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Parents show cautious optimism as schools open
SACS team due next Thursday for accreditation review

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Keisha Martin was glad to drive up to Jackson Elementary School on Thursday morning, and then walk her sons, Kaleb, 6, a first-grader, and Joshua, 5, a kindergartner, into school for the first day of a new school year.

Her sons were beaming with bright smiles. Both children said they were excited. Their mother was just glad they would have something to do during the day.

"They've been bored all summer, and now it's someone else's turn to keep them busy," Keisha Martin said. The mother of two downplayed the accreditation crisis following efforts to resolve the matter, saying "Right now, I don't think it's an issue."

The Clayton School District welcomed back 46,069 children on Thursday for the 2008-09 school year. Charles White, school district spokesman, acknowledged enrollment is lower than last year, but added students are enrolling daily, and it will take at least 10 school days to determine the number of pupils in Clayton County schools this year.

Last fall, 48,330 children enrolled on the first day, but the system eventually ended up with nearly 53,000 children in its schools.

Jonesboro High School Principal Carl Jackson said his school's enrollment was about 125 students lower than it was last year, but he was confident it would rebound. "We always start out lower than the previous year, but then the number always comes back up," he said.

Corrective Superintendent John Thompson said he was pleased with the start of the year, and parents did not ask about the district's ongoing accreditation crisis.

The district faces the threat of losing its accreditation by the end of the month, if nine mandates for improvement are not met. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will send a review team to the district next Thursday and Friday to review the progress made.

"A lot of the parents were anxious at Jackson Elementary School because they are dropping off their babies," Thompson said. "The only question I got was about classroom sizes."

Expressions of concern and cautious optimism did exist, however.

"I'm quite confident we're going to keep our accreditation, because our superintendent seems like he's a good guy," said LaFon Arnold, 15, a sophomore at Jonesboro High School.

Darnell Gresham, 15, also a sophomore at Jonesboro High, said the accreditation issue weighed heavily on his mind, and on the minds of his friends over the summer as they worried about their futures. His grandmother, Loraine, called the situation "horrible." She continued: "What could they have that was so bad?

"I just hope it doesn't hurt the kids chances of getting scholarships," Lorain Gresham said. "For a lot of kids, that may be the only way they can get into college."

Meshelle Lewis said she and her husband, Johnny, decided to take their children out of private schools this year to give Clayton County a chance, despite the accreditation situation. Their son, Jonnathon, 15, is a 10th-grader at Jonesboro High, and their daughter, Danielle, 12, is a seventh-grader at M.D. Roberts Middle School. Jonnathon has dreams of attending the University of Connecticut, his mother said.

"I'm still worried about it [the accreditation], but my husband has faith in the school system, and he thinks it's going to be all right," Lewis said. "We're willing to give it a year. If we don't like it, they'll go back private schools, or magnet schools."

The only glitch encountered by school system officials was a kindergartner who accidentally ended up at the district's Unidos Dual Language Charter School, instead of Jackson Elementary . White said the problem arose when the child's mother put him on the wrong school bus Thursday morning. Unidos also had a student enrolled with a similar name.

The district put out an e-mail alert to principals about the missing youth, and the 5-year-old was found by 10 a.m.