Photo by Jim Massara
Clayton County schools superintendent Edmond Heatley praised staff and the new board for helping return the system to accredited status.
JONESBORO — At a pep rally at Tara Stadium to mark the start of the new school year, Clayton County schools superintendent Edmond Heatley praised teachers and staff for helping regain the system’s accreditation.
“I don’t think four years ago we would have been sitting in this stadium the way we are now,” Heatley told instructors and employees at Tara Stadium. “They took our accreditation. People around the world used us as a punch line. But guess what — look at Clayton County now.
“We’re not yet where want to be,” he went on. “But thank God we’re not where we used to be.”
“You couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the school year,” schools spokesman David Waller said Friday afternoon.
Classes start Monday.
The rally was officially billed as a “convocation” but felt almost like a sporting event, with teachers and staff dressed in school colors and waving signs and banners. And thanks to motivational speaker Keith Brown, who warmed up the crowd before Heatley spoke, the whole affair occasionally seemed like a tent revival.
Brown, whose wife, Wakea, is an assistant principal at Eddie White Academy and whose son is a senior at Mundy’s Mill High School, name-checked each school in rhyme at the start of his talk to enthusiastic cheers from each staff.
Then he turned serious.
“On the first day of school, we will tell the students in Clayton County we need reading over ringtones, textbooks over text messages, less bling bling and more graduation rings,” Brown said. “On the first day of school we will let them know: heads up, pants up, grades up.”
Brown then surprised Heatley by lining up staffers and others, including Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, behind Heatley to lift him into the air.
“I just told Clayton County not to look back,” Brown told Heatley, who was smiling. “I don’t want you to look back, either.”
Brown ended his talk with “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 playing in the background before turning the podium over to Heatley.
“In 40 years, Clayton County was the first school district to lose its accreditation,” Heatley told the crowd. “Some left us. They’re not here today. But those of you who decided to stay in the fight proved something — it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
“The transformation that’s taken place has not been miraculous,” he added. “It’s been because of you. You knew you had it in you all the time. You knew our students had it in them all the time.”
After Heatley’s talk, teachers from each school were invited to “shop” for school supplies that had been donated by customers of Chick-fil-A restaurants during the chain’s Back-to-School drive.