Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Edmond Heatley, superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, shared positive comments about the county's school system with the business community Thursday.
He stood before an audience during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "SunTrust Early Bird Breakfast," held at Clayton State University in Morrow.
The superintendent had supporters among the attendees, as well as those who were not so convinced of the system's recovery from losing its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2008.
"What I have to say to those that believe good things are happening in Clayton County, I say thank you," said Heatley. "Please spread that knowledge. For those that aren't convinced yet, you can't sit on a couch and get convinced."
Christine Moore, owner of The Parlor Retreat, in Jonesboro, said she was impressed with Heatley's presentation and is glad to hear positive things from the school system.
"When the schools are doing good, homeowners are doing good, properties are doing good, businesses are doing good, so it is a win-win," she said.
Don Wolf, CEO of Dad's Septic & Well Service, in Ellenwood, said the loss of the school system's accreditation impacted the county in a negative way. He said a county's education system has the power to either attract or deter people.
"Education directly affects the residents who we attract to the county," said Wolf. "Additionally through that, it affects the work force development."
Wolf said though Heatley highlighted good things about the school system, he still has concerns as a business owner.
"A lot of back [peddling] for minimal results," he said about Heatley's presentation. "The SACS re-accreditation is great ... but to [have] lost it is shameful ."
Heatley said he wants businesses to feel comfortable hiring recent high school graduates in Clayton County. "That is our goal to the business community and that is our promise to the business community," he said.
Yulonda Beauford, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said education and economic development have an impact on one another. She said the chamber understands the importance of partnering with the school system.
"We know how critical it is for our community, our county and our state to have a strong viable education system," Beauford said.
Heatley said though Clayton County Public Schools has had its challenges, it has raised the bar.
During the breakfast, Heatley presented the school system and the chamber with a Golden Achievement Award certificate from the National Scholastic Press Association.
The chamber, in collaboration with the school system, created the "Principal Partner's Day" program to allow business and community leaders into Clayton County schools , with a goal of creating new partnerships with the school system. The program is experiencing its second year.
Students have taken the initiative to volunteer in a variety of non-profit organizations in the area, including Hosea Feed The Hungry & Homeless, the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life and March of Dimes, he said.
Clayton County senior graduates received an estimated $20 million in scholarships this year, Heatley said. This does not include the state of Georgia's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship, he stressed.
The superintendent also added that seven graduating seniors received a Gates Millennium Scholars scholarship, which will help them financially during their college years. Only 1,000 minority students can receive this scholarship nationwide.
Clayton County high school students have moved on to Yale University, Harvard University, the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy, said Heatley.
Fifth-graders from E.W. Oliver Elementary School, in Riverdale received top honors for being the statewide winners of the spring Stock Market Game, according to the Georgia Council on Economic Education. It is the only elementary school to win the statewide competition three times.
"They beat all the high schools...private and public schools, and guess what, they also competed against a team of teachers and they also beat the teachers," said Heatley.
He said business professionals concerned about the school system should get involved by visiting the Clayton County Public Schools web site, at www.clayton.k12.ga.us; visiting local schools and attending school board meetings on Mondays at 5:30 p.m., at 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.
"We need you now more than ever," he said.