Efforts to name a permanent Clayton County schools superintendent stalled this week when the school board was accused of trying to shut the community out of the selection process.
When the school board attempted on Monday to name acting superintendent Luvenia Jackson as the permanent schools chief, the decision sparked heated protests at a board work session.
Jackson, a former district employee, came out of retirement with the intention of only serving temporarily after Edmond Heatley abruptly left in September 2012. Sixteen months later, the district is no closer to having a permanent chief.
Jackson has consistently garnered praise from the community, county officials and the school district staff for shepherding the 51,000-student school system, which has 63 schools and an annual budget of $532 million. Even though Jackson helped guide the system through the final steps toward regaining full accreditation last year, public objection rose over how the board attempted to designate her to a permanent position.
“This is a major decision that needs to be done through due process,” said Larry O’Keeffe, a Rex resident and long-time education advocate in the county. “You’re not talking about a rural system. You’re talking about a half-billion-a-year corporation.”
Clayton NAACP president Synamon Baldwin defined the issue as a matter of trust.
“I think she’d be a great superintendent but my problem is with the process,” said Baldwin, who attended Monday’s meeting. “You need to involve the community. Many in the community were feeling they were left out. The original intent was to conduct a search but for one reason or another, that has been delayed for 16 months.
“For them to all of a sudden not do a search without discussion is a violation of their trust.”
The board now appears split on how to proceed as it seeks its sixth superintendent since 2008, when the district lost its accreditation. After Heatley left, the board vowed to get community input through online surveys and forums, neither of which materialized, according to school board member Charlton Bivins.
In response to Monday’s community outcry, the school board appointed a three-member committee to develop ways to solicit more community input, a suggestion made by Jackson herself. Board members Alieka Anderson, Mary Baker and Jessie Goree make up the committee.
The process of selecting school superintendents is a contentious one in metro Atlanta, where the comings and goings of superintendents can require an airport departure board. Several metro school districts are looking for superintendents, including Cobb County where superintendent Michael Hinojosa abruptly resigned earlier this month.
The issue is more critical to Clayton, where securing a permanent superintendent is one of the stipulations to the district’s reclaimed accreditation. That places particular pressure on the board, which has four seats up for grabs in elections later this year.
Efforts to reach board chairman Pam Adamson were unsuccessful. However, Bivins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday he was surprised to learn the board was considering naming Jackson to the job permanently.
“We’ve never vetted this lady,” said Bivins. “It was a popularity vote. There was no application, no resume, no interview, no vetting, nothing that occurred when we brought her in. I was under the impression we’d immediately jump on a superintendent search (after Heatley left).”
Despite previous efforts to bring the issue up before the board, Bivins said the topic never fully emerged again until this week. He said he hopes the committee can move forward with the forums as initially intended.
When Jackson first took the job, she said she didn’t intend to stay, but has since changed her mind.
“I got a lot of encouragement from the community and school district employees to become the permanent superintendent,” said Jackson, who retired from the school district after 33 years in 2011. “I can see the progress we’ve made. Districts do better when there is consistency.”
Jackson’s contract, which pays an annual salary of $195,000, was scheduled to expire in September 2013 but the board extended it to December 2014.