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Superintendent speaks at breakfast

By Ed Brock

Clayton County Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam says it is "enlightened self-interest" that motivates her to do her job well.

To illustrate what she meant to her audience at Thursday's Clayton County Chamber of Commerce Early Bird Breakfast, Pulliam told the story of the time she had to get a MRI and was feeling nervous about the procedure.

A young woman came to help explain the procedure to her. At one point the woman stopped and said "Aren't you Mrs. Pulliam?"

The woman was a former student who had become a doctor, and that's why it behooves educators and all adults in a community to provide a good education for the youth of today.

"These are the people who are going to be taking care of us," Pulliam said. "I would like to think they know what they are doing."

Pulliam also spoke about her transition from being a school superintendent in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

"There are a lot of things that feel like home," Pulliam said. "Except it's warmer."

The focus of Pulliam's speech was on education itself and some of the obstacles and challenges the school system faces. One challenge is the growing diversity of the county where 80 percent of the students who speak English as a second language speak Spanish as a first language.

"Whether we'd like to admit it or not, Spanish is this country's second language," Pulliam said.

She stressed the importance of a solid high school curriculum in leading to a student's success in college. And she said the school system needs to put emphasis on math instruction.

"You cannot be a good math student if you only have two years of math," Pulliam said, adding that the school system today does not require four years of math. "In order to be prepared for today's society our students must learn algebra, algebra and other forms of higher math."

Pulliam went on to talk about three initiatives she has put in place in the county's schools.

One is the 9th Grade Transition Program, renamed the "Freshman Academy" by the students. That program helps students move from the "nurturing" environment of elementary school to the "independent, self reliant" atmosphere of high school.

The K-3 Reading Program puts an emphasis on making sure students are reading on their grade level by the time they are in third grade. If they are not reading at their grade level by that point, Pulliam said, chances are good that they will always be behind.

And the school's writing initiative is designed to ensure that every student becomes a proficient writer.

"People have asked me what is your plan. Our plan, my plan is a quality education in this school district," Pulliam said.

Southern Regional Medical Center sponsored the breakfast and the hospital's president and CEO Ed Bonn introduced Pulliam.

"You, like me, have awaited for Dr. Pulliam to arrive and provide us with the leadership that was needed to get our schools headed in the right direction," Bonn said.

Bonn also mentioned that the hospital's contract with the Aetna health insurance company has expired. Bonn said the hospital has been in negotiations with Aetna for several months but the talks broke down because, though Aetna offered reasonable rates they refused to pay for certain procedures that other providers do pay for.

That would have cost the hospital around $2 million, Bonn said.

"We regret that we do not have a contract with Aetna," Bonn said. "That inconveniences a lot of businesses."

The contract expired on July 1, Aetna spokesman Walt Cherniak said.

"We offered a number of proposals that would compensate the hospital fairly for the service they provide," Cherniak said. "We remain hopeful that ultimately we will be able to reach an agreement."

Cherniak said the contract failure caused about 350 Aetna customers to have to switch primary care physicians, and those customers were notified some time ago. Also, he said there are three other hospitals within 20 miles of SRMC with which Aetna still has a contract, including Henry Medical Center.

For more information on chamber events or membership call (678) 610-4021.