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Clayton schools construction director retires

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Ronnie Watts owes his marriage to the Clayton County School System, where he worked for the last 30 years.

He met his then-future wife, Angel, in 1989, through a softball league organized by former Superintendent Joe Lovin. It was part of the school chief's fitness awareness initiative. Watts worked in the maintenance department at the time, and she was a teacher at Edmonds Elementary School, but they were assigned to the same team.

They got married in the lobby of the Clayton County Performing Arts Center in 1991, and had one child together, a son named Chip. Watts said, to his knowledge, he and his wife are the only couple to get married at the Performing Arts Center.

Watts, 52, retired from his position as the school district's director of construction on July 31. Over the last 12 years, he has helped guide the construction of 16 new schools in Clayton County, and he participated in the design process for two more schools as a member of the construction department. He also helped increase the number of classrooms in Clayton County schools by 33 percent, he said.

"It's been a lot of fun, but it's also been very tiring," he said. "I really love this district, though. In my opinion, Clayton County has always been a leader in education and innovation."

Watts said, however, he has seen some changes in the way schools are designed during his time in the construction department. One of those changes is the introduction of new technology in the classroom, such as the digital classrooms which allow teachers to teach lessons using a board in the front of the room without being at the board.

"Yeah, you have the digital classrooms now, but it still boils down to a classroom and a teacher, and her [or his] ability to teach students," Watts said. "That's all it really is."

Watts said he plans to help the district in a support role for the next month as it looks for someone to replace him. He will be at tonight's board of education business meeting, for example, in case board members have any questions about construction projects.

The former construction director said he takes pride in all of the facilities he's been involved with constructing, but he cited a few examples of schools which gave him an extra amount of pride. High on his list is M.D. Roberts Middle School, which opened in 1997, because it was one of the first schools in which he played a role in the construction.

He also said he was proud of the way Mundy's Mill High School, which opened in 2002, turned out, because he liked the design of the building.

The crowning achievement of his tenure with the school system was the Professional Learning Center in Jonesboro, which opened earlier this year. "To be able to provide staff development with the kind of facility they need is really important to me because it helps them do their job," Watts said.

While Watts is retiring from his job with the school system, he is beginning a career in the private sector.

"It was a good opportunity for me to take a job at a private construction company that deals primarily with school construction," Watts said. "Also, my son is a rising high school freshman [at Union Grove High School in McDonough], and the job I had in Clayton County had me working a lot. I'm hoping to spend more time with my son and my wife now that I won't be working for the school system."

Corrective Superintendent John Thompson, who took over the district in April, said he has only worked with Watts for a short time, but the former construction department chief had a reputation which preceded him. Thompson said Watts' expertise is "invaluable," and it will be hard to replace him.

"Ronnie has been a very good asset for the school system," Thompson said. "When he has given me advice and information, it has always been accurate and thorough."

Watts said he was just doing his job. He said it is the responsibility of members of the school system's administration to make sure the superintendent and members of the board of education have access to information.

"As part of the leadership team, you're expected to get up and have all of the information people need to make sound decisions," Watts said. "The leadership is charged with leading the board through the decision-making process. I always made sure I knew all of my information for the board members. Anything less than that would have been unacceptable in my opinion."