Tag Archives: Peach County Schools

Clark Chalks One Up for Peach County Students

For more commentary on Peach County issues, please check out Out of my Mind – Peach County Edition. 

Peach County’s new Superintendent of Schools, Susan Clark, has already earned her $145,000 annual salary with her first big decision, which cleared the way for two new schools that had been delayed for more than a year by unwise Board of Education moves.

As reported by Jake Jacobs in The Macon Telegraph, the BOE voted 4-1 to accept Clark’s recommendation for a new school at the previously approved (then disapproved) site on Kay Road in Byron and a new site on University Boulevard in the Fort Valley neck of the woods.  Chairwoman Norma Givens cast the only dissenting vote.

“Disputes about where to put the schools have gone on long enough,” the Telegraph quoted Clark as saying. “It’s been more than a year, and we’re not serving the children by not building a school. They need one.” 

The cost will be somewhere between $22 million and $24 million, with the state promising to pitch in $5.1 million.  The now rescinded BOE decision to drop the Kay Road site and a 341 site had virtually kissed off about $4.9 million.  Plus, we will now have two schools under construction at the same time, whereas the previous plans begun under Chairman Bill Gresham called for the Byron area school to go up first, then the Fort Valley area school.

Clark also showed resolve, deflecting Givens’ doubts about growth in East Peach and the possibility of students spending too much time on the bus.  Clark expressed a vision of improved schools attracting growth and requiring even more schools.  As for possible trouble with bus routes, she simply said, “We’re too wise to let that happen.”

Indeed, the people who work in the school system every day have showed enough wisdom to get kudos from SACS, which chastised only the BOE.  Is the board seeking Wisdom once again?  Things look promising.

Clark showed she’s in charge; she took the rare but permitted step of calling a meeting herself.  As Jake reported, Givens claimed only the chairperson can call a meeting, but the board’s policy manual (available here) states that any three board members or the superintendent can call a meeting.

Clark can call a meeting a week if she deems it necessary, as long as she keeps winning for the students.

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Positive Models for Peach County Schools

An article in Monday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows it’s possible for a school system facing loss of accreditation to come back from the brink.   The story, “How one Georgia school system was rescued. Can Clayton County be next?”, compares tiny Lanier County in Southwest Georgia with the much larger Clayton County system in Metro Atlanta.

As you’ve probably read, the Clayton schools are on the verge of losing accreditation, with a vote on that scheduled for March 15.  The AJC article highlights steps already underway to rescue Clayton’s schools, and Lanier’s rocky, but ultimately successful road back to full accreditation.

Mark Elgart, the association’s president and chief executive officer, recommends Clayton learn a few things from Lanier County. Two weeks ago, the association voted to take Lanier off probation and fully restore its accreditation

“Lanier was a dysfunctional board — a lot of micromanaging, conflict of interest, a couple of board members interfering with business activities, the board awarding contracts to support local businesses and bad leadership,” Elgart said. “They are a small town compared to Clayton, but their problems were similar.”

Here’s the AJC’s summary of how Lanier County people recall their problems:

In the summer of 2005, former Lanier superintendent Eloise Sorrell and school board member Randy Sirmans filed a complaint with SACS. They accused board Chairman Phillip Connell of changing bus routes to accommodate parents’ schedules, directing a teacher to lay wood chips on a playground and trying to get criminal charges dropped against an employee’s son who attacked a teacher. They say board meetings were full of fights and demeaning comments about staff. Board members negotiated contracts at the grocery store and aligned votes at church.

“Our main concern was the difference in the roles and responsibility of board members and the superintendent,” said Sirmans, who is still on the board. “Board members were overstepping their bounds.”

Sorrell, who has since been fired, declined to comment.

Lanier residents attempted to recall Connell but did not get enough qualified signatures. Connell won’t talk about the recall or the allegations against him.

Maybe you’re feeling better already — it’s not just a Peach County thing!

So how did Lanier claw its way out of the hole the community had dug itself into?  Read on:

The threat of losing accreditation got the attention of most of the Lanier board and they immediately assembled a citizens’ review committee comprised of business and civic leaders, tasked with coming up with a plan to meet SACS’ five requirements.

The board also hired a retired superintendent, Tom Hagler, to serve as an interim leader while the district worked to hold on to its accreditation. Hagler retired after more than 33 years as a superintendent in Bibb and Lowndes counties.

“We really had to hustle and show some progress,” said Hagler, who served as Lanier’s interim superintendent from June 2006 to June 2007. “You got to have a strong person who will not take crap from anybody — the board, administrators, teachers.”

Hagler scheduled board-training sessions with the Georgia School Boards Association. He also set up four public forums with the board and citizens committee to outline their plan and allow residents to vent.

“We tried to bring all sides together,” said Larry Lee, vice chairman of the citizens’ committee and chief executive officer of FMB Bancshares in “The committee allowed citizens to put emotions aside and talk to us.”

So there you have it.  Small, fractured rural county saves its schools.  Let’s make this our headline.

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The Beating Up Goes on at Peach BOE

Never a dull, and rarely a civil moment at the Peach County Board of Education.  As hinted in a previous post, BOE attorney Jerry Lumley has in fact resigned.

My colleague Jake Jacobs reported in the Macon Telegraph Sunday that Lumley ” ‘just got kind of tired of having to deal with (school board member) Jody (Usry),’ ” in addition to having too many other commitments.  Lumley also said Usry “likes controversy and ‘puts a negative spin on anything the board tries to do. I’m just tired of it.’ ” It might be true that Usry likes controversy, but there’s plenty of controversy going around, no matter who’s on the board.

Usry responded ” ‘I hope our next attorney has a better sense of his roles and responsibilities, and works for the school district rather than as a protector of individual persons, as this board looks to the future and strives to let go of the recent ugly past.’ ”

Lumley didn’t have a good word for brand new Superintendent of Schools Susan Clark, either.  ” ‘She has a high opinion of herself,’ ” Lumley told The Telegraph.

Lumley also called Citizens for Better Education ” ‘spoiled kids’ ” who throw temper tantrums if they dont’ get their way.  He lamented ” ‘a continuous lack of civility’ “on the group’s part.

CBE spokesman and County Comissioner Roy Lewis countered: “There’s plenty of frustration to go around, and it’s caused me and others many sleepless nights the past year.”

Lumley was on the ball about one thing: lack of civility, and it continues.  All the sources gave us in the Telegraph article was more tit for tat.  All parties convinced they’re right.  And to top it off, a knock on Dr. Clark just as she begins what any fair observer can see will be a difficult job.

It ain’t over til it’s over, and it ain’t over.

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