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Oliver principal resigns amid changes at school

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

After more than a decade as the principal of E.W. Oliver Elementary School, Ron Boykins decided to resign on Aug. 21 amid pressure from school system officials to conform to educational practices used elsewhere in the district.

In recent years, Oliver Elementary put a heavy emphasis on teaching math and science. Under Boykins' guidance, the school used methods of teaching math, such as the Singapore math technique and an Advanced Placement math program, which were unusual for a Clayton County elementary school.

The school found some success and fame for its math prowess, particularly in the spring of 2007, when it defeated a North Carolina elementary school in a head-to-head math competition. It gained further fame when it produced back-to-back state champions in the Georgia Stock Market Game in the fall of 2007 and spring of this year. The school also made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on an annual basis.

Since the beginning of the school year, district officials have told Boykins and other staff members at Oliver that many of the programs they used at the school would have to be replaced with more traditional programs used in other elementary schools.

"For me, it was like I was a vice principal instead of a principal," Boykins said. "There was a lot of discussion about all of the things we would not be allowed to do this year. The last straw for me was seeing students who had been in the AP program as fourth graders, students who were using fifth-grade books last year, and they had to go back to using fourth-grade math books this year."

Valya Lee was assigned by Corrective Superintendent John Thompson to serve as the school's acting principal following Boykins' resignation.

On Aug. 18, Boykins told the Clayton News Daily that district officials told him to choose between running the annual MathFest and ScienceFest competitions or remaining principal of the elementary school. His supervisors also told him to remove all references to MathFest from Oliver's web site, Boykins said.

At the time, Boykins said he was considering resigning so he could continue to operate MathFest, which is scheduled to go from being a statewide competition to a national competition when it is held on March 28, 2009.

"I knew the impact MathFest was having on the kids," said Boykins on Monday. "It's hard for me to have just the microcosm of Oliver Elementary School. We've got to do big things. We've got to get the kids to do big things to keep them interested in math."

Lee was the chief of staff for former interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan from August 2007 until Thompson became superintendent in April of this year. Lee was also in charge of Thompson's team that has been working since May to save the district's accreditation. The team drafted the 2,300-page report, which was delivered on Aug. 1, to officials at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Lee will lead the school until a permanent replacement is found, according to a school system press release. "Dr. Lee is a seasoned instructional leader who fully understands operational needs that are unique to an elementary setting, having served as a principal in Clayton County Public Schools at the elementary level," wrote Corrective Superintendent John Thompson in a letter to Oliver parents. "I have complete confidence in her ability to maintain an effective and stable administration at the Oliver campus."

The district requires all media requests for school system employees be approved by school the system's communications department. District Spokesman Charles White said Lee was unavailable for comment on Monday.

Thompson told parents he and other district officials hope to find an "exemplary leader who will continue the tradition of excellence that has been a hallmark of E.W. Oliver Elementary [School]" to serve as Boykins' permanent replacement.