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Former Clayton Schools leader finalist in Birmingham

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools' Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Valya Lee, who was briefly the school system's interim superintendent, is one of five finalists vying to become Birmingham City Schools' next superintendent.

Lee was Clayton's interim superintendent from March to July of this year. She is

scheduled to be interviewed by the Birmingham Board of Education on Dec. 11, according to a Birmingham City Schools press release.

On Thursday, Lee said she applied for the position some time after becoming Clayton's interim superintendent, but she could not remember the exact date. She said she was attracted to Birmingham City Schools because of recent gains the district has made on state standardized tests, and other ongoing student-achievement efforts.

"It's upwardly mobile," she said. "If that's where God wants me to go, then, that's where I will end up. If God thinks that's not where I should be, then I'm OK with that."

Lee will be the last of the five finalists to be interviewed, and after her two-hour interview concludes, the Birmingham Board of Education is scheduled to immediately discuss the finalists and narrow their list to three people, said Birmingham City Schools Spokesperson Michaelle Chapman, who added that the board is scheduled to choose a new superintendent on Dec. 17.

According to Chapman, the 26,000-student school system has been led by Interim Superintendent Barbara S. Allen since February 2008. Allen's contract is set to expire at the end of this month, and she is planning to retire at that time, Chapman said.

Chapman said the district's last permanent superintendent, Stan Mims, was fired in February 2008, after 18 months on the job.

A Jonesboro native, Lee has served in several positions in the Clayton County School System over most of the last 15 years. She rose through the ranks -- from being a teacher -- to assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, chief of staff and interim superintendent.

She left the district in 2005 to become Rockdale County Schools' assistant superintendent of student support services, but came back two years later as the chief of staff under former, Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan.

After former Superintendent John Thompson was hired in April 2008, Lee served as the district's assistant superintendent of student services until the Clayton County Board of Education fired Thompson in March, and named her as his temporary replacement.

During Thompson's tenure, Lee had been part of a group of district-level administrators assigned to work on regaining the district's accreditation. A month and a half into her tenure as interim superintendent, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools restored the district's accreditation on a two-year, probationary basis.

Lee had applied to become Clayton County's permanent superintendent, but the school board hired Edmond Heatley instead, whereupon Lee returned to being assistant superintendent of student services.

"Clayton has prepared me very well for this," Lee said. "From being a teacher, assistant principal, principal assistant superintendent, chief of staff and interim superintendent, I'm well versed on almost every facet of school system operations."

As the assistant superintendent of student services, Lee said she oversees the district's special education program, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, school nurses, the district's hospital home-bound students program, the alternative school program, federal grants and programs, student transfers, student records, WORKTEC, student tribunals and discipline, character education programs, and collaboration efforts with juvenile court officials and community leaders.

In addition to Lee, the list of finalists for the Birmngham position includes a deputy superintendent from Atlanta Public Schools, an assistant superintendent of Tupelo (Miss.) Public Schools, a professor at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala., and the superintendent of Edgecomb County (N.C.) Public Schools, according to the Birmingham City Schools press release.