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Personnel made difference

By Trina Trice

If the Clayton County Board of Education wants to get off of probation, its members might look to the Cherokee County school system as an example.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the Cherokee County school system on probation five years ago.

The key to getting off of probation for the Cherokee County school district appears to be the hiring of a new superintendent who didn't allow any meddling by school board members.

SACS placed the Cherokee County school system on probation in September 1998 after a review team had substantiated complaints it received alleging school board members had created "an atmosphere of intimidation and fear for school district personnel, parents, students, and community representatives," said Dr. Frank Petruzielo, current Cherokee County Schools superintendent.

Board members were alleged to have accompanied parents to parent-teacher conferences; directed school personnel to ignore staff policies; gave directives to personnel, sometimes in conflict with those given by the superintendent; violated its own policies and procedures.

Similarly, the Clayton County school board leadership has been accused by SACS for meddling in the day-to-day operations of the school system, such as by influencing personnel changes through directives given to the interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis.

To help combat its troubles, the Cherokee County school board retained the services of Glenn Brock, partner in Marietta-based law firm. With the help of Brock, the board conducted a national superintendent search, whereas Petruzielo emerged as the final candidate, and reviewed and revised its policies.

The school system's former superintendent also resigned and three board members were replaced with new ones in January 1999 following the 1998 November election.

The Clayton County school elections are not scheduled until after the one-year probation period although a special election for one vacancy is planned in September.

Brock helped the Fulton County school system with its superintendent search earlier this year.

"On Feb. 1 (1999), I became superintendent of Cherokee County Schools and recommended to the Board (and subsequently instituted) many significant changes in policy and practice that addressed all areas of concern," Petruzielo said.

Part of the board's policy revision included the board's unanimous vote to adopt the Georgia School Boards Association Standards for Local School Boards.

The Clayton County school board is considering adopting the Standards after learning briefly about them at a two-day retreat at the GSBA office in Lawrenceville last week.

In August 1999, SACS sent a review team for a second visit to the Cherokee County school district to monitor its progress.

Schools placed on probation are given one year to correct problems specified by SACS.

Probation was officially removed after nearly an entire year of effort made by Petruzielo and the Cherokee County school board.

Although SACS plans to revisit the school system in September, the Clayton County school board plans to discuss Monday how it will proceed with its national superintendent search.

SACS accredits more than 13,000 elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary schools in the Southeast.

If the district doesn't make it off probation, its accreditation can be lifted and this results in the loss of HOPE scholarships and adverse effects for the school employees seeking jobs in accredited systems.