Officials optimistic about SACS

By Greg Gelpi

School officials remain optimistic after a day of interviews with its accrediting agency, which placed the school system on probation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools sent a visiting team to interview members of the Clayton County Board of Education and other senior school officials Thursday.

During a midway assessment, school officials were also optimistic, but the team found that only "cosmetic" improvements had been made. A SACS report said that the system needed to complete its national search for a superintendent, review its policies, stop meddling in the day-to-day business of the school system and define the roles of the superintendent and the board.

The team will issue an oral report Monday morning to Mark Elgart, the chief executive officer of the SACS Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.

"The review will be similar to the mid-year review with one noted exception," Elgart, who is in Brazil, said via e-mail. "The visit will result in the team making a recommendation to SACS regarding the accreditation status of the school district."

Selenia Johnson, a parent of two Adamson Middle School students, said that for a time the school system has been "stuck in a rut." In the past few months, though, the system has made a good deal of progress.

Johnson said there is always room for improvement, but that the system has made strides in the right direction.

School board member Allen T. Johnson said he thinks his 40-minute interview with the visiting team went well.

"I think it went extremely well," Johnson said. "I think they were really satisfied with the questions they had. They were just concerned with the process of the board continuing to work with the superintendent."

The board hired Superintendent Barbara Pulliam in February. She assured students, parents and school staff that the probation would be lifted when she took over.

The SACS team gave no indication as to how they felt about his answers, he said.

"I can read people fairly well," Johnson said. "I think we'll be coming off probation."

Fellow board member Barbara Wells shared Johnson's feelings about the interviews.

"I thought it went well," Wells said. "I am very optimistic. I just have a good feeling about it."

She said her questions focused on the board's retreat with Pulliam, the feelings of school system employees, board unity and the leadership of the board.

"All of my responses were very positive," Wells said. "I think we're following our procedures. There's no micromanaging going on."

Pulliam called her meetings with the SACS team "intense."

"It was very intense," said Pulliam, who was interviewed twice, including once for an hour-and-a-half. "I was pleased, but I was more pleased that I was able to respond in a genuine way about the work we're doing."

The SACS team brought her back to provide documentation of the school board's training and accomplishments, she said.

Along with Pulliam's interview and interviews with board members, she said that teachers, principals and members of the community were also interviewed.

"I think they did that to get a good sense of the changes," Pulliam said.

The visiting team's assessment of the school system's progress during its year-long probation will affect the school system's accreditation.

"They didn't give feedback," Pulliam said of their "poker faces."

The team will recommend that probation be lifted, probation be extended or accreditation be revoked. If accreditation is revoked, graduating seniors will not be eligible for the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship Program.