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Community members show support for Thompson

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Corrective Superintendent John Thompson received some words of encouragement from members of the community on Monday at the board of education's business meeting.

Three of the five people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting expressed their support for Thompson, as he begins his work to try and protect the school system's accreditation.

Earlier, Thompson unveiled a calendar, which has tear-off pages to count down how many days are left until his self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline to meet the standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

He announced there are 87 days left before the deadline arrives. Many of the people who spoke at the meeting told him to not hold back in his efforts to save the district.

"The board needs to let Dr. Thompson take the lead ... and Dr. Thompson, don't let the board bully you around," said Riverdale resident, Marjorie Booze.

Thompson called on the community to unite and work with the school system to solve the accreditation problem. The corrective superintendent's deadline is one month before the SACS imposed Sept. 1 deadline for the district to either meet nine mandates for improvement, or lose its accreditation.

Thompson chose the earlier deadline, so he would have a month to set up a show cause hearing, which would give school system officials an opportunity to convince SACS to not revoke their accreditation.

"We've got to stop pointing fingers, so we can start to develop this great school system," said Thompson during his first superintendent's report. "There is no reason for us not to work together. The community can help us become a world-class school system. If you can't be for us, please don't be against us. We've got to do this for the children ... "

Thompson told members of the board, and the audience, he will meet with state School Superintendent Kathy Cox and the state board of education on Wednesday. He also listed several of the people who participated in an education summit he held on May 2 and 3, but he would not say what came of the meeting. Several former superintendents, including former Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan, participated in the summit.

Still, Thompson's calls for unity and reassurances that he is working to save the district's accreditation could not appease the bitterness some people feel toward the county's board of education.

"There is more anxiety, more anger in the community than ever before," said Charlton Bivins, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Clayton County (C4). "We support you Dr. Thompson, but we cannot support what you've become a part of."

Thompson also told members of the media he has selected Dr. Judith Simmons to serve in the newly created position of interim deputy superintendent. Simmons is a consultant Thompson brought to Clayton County to help him deal with the accreditation crisis. Neither Thompson, nor Dorsey Hopson, the school system's legal counsel, would say how much Simmons will be paid.

Traditionally, a superintendent has to seek the board's permission to create a new position, or to hire someone to serve in a high-level position. Thompson has not yet requested to have the board, either create the interim deputy position, or to hire Simmons to serve in the position. The corrective superintendent's contract gives him broad authority to take numerous actions without first seeking board approval, however.

Thompson also announced that he plans to make all of the district's high-level administrators re-apply for their jobs. When asked if some of these people could lose their jobs, Thompson said, "I don't know, maybe.

"I just want to make sure we've got the right people in the right positions," he said.

Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA), questioned the legality of Thompson's decision, though, and plans to look further into the issue.

"They've [the administrators] already signed contracts for next year," Chapman said. "The board just voted on their contracts last month."

District Spokesman Charles White said the board merely voted to offer contracts to the administrators. While all school system employees, who plan to return to the district next year, had to sign their new contracts by May 1, White said Thompson can still move people around within the district, eliminate positions or reassign duties before the new contracts go into effect on July 1.

Hopson declined to comment on the matter.