By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Superintendent John Thompson used few words Monday when he responded to the board of education's decision to forego extending his contract so a national search for a school chief could be conducted.
Earlier in the meeting, Thompson gave a state-of-the-school-system address, which, at times, sounded like a campaign speech. Thompson said he placed leading Clayton County schools at the top of his "extensive and often colorful career in public education," and pledged to "continue to serve this school district and provide effective leadership for our schools and our community."
After the meeting ended, the school chief gave short answers to questions from the media, but he admitted he wanted to remain Clayton County's superintendent.
"I'm here," Thompson said. "If I wasn't interested, I wouldn't be here. The board has a right to explore it's options, and I'm fine with that."
Thompson's contract is set to expire on June 30, and with the lack of accreditation hanging over the heads of school board members, they had to make a decision about who would lead the district after that date.
One of the mandates to regain accreditation is to hire a permanent superintendent. As a result, officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) wanted to see the board make a decision, now, about what to do after the expiration date in Thompson's contract.
The board had three choices: extend Thompson's contract; conduct a national superintendent search, with Thomas allowed to apply; or conduct a national search while barring Thompson from submitting his name.
"We are carrying out mandate No. 9," said Alieka Anderson, the board's chairperson. "We are doing what we've been asked to do by SACS."
Although conducting the national search was the only one of the three options the board took a vote on, Anderson said the school system's governing body did not have this decision planned before the meeting.
She said the board members did not make their decision until the meeting was underway. "I walked in here, put it out there, and the board did what it wanted to do," Anderson said. "I will stand behind the decision of the board."
David Barton, the president-elect of the Metro South Association of Realtors, said he was excited to see the board go ahead with a national search, but he would also like to see the firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates conduct the search.
The firm was conducting a search to replace former Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, who resigned in July 2007. The people sitting on the board at that time, decided in April 2008 to place that search on hold, so a "corrective superintendent" could be hired. The plan was to have Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates come back this year to finish the job.
Anderson said the board has not decided who will conduct the search. Barton said it should be an easy choice. "They ought to save the taxpayers' dollars and use the firm that was already hired to do the previous search," he said. "They've got the documents that were done before, and they know what we want in a superintendent."
But, regardless of who conducts the search, the way Thompson was hired is why some people believe he should have to re-apply, and go through the rigors of a national search. Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA), said many of his organization's members wanted to see a national search done, although he said it was not because they dislike Thompson.
"It's mainly because Dr. Thompson was hired by the former board, and that board was so dysfunctional," said Chapman. "Also, Dr. Thompson was hired as a corrective superintendent, and the SACS mandate was to hire a permanent superintendent."
While Thompson was actually hired to be a corrective superintendent, the board later changed his contract to remove that title.
Cyd Cox, president of the Clayton County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said many parents will also support the board's decision. "That's what the community wants," said Cox. "At least, that's what I've been hearing from parents. They don't want to eliminate Dr. Thompson, but at the same time, they want to see the board do due diligence on this."
The board will hold a training session on Saturday, Jan. 10, in which officials from the Georgia School Boards Association will teach the board how to conduct a national search. The session will follow an 8 a.m., called board meeting, at which the board will vote on awarding a bid for the district's first kindergarten-through eighth-grade school.
The training will take at the Professional Learning Center, which is located at 1087 Battle Creek Road, Jonesboro. Board members also decided Monday to keep Anderson as its chairperson, and elected new board member, Ophelia Burroughs, as the new vice chairperson.