Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley leaving district

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley, who won praise from residents for keeping buildings closed during the pandemic but received criticism in recent months over student fights and weapons on campus, is leaving the district at the end of the school year in June.

Beasley made the announcement to staff on Tuesday and to Clayton residents on Twitter Thursday morning after word of the decision began leaking out.

“Thank you to all for the kind words, emails, sentiments, and prayers for continued success on the journey as I prepare to transition from Clayton County as Superintendent,” Beasley said in a tweet. “It’s been an honor and privilege to serve this community.”

Beasley, a former DeKalb County Schools official who was named superintendent of the 52,000-student Clayton Schools in 2017, becomes the latest superintendent in metro Atlanta to depart a job that traditionally has a short shelf life.

DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton and Gwinnett counties all have relatively new interim or fully-appointed superintendents that either just started this year or have only been in their posts since 2019.

The announcement that Beasley plans to leave on June 30 surprised some residents while others said they saw it coming. Tensions between Beasley and the Clayton County Board of Education have been growing over the school system’s direction and the superintendent’s salary demands.

“He had problems with the board,” said Clayton resident Carol Yancey, an outspoken critic of the county’s leaders. “We lost a lot of good teachers because of (Dr. Beasley) and he keeps putting money in new buildings. But buildings don’t teach kids.”

Miyeca Smoot, president of the Clayton County Educators Association, thinks Beasley was innovative and moving the school system in the right direction by broadening the district’s STEM programs and expanding education opportunities into aviation and marine biology.

“I believe Dr. Beasley had a vision of where he wanted our county to go,” she said.

The district was mum on Beasley’s planned departure, with no offer of an official statement or details on what happens next. None of the board members returned phone calls, except Sabrina Hill who declined comment.

Beasley said the decision was his and not a result of unhappiness among the board. He said he told board members earlier in the year that he was considering moving on and that this would be a transitional year for the district.

“Right now I am considering all of my options,” Beasley said. “It could be K-12, post-secondary or a future in politics. I’m looking at all options and I have many years ahead of me.”

Beasley said among his accomplishments are improving graduation rates, a more stable relationship between the board and administration, plans to turn the Sears building at Southlake Mall into a school system graduation and event space, growing advanced placement numbers, increased pre-K participation and chipping away at the historical narrative that Clayton County has a troubled school system.

“I don’t have just one thing I’m proud of, it’s a combination,” he said. “We created a culture of high performance, a culture of continuous improvement and a culture in which all stakeholders in this community were invited to the table to participate in the work.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Beasley stood out among his peers by continuing remote learning for middle and high school students until the end of the 2020-2021. While other metro Atlanta districts pushed to bring students back to in-class instruction, Beasley insisted that moving too quickly could hurt the school’s system majority Black and Hispanic student body because minority populations were disproportionately impacted by the virus.

“We have decided to take a very measured, data-driven approach to our decisions,” Beasley said in February 2021.

That sentiment won him praise among minority parents, who felt their districts were being pressured by white parents to send their children to school before they were ready.

But by the end of 2021-2022 school year, some of the shine on Beasley had worn off among Clayton school board members. The district last April banned bookbags and lockers because of an alarming uptick in weapons brought to campus.

The district had confiscated close to 100 weapons on school campuses or buses since the beginning of the school year, including dozens of handguns, knives, brass knuckles, BB guns, stun guns and tasers, according documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. No one was killed or seriously injured in any of the weapons incidents at Clayton schools last academic year.

In an email to Beasley, school board chairwoman Jessie Goree appeared frustrated with Beasley over his handling of school safety.

“Two years ago, you were the model administrator when we dealt with COVID; what happened?” Goree asked in an April 26 email, the day Beasley spoke to residents in a YouTube Live address about the bookbag and locker ban.