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SACS going through changes

By Greg Gelpi

The accrediting agency of the Clayton and Henry county school systems is undergoing major changes.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is modifying its standards, something done every five years, as well as changing its structure and grading system.

SACS, made up of three commissions, will soon consist of only two commissions after combining the elementary and middle schools commission and the secondary and middle schools commission. The third commission is for colleges.

"It will actually simplify things for school districts," said Mark Elgart, the executive director of the commission on secondary and middle schools.

He said that SACS is about 80 percent to 90 percent done with the transition, which will officially go into effect July 1.

SACS is also developing a new grading system, an improvement over its system of labeling schools and school systems as either accredited or non-accredited, Elgart said.

"What it's also going to do is allow us to establish levels of quality," Elgart said.

The new point system will allow SACS to provide degrees of quality on a three-point scale. SACS will also begin naming "exemplary" schools and school systems for those that exceed the standards and are more than just accredited.

SACS is "nearing completion" on developing new standards. The accrediting agency uses the standards as a benchmark to measure its member schools. Every five years, the accrediting agency does this and 2005 marks the end of the five-year cycle.

Schools and school systems will be held to the new standards, which he said are usually "more rigorous" than the standards set forth by the state, beginning in January.

"(School officials) are used to the standards changes," Elgart said. "We have a transitional period in which we work with them."

SACS will start training school officials to understand the new standards in August, he said.

The standards are good, but the point system isn't so good, said Bill Shearer, Henry County Schools assistant superintendent for school operations and improvement.

"(The standards) are certainly reflective of what I think is important," Shearer said, adding that they are "not a great deal different" than existing standards.

He criticized the point system, though, saying that schools are already graded by the state.

"I don't think it's in their purview, and I don't see any need for it," Shearer said.

He said that a system of rating schools as accredited, non-accredited and exemplary sounds like a good idea, but a numeric evaluation is "splitting hairs."

Clayton County school officials wouldn't comment on the changes with SACS.

SACS placed the Clayton school system on a year-long probation.

Many colleges and universities require that their students graduate from an accredited high school. In order to be eligible for the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship, a diploma from an accredited school is also required.

The SACS governing board will consider the changes in June and, if the board approves, the changes will take effect in August. Elgart said he expects the board to OK the changes since SACS is already "deep" into integrating them.