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Board planning search meeting

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County Board of Education has tentatively scheduled a meeting for this week to take action on its search for a superintendent. The date, time and location of the meeting have yet to be announced.

The board may use this open session meeting to reduce the list of candidates for the job, Don Rooks, the legislative specialist of the Georgia School Boards Association, said.

"I can't predict what the board will do, but that is a possibility," he said. "What that tells me is that the board will make some decision and take some action, but what that action is I cannot say."

The board interviewed four applicants for superintendent Friday and Saturday in what was called the start of the first round of interviews. A fifth person was to be interviewed, but that applicant withdrew after accepting a job somewhere else, Rooks said.

"I think things went pretty well," he said. "The board did not make any decisions. They didn't take any official action."

The public was not allowed to attend the meeting during which interviews were held.

Since the meeting was held at the Embassy Suites, a hotel in College Park, only guests or guests of guests were allowed inside the hotel, according to Embassy Suites employees.

The site away from the board's regular meeting place at the school administration complex in Jonesboro was chosen by the board for its "good atmosphere," Rooks said, not to keep anyone away from the meeting. The board opened the meeting and immediately went into executive session to interview the applicants. The interviews were held in a suite, not a meeting room.

Little interest in the meeting has been shown by the public. This is a sharp contrast to the hundreds of people - teachers, parents and others - who have attended board meetings.

Board members are remaining tight lipped about the search and the names of some candidates. They agreed to a "gag order" at the suggestion of board attorney Gary Sams and the GSBA. Some have said they are not allowed to take the resumes of applicants or even their own personal notes taken about the applicants from the meetings.

After sources close to the search process revealed some of the applicants names to the press, Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton said board members wanted to take action to prevent any future leaks. Board members considered taping over air vents in the administration building when a staff member discovered she could overhear the staff meeting she had just left by standing in the break room or bathroom. There was also discussion that a board member brought a tape recorder into the closed meetings or that the meeting room was "bugged."

The board contracted with the GSBA to conduct the national search after an initial search for a superintendent was scratched due to outcry from the Clayton County NAACP, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the public.

In the initial search, board Chairwoman Nedra Ware and her board supporters handpicked Lonnie Edwards, an assistant superintendent of DeKalb County public schools. In that search some board members complained of never seeing a complete list of applicants and that that search was being conducted in secret by Ware and her supporters.

That list of applicants was placed into the current search.

"The first one we didn't think was open, and no one knew what was going on," Dexter Matthews, the president of the Clayton County NAACP, said. "We are pleased at how this one is going."

Matthews addressed the board during a meeting as well as in a letter in July or August asking that board hold a public forum on the superintendent search, he said, but he has received no response. The NAACP wants the board to hold a forum so that the public can meet the finalists for the superintendent's position.

"Hopefully, they'll do that before the process is over," Matthews said. "Compared to where we were five or six months ago,?they seem to be going in the right direction."

The superintendent's job became vacant when the board fired Colwell last January and named William Chavis the interim superintendent. The board later bought out the remainder of Colwell's contract.