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Heatley ready to build trust with Clayton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Edmond Heatley, the retired Marine who is slated to become Clayton County's next school superintendent, said his first job in the district - if he accepts the position - will be to earn the trust of community members and some school board members.

Heatley, who is currently the superintendent of the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District, said he will accept the Clayton County superintendent job if negotiations over job benefits go well. The board has already approved offering Heatley a three-year contract, worth $250,000 per year, but many of the details concerning benefits have not been hammered out, Heatley said.

Building trust will have to start with dealing with a school board that was divided over offering him the school chief job, though. He was approved by the school board Monday by a razor thin (5-4) vote.

He said he plans to work as part of a team with board members - including those who voted against him - as the district's superintendent. He said he will start by working to address the reasons why board members Charlton Bivins, Trinia Garrett, Jessie Goree and Michael King voted against offering him the position.

"I wanted a 9-0 vote, obviously, but I'm a big boy and I know that's not always possible," Heatley said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I know not every board member will see eye to eye on this. When someone new comes in, there is going to be some resistance. Well, four board members voted against me for varying reasons, and I would like to know what those reasons are."

If he accepts the position, Heatley is scheduled to take over as the district's leader on July 1. He would be the district's fifth superintendent in two years.

It is unclear how long negotiations will go on, though, because board leaders have not yet scheduled a vote on a contract for Heatley. The man who is the board's choice to lead the 48,000-student school system said he is confident, however, the process will go smoothly.

"I don't think there will be any problems during the contract negotiations," he said.

Heatley said he and his family will be in Clayton County this weekend, looking for a house to purchase, and checking out schools for his children.

"It's a family outing," Heatley said. "The trip was not to do anything except to let my family learn the area."

Heatley said there are three things he has to focus on, if he becomes Clayton County's next superintendent: Building trust with the district's stakeholders, including students, parents, community leaders and board members; making sure the school system is financially solvent; and ensuring Clayton County Public Schools has a "rigorous and relevant" curriculum.

Heatley said he will make inquiries on the school system's proposed fiscal year 2010 budget, and he may make recommendations to district officials and board members. He said he also plans to attend Clayton County's high school graduations at the Georgia Dome May 29-30, as well was graduation ceremonies scheduled for next month in Chino Valley.

But Heatley said his top priority will be to build a trusting relationship with the people of Clayton County. "It starts with every interaction I have with the community," Heatley said. "I believe trust is based on every action you take, and do not take."

Parents who complained Monday when the board voted in favor of offering the superintendent position to Heatley said they were not doubting his qualifications, per se, but were frustrated with the process the school board used to find him. Parents complained the process did not allow them ample opportunity to offer input on the superintendent search.

School board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said she believes Heatley will have to be able to create improvements in the academic performance of the district's students to build trust with the community. As an incentive to get Heatley to make modifications needed to boost test scores, his contract will include performance bonuses, Anderson said.

"He has to take care of the children first," Anderson said. "Once he takes care of those things which affect student achievement, if he works with the community, we can't do anything but go straight to the top in educating children."

Anderson said the bonuses would kick in whenever the school system shows signs of increased student achievement, such as making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), or higher test scores. The district has not made AYP in several years, according to Georgia Department of Education data.

Anderson added that contracts for other metropolitan Atlanta superintendents, including Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall, include similar performance bonuses.

"Our focus is on [improving] student achievement," Anderson said. "That is what Dr. Heatley is being brought in to do, to raise test scores."