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Report recommends lifting probation

By Greg Gelpi

SEE THE PRINT EDITION OF NEWS DAILY FOR THE COMPLETE SACS REPORT.

The accrediting agency that put Clayton County schools on probation a year ago should lift that probation, a review for the agency has recommended. But it also recommended continuing monitoring of the district to complete the process.

The final report for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools recommends that enough progress has been made that the probation should be removed. It says the district should remain on a "warning" status and be required to make further progress.

"We've been talking about it in class, about how it will affect getting the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship and getting into good schools," said Amanda Traber, a rising senior at Jonesboro High School.

A visiting team interviewed school officials and members of the community and reviewed school documentation when it visited the school system earlier this month. Parents and students have been worried for the past year, not sure if accreditation would be revoked and students would be eligible for HOPE Scholarships.

"If it's lifted, it will be good," rising Morrow High School senior Christine Gendreau said. "I don't think about it much until someone talks about it, then I worry about graduating. I feel like I'm doing all the work for nothing sometimes."

Gendreau said she was on her best behavior when a visiting SACS team visited her school because the school system "needs" accreditation.

Many of the improvements were credited to Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, who was hired Feb. 9 after a national search.

"Since they got a new superintendent, things seem to be going better," Jamie Gose, a rising senior at Jonesboro High School, said. "I think that's good because colleges would look down on (a system on probation)."

The school system can turn its attention to more important work, said Tom McBrayer, a parent and member of the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education.

"Attention can now be focused by everybody on things that need to be addressed," McBrayer said. "The county can now get on with more important business."

The father of two Clayton County public school students has been vocal about the Clayton County Board of Education and the actions of some members which led to the system being placed on probation.

"I would have to say that given the past year and a half that is the appropriate decision," McBrayer said, adding that he has been anxious to learn of the recommendation. "Everyday I've been running out to the driveway to get the News Daily."

Announcing the recommendation of the SACS visiting team, Pulliam couldn't help but smile.

"This is a good day for Clayton County Public Schools," Pulliam said. "Or maybe it should be that it's a good day for the kids."

When the visiting team asked Pulliam why she wanted probation to be lifted, she replied, "I want you to do it for my kids," she said. "The kids in the school district were directly impacted by this designation."

The report will be brought to the Georgia Council on Accreditation and School Improvement of SACS for a vote June 11.

"Members of the SRT (Special Review Team) noted in its review that under the leadership of the newly appointed superintendent progress was being made in addressing the recommendations included in previous reports by SACS to the school system," the SACS report stated. "There is evidence that the Clayton County Board of Education is making progress in addressing the recommendations and standard violations that caused the Clayton County Schools to be placed on probation by the Southern Association Colleges and Schools. As a result of the onsite review and the evidence of progress, the SRT recommends that the Clayton County Schools be removed from probationary status and placed in an accreditation status of warned for the 2004-2005 school year."

The report identified progress in seven areas: hiring a superintendent from a national search, conducting a board professional retreat, establishing a process for reviewing and revising policies, the superintendent's work with the central office and school board to develop a "cohesive administrative team," opening up the budgetary process to the school system and community and the "orderly process" of the board in recent meetings.

"The change in accreditation status of the Clayton County School system from probation to warned status removed the threat that the schools are in immediate danger of losing their accreditation and provides an opportunity for the Superintendent and the board of education to continue their efforts of restoring levels of trust and collaborative decision making with a renewed emphasis on providing quality instructional programming for students at all levels," the report stated. "However, the warned accreditation status serves notice that the school system needs to stay the present course of addressing the standard violations and recommendations issued in the reports from SACS."

To ensure that progress continues to be made, a SACS review team will return in May 2005 to monitor the efforts of the school system.

Pulliam said she is quite pleased that the report recognized the progress the school system has made, but added that the progress will continue.

"I believe this school district can be one of the best in the state and one of the best in the country," she said. "We're going to celebrate, but we're going to move on to do more work. This is one of the benchmarks we wanted to accomplish, but there are more ahead."

Pulliam said she was particularly proud of the comments the report made regarding the school system's work to involve the community. The system completed its series of public forums last week and will use the feedback from the forums to help drive the school system's plan for the coming year.

"The board is going to be in the best position to direct and guide the superintendent," Pulliam said, adding that she will present her plan for the coming school year at the next board meeting.

SACS placed the school system on probation after the school board fired its superintendent, micromanaged the daily operations of the school system and failed to follow its own policies.