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Progress made on school probation

By Greg Gelpi

An initial report says that the Clayton County school system is moving in the right direction to get off probation.

The school system's accrediting agency made a final visit Thursday after a yearlong probation and found positive progress had been made, said Mark Elgart, the chief executive officer of the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The visiting team made an oral report Monday and will issue a formal written report this coming Monday, Elgart said. The team made a recommendation regarding the school system's probationary status, but he wouldn't disclose the recommendation before issuing the written report.

"The oral report was positive," Elgart said. "The team did find that progress had been made. They are moving in the direction they need to move in to bring about the type of organizational changes we identified."

He added that "moving in the direction they need to move" means that work remains for the school system to complete.

The report will be given to a council, which will vote on the fate of the system's accreditation June 9. The council could lift probation, extend probation or revoke accreditation.

"There is always a possibility that the council will take action other than what the team recommends," Elgart said.

Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said that the system has made significant progress, progress that is well documented.

"I think that SACS feels that no doubt there is change here," Pulliam said. "I believe they have seen documented changes. I think there was objective data and documented evidence of change."

She said that if probation isn't lifted, she would appeal the decision and not take no for an answer.

"I will be very disappointed because I think we have worked very hard to make great gains," Pulliam said. "I would appeal. I would appeal strongly."

Elgart said that it's "not common" for whole school systems to have their accreditation revoked. It hasn't happened since the early 1980s.

If accreditation is revoked, graduating seniors would not be eligible for the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship Program.

SACS placed the school system on probation a year ago, stating that the school board failed to follow its own policies.

A midway assessment by SACS found that only "cosmetic" changes had taken place and recommended that the school board meet for the first time to address the SACS concerns identified in its initial report.

The report also recommended that the board complete its national search for a superintendent, review its policies, complete board training, stop meddling in the day-to-day operations of the system and define the roles and responsibilities of the board and the superintendent.

Since that report, the national search was conducted and Pulliam was hired, the indication is that the meddling has stopped, some training was held and have reviewed the roles and responsibilities of each party at the system.