Keeping open the lines of communication

By Barbara Pulliam

Five months ago when I took office, I pledged to you that I would not only listen to your concerns, but that I would work with due diligence to respond to those concerns. As you well know, it is important for those of us in public service to keep our hand on the pulse of our community.

Yes, the "public comment" portion of a regular school board meeting provides board members and the superintendent with valuable insight regarding the concerns of the public, but this occasion alone is not enough. We, as public servants, sought a way to offer you, our stakeholders, a more inviting opportunity to tell us what you think and how you feel about Clayton County Public Schools.

This time last year, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) placed our school district on probation. The result was our losing the trust and support of many stakeholders in our community. We want to regain your trust, and we are going to continue to seek input from you n with the hope that we can continue to rebuild our relationship with you.

With that in mind, the school system administration and the Clayton County Board of Education hosted four public forums at area schools this past spring in order to listen to parents, concerned citizens, community leaders, and others who have a stake in the success of our school system. We were methodical in our selection of forum locations because we wanted to afford as many people as possible access to these community discussions. At last count, 486 community stakeholders had attended the public forums.

Those who attended were divided into focus groups and placed with a trained facilitator. Focus group members were allowed to share freely their issues and concerns regarding Clayton County Public Schools. No topic was off-limits.

The major issues or areas of concern highlighted by focus group participants were - in order of priority - school climate, communication, and safety. To a lesser degree, respondents cited concern for teacher/staff performance, academics and student achievement, as well as parental involvement. Community members also voiced, albeit less frequently, concerns regarding attendance, accreditation of the school district, school nutrition, the need for after-school opportunities, and programs geared toward Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students and parents.

Although the input provided by the public in attendance at these forums was insightful and helpful, we must temper our enthusiasm and administrative dependency on these focus group results. We must be careful not to make assumptions that these responses are representative of all citizens in Clayton County.

Rest assured, however, that the issues brought to surface during the public forums will help us craft a follow-up research study that should provide us with even information as to your concerns regarding the current state of our school system. A survey will be taken in upcoming months seeking your suggestions as to how we should go about improving public education for the children in Clayton County schools.

We have a challenging journey ahead of us, but we are encouraged that we will get there with your support. This is only the beginning, but collectively we can achieve great things. I invite you to participate in the Renaissance of Clayton County Public Schools.

Responses to Dr. Barbara Pulliam's weekly columns can be submitted to: supernews@clayton.k12.ga.us.