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SACS official quiet about probation

By Greg Gelpi

Clayton County schools' accrediting agency said it was pleased with the selection of a superintendent, but would not say whether the school system is any closer to getting off probation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the Clayton County school system on probation in May for violating its own policy. The SACS report named meddling by the Clayton County Board of Education in the affairs of the superintendent as one reason for the probation.

The board named Barbara Pulliam, the superintendent of the St. Louis Park school system in Minnesota, as its new superintendent.

"These are positive developments," Mark Elgart, the executive director of the SACS Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools, said. "I recognize and applaud the school district for hiring a superintendent."

As part of Pulliam's contract, all complaints will be directed to Pulliam, which board attorney Gary Sams said will reduce micromanagement.

When SACS made a review of the system in October, midway through the year-long probation, the team issued a report listing a number of items for the board to resolve before probation would be lifted. Among the list of items was conducting a national search for a superintendent and hiring a superintendent.

The board conducted a national search through the Georgia School Boards Association, and Pulliam will start work as superintendent in Clayton County Feb. 9.

The report also said that the school board must define the roles and responsibilities of the board and the superintendent and review board policies.

The board voted to have a retreat for January to discuss its policies, but has yet to set a date for that retreat, Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton said.

"We have been in communication," Elgart said of SACS and the school system. "I have actually been in communication with the new superintendent several times."

Horton said he is "generating" a report on what the school board has done since being placed on probation. If ready, the report will be presented to the board at its Feb. 9 meeting.

Although Horton wouldn't discuss the details of the report prior to presenting it to the board, he said that the board has made progress.

"There has been quite a lot of progress that has been made," Horton said. "If I was not optimistic, we would be in a lot of trouble."

Prior to the October visit, school officials expressed optimism prior to the visit, but were disappointed with the findings of the visiting team.

The team reported finding only "cosmetic" improvements in the school system.

Horton said much progress has been made since this summer, and his report will document that progress.

The board has also experienced leadership change with the selection of a new vice chairwoman. Ericka Davis was named the board's vice chairwoman by a vote of 5-4 Jan. 5, the board's first meeting of the year. Davis replaced Connie Kitchens.

Elgart wouldn't comment on Davis' election, but said the leadership of the school board is a decision of Clayton County voters, not SACS.

Pulliam replaces interim Superintendent William Chavis. The position became open when the board fired Dan Colwell in January. The board later bought out the remainder of Colwell's contract.

SACS will return to review the school system in the spring. A date for the visit will be determined once Pulliam is in place, Elgart said.

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

Pulliam could not be reached for comment.