BOE at impasse in finding next superintendent

Luvenia Jackson was named interim superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools Oct. 1, 2012. Her contract was extended in 2013 to expire Dec. 31, 2014. (Staff Photo :Johnny Jackson)

Luvenia Jackson was named interim superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools Oct. 1, 2012. Her contract was extended in 2013 to expire Dec. 31, 2014. (Staff Photo :Johnny Jackson)

JONESBORO — Heated debate swirled around Luvenia Jackson, her head bowed as she sat quietly at the center of dissension on the nine-member panel.

The board of education discussion centered around the potential appointment of the interim superintendent to the post permanently and veered into debates on why an earnest superintendent search has not yet happened.

Jackson oddly enough was a point of agreement among members on the split school board during Monday’s study session. Each member praised or thanked Jackson for her service since her appointment Oct. 1, 2012.

“Thank you for your hard work,” said member Ophelia Burroughs. “Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for all the years you’ve given to Clayton County.”

Jackson took the position temporarily, replacing former superintendent Dr. Edmond Heatley who resigned Sept. 30, 2012, while the Clayton County Board of Education figured out how to go about hiring a new permanent superintendent.

She has served longer than expected, however. It has been 16 months since she took the helm and not even a superintendent search process has been determined.

“I thought it was going to be a short period of time,” said Jackson, as the discussion grew into an emotional tug-of-war among board members.

Some board members rejected ideas of appointing her to the position permanently, preferring to go with the board’s original plan to search the region or nation for potential applicants.

But the plan has not come to fruition, and the promise so far is unkept.

Jackson’s contract as interim superintendent was set to expire Sept. 30, 2013, but the board voted that April to extend her contract to Dec. 31, 2014. At that point, members made plans to create an online survey to garner community input on the superintendent search process.

There have been several talks about the process, including a vote on proceeding with hiring a firm to undertake a nationwide search. Here, nearly a year later, there is no signed contract for a search firm and no prospective applicants for superintendent.

Officials said the board would be searching for its seventh permanent or interim superintendent since 2005.

Jackson, whose tenure is about average for individuals serving as superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, urged board members to be calm in figuring out a process.

“We are the examples for our children,” said Jackson. “Let’s work with this. Everybody hasn’t been right. Everybody hasn’t been wrong.

“It is a desire of ours to have a unified community,” she continued. “What we’re offering this evening is a time when we can have community involvement and stakeholder involvement. I make that recommendation to you that we pull our community together. We need to clarify whatever has been misunderstood. I’m offering that as a recommendation.”

The board is split on how far to take the superintendent search.

Member Mary Baker said she never voted for a national search.

“Can’t we get somebody local,” said Baker. “The people in my community keep telling me that they want someone from the community.”

Baker said that, as vice-chair at the time, she spoke with AdvancEd/SACS President Dr. Mark Elgart about searching for a superintendent locally and that he said it was a possibility.

She and others argue that hiring a firm to conduct a nationwide search would be a waste of money and resources, when there could be a less expensive regional search for qualified applicants.

The board could decide to search closer to home.

The Henry County Board of Education, for example, recently hired in house to replace its retiring superintendent.

The board, which had its human resources department generate a search, conducted interviews and publicly announced its finalists. The process took roughly three months from the superintendent’s announcement of retirement in September to the announcement of the board’s new internal hire in December.

Clayton’s board plans to form a committee to include Baker, member Jessie Goree and Vice-Chairwoman Dr. Alieka Anderson. The committee will be charged with developing a process to canvass the community and collect input on the superintendent search.

Goree added the board should create a defined set of goals and expectations for the new superintendent. She included Jackson as a potential candidate in a nationwide search.

“If Ms. Jackson is the best candidate, then she becomes the superintendent,” said Goree. “We have just not communicated with one another on this whole issue. Just do it right, because we’ve been through this before.”

Anderson was one of the members open to hiring Jackson permanently without going through the national search.

She said she has received calls from several residents who say they are happy with Jackson’s performance.

“Ms. Jackson deserves this job,” said Anderson. “I’m tired of us fighting each other in this county.”

Member Mark Christmas said the board promised residents in 2012 it would search for the most qualified person to take the superintendent position and should fulfill that promise.

“This is not about Ms. Jackson,” said Christmas. “I don’t understand for the life of me why we can’t do what we say we’re going to do.”

Member Michael King also implored the board should commit to the process it promised more than a year ago and search for the best-qualified candidate possible.

And member Charlton Bivins concurred.

“We have come out of the ashes,” said Bivins, of the once troubled board. “We are now in a position where things are going pretty good. Above and beyond, I’m committed to the actions that we voted to have in place.”

He pushed back at members who disagreed.

“I’m very pleased by Ms. Jackson,” he said. “I’m not pleased by the five board members that feel that this needs to occur without this process.”

Bivins argued that appointing Jackson without the process of vetting several candidates for the permanent position effectively reduces the quality of the post.

Member Judy Johnson said she is happy with the Superintendent’s Office.

“I have watched Ms. Jackson come in and bring this system to order,” said Johnson. “I am very pleased with what I see.”

She said she is proud to be a board member, but she laments the board’s impasse.

“We have allowed Clayton County to become an embarrassment in education,” she said.

The board is expected to announce the ways it will collect stakeholder input soon, likely through an online survey and through a public forum.

The governing body meets Monday, March 3 at 6 p.m. Its monthly meeting will be held in the board room at 1058 Fifth Ave. in Jonesboro.