Clayton County superintendent Morcease Beasley, shown here at Morrow Middle School in October, emphasized the importance of community engagement in his state-of-the-schools speech Tuesday evening in Jonesboro. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Clayton superintendent lauds schools’ successes, community’s role

Community engagement will be key to Clayton County Schools’ continued growth, Superintendent Morcease Beasley said Tuesday night to a crowd packed into the Performing Arts Center in Jonesboro.

“We are here for our children,” he said. “The more cohesive we are — the more we stick together — the stronger our tree will be.”

He created the visual image of a tree during his State of the Schools address to show different variables’ purposes. The tree’s roots were formed by establishing priorities and a focus plan when he became superintendent July 1. The trunk and branches made of parents, staff, and the community. Amid the trunk and branches was a circle that represented the district’s 54,000 students, the reason the district runs, he said. The leaves represent the district’s present accomplishments.

“We want everyone … to recognize the tree that is a symbol of Clayton County Public Schools as a valuable source,” he said. “Trees provide our community and our entire metro area value. Make no mistake: We will not be defined by our past.”

He talked about improvements the system was making, building new schools from education special purpose local option sales tax collections, incorporating technology into learning, growing the districts corps of teachers and accountability among staff and students.

Beasley came to Clayton County Schools in 2016 as its chief improvement officer, after seven years with the DeKalb County School District. In early 2017, he was named Clayton’s sole finalist for the superintendent’s job.

Immediately, he went on a listening tour, engaging parents, local residents and area businesses about what they wanted from their schools and district leadership. He said he was impressed with the number of people who expressed interest in giving time to volunteer.

“You’ve got to give us something to work with,” he implored his audience about their role in the district’s success.

Clayton County Schools doesn’t get the same level of attention its larger counterparts in metro Atlanta. But its accomplishments are just as noteworthy, he said.

The district saw the largest improvement since the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) began. The state’s report card measures a district on several variables, including the graduation rate and results on state standardized tests.

In 2016, the district had no schools eligible for Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District, made up of schools in need of state intervention to address poor student performance. In 2017, one school was added to the list of low performers.

The district has had full accreditation for years, more than some of its metro Atlanta neighbors can say. It currently boasts a 70 percent graduation rate.

“There are great things happening in Clayton County,” Beasley said before his address. “Often times, people come up with their own narrative about you if you’re not sharing your narrative. So part of our work and one purpose of the State of the Schools address is to share the narrative relative to the success of our school system.

“As a community, my message is we’re going to continue to make decisions and govern ourselves in such a way that our actions command the respect of others, period.”

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