Kitchens, Kellam and Board member LaToya Walker. Walker has since declared that she is of independent thought, although her voting pattern on most school issues still mirror that of Ware, Kitchens, and Kellam.

Walker did not attend the Monday press conference.

Before Wells' outbursts and Crummy's visible display of disapproval, Jackson reported that proof of racial discrimination lies in the hiring and employing practices of the Clayton County government and school system, Jackson said.

"We see there is a pattern of disparity from the top level down," he said. "There are 12 people who make $100,000 (in the school system). That's $12 million. For a school system this size, that's maybe top heavy."

Despite the criticism of salaries, Jackson said that interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis' current salary is unfair.

"His predecessor was making $200,000," he said while Chavis was near. "He deserves the same amount of money his predecessor made. His issue is legitimate."

Restructuring school administration and focusing on the multicultural issues of the county's students are ways to resolve the hard transition the county is experiencing with its recent shift in racial demographics, according to Jackson.

"The school system should look like its people, its students, its parents, etc." he said.

Blacks make-up 60 percent of the county's population, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Jackson also stressed that parents need to work at home with their children.

"Education takes place from the bedroom to the classroom, not the boardroom to the classroom," he said.

Jackson suggested that parents do six things to ensure a quality education for their child:

"Take your child to school, meet your child's teachers, exchange numbers (with teachers to communicate), every nine weeks pick up your child's report card, and take your child to church."

The study, which is currently ongoing, includes findings from two public hearings the local Rainbow PUSH chapter conducted this summer.

Jackson received a debriefing on the report before meeting privately with Chavis, Ware, Kitchens, Kellam, and other Rainbow PUSH representatives.

Ware said, "I think his presence here is very important. He can see far and beyond some of the things that have transpired. I'm so glad that he came here. A lot of smoke screens have been placed in front of us. We're going to work hard with the parents?we're here for the children."