By Greg Gelpi
The Clayton County Board of Education voted unanimously Friday night to hire Barbara Pulliam to be its superintendent.
Meeting for more than two hours behind closed doors, the board emerged at 9:45 p.m. to vote to enter into negotiations with Pulliam, the superintendent of the St. Louis Park, Minn., school system.
The vote brought cheers from the crowd of less than 20 people, as many proceeded to congratulate the board not only for making the decision, but for making it with a 9-0 vote.
"We feel very confident that she is going to do the job and move the system in the right direction," Chairwoman Nedra Ware said. "She is going to get all of the support you see here tonight."
Ware wouldn't go into details about the two hours of closed-door discussions that led to the vote other than to say the atmosphere was "very relaxed."
That is in stark contrast to where the board was in January. After the firing of Superintendent Dan Colwell, board resignations were called for and crowds of people brought signs of protest to meetings in the months that followed.
Parent Michelle Jackson, who has attended many of the board meetings and followed the superintendent search, was pleased with the decision, but also expressed concern.
"I'm happy that they could make the best choice they could make because she's into building relationships," Jackson said. "I just hope that certain elements will let her do her job."
With the decision, Jackson predicted changes on the board, saying that the next election could create turnover on the board.
Sid Chapman, the president of the Clayton County Education Association, said it was an "excellent decision."
"I think she has her work cut out for her, but she will work out," said Chapman, who represents about 2,000 county educators. "I think that our first concern is that we get off probation and that she works with the board and the board works with her."
Pulliam could not be reached for comment, but at a public forum Wednesday she listed her top priorities for Clayton County. Her No. 1 priority is to get the system off probation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the school system's accrediting agency, placed the system on probation in May and will be back in the spring. At a visit halfway through the yearlong probation, SACS found only "cosmetic" improvements had been made.
A crucial element of the system getting off probation is hiring a permanent superintendent, Mark Elgart, the executive director of the SACS Committee for Secondary and Middle Schools, said at that time.
If the system has its accreditation revoked, none of the system's graduating seniors will be eligible for the state's scholarship program Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE).
Pulliam also listed student achievement, getting to know the board's priorities and quality education as her other priorities.
She has been in her current position since 1997. Before that, she worked for the Rockford School District in Rockford, Ill., as an associate superintendent. She has also worked in Chicago, a school system of 459,000 students, as the director of school support services.
Pulliam was one of three finalists chosen from a list of 41 applicants after a national search. The other two finalists were Stanley Pritchett, an associate superintendent of DeKalb County schools, and Roy Brooks, an area superintendent of Orange County schools in Orlando, Fla.
The process now moves into the negotiation phase as board attorney Gary Sams will work with Pulliam on the details of a contract. If she accepts a contract, she will be the first female superintendent and only the second black superintendent of Clayton County.
She currently makes $142,500. Dan Colwell, the superintendent who preceded interim Superintendent William Chavis, was paid a base salary of $157,304, but made about $221,000 after fringe benefits.
Ware couldn't give a date for when Pulliam would start if an agreement is reached, but said it would be "as soon as possible."