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SACS chief: Clayton problems 'not isolated' to BOE

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Investigators from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) have determined leadership, and poor district-wide performances, are the main obstacles facing the 52,805-student Clayton County School System.

The agency chief, Dr. Mark Elgart, said while the behavior of the board members is an issue, they do not carry the blame alone.

"There is a cause for greater concern than what we originally thought," Elgart said on Friday. "The visit gave us greater clarity and understanding of what is going on."

On Thursday night, the investigators completed a two-day, on-site probe of the district, to conduct interviews of administrators, community members, staff members and the board of education. The agency was looking into allegations of micromanagement, unethical behavior, and misuse of district funds, but more problems were unearthed.

Elgart only briefly discussed what investigators shared with him.

He said there were only two major concerns he could reveal on Friday. Examples of the team's concerns will be outlined in the final report on the school system, which will be released no later than mid-February.

The first concern is a widespread "lack of leadership," ranging from the district's leaders, down to leaders at the classroom level, that is starting to have a negative impact on the learning process available to students, Elgart said.

The second concern is the school system -- as a whole -- is not meeting SACS' standards for a quality education, Elgart said. He didn't discuss the matter of poor performance further.

The SACS chief stressed there is no single person, or group of people, who can be blamed for the current situation facing the school system, because the issues are too widespread.

"This is not just a problem that's isolated to the board level," he said. "There are problems throughout the school system."

How deep the problems go, Elgart said, is what he and other SACS officials have to find an answer to during the next phase of the investigation.

Elgart said additional documents, and follow-up interviews will be necessary as his agency concludes its investigation. To date, SACS officials have received nearly 2,000 documents about the Clayton County School System.

"We then have to figure out what can we ask them [the district's leaders] to do to fix it," Elgart said.

"There is no question that we have issues that need our utmost attention," Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan said on Friday. "I can assure you that as interim superintendent, my staff and I will commit to taking all measures within our control to ensure that Clayton County Public Schools remains fully accredited," Duncan continued.

Ericka Davis, the board of education's chairperson, was not surprised by the findings. She said she is looking forward to receiving SACS' report on the school system.

"Outside of penalties, it will also include recommendations for change," Davis said. "I think it's time for a wholesale change, and it's been time for awhile."

This is the second time SACS has investigated the district in a five-year period. An investigation in 2003 resulted in a one-year probation for the district, which was later extended to a second year of probation. The board has been the subject of public criticism for several years.