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Pulliam foresees continued 'renaissance'

By Greg Gelpi

A new year promises new schools, new choices and new academic successes for Clayton County schools, Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said.

"People are going to begin to see a renaissance really soon," she said. "It's coming soon."

The system launched a campaign of "academic renaissance" to begin the school year and the renaissance will continue into the calendar year, Pulliam said.

"As I look to 2005, I look to the final pieces of a puzzle being put in place that will guide the school district for the next five years," Pulliam said. "I look forward to us doing some great things for these kids and this community."

Pulliam, who took the helm of the system in early 2004, has forged a path for the school system in less than a year, revamping several departments, establishing new programs and restructuring the system as a whole.

Academically, Pulliam envisions programs working together to increase the system's high school graduation rate. The system implemented the ninth grade transition program this academic year, and Pulliam will review the data produced by the program to ensure its effectiveness in early 2005. The program uses the "school within a school" approach to foster ninth-graders through the process of adapting from middle to high school.

"High school graduation rates aren't going to increase until we better prepare our students for high school," she said.

Part of that preparation includes the goal of having all eighth graders take algebra, Pulliam said. High school freshmen currently take the math course, which is often pointed to as an indicator of future success.

Students who fail to pass algebra and geometry will have to retake the classes, she said. There is a "direct correlation" between algebra and how successful students will be in the job market and in post-secondary education.

"If they don't have the proper amount of math and science, then they are not going to be successful adults," Pulliam said.

Along with the focus on math and science, the system will also focus on increasing "academic rigor" and the number of students in honors, gifted and advanced placement classes.

Pulliam said that a student earning a C or D in one of those courses actually learns more than a student who earns an A or a B in less rigorous courses.

"I've got to get parents to understand the advantage of taking more rigorous courses," Pulliam said.

The superintendent has also assembled a team to explore more options for school choice, particularly magnet schools. For instance, Sequoyah Middle School may have math or math and science focus areas for sixth graders when it opens in the fall. Students get a "taste" of choice under the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows students at poor performing schools to transfer to other schools, but choices could be expanded in Clayton County schools.

"It doesn't mean that they wouldn't learn anything else, but (particular academic programs) would become part of the emphasis," Pulliam said.

As another possibility, Mt. Zion High School is the only high school in the school system with practice studios for band and dance and is across the street from Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center, she said. It could potentially become a fine arts magnet school.

Among the challenges of magnet programs will be finding highly qualified teachers, Pulliam said. An algebra teacher in a math program, for instance, should be knowledgeable in geometry and calculus, so that students learn algebra and are also prepared for more advanced math classes.

The school system is also looking forward to being taken off of warned status by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS lifted the school system's yearlong probation earlier this year.