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Truett Cathy to be honored at dedication

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

S. Truett Cathy, the man who started the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, will be honored by Clayton County school officials when his name is added to the district's Professional Learning Center in Jonesboro this weekend.

The school system is scheduled to hold an invitation-only dedication ceremony on Saturday, from 10 a.m., to noon, to formally re-name the three-year-old facility the S. Truett Cathy Professional Learning Center, according to School System Community Relations Liaison Rhonda Burnough.

The name change was approved by the Clayton County Board of Education last fall, after Cathy declined having the district's kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school named for him. Cathy asked that the school, instead, be named after his longtime friend, Eddie White, a former Clayton County educator and school board member.

"When the Professional Learning Center opened, it was without a formal name," Burnough said. "This is just a chance to recognize that it is now named in honor of Mr. Cathy."

The 35,720-square-foot, two-story Professional Learning Center opened in 2007, as the home of the school system's Professional Learning Department, which oversees local participation in staff development programs, such as the National Board Certification program, the Georgia Master Teachers program, and the state's Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (TAPP).

The school system has already added Cathy's name to signs on the building, and to signs on Battle Creek Road that direct people to the building. Burnough said approximately 100 people are expected to attend the dedication ceremony. Invitations were sent to Clayton County Public Schools principals, teachers of the year, community leaders in the county, superintendents from neighboring school systems, and representatives of the Metropolitan Regional Education Service Agency, of which the school district is a member.

Burnough said the county's 2010 Teacher of the Year, Ave Maria Tatum; Truett's Grill of Morrow Manager Randy Burgess; Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson are scheduled to speak during the ceremony.

During a telephone interview on Wednesday, Anderson shouted for joy over the fact that the building was going to bear Cathy's name. "We are so excited that we're going to be dedicating this building in honor of Mr. Truett Cathy," she said. "We have finally put his name on a building in this county -- where it belongs."

Cathy has a long history of supporting other people in their pursuit of an education. In the 1950's, he wrote a check to White, then an employee at Chick-fil-A's Dwarf Grill restaurant in Forest Park, to help the future educator pay for his college education.

Cathy has replicated that generosity through the Chick-fil-A Leadership Scholarship Program, which has given scholarships to thousands of Chick-fil-A employees since 1973. Anderson said Cathy has also been a supporter of back-to-school drives, organized by local Chick-fil-A employees, that have aided Clayton County students in recent years.

Cathy's support of education in Clayton County also extends to Clayton State University, in Morrow. According to University Spokesman John Shiffert, Cathy was recognized by the Clayton State University Foundation as one of the group's founding members during a reception on April 17. He was one of the signers of the foundation's Articles of Incorporation in 1974, Shiffert said, in a written statement.

It is for these reasons, Anderson said, that the school board wanted to name a building after Cathy, even after he asked them to name the K-8 school after White, instead of himself.

In a written statement, Cathy said he was "deeply honored and humbled beyond words" by the school board's decision to name the Professional Learning Center after him.

"As a supporter of the educational process, and a resident of Clayton County, I am very sensitive to the importance of the work being performed at the Professional Learning [Center]," Cathy said. "I believe that the daily impact we will have on the educational process and influence on students lives will continue to be significant.

"I am thankful that this reflects one of my personal goals to give support to education through our scholarships program."