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School probation up for final review today

By Greg Gelpi

A year after being placed on probation, the Clayton County school system's accrediting agency is returning for a final check of the system.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will send a review team to interview members of the Clayton County Board of Education and other senior school officials about the system's progress since being placed on probation.

"I think it will come to a happy conclusion soon," board member Allen T. Johnson said. "I think it will go fairly well because we have made some improvements and got some things done. I'm looking forward to meeting with them."

Board Vice Chairwoman Ericka Davis said the board has done all that SACS has asked and she is confident that probation will be lifted.

"I'm optimistic," Davis said. "I think that we've done all that SACS has required us to do."

She listed five areas, hiring a superintendent through a national search, reviewing policies, board training, resolving micromanagement, and increased communication with the community, that the school board has worked on during the past year.

"I don't think there is anything left for us to do," Davis said. "I would be honestly surprised and sadly disappointed if we're not taken off probation."

SACS placed the school system on probation a year ago for reasons, which included failing to follow its own policy.

In a surprise move, the board appointed board member Carol Kellam to fill a vacancy, fired Superintendent Dan Colwell and named William Chavis the interim superintendent during a January 2003 board meeting.

Following public outcry and a recommendation from SACS, the school board conducted a national search for a permanent superintendent through the Georgia School Boards Association.

Superintendent Barbara Pulliam took the helm Feb. 9, replacing Chavis, as a result of the national search. Upon taking the position, she met with students from the county's high schools and assured them that she would get the system off probation and told them not to worry.

"Certainly getting the superintendent in place was one of our top priorities," Johnson said. "Out superintendent walked into a tough situation. It's not something that can be taken care of in a year."

When a SACS review team visited the Clayton County school system in October, midway through the year-long probation, school board members also expressed optimism about what the team would find.

The team, though, found only "cosmetic" changes had been made. The team recommended that the board clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the board and the superintendent. SACS said the board should end its meddling into the day-to-day operations of the school system and allow the superintendent to run the system.

As of the midway review, the school board had yet to formally meet to discuss the initial SACS report outlining the problems with the board. The board has done so since then.

The SACS team will determine whether to lift probation, extend probation or revoke accreditation. Students must graduate from an accredited high school in order to be eligible for the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship Program.