Probation is real, not theory for area residents

By Bob Paslay

For a copy of the complete seven-page SACS report see today's edition of the News Daily.

With emotion ringing in her voice, Lovejoy High School parent Cindy Johnson said the Clayton County school district's probation is not a theory or political philosophy for her. It is reality and directly impacts her family's life.

"I don't have the money to send my kids to college if we lose the HOPE scholarship," she told the elected school officials.

If the probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an international accrediting agency, turns into the loss of accreditation in a year, not only will HOPE scholarships vanish but students transferring to other districts might not get credit for their work in Clayton County. Teachers and administrators could face problems with seeking new employment.

Speaker after speaker urged the Clayton County Board of Education to fix the problem so the probation by SACS will be withdrawn.

"Put pride aside and put our children first," Johnson urged the eight board members.

The heart of the problem is day-to-day meddling by board members into the operation of the district and the fact that the board is not following its own policies.

Board members point a finger at Chairwoman Nedra Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens.

Ware told the public that the problems will be addressed, but made no comment about any actions she may have taken to lead to the probation. Kitchens did not comment on the report.

Board member Ericka Davis, who has been critical of this meddling, said she hopes that the sanction will be taken seriously and it can be fixed during the year of probation.

But she asked, "If you have a child doing something wrong and you point it out, unless they are willing to admit they have been doing something wrong, are they going to change?"

The seven-page SACS report minced no words in pointing out the problems, but it did not single out individuals doing the meddling.

SACS Executive Director Mark Elgart, whose organization accredits 1,500 school districts, said the probation is "serious" and said only two other districts in five years have found themselves in this situation.

"They have the capacity to fix this," Elgart said. "The question is do they have the will."

John Talley, who has lived in Clayton County for 16 years, said he twice voted for a special 1-cent sales tax to fund school projects.

"I feel like our money has been squandered away," he said. "Our children are being victimized."

He said if the accreditation problem is not fixed, the district will continue "a slow downward slide."

Tom Bryar, who has been critical of the months of turmoil that started with the ouster of former Superintendent Dan Colwell, said, "Let's get away from the antics that don't belong in any governmental body. These antics belong in a late-night B movie."