SACS looks at Clayton schools

By Greg Gelpi

With the future of 50,642 students in question, top Clayton County school officials endured a day of interviews regarding the school system's progress since being put on probation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools visited the school district Wednesday, its first visit since putting the district on probation in May.

"I think we will get by, maybe just get by," Board of Education member Bob Livingston said. "I think we will get off probation, but I'm not sure how SACS feels."

Interviews of school administration continued into the night.

"(The SACS team) is still engaging some key people in discussions," said Mark A. Elgart, executive director of the Commission on Secondary and Middle Schools for SACS. The SACS team will file an oral report with Elgart when their interviews are complete, Elgart said, suggesting the report would be filed on Thursday.

The team gave no indication as to how the county school system is doing, Livingston said.

"They didn't say one thing," he said. "They didn't have anything to say about how we are doing."

The SACS visit was a checkup for the county so that the school board will be aware of its progress in the six months it has been on probation. SACS took no action as a result of Wednesday's visit.

SACS will return in June at the one-year mark of the probationary period to decide whether or not to pull the school system's accreditation.

SACS placed the school board on probation for violations in seven specific areas, Assistant Superintendent Bill Horton said. All of the SACS violations involved the school board not following its own policies. To correct the problems, SACS outlined ways for the school system to climb out of trouble.

Progress has been made in all areas, Horton said, but expressed concern that one area may not have met the accrediting agency's satisfaction. SACS requested that the board install a monitor to observe its progress since being put on probation, but the board was unsure whether this meant a person or a system.

Changes that have been made to move the system off probation have included the board members attending retreat training sessions and initiating a national search for a superintendent.

"I think the sooner we get a superintendent the better," Livingston said, adding that the county has about 17 candidates for the position and should name the finalist in November or December.

If accreditation is pulled, students in Clayton County will no longer be eligible for the state's HOPE scholarship program. The Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally program has awarded more than $1.5 billion to about 600,000 students since being instituted in 1993.