SACS visits board again

By Trina Trice

Officials from the accrediting agency that placed the Clayton County school system on probation is getting ready for a visit in October.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an organization that accredits more than 13,000 schools in the Southeast, is definitely making a second visit to the school system, says Mark Elgart, executive director of SACS.

Preliminary meetings are continuing before the visit to determine who among the organization will make the trip.

The main focus of the visit is still governance, Elgart said.

In June the school system was placed on probation after a SACS review team found that board leadership was guilty of micromanaging the daily operation of the school district.

Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens have been accused by many for the violations that led to the probation.

"We're going to follow-up on the report and see what progress (the school board has made)," Elgart said. "October is simply an interim visit. There will be no further recommendations. We gave them clearly a year (to follow recommendations). There's no consequence if they aren't in compliance. When the accreditation is reviewed a year from now, observations (made in October) will be documented for review then."

At a school board meeting last month, Ware and Kitchens proposed that the board appeal the SACS probation and ask for clarification from officials concerning what the board had done wrong.

Appealing the probation isn't possible, Elgart said.

"They can only appeal if they are dropped," he said. "They're not eligible for that."

Instead of appealing, the school board opted to invite SACS officials to a called meeting to discuss the report.

"We're unsuccessful in trying to coordinate such a procedure," Elgart said. "But we do have a procedure in place (when school systems oppose a SACS ruling). They can request a review at a state level. It would be at a called meeting by SACS, not a called board meeting. It would be only with officials from SACS and the school board."

The board could also ask for a hearing at the regional level, Elgart said.

During the Labor Day Weekend, Kitchens called a news conference expressing her concern over the county's low SAT test scores affecting the school district's accreditation.

However, the News Daily was not alerted to the news conference.

"When we're looking at a school, we take everything into consideration," Elgart said. "Student achievement is potentially a cause for concern. It's way too early on that issue, though. That's not part of the equation for Clayton County. Governance was the only thing we've looked at so far."

To heed the SACS recommendations, the school board has attended a two-day retreat with the Georgia School Boards Association and has started a national superintendent search with that organization.

The board is still getting fire even from SACS.

Elgart chastised Ware and Kitchens in a letter to interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis in July.

In the letter Elgart criticized a document written by Ware and Kitchens. He accused them of trying to convince him that a national superintendent search "is justified by having candidates outside the state of Georgia" apply.

The board's previous search failed "to recognize the intent and appropriateness of a national search" which should include full support of the board, provide involvement from the community, occur over a reasonable period of time and with the assistance of a professional search firm, Elgart said.

Elgart stressed that the board's role is primarily as a policy making body and that any of its authority and power should be executed through legally constituted meetings, not through correspondence from Ware and Kitchens.

"Letters of reprimand written by individuals on the board hold no merit and violate the policies of the Clayton County Schools and the intent of the SACS Standards for Accreditation," Elgart stated in the letter.