Jackson visit angers some in county

By Trina Trice

It seems that the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Monday visit to Clayton County has generated more outrage among some residents than it has healing, they said Tuesday.

Jackson, along with representatives from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, held a press conference outside the school district's administrative offices to report preliminary results of a study done on the state of the Clayton County school system and Board of Education.

Several attempts by the News Daily to obtain a copy of the Rainbow PUSH report were repeatedly denied.

When asked whether the report would ever be made public, Janice Matthews, director of Rainbow PUSH, Southern Region, said she wasn't sure.

Jackson hoped his visit would help bring about reconciliation among opposing forces on the school board and among county residents, he said. However, he expressed his support of school Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens and member Carol Kellam, saying they have been wrongly attacked and threatened. The three board members have been the subjects of a possible recall. Their resignations have been requested by residents who hold up signs at board meetings and several local organizations, such as the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

Jackson declared that a recall of the board members is an attempt to "sabotage democracy."

Many residents, though, don't think Jackson was informed enough to make such statements.

"I know he didn't get all the facts," said Michelle Jackson of Riverdale. "He needs to talk to some parents."

Jesse Jackson had a debriefing on the report prior to making his statements; he also met privately with Ware, Kitchens, Kellam and interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis.

"We don't need an outsider to give their opinion," said Virginia Williams about Jackson's visit. "He made it worse."

Some board members said they were not told about Jackson's visit and therefore feel the Ware contingent is up to the same old tricks, such as holding press conferences and attending meetings without informing other board members.

An angry Barbara Wells said she learned of the visit by watching the 5 p.m. news. She arrived and said she and other board members were not invited and this is continuing the problems in the district.

Patsy Britt of Jonesboro said, "It seemed like the school board was settling down after attending the retreat. I don't like Jackson coming in and saying things like ?sabotage democracy'. I don't want to see him come in with this intimidation thing and see people back off."

Elizabeth Armstrong, a local advocator for parents and residents, thought the school board had finally learned how to work together.

Armstrong attended the two-day retreat school board members took in July with the Georgia School Boards Association, an organization that teaches school boards across the state how to operate effectively and legally.

The school board held the retreat to get appropriate training that would help it follow recommendations from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, that placed the school system on probation in June.

Ware and Kitchens' micro-management of the school system's day-to-day operations were blamed for the probation status.

The school system has one year to get off of probation before possibly losing its accreditation. Loss of accreditation could mean loss of HOPE Scholarships for graduating seniors.

"I thought we were at a holding point until finding a superintendent, until things were done," Armstrong said. "(Jackson's visit) was a shock to us. I respect him as a civil rights leader, but not without knowing both sides of the story. Not all board members were there and it was the first day of going back to school. It was a slap in our faces ? everybody, African-Americans n it was a slap in all our faces."