Coming Together: Clayton to celebrate unity, re-accreditation with family reunion

Tyanna Davis said she felt a sense of relief and excitement last week when she went on to Clayton County Public Schools' web site and learned the district had regained its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Davis, 16, a junior at Clayton County's open campus high school, said she spent the past eight months, when the school system was unaccredited, worrying about her chances of getting into college.

Davis said this weekend's Clayton County Family Reunion, which will feature activities such as line dancing, face painting and performances by several music groups, will be her chance to celebrate the restoration of the school system's accreditation. The event will be held Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Clayton County International Park, 2300 Ga. Highway 138, Jonesboro.

"I have not really celebrated our re-accreditation yet," Davis said. "I might do that this weekend."

Organizers of the reunion met with reporters Monday to formally announce the date and time of the reunion event.

Organizers include officials from the Celebrate Clayton 150 Committee, the school system, the county commission, Clayton County Parks and Recreation, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Clayton County Council of PTA's.

The Celebrate Clayton 150 Committee is comprised of representatives of several groups, including the county police and fire departments, the sheriff's office, state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), the mayors of Clayton County's cities, religious leaders, the Clayton News Daily and the county Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, said school system acting Chief Communication and Information Officer Luvenia Jackson, who has been overseeing planning of the reunion.

Organizers have scheduled several activities to take place at the reunion, including football pass games, Frisbee golf, a soccer goal-kick competition, a volleyball relay race, line dancing, storytelling, and a performance by a local hip hop dance team. Organizers said they have already lined up musical performances by a jazz musician and several Christian rock bands, but are still working on lining up more musical acts.

"I'm looking forward to getting to eat some good food, and running around and playing with friends," said Arnold Elementary School second-grader Brandon Walker, one of several students who attended the announcement of the reunion.

Jackson said the reunion event is designed to bring Clayton County residents together in the spirit of renewal for the entire county. She said the goal is to not only celebrate the re-accreditation of Clayton schools, but to continue the movement of community members working together to solve the county's problems.

During the accreditation crisis, people ranging from mayors to county government officials, to business officials, to Realtors, to parents, to teachers union leaders rallied around the school system, to offer support and resources when they could.

Jackson said the spirit of community leaders coming together to address an issue should not falter as the county prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday later this year.

She noted the school system is still on probation for the next two years, and SACS still has to do a full, comprehensive examination of the district and all of its schools by the end of next year.

"This is a time for families to come together," Jackson said. "It's a call for renewed fellowship. To say 'look what we've accomplished already, and look how far we can go by banding together.'"

Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton said the Clayton County Family Reunion offers a chance for the community to breathe a collective "sigh of relief." Singleton said the event is particularly important for Clayton County high school students, like Davis, who spent the past year worrying whether they would graduate from an accredited school system.

"Clayton County has been through so much," Singleton said. "We have experienced a lot of negative press. This is just a great chance for us to come together and be one ... This is just a chance for them to breathe."

Davis said the county's citizens should continue to work together because "we know now what we can do when we work together." She said she also believes the reunion will give the district an opportunity to disprove its critics, whose perceptions of the school system may have been shaped by the accreditation loss.

"Clayton County has good schools," Davis said. "People just don't always see it that way."

Rhonda Burnough, the school system's community relations liaison, said representatives of local government agencies, such as the Parks and Recreation department, the school system and the water authority are being asked by event organizers to have information tables at the reunion to let residents know about their resources.

Burnough said leaders of the seven cities in the county - including College Park - have been asked to do the same.

Burnough said the school system's loss of accreditation proved to be a difficult "obstacle." With accreditation restored, she said she believes the county "can now move forward" - with this weekend's reunion serving as a starting point.

"We want to share this excitement with everybody. This really is a chance to celebrate Clayton County," Burnough said.

Pat Duncan, president and chief executive officer of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the reunion not only provides a way to celebrate the re-accreditation of the school system, but also works to bolster the county's image.

"Thirty-one thousand jobs in the county touch the tourism industry in some way," Duncan said. "When people feel good about their community, they are more likely to invite people here, and that helps tourism. I think [the reunion] just raises public image and it allows us, and other people in the community, to celebrate who we are as a community."

Jackson said the re-accreditation of the school system, and the 150th anniversary of the founding of the county, came together as an ideal time to put out a call to residents for civic renewal to repair Clayton County's image.

"The time is perfect," Jackson said. "This is one of the best times to be here in Clayton County."