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Thompson promises to give up 'unusual powers'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

In his state of the school system address this summer, Clayton County Corrective Superintendent John Thompson said some people are calling him the most powerful school superintendent in the nation, but he is now pledging to give up any powers which may make people think he's Superman.

Thompson told Board of Education members on Monday night a new plan to regain the district's accreditation will require members of the district's governing body to revise his contract to remove any "unusual powers" that it granted him. They will also have to make a decision as to whether he will be a corrective superintendent or a permanent leader when the board meets on Sept. 29 for a monthly work session.

Thompson's contract was cited as a signal that the school system still does not have a functioning school board, because SACS officials felt a functioning board would not have given up some of its authority to a superintendent.

"We will remove all of those clauses [form the contract] which state I have those unusual powers," said Thompson.

The school system lost its accreditation on Sept. 1, after the district met only one of SACS' nine mandates for improvement. System leaders have one year to retroactively regain it. The plan to get the accreditation back was developed jointly by school system officials, SACS leaders and state Board of Education members James Bostic and Brad Bryant.

The new plan lays out 46 action steps to get the system in compliance with the remaining mandates. In addition to revising Thompson's contract, some of the other key steps call for hiring two parliamentarians for the school board; hiring an internal auditor; board members and district employees annually signing ethics affidavits; including an ethics clause in all staff contracts in the future; developing a method of punishing ethics violators; enacting all of the recommendations from a recent forensic audit; evaluating the school system's public participation policy, and providing an action plan for systematic school board training.

Members of the board and staff will also undergo training for parliamentary procedure; conflicts of interest; policies; appropriate contact between school board members and district employees, and handling attendance records.

Elgart said the board can meet the mandates within a year, if its members commit themselves to regaining accreditation. He also said the board will need to show four to five years of commitment to making continuous improvement to get the school system where it wants to be -- beyond meeting the mandates for regaining accreditation.

"It is our hope that this is the first step in this school system moving toward a positive, proactive, productive future," Elgart said.

Thompson said the school system cannot stop at regaining accreditation, because it will not solve long-term problems, which could create another accreditation crisis in the future. "This can't just be a one-shot deal," he said. "It's a journey. It can't just be a matter of 'Oh we met the nine mandates, everything is OK' because in a year from now, the school system could end up back in the situation again, if long term solutions are not put into place."

One board member is determined to remove Thompson from his post, however. Michael King said he is seeking to get a 12-page resolution on the agenda for the Oct. 6 board meeting, which would dissolve the superintendent's contract, and once again, make Gloria Duncan the district's interim superintendent. The resolution would also call for a national search for a permanent superintendent to begin immediately.

King said he has not yet discussed his resolution with other board members and does not know if they would support it. "If Dr. Thompson wants to reapply for his position, he can do so, but we have to remove this corrective superintendent," said King. Thompson said he wants to continue leading the school system as long as the community and school board want him.

Linda Jenkins, a mother of twin second-graders at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School and a ninth-grader at Mundy's Mill High School, said the focus should be on improving the board, not firing the superintendent. Jenkins is also a Realtor, who has tried to sell homes to people who do not have children since the accreditation crisis has been going on.

"The superintendent should be the least of their worries right now," Jenkins said.