Clayton County’s school district found itself in familiar territory Wednesday: shopping for a new superintendent to lead the 50,000-student system.
Superintendent Edmond Heatley announced he was leaving to take a new job, details of which were not released. An interim superintendent will be appointed to replace Heatley when he leaves Sept. 30, said district spokesman David Waller.
Heatley, the eighth superintendent since 2000, was not fired, Clayton school board chairman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He still has the confidence and respect of the majority of the board,” said Pam Adamson, who met with Heatley Wednesday morning regarding his decision.
It was no secret Heatley had been looking at other jobs. Earlier this summer, he interviewed for the superintendent’s job in Dallas. That Texas job was open because the former school chief, Michael Hinojosa, left a year ago to become Cobb County Schools’ top administrator.
Some parents worried that losing Heatley at a crucial time could hurt the district.
“To have a superintendent stop leadership in the middle of the school year, that is baffling, stunning,” said Tammy Cole, mother of two middle school students. “I mean, who does that? I’m happy that he has stepped down, but what is going to be the after-effect of him stepping down? … We have no leadership.”
When Heatley arrived from a suburban California school district in 2009, Clayton had lost its accreditation. More than 3,500 students had left the district and with them went more than $20 million in federal funding. Property values, a mainstay for school budgets, had plummeted, like those in most of the region.
Now, the district’s accreditation has been restored and the budget is balanced. People at Monday night’s board meeting learned that student performance on the CRCT test — except in math — had improved.
But the ex-Marine’s financial management and management style sometimes collided with board members, some parents and teachers’ groups. Many of his proposals - shortening the school year and dropping middle school sports and fine arts, for instance — drew loud opposition. Some plans were scrapped.
But Heatley managed to build relationships with officials at The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which oversaw accreditation.
“He was the catalyst that brought the school district together to regain our accreditation. He built a relationship with SACS and they respected him and that respect helped us regain our accreditation,”Adamson said. “He’s worked tirelessly in the midst of the economic crisis that’s hitting all school districts in the state. We no longer have a deficit. We have a balanced budget and we’re building even for the future. We’d like to restore the five days of instruction that we lost. And it’s because of his effort and his financial management that we may be able to do that next school year.”
Heatley found himself the subject of a number of rumors, including one of an alleged inappropriate relationship that prompted the school board to launch a $40,000-plus probe that found no evidence of wrongdoing. He also drew criticism over having his wife and tw0 children on the district payroll while teachers were being laid off.
“I can’t imagine other superintendents who’ve been challenged with more false accusations and vicious rumors that simply were not true and yet he faced every one of them with dignity and professionalism,” Adamson said.
“I’m not as concerned about [his departure] as long as we keep our accreditation and our kids get their education.,” said Karolen Mazyck, who opposed some of Heatley’s policies when she chaired the Clayton NAACP education committee. Asked about Heatley’s tenure, Mazyck said, “I can see some bad things he’s done, and I can see some good things he’s brought to the school system.”
She said, “I would rate him as being a superintendent with closed ears and a vision of his own, and not of the community, the stakeholders, the teachers, and not even the children.”
Board member Jessie Goree, who regularly sparred with Heatley over policies and finances, wished him well Wednesday. “I just like accountability,” she said.