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SACS Outlines Clayton Progress (and Lack Thereof)

1:08 PM, Aug 28, 2008   |    comments
Officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) announced Friday that the Clayton County School System has regained its accreditation.
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On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Mark Elgart, the president and CEO of SACS, held a press conference to officially announce that Clayton County Schools had had their SACS accreditation revoked. At that event, Elgart outlined the process, from start to finish, beginning in January 2007 when the school board indicated they were facing challenges and asked Clayton County Schools for assistance.

In February of 2008, SACS concluded their investigation into the Clayton County School System and determined that the system did not meet five of the seven standards for accreditation. SACS also provided the system with nine tasks that, if completed before September 1, would ensure that Clayton County Schools stayed accredited.

Around August 1, the school system requested that SACS return to re-evaluate their progress, and in mid-August, an on-site investigation occurred, performed by a group of professionals from both within and without the state. The investigation included a review of material from the past six months, as well as an on-site review. The team forwarded their findings to the accreditation commissioner, and SACS released their findings Thursday.

"It is with great concern and disappointment," said Elgart, "that the accreditation commission, on Tuesday August 26, 2008, voted to uphold their prior decision to revoke the accreditation of Clayton County Public Schools, effective September 1."

Elgart said this was because the system did not provide evidence of substantive progress or the completion of SACS recommendations; in fact, Elgart said only one recommendation was complied with in full. He then covered the nine recommendation.

1. Establish a governing board capable of fulfilling roles and responsibilities -- in the last six months, SACS found that the school system did not make substantive progress toward this goal, citing conflict within the board that continued to cause disruption.

2. Remove the influence of outside groups and individuals, as this influence is disruptive to the district -- SACS found that progress had been made, but did not see the desired results.

3. Commit to an ethics policy governing the board of education, including steps to set policy -- the investigative team recognized the attempt at establishing an ethics commission, but said that training still needed to occur and full implementation needed to continue. Meanwhile, they found that the existing ethics policy continued to be violated by the board of education, as well as specific instances where policy was called into question.

4. Implement a comprehensive review of board policy, including training of board members -- again, the process had begun, but was terminated when the attorney in charge was no longer employed. The process has recently started again.

5. Conduct a full forensic audit of financials by a certified accounting firm -- this was completed, but the system has yet to act on recommendations.

6. Perform a comprehensive audit of student attendance records and take steps to ensure attendance records are accurate -- the audit has been completed, and showed that attendance controls need to be improved and training provided to ensure accurate recordkeeping. That process was found to have begun.

7. Ensure that each member of the board is a legal Clayton County resident and is eligible to hold a position on the board -- this recommendation was the only one found to be fully followed.

8. Secure the services of outside consultants with expertise in conflict resolution, governance, and organizational effectiveness -- the district has begun to identify these consultants, but SACS found that much work still needed to be done, as the board remained in conflict for much of the past six months.

9. The superintendent needs to lead the district -- the SACS team found that there was uncertainty surrounding the current superintendent, and that the board needed to resolve differences of opinion, as well as normalize their relationship with that position. Presently, the board has ceded their authority to the superintendent, which violates SACS standards and the board's own policy.

The district has entered into a period where they have the opportunity to seek reinstatement as a SACS-accredited school system, and have until September 1, 2009, to fulfill all SACS recommendations. Should they do so, SACS will back-date their accreditation to September 1, 2008.

Elgart also noted that all seniors will continue to receive diplomas upon graduation, and will continue to be eligible for attending colleges and universities. He stressed that accreditation is voluntary, and not required for a student to graduate with a diploma.

"it is our hope that the school system will move forward," Elgart said, "and take the steps to complete these nine recommendations. We encourage the system to move forward in a positive way."

SACS has offered assistance to restore the conditions necessary for the proper functioning of Clayton County's school system, and also to help them rise to meet the standards of accreditation, which Elgart said helps schools systems improve and protect the integrity of the education process.

Elgart said the last time a school system lost its SACS accreditation was Duval County (Florida) in 1969.

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