Photo by Jim Massara
Counsel Glenn Brock explains oversight of school schedules to the board at Monday’s work session.
JONESBORO The Clayton County School board will probably vote at its next meeting to change a controversial proposal for a shortened Wednesday class schedule from weekly to monthly — and the board really does have the right to vote on it.
The Wednesday “minimum day schedule,” which would have let some students out as much as 90 minutes earlier than usual, was proposed by Superintendent Edmond Heatley to give teachers time to train to implement the new Common Core curriculum without costing taxpayers extra.
A July 19 letter — less than a month before the start of the new school year — was the first time the general public heard about it. Parents who would be forced to rearrange their work schedules started complaining.
After nine forums last week to explain the change and gather feedback, Heatley said he was listening — and had gotten the message.
“I cannot disagree with parents when they say they're disappointed that Dr. Heatley didn't give us a voice,” Heatley said at Monday night’s board work session. “I'll own that. But what I do understand is that we need to provide additional training.”
Heatley responded with a presentation by area superintendent Anthony Smith and a team of principals at the work session of what he referred to as “plan B,” which cut shortened Wednesday back from weekly to monthly.
Now dubbed a “focus training day,” the first shortened Wednesday class day would be Oct. 10.
Most board members expressed tentative support for the new proposal.
“Our teachers need training, and that’s the bottom line,” said board member Wanda Smith. “I like what you all came up with.”
Board member Trinia Garrett also conceded the need for training but said she was still unhappy with the way the schedule change had been announced. “I do appreciate what you did, but I’m still not with it,” she said.
Vice chair Mary Baker said that most of her constituents had asked for a half day of professional development but questioned how the new “focus training day” would be publicized.
Board member Michael King prefaced his comment by asking whether or not the board could really control how Heatley scheduled the school day. Board chair Pam Adamson then directed the conversation to counsel Glenn Brock — who answered the question on everyone’s mind.
It turned out the answer was yes.
At earlier meetings, Brock had agreed that Heatley’s move to shorten Wednesdays was an administrative decision beyond the board’s control, much to the frustration of some board members.
But Brock refined his opinion — and backtracked a bit — Monday when he said that the board could indeed set a school day. He explained that the confusion may have arisen because county policy doesn’t specify how one defines a school day, whether by the number of hours spent in class — with which Heatley complied — or the precise schedule of hours.
Once he’d heard Brock’s opinion, King asked for “specific and concrete” assurance that the change would help the system. Heatley said there was “no way” he could answer that but added “I can say if we don’t do something, we can expect our [student test] scores to drop.”
Again, the most pointed criticism came from board member Jessie Goree, who wanted to know why Heatley didn’t attend any of last week’s public forums and why he hadn’t provided a “syllabus” for his plans.
“Dr. Heatley didn’t tell us anything about this,” Goree said. “We found out about this the day before the parents found out. So if you’re going to propose something, why put other people out in front to catch this?”
Heatley’s voice grew louder as he answered Goree.
“The board said they wanted forums. We decided to have forums. The principals asked if they could run those forums. The principals ran those forums — which I thought was more powerful,” Heatley said.
Goree refused to back down and spoke for another five minutes.
“When you want to do something, you should either come up with a convincing argument that this is why we need it, this is what we’re going to do,” Goree said.
Finally, Brock pointed out ethics rules that require system employees to treat each other “in a professional and non-confrontational manner” and Adamson gaveled Goree out of order.
The board will vote on the proposed schedule change at its next regular meeting Sept. 10.