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School superintendent job draws 55 candidates

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Fifty-five educators from 16 states, including several current and former school superintendents, are seeking the Clayton County school chief job, the school board announced Monday at a called meeting.

The position became open on March 14, when the school board fired former Superintendent John Thompson after 10 and a half months as the district's leader. Thompson's contract was set to expire on June 30, and the board had already started a national search two months before he was let go.

Board members will interview their first candidate today, member Jessie Goree said as she read a written statement at Monday's meeting.

"We have no set timeline," Goree read aloud. "We will take as long as it takes to find the right fit for the next superintendent of Clayton County, but we will also act as soon as we believe we have found the best choice. Our goal continues to be to have a superintendent in place by the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1."

The board's statement outlined several steps taken to reach as many potential candidates as possible, including: advertising the position in the March 18 edition of "Education Week" magazine; notifying superintendent organizations in all 50 states; sending vacancy notices to 266 school systems across the nation whose student population exceeds 25,000 pupils; candidate recruitment by search consultant and attorney Glenn Brock, and running online advertisements on the school system's web site.

Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson added little to what was included in the statement read by Goree, but said the board reviewed information about some of the applicants during part of a nearly-three-hour executive session Monday.

"We're following the process to make sure we narrow it down to the best candidate," she said.

After the meeting, Goree said the board plans to interview as many as three candidates at the National School Boards Association's conference April 4-7 in San Diego, Calif., because those candidates already planned to attend the conference. The board was signed up for the conference months ago by Thompson for training purposes, Goree said.

"That will allow us to save some taxpayer dollars, because we won't have to bring them [the candidates] to Atlanta for an interview," she said. Goree also said approximately 75 percent of the candidates who applied for the position either are, or have been, school superintendents. She said the names of the finalists will be announced two weeks before the board hires a superintendent.

Brock said applications will continue to be accepted while the board interviews candidates. "It's open until it's filled," he said. Interim Superintendent Valya Lee has been leading the school system since Thompson was fired. Lee said she has not applied for the permanent position.

SACS is scheduled to send a review team to the district April 13-15 to evaluate progress made toward improving the school system. The team will either recommend re-accreditation in some form, or continued non-accreditation

Metro South Association of REALTORS President David Barton said he was pleased to hear that 55 people applied for the position when Clayton County is still fighting to get its accreditation back. "There's at least that many people that are not afraid to come into the county and take on the challenge," Barton said. "I always like somebody who can take a challenge. It also means they have a larger pool of qualified candidates to choose from. I would rather have 50 candidates, than five, because you're not going to have a good selection with only five applicants."

When asked for his thoughts on the board discussing the superintendent search with Brock for approximately an hour behind closed doors, Barton said, "We elected them, and we're going to have to trust they'll do the right thing."

Meeting without the general counsel

School System General Counsel Julie Lewis said she was only in the school board's executive session for 10 minutes, out of the two hours and 55 minutes the board was behind closed doors during the first of two executive sessions. She said she had been there to advise board members on a student tribunal.

After Lewis reportedly left the executive session, and Brock met with board members to discuss the superintendent search. And the remainder of the time was spent talking about personnel matters, Board Chairperson Anderson said.

When Lewis was asked why she was not asked to rejoin the board in executive session after Brock gave his presentation, the general counsel shrugged her shoulders.

Anderson said Lewis was not invited back into the session because the board was discussing personnel matters. After the executive session ended, the board voted 7-0 to approve an improvement plan created by Interim Superintendent Lee, which includes a reduction in the number of administrative staff members, and the moving of several senior-level administrators into new positions.

Lewis was not in the executive session during those discussions "because she's not privy to that," Anderson said. "That was a personnel discussion between Dr. Lee and the board."

Lee said she will not discuss the details of the plan with the media until Wednesday, but said it will create "substantial savings" for the district.

Jonesboro High School parent, Cheryl White, was one of a few community members at the meeting who expressed concern that Lewis was not in the executive session during the discussions on school system personnel.

"It is concerning because if you're going to discuss personnel matters in executive session, then, you should have legal advice," White said.