By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education is turning to a retired U.S. Marine to take the helm of the 48,000-student school system that was once called "a ship without a rudder in dangerous waters" by its accrediting agency.
School district officials announced Tuesday that Edmond Heatley, who served in the U.S. Marines for 21 years and is the superintendent of schools for the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District, will be introduced tonight as Clayton County Public Schools' only superintendent finalist.
Heatley will be introduced during a "Meet the Superintendent Candidate" forum at 6 p.m., at the district's central office, 1058 Fifth Ave., in Jonesboro.
"He's excited about coming to Clayton County," said School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson. "We're letting him meet the public, so they can have a chance to meet him. This is a period where he'll be able to come in and get a feel for the community ... We want everyone, every community member and every public official, to come out and meet him, and to get to know him."
Georgia law mandates that the school board wait 14 days before it can hire Heatley to be the district's new superintendent. During that time, the board will receive public comments on the potential hiring of the retired marine as the school system's next superintendent.
"This announcement is made after the board's review of over 60 applicants, interviews with six applicants and careful deliberation," said School System Spokesman Charles White in a written statement.
Anderson said Heatley stood out among the other candidates for the position, because of "great leadership, a proven track record of success," and his excitement about the school system.
"Those three things stood out in my mind as reasons why he would be a good fit for this school system," Anderson said.
If Heatley is hired, he will be taking command of a school system that is making the transition back into being accredited - on a probationary status - by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) after eight months without accreditation. His hiring will also help the district complete one of SACS' remaining mandates for regaining full accreditation - the hiring of a permanent superintendent.
He will also be responsible for making sure the district meets several other requirements for regaining full accreditation, including: Overseeing the implementation of several recommendations from a forensic auditor who investigated the school system last year; revising the school system's mission, vision, and strategic plan; reviewing the district's organizational chart, and helping the school board develop an action plan for resolving conflicts between board members and district staff.
All 60 schools in the district must also undergo a full evaluation by Dec. 1, 2010, SACS officials announced last Friday. It has been seven years since the district underwent such an evaluation, and it was due for such an examination two years ago, SACS President Mark Elgart said when he announced the district's re-accreditation.
Heatley will also be the fifth person to lead the school system in a two-year period. Former Superintendent Barbara Pulliam resigned in 2007, and was succeeded by Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan. Duncan was replaced by former Superintendent John Thompson last year. Thompson was subsequently fired by the school board in March, and replaced with Interim Superintendent Valya Lee.
"It is imperative that the next superintendent of schools has experience as a superintendent and a proven track record of success in leading school systems, and in building the conditions that result in improving student achievement," a SACS review team wrote in a report on the district that was released by the accrediting agency last Friday.
"He will be responsible, along with the board, for restoring normalcy and stability to the district, and for making sure we continue to focus on student achievement," Anderson said.
Heatley has been leading the 33,500-student Chino Valley Unified School District since 2005, according to his resume. The school system is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Chino, Calif. Fifty-percent of the students in Chino Valley schools are Hispanic, according to Heatley's resume.
Heatley says in his resume that he developed Chino Valley Schools' first strategic plan "with a primary focus on educational reform and academic rigor," improved the district's Academic Performance Index rating by 35 points, and reduced litigation by 35 percent. He also boasts that two schools in that district have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence since he became Chino Valley's superintendent.
Heatley's tenure in Chino has not been without controversy, however. He closed several schools earlier this year in a budget-cutting move, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. The newspaper also reported that parents were protesting the school closings outside Heatley's office last Wednesday and Thursday.
Last Thursday, the Daily Bulletin quoted several Chino Valley parents as saying they wanted to see Heatley leave their school system, with some of them even accusing him and Chino Valley's school board of creating a confrontational atmosphere between parents and district officials.
Phone numbers for officials with the United Parents of Chino Valley, a parent organization created to fight school closings and a participant in last week's protests at Heatley's office, could not be found Tuesday evening.
Anderson declined to comment on whether the Clayton school board asked Heatley about the school closings controversy when board members interviewed him in San Diego last month.
According to his resume, from 2002 to 2005, Heatley was the associate superintendent of personnel for the Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District, and he was the assistant superintendent of educational services for the Grant Joint Union High School District in Sacramento, Calif., from 2000 to 2002. He was the learning director for the Clovis Unified School District in Fresno, Calif., from 1998-2000.
His resume also lists him as having served in adjunct professor positions at Old Dominion University, California State University at San Marcos, and the University of Southern California, from 1996 to 2003.
He served on active duty in the U.S. Marines from 1983 to 1996, and in the U.S. Marines Reserves from that time until 2004, according to his resume. He has received a Bronze Star and three Combat Action Ribbons for "bravery and meritorious service," according to the Clayton County Public Schools' press release on Heatley's selection as a finalist.
Heatley has a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University; a master's degree from Old Dominion, and another master's degree from California State University at Fresno, and a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California, according to his resume.
Heatley could not be reached at his office on Monday, and Anderson said he was in Clayton County Tuesday evening. He did not respond to an e-mail that was sent to his Chino Valley schools e-mail address on Tuesday.