By Greg Gelpi
After a year of controversy, secret meetings and probation, the Clayton County school system entered a new era Monday night, and the more than 400 people in attendance seemed pleased.
Newly signed Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam briefly laid out her plans for the school system to a standing ovation.
"Everything I have seen during my visit has reconfirmed my decision to be part of the Clayton County family," Pulliam said.
Her first report as superintendent of Clayton County schools was preceded by a line of well-wishers welcoming her to the county, but the Rev. Rose Marie Greene warned Pulliam that this is just the beginning.
Pulliam, who was selected from a list of 41 applicants after a national search, comes from the St. Louis Park, Minn., school system, a system of just more than 5,000 students to Clayton County, a system of more than 51,000 students. There are a handful of pressing issues already waiting.
Pulliam assured the crowd of parents, school staff and Clayton residents that the system would be taken off probation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the school system's accrediting agency, placed the system on probation for failing to follow its own policies, and claimed the board was micromanaging.
Highlighting Pulliam's orientation with the school system was her press conference with the editors of the county's high school newspapers, she said.
Topping their concern was the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship program. Graduating seniors would not be eligible for the scholarship if SACS decides to pull the system's accreditation, a decision that could be made when SACS returns in the spring. A high school diploma would be "invalid," Pulliam said.
"I promised them that this was something that I didn't want them to worry about," Pulliam said.
But SACS is just the beginning, Greene said, pressing the superintendent and school board to strive for more than simply getting off probation.
"In a larger sense, getting off probation is not enough," Greene said. "Until each child is able to effectively reach his or her potential, we are still on probation."
Greene said she wants the students of Clayton County to not only get HOPE Scholarships, but also to be competitive with students in metro Atlanta and throughout the country.
Pulliam ended her report, but made it clear that this is just the beginning for the board's climb off probation.
Pulliam also enters during a hard economic time for the school system, which could be $4 million short of what it had budgeted for, Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis said. The budget cut is part of Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed budget.
"We ask this board to look at the budget and be creative," Bob Boyer of the Parent Teacher Association said, adding that the board should put forth a "special effort" to retain teachers.
In other business, the board approved the banking bid with RBC Centura 8-0 with board member LaToya Walker, the only member with banking experience, abstaining from the vote.
Pulliam is the first female superintendent and only the second black superintendent of the majority black school system.
Pulliam replaces interim Superintendent William Chavis, who took the place of Superintendent Dan Colwell. Colwell was fired by the board in January 2003. The board later bought out the remainder of his contract.