Photo by Heather Middleton
By Jeylin White
A week before school is back in session for all of Clayton County's public school students, and in light of disappointing annual yearly progress results recently released, school board members had an intense discussion about student achievement.
But, before that discussion began, Edward Dubose, the president of the NAACP Georgia State Conference, addressed the board on spending priorities and a conduct issue that allegedly took place during the board's June budget hearing. He expressed his concerns about a $1.2 million contract between the school system and the Clayton County Sheriff's Office, to use deputies as school resource officers (SROs) in the schools, and about why local NAACP president, C. Synamon Baldwin, was allegedly, physically removed from the budget hearing.
Dubose told board members he believes "excessive spending" on discipline is not the answer to student achievement. Rather, more money and emphasis should be put toward academics. "Misplaced priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system," he said.
In regards to Baldwin allegedly being removed from the June budget hearing, Dubose told the board it was a concern to the community that a president [for the NAACP] could be treated with such disregard, especially since no disruptive behavior was demonstrated on the president's behalf.
Baldwin said later that, when she participated in the public input session in June, she was asked by a member of the sheriff's office to leave the meeting and premises. "When I got up to speak, I knew I went over 12 seconds of my time," said Baldwin, Monday. "I knew I should not have done that, and I understood that." She added she was just trying to get her sentence out, and as she was finishing, she said, that's when the sheriff's deputy approached her and asked her to leave the meeting.
According to Baldwin, there were other people who violated the time limit [during the budget hearing], but were not asked to leave.
In response to Dubose's concerns, Heatley said he stand's by his contract with the sheriff's office, and that it is less than what the district has paid in years past for SROs. "We're not looking to arrest kids," said Heatley. "The SROs are much more for safety." He added that these officers are not in an arresting capacity, unless a crime happens. "I understand if the message got miscommunicated, but in reality, we have to ensure that each of our buildings offers a safe learning environment."
Heatley said he's not sure why people are so concerned with the sheriff's office being in the schools. When, in the past, the district has used the police department and city police departments. "Why is it a concern now?" He asked. "We're getting the same service we have been getting, and we're actually saving money in the process."
Heatley then addressed the situation with Baldwin. He said there is some miscommunication and misinformation that Dubose had received. "I think he's making an assumption and operating on bad data," Heatley said. "No one, from my peripheral vision or any gestures were made [by a board member], for an officer to do that."
However, he said he has met with Baldwin, and will meet with the sheriff to resolve the issue. "I'm not about throwing anybody under the bus. I'm into fixing problems," he said. "If something happened inappropriately, we'll deal with it."
The main focus of Monday night's meeting, however, was the discussion among board members in regards to student achievement in the district. Board Member Charlton Bivins said he believes the district has stabilized its vision for student academic progress, but added that "they [students] may not be were they use to be, but are still not were they should be."
Heatley responded by reminding board members that "Rome was not built over night and getting students where they need to be, academically, is a process." Board Member Jessie Goree said she "strongly" believes that the reason for nearly half the schools in the district not making AYP, and for poor test scores, has a lot to do with academic coaches being cut from the schools.
In response to Goree, Heatley said academic coaches do not teach the students, and due to the cuts the district had to make in the budget, the coaches were let go. He added that what should have been done was an increase in professional development among teachers. However, he emphasized: "I will not sit up here and say my teachers have not been teaching. We just need to tweak what we have been doing."
The discussion continued for quite sometime with other board members bringing up their concerns about the district's difficulty in meeting state standards on standardized tests, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Heatley said he hopes Monday's discussion will be one of many conversations with the board members to address student achievement. "I think the conversation we had this evening is a starting conversation," he said. "This is a conversation we should have every board meeting."
He added that, in his opinion, Clayton County Public Schools' focus is teaching and learning, and he appreciates the comments shared during the meeting, by board members as well as the community.
In other business, the board -- on Heatley's recommendation -- voted, unanimously, to appoint Russell Keith, as the new principal of Kendrick Middle School. The audience and board members welcomed Keith with a standing ovation.