By Curt Yeomans
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) says the Clayton County Board of Education is "dysfunctional," but board members are confident they can prove the accrediting agency is wrong.
The school board has nine mandates to meet by a Sept. 1 deadline, or the school system will lose its accreditation. The first mandate from SACS states the district must establish a board of education which is "capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities."
SACS' decision to revoke the school system's accreditation prompted students, parents and state officials to call on the resignations of the entire board.
"Evidence provided by board members, staff, and community representatives clearly indicates the inability of the current board of education to provide effective leadership and ensure proper governance," according to SACS' Feb. 15 report on the district. "This recommendation must be fully addressed or the school district will continue to suffer the consequences of dysfunctional governance."
However, during a governance training session on Saturday at the Professional Learning Center in Jonesboro, board members expressed their certainty they can work as a team.
"The first SACS requirement is what we're dealing with right now," Acting board Chairman Eddie White told his colleagues during the session. "The discussions we've had [during the training session] have been very cordial. I believe we're coming together as a group. We are going to send a message to SACS that we can meet these nine requirements."
White, and board members David Ashe, Lois Baines-Hunter, Yolanda Everett, Sandra Scott and Michelle Strong participated in the entire seven hour training session. Board member Rod Johnson, who has said he would resign, but hasn't said when, attended the first hour of the training session, but left because of a family matter. He later returned for the final hour of the session. Board member Ericka Davis resigned Friday.
Norreese Haynes' status on the board remains uncertain.
Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools Cephus Jackson, district spokesman Charles White, and Arlecia Battle, an administrative assistant for Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Derrick Manning, also attended the training.
Mike Hourihan, an adjunct public service assistant from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, conducted the training session.
The participants reviewed the appropriate ways to use power, such as being humble and not engaging in "devious acts" when no one is looking.
The board members also learned misuse of power can be dangerous because it leads to dictatorial tactics such as intimidation, discourse, disruption of meetings, and character or physical assassination, Hourihan said.
The atmosphere at the training session was jovial, with board members involved in casual conversations with each other. They did not engage in the confrontational behavior, and personal attacks, which has been prevalent at several board meetings over the last 15 and a half months.
"This training session has been so much better than the last one [on Jan. 5]," said board member Baines-Hunter. "Everybody is carefree. Everybody is talking to each other. The last training session was horrible. No one talked. It was very intimidating."
Board member Scott concurred with her colleagues, and said the accreditation crisis will "work itself out."
Mark Elgart, the president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, could not be reached for comment by the Clayton News Daily on Saturday.
Hourihan told board members they can work together, but added building a bridge of cooperation is never an easy task. He drove his point home with the example of professional sports teams acquiring several star athletes who can't get along with each other.
He said egos and self esteem issues can often drive a person to seek out the spotlight, and people with power, particularly elected officials, suffer from that problem.
"It's not difficult to find talent, but it is difficult to get that talent to work together," Hourihan said. He also told board members they can "make history now, by just moving on."
The board will begin to move on when it gathers tonight at 6 p.m. for its monthly business meeting. The meeting will begin with a one-hour executive session.
During the meeting, the board will select a new chairperson to replace board member Davis. Eddie White, who announced plans to resign in June, plans to seek the chairmanship.
The board will also discuss what to do with the seat formerly held by Norreese Haynes. The board removed Haynes from office last month because a Clayton County Police investigation determined he did not live in the county. Secretary of State Karen Handel released a report on April 10, which said Haynes did live in his district, though.
White isn't sure if the board will reverse its decision to remove Haynes during tonight's meeting.
"We made our decision [to remove Haynes from office] based on the information we had at the time, but now we have new information," White said.