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Wood to BOE: Forget corrective leader plan

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Dr. Santiago Wood, a former candidate for the position of corrective superintendent for Clayton County Schools, believes the school board should abandon a plan to find a corrective superintendent, and select a permanent leader when new board members take office this summer.

Wood based his comments on upcoming changes on the board of education, which could have as many as four new members in August. He said hiring a new permanent superintendent would be easier to accomplish this year because of that change in leadership.

"They do not need to hire a corrective superintendent, they need governance and stability at the top," Wood said.

On Monday, Wood pulled his name from consideration for the corrective superintendent position. He and Dr. John Thompson were being considered by board members as people who might be able to save the embattled school system from a loss of accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools set a Sept. 1 deadline for the school system to meet nine mandates or lose accreditation.

Thompson pulled his name out of consideration last week.

Wood believes he would have had a good working relationship with the current board, based on his March 15 interview with the school system's governing body.

"All that board needed was a good, strong, experienced mentor," Wood said. "Someone who would be able to provide some guidance. A person who would also be open with the community and not hide anything.

He suggested the board abandon its "baggage" and "start fresh" when new board members arrive later this year, and early next year. He said the top priority should be performing forensic audits of the school system, as well as other audits requested by SACS. He also suggested audits of other departments, such as human resources.

His recommendation for the board, and whoever takes over as either a corrective or permanent superintendent, is to be transparent with the community and the media about everything.

"Leaders should be engaged and involved with the community," Wood said.

He believes the problems stem from comments made in the media by James Bostic, one of the liaisons sent by Gov. Sonny Perdue to work with the district, and Dr. Mark Elgart, president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement. Some of the comments called the qualifications of both Wood and Thompson, and their ability to help Clayton County schools, into question.

Bostic said he would like to see more candidates from Georgia.

Wood felt the comments were insulting to the qualifications he has built up since the late-1960s.

He said the published comments from Bostic and Elgart turned him off to the idea of coming to Clayton County to be the school system's temporary leader.

Wood called Bostic and Brad Bryant, the other liaison sent by Perdue "bean counters," and said they and Elgart were "not fit to buckle the latch on my shoes."

"The school system needs to rid itself of these outside, aggressive political influences," Wood said.

Richard Greene, who led the search for candidates to fill the corrective superintendent position, supported Wood's sentiments on Tuesday.

"Don't judge people just by what you see on paper," Greene said. "One should meet someone face-to-face before making a decision about that person's qualifications ... There is nothing in any state that makes it so unusual that it requires someone who comes from that particular state."

Wood questioned the motives of both Bostic and Elgart, and suggested they may have their own people in mind for the corrective superintendent position. He believes Clayton County's next superintendent should come from outside Georgia to avoid "cronyism or nepotism."

"No one, who is not within their parochial circle will be able to succeed as a superintendent of Clayton County schools," he said. "It tells me someone has a political agenda to place one of his friends in charge of the district."

Bostic said Wood's interpretation of his comments was off base. "I don't have a single person that I am pushing for this position," he said. "There is nobody that I have that I would suggest for the position. It just seems to me that two people isn't enough. They should broaden the search. It's my personal opinion there are good people in the Southeast that ought to be considered."

Elgart could not be reached on Tuesday for comment.

Board member David Ashe said the board hasn't made a decision about whether it will continue looking for a corrective superintendent. "We're looking around to try and find somebody that is acceptable to the people at SACS," he said. "If Mark Elgart tells me to wear a pink shirt, I'll go out and buy one ... We're really strapped here."

Chairperson Ericka Davis said all of the stakeholders, particularly the school system and SACS, need to sit down to reach a level of understanding about what needs to be done to save the district.

"I think the remaining members of the board should request a meeting with Mark Elgart and get an understanding from him about what would be the best leadership option for the district," Davis said. "Ideally, I'd like to see the board sign a memorandum of understanding with Dr. Elgart. There are too many conversations going on.

"The district is saying one thing and SACS is saying something else, but it's all in the media. We aren't doing a very good job of communicating with each other."

Wood's comments come as the board is on the verge of membership shakeup which will occur over the next four months.

Chairperson Davis had originally planned to step down from her office on June 15, along with Vice chairman Eddie White. Recent comments in the media by Annie Bright, director of the Clayton County Board of Elections prompted Davis to move her resignation up by two months.

On Tuesday, Davis said she will probably step down on April 11. She made the decision to move up her resignation date because she read in a newspaper where Bright explained her office need to be notified of a vacancy by that date in order to put it on the July 15 primary ballot.

Davis is interpreting Bright's comments to mean she has to step down from the board of education seat by the end of the school system's spring break.

"I don't want to put the elections board in a position where it may have to spend more money to hold an additional election just to replace me," Davis said. "I also have to think about how effective I am, if I'm spread too thin between my obligations to the board, the school system, my job and my daughter."

White will still step down on June 15. Since his seat is already up for election this year, it is already on the ballot for the July 15 primary election.

Board member Rod Johnson has already announced his resignation, but refuses to say when it will go into effect. If his resignation goes into effect by June 15, his replacement would take office with the replacements for Davis and White.

Norreese Haynes is the other board member who could be replaced this summer, but that's only if his removal from the board on March 3 is upheld in Clayton County Superior Court. Haynes has filed for an injunction which would postpone an election to replace him, but no date for a hearing has been set.