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Vote could come as early as tonight

By Greg Gelpi

The search for a new superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools could end tonight.

A meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Clayton County Public Schools Administrative Complex at 1058 Smith Ave. in Jonesboro. A vote to name a new superintendent could come after the executive session.

The finalists for the job are Barbara Pulliam, the superintendent of the St. Louis Park, Minn., school system; Stanley Pritchett, an associate superintendent of DeKalb County schools; and Roy Brooks, an area superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.

All three are former physical education teachers. The person selected would become only the second African American to head the school system in which the student population is more than two-thirds black. Pulliam would be the first female superintendent.

Pulliam

Pulliam was also a finalist for the top post for the Prince George's County, Md. post but was turned down for the job.

The St. Louis Park system is made up of about 4,500 primarily white students, compared to Prince George's 137,000 primarily black students.

In Clayton County's school system, there are more than 1,800 students at Lovejoy High School alone and more than 13,500 high school students. The system has about 52,000 students total.

"You still have the same kind of issues just on different levels," Pulliam said. "The concerns of parents and teachers are the same."

She previously worked as the associate superintendent of the Rockford School District in Rockford, Ill. She worked with 28,000 students there, and worked with 459,000 students while working as the director of school support services in Chicago.

Those who watched the deliberations in Prince George's said that the board there was concerned with minority test scores because theirs were low, but Pulliam had no track record on that. They added that she didn't fare well during the interview process and didn't take a stand on issues, tending to sway from side to side.

In Prince George's, the board caused so much animosity that the state came in and replaced the elected board with an appointed one. That appointed board didn't renew the superintendent's contract, creating the opening that Pulliam applied for.

At a public forum held Wednesday to introduce the finalists, Pulliam said she had success in narrowing the gap between minority and majority test scores and noted her achievement in overcoming the challenges of a diverse school system, one that included 41 languages.

Hennepin County, where she works now, is more than 80 percent white.

She also said that nothing could beat the experience of hiring a superintendent who has actually been a superintendent.

Pritchett

Clayton County parent Michelle Jackson is questioning the qualifications of Pritchett based upon his application for the job.

While Pulliam turned in a 23-page application and Brooks turned in 31 pages, Pritchett detailed his work history, accomplishments and recommendations in nine pages.

Jackson, who has been following the superintendent search from the start, said Pritchett isn't qualified.

"I don't have anything against Dr. Pritchett, but I just don't see anything there," Jackson said. "At least the others had letters from superiors regarding what they had done."

At the forum, Pritchett said he worked with DeKalb County schools to pass two special purpose local option sales taxes.

Jackson wasn't convinced by his remarks about his work with SPLOST.

"You help get a SPLOST. You don't bring a SPLOST," she said, attributing voters with the success of passing a SPLOST in DeKalb County.

The Clayton County school system is considering asking voters to approve another 1-cent SPLOST.

Brooks

Brooks stands out for his ability to make a stand even when faced with opposition, according to reports published in the Orlando Sentinel.

He isn't afraid to shake things up and draw the ire of those around him, Brooks said.

He has even drawn death threats and other forms of criticism from residents in his school system, said another Roy Brooks, who mistakenly receives his phone calls. Although the finalist's phone number is unlisted, the other Roy Brooks, who is listed in the Orlando phone book, said he receives plenty of harassing phone calls and has had his house vandalized by those looking for the other Brooks.

The Orlando Sentinel compared Brooks, the educator, to Joe Clark, the principal portrayed in the movie "Lean on Me." Clark was credited with turning around a failing high school in New Jersey using hard-nosed tactics.

Brooks became a controversial figure by replacing staff members at troubled schools within his school system.

Brooks stressed at Wednesday's public forum that he makes his decisions based on the best interest of the students.

When asked at the forum how he would increase attendance, he said that he would work with local agencies, including law enforcement, to ensure students are in school. He acknowledged that this would be unpopular, but added it must be done.

There were 41 applicants for the job whose pay has not been announced by the board.

Dan Colwell, Clayton County's superintendent before current Interim Superintendent William Chavis, had a base salary of $157,304 and was paid about $221,000 after fringe benefits, Lee Davis, the school system's chief financial officer said. The next superintendent will negotiate a contract to determine salary.

Currently, Pulliam is paid $142,500, Pritchett is paid $112,000 and Brooks is paid $114,339.