By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley told those in attendance at his first community forum on Thursday that the turnout of approximately 80 people, nearly half being employees of the school district, was "disappointing."
The forum, held at Mundy's Mill High School, was the first in a four-part series that the superintendent is holding this month to gauge public opinion about education in Clayton County.
"When I got here, I kept hearing 'The community wants to meet you,'" Heatley told attendees. "Well, here we are. Unfortunately, the community is not here as well, and that's disappointing."
During the 90-minute forum, Heatley fielded questions on a wide array of issues, ranging from the school system's proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) extension, to one student's inquiry about why he needed to learn trigonometry.
Heatley also fielded a couple of questions about the Clayton County Board of Education. One person asked how the public can find out the school board's future meeting dates. School System Spokesman Charles White then stood up and announced that the dates are listed on the school system's web site.
Heatley personally took on another question, about whether the school board was working to ensure the school system would receive full Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation when its two-year probationary period ends in 2011.
"I can tell you when you watch the board in meetings, it is doing its job," Heatley said. "When the board is up there on the dais, that is only one piece of the puzzle, though. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes ... They are giving me very clear direction on where they want to see the school system headed."
School board Chairperson Alieka Anderson, Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs, and board members Pamela Adamson and Trinia Garrett sat in the audience as Heatley discussed the board's ability to function as a team.
When Heatley was asked why voters should support the SPLOST extension, also known as SPLOST IV, he deferred the issue to Clayton County Council of PTAs President Cyd Cox. Cox is a member of a volunteer group that is working to build community support for the SPLOST.
"I have to be very careful about the SPLOST, because we can't use school system resources to promote it, and I'm a resource," Heatley told the audience. Cox then stood up and told audience members that the SPLOST was needed to pay for renovations at several schools.
Terence Lee, a Hampton parent with students at Lovejoy middle and high schools, said he was disappointed more parents did not attend the forum. He attributed the lack of attendance to the school system regaining its SACS accreditation - on a probationary basis - in May.
"It's like people are saying 'Well we got our accreditation back, so everything is fine again,'" Lee said. "But we still have work to do, because even though we have our accreditation back, we're still on probation."
Rhonda Ennis, a parent who said she has two students in the school system, said she attended the forum to find out what direction the school system is headed in.
"As a parent, that's your job, to always be concerned about your child's education," Ennis said.
Heatley will host three more forums this month. The next forum will be held on Sept. 10 at Charles R. Drew High School, 6237 Garden Walk Blvd., in Riverdale. Subsequent forums will be held on Sept. 23 at Morrow High School, 2299 Old Rex Morrow Road, in Morrow, and on Sept. 30 at Mt. Zion High School, 2535 Mt. Zion Pkwy., in Jonesboro.
All of the forums will begin at 6 p.m.