Luvenia Jackson was named permanent superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, following a contentious debate Monday among board members about its schools chief search process. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
JONESBORO — Luvenia Jackson has been appointed the new superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools.
But while officials celebrate the permanence of the position that so eluded the district for roughly a decade, members of the school board must reconcile the strife caused by the surprise appointment.
Several months of discussion, nearly two months of public input and a $2,000 survey of constituents on how to go about naming a permanent superintendent came down to a single moment Monday.
The effort, the time and the financial expense was all for not when the board split its vote 5-4 to immediately appoint Jackson permanent superintendent for the district.
The appointment was listed in vague context on the board’s June 2 business agenda as an action item for “permanent superintendent position.”
Board Chairwoman Dr. Pam Adamson, Vice Chairwoman Dr. Alieka Anderson and members Mary Baker, Judy Johnson and Ophelia Burroughs voted in favor of a motion presented by Anderson and seconded by Baker to appoint Jackson as the schools chief.
Members Charlton Bivins, Michael King, Jessie Goree and Mark Christmas opposed the idea, preferring to “follow the process” and pursue the superintendent search that a majority of respondents called for in the $2,000 survey taken earlier this spring.
Goree said the vote came down to “the 5-4 split” that for years has haunted the board’s effective operations and put the board at odds on certain policy matters.
The public has not had access to the results of the survey, which arrived to the board weeks later than expected.
Clem Doyle presented the survey results on compact discs to the board May 19. Doyle is one of the board’s attorneys with Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers LLC in Marietta. His firm was tasked with collecting the questionnaires between March 15 and April 15.
Doyle said the firm expected 1,000 surveys but received 3,867 total survey responses — 2,518 electronic responses and 1,349 paper surveys.
Board members planned to review the findings and discuss the results publicly.
Officials said there were plans to release the surveys during the board’s June 2 meeting.
However, on Monday night, district employees, parents and some students sitting in the half-full boardroom watched a static overhead display as they listened to members speak in generalities about the surveys.
Goree, looking at a display on her desktop, read some of the results aloud for those in attendance and those who might watch the rebroadcast of the meeting.
Clayton News Daily acquired a copy of the executive summary.
The response to the question, “Do you want the Clayton County Board of Education to conduct a search for a permanent superintendent?” was 2,397 in favor and 1,447 opposed.
Most respondents, 1,285, indicated a preference to conducting a national superintendent search, according to survey results. The second highest number of responses at 1,007 expressed no want for a search.
There were 605 preferring a local search, 488 wanting a statewide search and 328 calling for a regional search. About 150 of remaining questionnaires included responses with different combinations of searches or no preference at all.
Goree admonished the board for not allowing the public to at least view the results of the survey on the boardroom projection screen.
She called for more transparency, advising the board could post the results on its website and take action on moving forward in a search process later.
Adamson, Anderson and Baker answered by reading positive remarks about Jackson’s job performance, and reasons to make her permanent, from publicly unavailable survey comments.
“We need to stick with what we’ve got,” said Anderson, noting Jackson’s 30-plus year tenure in the district as an educator and administrator.
“Do I have a problem with Ms. Jackson becoming the permanent superintendent? No.” said Goree. “But I would like to follow the process.”
Goree played a role in that process. She was part of the three-member committee that included Anderson and Baker and that was tasked with devising this spring’s questionnaire for public input on how to acquire the next schools chief.
Christmas agreed with Goree, saying the interim superintendent should be subject to the applications and interviews of the traditional search process.
“I think we need to follow the process as I said before,” said Christmas. “We must follow the process. We have to. We have to be accountable for what we’re doing. If she’s the one to rise to the top then she’s the one to rise to the top. Let’s follow the process. (But) you’ve got your five votes, you do what you do.”
Christmas, Goree and Bivins acknowledged never having formally interviewed with Jackson for the post.
Bivins said he was never formally given her resume when she was appointed as interim superintendent nearly two years ago.
“I know nothing about Ms. Jackson,” said Bivins, referring to her career experience and empirical successes as an educator and administrator.
“We can go back and forth all night long,” he said. “We have 52,000 students. We put a formal survey in place. It’s not the most, but it is the best we can do. We were going in a wonderful direction, and then we’re going to take the results of our survey and throw them a way. That is a slap in the face. We do what our people say to do. Local, regional, national, I don’t care, I just want to go through the process.”
Jackson said she was not surprised by the response Monday.
She sat at the center of heated debate in February, when board members were at odds on whether to conduct a local or national search or appoint Jackson permanent superintendent.
Members in the minority Monday contend, and have expressed, that going through the process will allow them to objectively analyze the superintendent’s qualifications, visions and goals for the district. They say Jackson has not formally done that.
Jackson was appointed interim superintendent Oct. 1, 2012. She was to be a temporary replacement for superintendent Dr. Edmond Heatley, who resigned Sept. 30, 2012, while the board figured out how to go about hiring a permanent schools chief.
Goree said that, over that time, Jackson was not formally interviewed by the board as a whole and has not formally set out a long-term plan for the district — something, she said, could be done through a formal superintendent search process.
Jackson said the district has a plan for student achievement and overall improvement. She said part of her plan is to make sure there is an effective teacher in every classroom.
“Tomorrow is a new day,” said Jackson. “I think we can put this evening behind us.”
The board is expected to approve a three-year superintendent employment contract June 23, to take effect July 1.
Adamson released a statement Tuesday restating her position in Jackson’s appointment.
“After reviewing the written comments from respondents on our recent survey, it was clear that parents, students, teachers and even members of the community at large, are pleased with Ms. Jackson’s leadership and the stability she has provided the district over the last 21 months,” said Adamson. “In fact, support for Ms. Jackson has been consistent, even in the two previous surveys we conducted.”
Members departed Monday’s meeting on amicable terms, despite the 5-4 split.
And while the district has newfound permanence in a chief officer, it may have come at a cost that exceeds a $2,000 public input survey.