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School board retreats to build relationships

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County Board of Education and newly hired Superintendent Barbara Pulliam conducted a retreat Sunday.

The retreat aimed to build relations on the board and address some of the concerns raised by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting agency that placed the system on probation.

"You all formed a team," Pulliam said to the board. "I am a new member of the team."

She used the retreat to learn the personalities of the board, administering a conflict resolution test to the members, and let the board learn her personality.

The test found that the board as a whole is "compromising."

"Given what you've heard, is this what you would think?" Pulliam asked.

Pulliam and the board discussed the roles and responsibilities of the board, as suggested by a SACS report on the system's probation. Many board members don't know what to expect until they get on the board, she said.

"I thought I would go to one meeting a month, and that would be it," board member Barbara Wells said.

Board members agreed that they didn't fully understand their responsibilities until joining the board.

"I thought it would be more about the children," board member Ericka Davis said.

Pulliam and board members frequently complained about the retreat being open to the public and about the scrutiny and attention given to the school system by the media.

"It just occurred to me that it's very difficult to be honest when you're exposed," Pulliam said. "It makes it very difficult to do serious good work with this type of exposure. This is the kind of thing that would force backroom deals."

Pulliam said she wants all board members to have the same information, and she wants to prevent information that is discussed in executive session from leaking out.

A few board members suggested sanctions for those talking about information discussed behind closed doors.

"If people don't honor their commitment, then that shows a lack of integrity," board member LaToya Walker said.

Despite complaints of media scrutiny, Pulliam and the board discussed ways to rebuild community confidence in the school system.

"The main thing for them is to be informed," Chairwoman Nedra Ware said. "There are certain things that we can't tell them."

The retreat will continue at 9 this morning at the school system administrative offices at 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

The second day of the retreat will address board policy, another recommendation listed in the SACS report.

SACS will return in the spring to review the progress of the board. In October, SACS found only "cosmetic" improvements had been made.

SACS will lift the probation, extend the probation or revoke accreditation at that time. If accreditation is revoked, graduating seniors won't be eligible for the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship.