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Gypsies, Tramps, and Leftover Superintendents!

     In other articles on this website (and in back issues of The Teacher’s Advocate! magazine — which, by the way, you can view on this electronic magazine), we have dealt with the laughable, naive attempts of Georgia school boards trying to find a "savior" for their school systems. Last year, it was Dekalb County. The then school board chairman, Brad Bryant, called me to tell me that the school board had hired Johnny Brown of Birmingham, and Brad told me that he wanted me, as a union leader, to meet with Brown. I was not inclined to do so because I had heard of Brown’s performance in Birmingham, and I knew that trouble was on its way. And, almost from the time he arrived in DeKalb, Brown has been at the center of controversy. His style is confrontational and authoritarian. We at MACE introduced ourselves to Johnny Brown with a good, juicy picket against him at a school board meeting. Like an educational gypsy, before the year was out, Brown was already trying to sell his educational wares to a small school system in Texas and to the Memphis, Tennessee school system. But, it appears that the DeKalb school board and the school system are just stuck with Johnny Brown — at least for now.

     John Haro didn’t last but four months as Fulton’s school chief. (Keep in mind that both Brown and Haro came to town with great fanfare and ballyhoo.) We hear that the big issue that proved to be the sticking point was control over personnel issues. Haro packed his bags and headed back to Minnesota...

     Now comes another possible superintendent from Minnesota — after spending a great deal of her career in Chicago. It appears that a certain faction on the Clayton County school board are enamored by another of these superintendent gypsies. Barbara Pulliam is the superintendent in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. This small school system apparently has less than 5,000 students — much smaller than Clayton’s 52,000 students (and still growing!). Quite recently, Pulliam has applied for the superintendent jobs in Newark, New Jersey, Christina, Delaware, and Prince George County, Maryland (where former Clayton superintendent, Joe Hairston, hailed from). She was rejected by all three. Yeah, she appears to be a "leftover." It appears that while as superintendent of St. Louis Park, Ms. Pulliam had at least one incident where she and her administration ran afoul of the law. A certain gentleman made a written request concerning St. Louis Park’s "data retention list" concerning teachers and administrators. The school administration never responded to this gentleman who proceeded to ask the Minnesota Commissioner of Administration for an Advisory Opinion concerning the matter. On January 3, 2001, Kirsten Cecil, the Deputy Commissioner, wrote a fairly lengthly opinion, which can be encapsulated in this one quote: "School District 283, St. Louis Park, did not respond at all to Mr. Herbst’s request for access to data that was made on October 20, 2000 and so did not respond appropriately pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13."

     The embattled Clayton County school board has narrowed its choice for the new supe down to three rather less-than-stellar candidates. In fact, some audience members at last night’s board meeting were complaining that the school board needed to open up the process again because the school board had selected a "maintenance man" (presumably referring to Stanley Pritchett who is over construction and maintenance in the DeKalb County Schools) and "a woman with no experience" (no doubt referring to Ms. Pulliam’s experience in a small school system). The school board also has chosen Roy G. Brooks, a central office administrator in Orange County, Florida. Mr. Brooks is also in the running for the Volusia County, Florida job in nearby DeLand, Florida. He interviewed there less than two weeks ago. So did Gary Norris of Kansas. Norris was apparently highly thought of by some members of the Clayton school board. But, when Norris landed the Sarasota, Florida job, he withdrew his name from the Clayton County and Volusia County selection process. Gypsies, huh? These folks appear to be hirelings, committed to the highest bidder, knowing that their lifespan is only about two and one-half years at each location. Educational tramps? Hmm. No real place to call home — just jumping on the back of a moving train — or, airplane. No roots. No long-lasting, enduring community relationships? How could they? They jump from place to place. For example, this same Roy Brooks was apparently willing to jump from Florida to Virginia. He was also a recent finalist in the Newport News, Virginia superintendent search. He lost out to Marcus Newsome. According to the Newport News Daily Press, the Newport News Education Association (an apparent affiliate of NEA) "endorsed Newsome and Marcia Lyles, a New York City superintendent who was a finalist, but not Roy Brooks, an Orlando-area superintendent, because teachers there did not give him a good recommendation."

     Roy Brooks received his Master’s degree and a doctor’s degree from NOVA Southeastern University, based out of the Ft. Lauderdale area. Some have jokingly referred to NOVA as Not Officially Very Academic. Apparently, in the past, NOVA has had some problems being "accepted" in academic circles. One could understand why some educators might question Brooks’s academic credentials. NOVA certainly doesn’t have the high reputation of say, a Florida State University or the University of Florida which, by the way, has a much-heralded reputation in educational leadership (fostered in the past by Professor Kimbrough). Both of these schools are much nearer to Orlando and are state-supported schools — therefore, cheaper. Oh well, enquiring minds do want to know...

     The third candidate is Pritchett. As we mentioned earlier, he’s in charge of DeKalb’s construction projects and maintenance. He apparently was a candidate for the DeKalb job when Johnny Brown was hired. We hear that he was sorely disappointed that he wasn’t selected. But, he wasn’t the only DeKalb candidate for the Clayton job. We understand that Dr. Lonnie Edwards and Dr. Jim Williams were also candidates. It is our opinion that both of these gentlemen were perhaps better candidates than Prichett the Less. So, why didn’t they survive the purge? Perhaps because they each had factions on the school board pushing for them. Apparently, Davis, Wells, Crummy, and Johnson voted for Williams. But, in a surprise move, Livingston voted with Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker to vote Williams out. Edwards could likewise garner only four votes — from Ware, Kithens, Kellum, and Walker. Then, the two sides apparently began to try to outsmart each other. A wink and a smile here. Perhaps a nice word or two there. A real lovefest — trying to win over the almighty fifth vote. Hmm. What candidate would want to come to a balkanized school board with less than an unanimous vote? Will LaToya Walker switch again and go back to Wells, Davis, Johnson, and Livingston? Or, will Davis and Wells pull Johnson and Livingston over to the Ware-Kitchens clique? Ericka Davis appears to be the one pushing the hardest for Ms. Pulliam. We understand that Nedra Ware may have attended undergraduate school with Pritchett’s wife. Hmm.

     Is the Clayton school board in a quandary? Are they having to deal with just "leftover" candidates? Did each side outsmart themselves by refusing to give the fifth vote to two very credible candidates, Edwards and Williams? At least people in the metro Atlanta area know these men and can vouch for them. Both men are very personable, and they know how to get along with people. Perhaps if DeKalb County were located in New Jersey or Montana, then the school board members would be more attracted to them. Perhaps they could then fly out to visit them, and then they could come back home triumphantly on chariots like the Roman Legion.

     One of the worst things ever done to public education in Georgia was the passing of the state constitutional amendment in 1992, requiring all of the Georgia school boards to appoint school superintendents. Now, we end up with hirelings who know nothing about our school systems, who have pretty miserable interpersonal skills, and who don’t want to hear one iota about disciplinary problems which are the death knell of academic progress. Unless rather draconian measures are undertaken to address and largely eliminate the ever-present disciplinary problems and the concomitant burying their heads in the sand (by administrators), then it really doesn’t matter who the superintendent is. It’s the lack of discipline, school boards! Please wake up!

                                                                      December 2, 2003


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