ATLANTA - The state Department of Education has begun to win back much of the trust destroyed after the fall of former Superintendent Linda Schrenko, who is awaiting trial on federal charges, her successor said Monday.
Superintendent Kathy Cox also talked about the state's new curriculum, school safety and Georgia's often weak test scores in an interview with Morris News Service.
"I'm not even sure there was a real understanding about how ... the Department of Education had really become very dysfunctional," Ms. Cox said as she looked back on her 2002 campaign for the office.
She said the problems ran "very, very deep within the organization" because qualified individuals decided to leave during Ms. Schrenko's tenure.
"What you had left really was a shell of an organization that was trying to take on and tackle some very, very big educational issues," Ms. Cox said.
Ms. Schrenko faces 47 charges that stem from her time as superintendent, including wire fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. Prosecutors say she and her associates looted more than $600,000 in federal education grants and used the money to cover personal costs, including a $9,300 face lift, and help bankroll Ms. Schrenko's unsuccessful 2002 bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Ms. Cox said her leadership, along with the team of deputies she put together at the department and the state Board of Education, has begun to restore the agency's lost luster.
"I don't know if everything's been found," Ms. Cox said. "We've certainly worked at rooting some of the dysfunction out."
The first-term Republican also rebuffed suggestions that the Schrenko case supported the idea of an appointed superintendent. Ms. Cox said many of the nation's longest-serving state school chiefs are elected, and she added that the scandal probably caused voters to pay more attention to the department.
"What happens there is definitely more in the public eye," she said.
Rep. Jeanette Jamieson, a Toccoa Democrat who served on the House Education Committee, applauded Ms. Cox for her first 2 years on the job.
"Actually, I've been very impressed," Ms. Jamieson said, noting that reforming the department would have been difficult for anyone following Ms. Schrenko. "I think she's met that challenge."
Ms. Jamieson said Ms. Cox had been well-served by her time as a school teacher and, later, as a member of the Legislature.
"She understands better than most would the inner workings of the politics system in Atlanta," Ms. Jamieson said.
Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.