BOE chairperson: 'We will be ready' for SACS

By Curt Yeomans


On Monday, Clayton County school officials gave the board of education an idea of how close the system is to meeting the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) nine mandates for improvement.

During the presentation, Deputy Superintendent Judith Simmons gave a brief overview of all of the mandates. She explained that district officials had gotten together to create a report card of sorts on the board's progress.

"This was an internal review of where the district's review team and [Superintendent John Thompson] feel the board is at right now," said Simmons.

The results of the report card are that system leaders are calling the board "operational" on five of the nine mandates, and "emerging" on three others. The mandate involving a permanent school superintendent was not graded, officials said, since it will be dealt with in January.

Two of the areas where district officials decided the board needed improvement included understanding executive sessions, and fullfilling its responsibilities in a transparent manner, said Simmons.

However, Simmons later pointed out that "the board may feel entirely different from the way we feel."

But, School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said she believes the board is headed in the right direction. A SACS review team will observe the board during its April 13, 2009, board meeting to see how it operates as a team. The subsequent three days will be spent conducting interviews, although district leaders are unsure if any schools will be visited.

Anderson said she needed to review the district's "report card" on the school board, but she added that board members are committed to getting the accreditation back before the end of the school year.

"We're going to make sure we do what we need to do to make sure we meet these mandates," said Anderson. "Make no mistake, come April, when SACS comes in, we will be ready."

One of the ways the board can show it is ready, is to make a decision about the superintendent's position, Simmons told the board members. Thompson's contract expires on June 30, 2009, and the board will have to make a decision about what to do with the position.

Simmons outlined three options given to the district by SACS officials: Extend Thompson's contract; conduct a national search for a superintendent where Thompson is allowed to apply, or conduct a national search without considering the current school chief as a candidate.

"SACS is expecting the board to make a decision quickly," said Simmons. "This will demonstrate to the [SACS] visiting team there is stability in the district."

According to an early draft of the board's Jan. 5, 2009, meeting agenda, there will be a presentation to the board called "Conducting a Superintendent Search."

Here is what the district's leaders consider to be the board's current status on each of the nine mandates:

· Establish a fully functioning school board. District leaders believe the board was emerging, with improvement needed in executive sessions, voting in the best interests of students, and receiving regular summaries of student achievement data from district officials.

· Remove the influence of disruptive outside groups/individuals. System officials felt the board was operational, with improvements needed in the board fulfilling its responsibilities in a transparent manner, and the board following the district's hiring protocol.

· Enact and commit to an ethics policy. The district's officials felt the board is operational.

· Review of board policies that includes training for board members. District officials felt the board is emerging.

· Conduct a full, forensic audit of financials by an independent, certified accounting firm. District leaders decided the board was operational.

· Conduct a comprehensive audit of student attendance records. District leaders decided the board was operational.

· Ensure each member of the board is a legal resident of the county. District leaders felt the board was operational.

· Secure the services of conflict resolution, governance and organizational consultants. District leaders decided the board was emerging, but believe better attendance and active participation in training sessions are needed.

Later, in other business, the board also approved changing its public-participation policy to move public comment back into the business meetings, rather than holding a separate meeting. Community members will have until 6 p.m., on the day of the meeting, to sign up for public comment.