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Clayton woes surfaced in Wisconsin job offer to Pulliam

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Racine, Wis., Unified School District offered it's superintendent position on Tuesday to former Clayton County school chief Barbara Pulliam.

Representatives from the district will now negotiate a contract with Pulliam, and if the contract is approved by the board, the new superintendent will take over the school system on July 1. The Racine board reached its decision to offer the position to Pulliam by a 7-2 vote, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Video of the Racine school board's decision to hire Pulliam was placed on the district's web site hours after the candidate was offered the job.

"We have strong labor relations and we are financially sound," said board member, Bill Van Atta, during the meeting. "We need a strong leader who understands these very fundamental elements and can build on them. Dr. Pulliam is that leader. She has a strong academic background and the collaborative style needed to help the Racine Unified School District meet its potential."

While the Racine board of education was voting on whether Pulliam should be hired, talk among board members turned to the current accreditation crisis in Clayton County. Pulliam led Clayton's public schools for three and a half years, until she abruptly resigned in July 2007.

"Clayton County seems to be the poster child for dysfunctionality," said Racine board member, Dennis Wiser, as he explained why he would not cast his vote in favor of the former Clayton County superintendent. "Usually, the more dysfunctional a school system is, the more opportunities you have to implement some quick fixes ..."

Sue Kutz, a Racine board member who lead the school system's efforts to find a new superintendent, defended Pulliam's track record in Clayton County in an attempt to justify the recommendation to hire the former superintendent.

"In regards to Clayton County, [Pulliam] tried to do what was best for the children and she was undermined by the school board," said Kutz, before referencing recent news reports about Clayton County's board. "To say this school board [in Clayton County] is dysfunctional is an understatement."

Speculation had begun to build in recent weeks that the Racine board was preparing to tap Pulliam to fill its superintendent vacancy. She received the endorsement of two teachers unions associated with the district, and was brought in for a second interview on Sunday. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story on Monday, which indicated the board would offer the job to Pulliam on Tuesday.

Board member, Julie McKenna, said she voted against Pulliam because of feedback she received from parents, business leaders and teachers. She told her colleagues several teachers did not endorse Pulliam, even though the teacher unions did.

"They felt they wanted the board to keep searching," McKenna said. "They were not comfortable with past experiences of the [finalists]."

Coincidentally, the Racine board's decision to offer a contract to Pulliam came days before her nine-month severance package with Clayton County schools concluded.

Pulliam will attend a training conference this weekend in New Orleans as she prepares to take over the Racine school district, according to the district.

Pulliam has been teaching graduate-level courses for the University of West Georgia's College of Education, in the department of leadership and professional services, since January. She has also been a senior program associate for Greensboro, N.C.-based School Leadership Services since August 2007.

Pulliam was one of five finalists for the superintendent position in Mobile, Ala., in August 2007. She was also mentioned as a possible candidate for the Clayton County school system's corrective superintendent position earlier this month.

She could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

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On the net:

Racine Unified School District: http://www.racine.k12.wi.us/