Board has long way to go

By Greg Gelpi

Only "cosmetic" improvements have been made by the Clayton County School Board to get the system off probation, a report said.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools wrote the report after reviewing the school system midway through its one-year probation.

"There has been, in the unanimous opinion of the subcommittee, a limited, cosmetic approach in responding to the recommendations that is lacking in substance," a formal report issued by the system's accrediting agency stated.

The report summarized the findings of a subcommittee review team that visited the school system Oct. 8.

"The board is moving rapidly and not in a cosmetic manner," board attorney Gary Sams said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "If there is a commentary that this is cosmetic?, this is real."

Interim Superintendent William Chavis read a brief statement at the press conference citing progress, but acknowledging the need for improvement.

"According to the report, the sub-committee found evidence that the school board has made progress through some of its actions," Chavis said. "However, our job is not over. SACS has noted that there are pressing issues that the board still needs to address."

Chavis rated the system's progress as a five on a 10-point scale.

With a "sense of urgency," the board should conclude its search for a superintendent, review its policies and procedures to ensure they follow the mission statement of the system and formally meet and formulate a plan to respond to the initial SACS report.

The May 19 report placed the school system on probation for the board's failure to follow school policy and was issued immediately after the first SACS visit.

"I sort of suspected that it would play out that way," board member Allen T. Johnson said. "I think first of all we really need to get together and discuss that initial letter."

The fact that SACS issued the initial report in May, yet no action was taken to discuss the report as of October, concerns Mark Elgart, the executive director of the SACS Commission on Secondary and Middle Schools.

"I have said from the outset they have the capacity to take things into their own hands," Elgart said. "It is our belief that, if they do, the situation will improve."

Both Elgart and Johnson agree that hiring a superintendent is key.

Once a superintendent is hired, everything else should fall into place, Elgart said.

The board contracted the Georgia School Boards Association to conduct a national search for the position. The board had violated its own policy by not conducting a national search previously.

The board will meet with representatives of the GSBA for a workshop and to review the 39 applicants for superintendent at 8 a.m. Nov. 8.

Outside attention is pressuring the school board to change, the SACS report goes on to suggest, but Elgart was unsure if it was more or less than the internal pressure for change.

"There is concern that the leadership within the school district?did not seriously consider the initial report," he said.

Chavis refused to answer questions, explaining that he won't answer any questions until he meets with the board Monday night at 7 during the board's regular meeting.

When SACS returns to Clayton County in the spring, the accrediting agency will lift the probation, extend the probation or revoke the system's accreditation, Elgart said.

If accreditation is revoked, the roughly 52,000 students in Clayton County will no longer be eligible for the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship program.