Board promises national search

By Trina Trice

Four members of the Clayton County Board of Education, who have been under fire from several local groups, assured the representatives of the Association of Black Christian Ministers of Clayton County that they will support a national superintendent search.

The Rev. Wesley Greene, president of the group, attended the meeting and said he would not have given his support for the four at a press conference last week unless they promised to "do things squeaky clean."

Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, and Board members LaToya Walker and Carol Kellam met with the ministers assuring them that they would conduct a national search for a superintendent.

The board started the process by voting unanimously at a recent called meeting to invite the Georgia School Boards Association to a retreat.

Siss Henry, GSBA executive director, will be attending one day of the school board's two-day retreat scheduled for July 9 and July 10.

The overall goal is to help the school system get off of the probation enforced by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredits more than 13,000 elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions in the Southeast.

Following an on site inquiry, a SACS team found evidence that board leadership had been micromanaging the school system.

Board member Ericka Davis is hopeful about the GSBA attending the retreat.

"I hope that GSBA will be able to assist us with starting a new search," she said. "I hope they will refresh our parliamentary skills, as well as give us guidance on how to proceed in adhering to the recommendations of SACS."

A SACS report issued in late May included several recommendations, including a national search for a superintendent.

Henry has helped troubled school systems before.

For more than 20 years she has worked with boards of education throughout the country, most recently in South Carolina.

The most common problems Henry has observed among troubled boards are "understanding of role and responsibility," she said. She's seen political conflicts, as well as, board members concerned more with conflicting personalities than other issues.

Board members "are just like you and me," Henry said. "School board people are lay people. They're elected?and part of what they're doing, they've never done before."

The GSBA provides a variety of services, including assistance with a superintendent search. The organization is currently helping three Georgia school boards in their search for a school chief.

GSBA also helps school boards with conflict management, goal setting, and board evaluations, Henry said.

"We customize our retreats," she said. "We haven't fleshed out the details, yet" of what the GSBA will do for Clayton County's school board.

Davis would "love for us to develop better communication amongst Board members so that we can function in a democratic fashion," she said. "I hope we vote to adopt the GSBA School Board Standards, as many other school systems have, to show our constituents that we mean business when we say that we want our conduct and actions relative to their children and this system to be exemplary. I want us to lay a better foundation for a better system. That is my fervent hope and also my constant prayer."

Whether the school board has made any improvement is too premature to see, said Mark Elgart, SACS executive director.

Elgart doesn't see the recent onslaught of public disapproval or support for some of the board's members as a bad thing.

"People right now, through their various community groups, are trying to evaluate different solutions," Elgart said. "The community is reaffirming its commitment to resolving the problem and are offering their own suggestions as to a solution."

The school system has been given a year to get off of probation.

"I've worked with boards in dire distress," Henry said. "If they want what's best for kids and they're willing to work with us?I have seen boards turn around."

GSBA is a non-profit, voluntary membership organization serving 180 boards of education in Georgia.