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Clayton anxious as SACS readies accreditation announcement

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Months of frustration, anger, and hope in Clayton County have come down to this: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) will announce today whether the school system will lose its accreditation next week.

Not even officials within the school system are immune from wondering what the future holds for 50,000 students. The officals submitted a 2,300 page response to SACS at the beginning of the month.

Now, all they can do is wait for a meeting with SACS officials, which happens today, at 10 a.m., at the SACS offices in Decatur, where they will find out if the district will retain full accreditation, go on probation, or become the first school system in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation.

"At this point, we're anxiously awaiting our meeting with them, and anticipating their decision," said Julie Lewis, the school system's legal counsel. "To receive bad news, after all of the hard work everyone did to fulfill the nine recommendations, would be devastating."

The 40-member AdvancED Accreditation Commission, the parent organization of SACS, met Wednesday night to hear the recommendation of an accreditation review team that visited the district on Aug. 14 and 15. The commission also took a vote on the accreditation of Clayton County schools.

On Wednesday, some community members, like David Barton, vice president of government affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors, anticipated loosing sleep as they anxiously awaited word about the accreditation decision. "I'm looking forward to the news, one way or the other, and I'm ready for this to be behind us," said Barton, who added that he was confident the accreditation would be safe.

Charlton Bivins, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Clayton County, is also ready to get past the accreditation crisis. Bivins' oldest daughter, Chelsea, is a senior at Jonesboro High School, and her father said she is being recruited by Harvard University.

Bivins thinks a state administrative judge's recommendation to Gov. Sonny Perdue to remove board members Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett from office will help sway the accreditation decision in a positive direction.

Bivins explained that the recent administrative hearing showed people that citizens of Clayton County were serious about making changes on the school board. The hearing was initiated after five Jonesboro residents filed a complaint with Perdue, against the board members, in June.

"We're on our feet celebrating right now [Wednesday night], but [Thursday], we're going to be back on our knees praying," Bivins said. "If we keep our accreditation, the celebration is going to be unbelievable."