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Interviews begin today

By Greg Gelpi

Interviews for Clayton County's superintendent job will begin today.

The Clayton County Board of Education will hold the first round of interviews at 5:30 p.m. today and at 8 a.m. Saturday. The meetings will be at 4700 Southport Road in College Park.

The board has been advised by the Georgia School Boards Association and board attorney Gary Sams not to disclose the names of the 41 applicants or the five who will be interviewed in the first round.

Despite this, Barbara Moore Pulliam, the superintendent of the St. Louis Park, Minn., school system is thought to be one of the leading candidates for the job.

She would be the first female superintendent of Clayton County, the sixth largest school system in the state. She would also be the second black superintendent of a system that is two-thirds black.

Assistant Superintendent Stanley Pritchard of DeKalb County is one of the candidates. Pritchard is believed to be the only applicant from within the state being interviewed in the first round. Another applicant from within the state who narrowly missed being interviewed in the first five could still be interviewed later if necessary.

Also, an Hispanic superintendent from Texas and a Midwestern superintendent are also among the first to be interviewed.

That means applicants such as Clayton County's Interim Superintendent William Chavis and previously favored Lonnie Edwards of DeKalb County are not being interviewed.

Neither Pulliam nor Pritchard could be reached for comment.

In the board's initial attempt to hire a superintendent, Edwards was hand-picked by board chairwoman Nedra Ware and her supporters. The search was thrown out following outcry from the Clayton County NAACP, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the public. All of the applicants were included in the current search.

The format of the interviews hasn't been set, Don Rooks, legislative specialist of the GSBA, said, but each person is scheduled to be interviewed for an hour and a half.

Rooks is advising the board on the format, but said the board is making the decisions.

The meetings for the interviews are open to the public, but the board will immediately go into executive session to conduct the interviews.

By law, the board must release the names of finalists once the field is narrowed. The board must also release any information collected on the finalists.

The school board contracted with the GSBA to conduct the national search for a new superintendent. GSBA presented the 41 applications to the board for the first time Nov. 8.

During that closed-door session, Rooks conducted a training session on interviewing and narrowing the field. He also told the board about each applicant.

Sams and GSBA attorney Phil Hartley advised the board not to disclose the discussions of the meetings. The board also agreed to GSBA's suggestion that the list of applicants and any notes board members took would remain with the GSBA. Since they don't take the list home, some board members couldn't even recall the names of the top applicants.

On Nov. 13, the board again met behind closed doors and announced that five applicants would be brought in for interviews. No applicants had been eliminated, though, Rooks said. With no discussion, the board voted up or down on each applicant.

The superintendent's position became open when the board fired Superintendent Dan Colwell in January. The board later bought out the remainder of Colwell's contract.

Hiring a permanent superintendent is crucial to the school system being taken off probation, Mark Elgart, the executive director of the SACS Commission on Secondary and Middle Schools, said. SACS is the accrediting agency of the school system.

Midway through the system's year-long probation, a SACS review team found only "cosmetic" improvements had been made. SACS will return in the spring. At that time, SACS will lift the probation, extend the probation or revoke the system's accreditation. If accreditation is revoked, the system's graduating seniors won't be eligible for the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship program.