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Probation a top concern

By Greg Gelpi

Newly elected board member Allen T. Johnson joined the Clayton County Board of Education for his first meeting Monday night as a full house of parents, school officials and county residents wanted to know how the board would bring the district out of probation.

The nine-member board didn't answer that question directly when asked by resident Ann Singleton during public comment.

Interim Superintendent William Chavis announced, though, that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools would revisit the school system Wednesday in the first of two visits to evaluate the county's progress.

In its last visit, SACS, the accrediting agency for the school system, put the system on probation.

Singleton pleaded with board members to consider the futures of the county's children and at least think of their own property values, if nothing else.

The board had been stagnant for the past seven months, as decisions were often knotted 4-4 with one seat open, but Johnson filled the vacant District 8 seat in a special election, vowing to help the system get off probation.

As the board works out its internal differences, though, the district continues to grow rapidly, raising concerns about the need for the renovation and building of schools in addition to the quality of the education.

While Clayton County is the third-smallest county in land area, it is the sixth-largest in number of students, said John Ramage, the assistant superintendent of facilities, construction and purchasing.

"We can't keep up," Ramage said. "We spend the taxpayers' money as fast as we get it."

To counter the additional 1,400 new students a year that the county is averaging, the board is building four new schools and has been continually renovating existing schools since 1997, he said.

In the latest phase of construction, the board approved a $3.75 million bid to completely renovate Adamson Middle School. The low bid from Bon Building Services Inc. was about $400,000 less than the next lowest bid.

"Pretty much everything except the exterior walls will be renovated," Ramage said.

Students will be cycled into temporary classrooms, so that instruction isn't interrupted during the renovations. Construction is projected to be completed by August 2004.

In other business, the board approved a resolution to address the federal government, requesting a change in its low-income family school lunch program.

Currently, students fall into three categories: free lunch, reduced-price lunch or full-price lunch. The board's resolution asks that the federal government change its program so that those paying the reduced price of 30 cents a meal be moved into the category of free lunch.

The board also named Zakaria Watson as the assistant principal for Kendrick Middle School and Derrick Thomas as the assistant principal for Babb Middle School. The board named Donald Dunnigan coordinator of recruiting.

Progress with school construction and renovation was apparent with the approval of renovations at Adamson, but the county won't learn its progress in getting off probation until the SACS preliminary visit on Wednesday.