Pulliam working on 90-day plan

By Greg Gelpi

Only days into a new era for the Clayton County school system, the new superintendent is already implementing her plans.

Clayton County's new superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, said she would "hit the ground listening" when she began work as the county's first female superintendent.

The response from parents, teachers and faculty has been a steady flow of fruit and flower baskets.

When she was considered for the job, she said her top priority is getting the school system off probation and that hasn't changed, she said during an interview Wednesday.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the school system's accrediting agency, placed the school system on a one-year probation for failing to follow its own policies.

When SACS returns to the system in the spring, the accrediting agency will lift the probation, extend the probation or revoke the system's accreditation. If accreditation is revoked, the system's graduating seniors won't be eligible for the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship.

Midway through her first week, Pulliam is well into her "90-day plan."

She added that the "board is on target."

SACS accused board members of meddling in the superintendent's business and micromanaging the school system.

Along with the probation, Pulliam said her other priorities are "retaining high quality teachers" and "paying full attention to student achievement."

"Long term, my goals are part of a vision I have for the children of Clayton County," Pulliam said. "I want to make sure that when they finish they are competent, confident and feel they can compete."

She said that the school system has a "great staff" to accomplish this and that any staff changes would be to "align" staff to where they can best serve the system. She added that no changes would be made without telling the board first.

"I listen a lot," she said. "I'm going to pay attention to what (senior administrators) are saying. I will make the decisions. Some would call that democratic."

Teachers rushed from Clayton County when the school system was placed on probation and Pulliam said the rush to leave should stop.

"They'll either be rethinking about whether to go or rushing hard to get back," she said.

Pulliam said she spoke with a mother Wednesday who moved her children to the Fayette County school system, but said she will move them back after meeting her.

Financially, Pulliam finds herself in a statewide economic crunch and the need to pass another 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax.

"This is complicated by that we probably won't have the funding we've had in the past from the state of Georgia," Pulliam said. "We're looking at a lot of things. I want to make sure our budgeting process becomes transparent."

The system is in need of building more schools to accommodate the growing student population and make a dent in the 598 temporary trailers serving as classrooms.

"If there is ever an opportunity to decrease that to zero, I will take it," she said. "If they come, we have to teach them. It's not unexpected, so we're planning for it."

Pulliam brought some of her small school system ways from her St. Louis Park, Minn., school system, a system of about 5,000 students. She lives in the community and intends to work on partnering with the community, businesses and parents.

"I'm going to do what I have to do to make sure it's a solid relationship," Pulliam said.

In St. Louis Park she made an effort to visit classrooms regularly, what she thinks will be her biggest challenge in Clayton County.

"You can work a lot of hours and spend a lot of time away from schools," Pulliam said.