Clayton citizens voice opinions on school board

By Trina Trice

Parents and concerned citizens took to the steps of the Clayton County Justice Center Sunday to speak out against the school board controversy.

Organized by a small group of Clayton County residents, the event was heralded as an opportunity for individuals to voice their opinions about the Clayton County Board of Education and the future of education in the county.

"We are gathered here to discuss the issues of our children," said Elizabeth Armstrong, co-organizer of the event.

The dropout rate and low SAT scores of the county's students and the downsizing of school crossing guards are issues that have yet to be addressed by the board, Armstrong said.

Clayton County teacher and parent Jo Barnes spoke in front of the crowd with her teenage daughter, a Clayton County student, at her side.

Unlike Barnes, most school employees have been afraid to voice their opinions about the school board.

Later she said she wasn't concerned about any risk to her job.

"It's either take the risk of having our children lose hope and their accreditation" or speak out, she said.

"When it comes down to the children, somebody has to come out," she said. "I'm allowed as a citizen to speak up."

Michelle Jackson told the crowd the school system probably wouldn't have been placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had it not been for some school board member's behavior, which she called "selfish" and "reactionary."

"They have chosen to abuse their positions" by acting on grievances they hold against past leadership, Jackson said.

Barbara Halstead also spoke.

"I am very concerned about the education my daughter is not getting," she said. "The schools are overcrowded. Some of the teachers are dedicated and wonderful ? but seem overworked. I'm disappointed with some of our board members because it seems to be more about them and less about our children."

Artansa Snell, who identified herself as a concerned parent, said she wants the board members to focus on finding a qualified superintendent who could help fix some of the school system's problems.

"We've got many problems that will take years to solve, so they need a plan," Snell said. "We have parents that want to get involved (too). We need to turn this negative energy into positive energy."

Regular board meeting attendee Linda Grainger exclaimed, "Ms. Connie (Kitchens) and Ms. Nedra Ware n they need to go."

Kitchens is the board vice-chairwoman; Ware is the board chairwoman.

Kitchens and Ware, along with Board members LaToya Walker and Carol Kellam have been asked to resign by several local leaders and organizations.

Ware recently asserted that she and the other three board members have no intention of resigning.

The four board members have garnered unsolicited support from political activist and gospel event promoter Harry L. Ross, who first captured the county's attention when he asked for the board to consider instituting a mandatory dress code for students within the school system.

Ross has called for an economic boycott in mid-July.

About the boycott, Snell said, "Nobody's going to support that. It (would be) irresponsible."