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SACS endorses superintendent plan for Clayton schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A lack of public confidence in the board of education's ability to make sound decisions is why the search for Clayton County's next permanent superintendent is being postponed until 2009.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is backing the board's decision to suspend the search for Clayton County's next permanent superintendent. School officials hope to have a temporary, "corrective" superintendent in place by April 1. The corrective superintendent will be someone who has experience as a superintendent, and is not seeking the permanent position.

SACS officials recommended revoking the district's accreditation last month - If nine recommendations for improvement are not met by Sept. 1. One of those recommendations is hiring a permanent superintendent. But Dr. Mark Elgart, the president of SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, said Friday that a corrective superintendent would be OK.

"SACS is not rushing to judgment on this change, and neither should the public," Elgart said. "There's not a high degree of [public] confidence in this board, and whether or not it can fulfill it's obligations by conducting a search for a qualified superintendent. If there's a lack of confidence from the public, it's best to postpone this search."

How did this happen?

While most of the people involved in this decision indicated the change has already been approved, one person is painting the situation in a different way.

Glenn Brock, the attorney hired by the board to handle the SACS issue, said the recommendation to hire a corrective superintendent has not yet been approved.

Brock said the recommendation came from Dr. Richard Green, who is leading the search for the permanent school chief, during an update offered in a "regularly scheduled executive session."

Brock would not elaborate on when the executive session took place. The board is expected to vote on the recommendation at its March 24 work session, according to Brock. Green could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The board of education could begin interviewing candidates by March 15, said Brock. The search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, Ltd., will conduct the search for someone to fill the new, temporary position. The firm has spent the last two months working on the search for Clayton County's next permanent superintendent.

The leadership profile developed for the next permanent superintendent will still be used once the search resumes next year.

Elgart said it's not uncommon to see a troubled district bring in a temporary, short-term superintendent to run the school system while it gets back on track. These superintendents should have experience running a school system, which is similar in size and dynamic, and is capable of performing strongly in the face of adversity, he said.

Election 2008

Another issue which prompted this move was expected changes on the board between now and January 2009. The seats currently held by board Vice chairman Eddie White, and board members, Rod Johnson, Yolanda Everett, David Ashe and Lois Baines-Hunter are up for re-election this year.

White and Everett have indicated they are not going to seek re-election. White explained his plans to the Clayton News Daily. Everett made her intentions known through the Associated Press.

Ashe told the Clayton News Daily he has not made up his mind about running again, but he is "leaning" toward seeking another term.

On March 3, Johnson announced that he would resign from the board, but hasn't given a date for when his resignation will occur. Baines-Hunter could not be reached for comment.

Under the previous course of action and the old timetable for finding a new superintendent, "someone could be hired in July of this year, but in January 2009, that superintendent would be working with a board where the majority of its members did not hire the superintendent," Brock explained.

What about Duncan?

The move leaves Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan uncertain about her future role within the district. As a candidate for the permanent superintendent position, she can not serve as the "corrective" superintendent.

She stepped down from her previous position as the principal of Riverdale High School in July 2007, so she could lead the school system after former superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, resigned.

Duncan said she found out about the decision to bring in a new superintendent on Thursday afternoon, shortly before the plan was announced to members of the media.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do," said Duncan, after she finished reading to a class of fourth-graders on Friday. "I'll be working somewhere in the district, but I don't know where that will be ... The school system needs stability right now. The community needs stability. The teachers need stability. Most importantly, the children need stability."

She said she will send a letter to SACS, within the next week, detailing how the district is responding to several of the agency's concerns. The district has also set up audits, which will be performed on its financial and school attendance records, as well as board member eligibility, she said.

"We've got a good start on this," said Duncan, when she was asked is she was disappointed that she would not be able to lead the district through its efforts to retain its accreditation.

Still, the school system has only six months left to satisfy SACS' eight other requirements for maintaining accreditation.

Duncan had only one piece of advise for whoever is hired as the corrective superintendent: Be a fast learner.

"I just hope they are able to learn quickly, so the work will continue," she said. "They will need to work with the [district's] staff, so stability can be maintained."

Later in the day, however, she issued a statement, saying it would be "inappropriate" for her to comment on the corrective superintendent issue.