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School officials on SACS: 'We have gathered our evidence'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County School System is ready to show officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) that the district's accreditation should not be revoked, school officials announced on Monday.

The school district has to be in compliance with SACS' nine mandates for improvement by Aug. 14, when the accrediting agency sends a team to review the system. If the district has not met the mandates -- or at least shown significant progress -- SACS will revoke its accreditation.

In late May, Corrective Superintendent John Thompson set today as his personal deadline to have the school system ready for a "Show Cause" hearing. Thompson and other school officials were confident on Monday they have reached their goal.

"We have gathered our evidence, and by the end of this week, we will be ready to submit that evidence to SACS," said Valya Lee, the leader of the district's SACS response team.

This week will be a very busy one for school system officials. On Wednesday, Thompson, Julie Lewis, the school system's legal counsel, and other district officials, will meet with auditors who reviewed the system's financial and attendance records to discuss some preliminary findings.

On Thursday, district officials will meet with a select group of invited stakeholders at 9 a.m., at the Professional Learning Center, 1087 Battle Creek Road, Jonesboro, to obtain feedback on what should be included in the response to SACS.

District Spokesman Charles White said the public presentation of the response to SACS will take place on Friday, July 25, at 7 p.m., at the Performing Arts Center, 2530 Mt. Zion Pkwy., Jonesboro. The Board of Education will vote on accepting the response on Monday, July 28, at 7 p.m., during a monthly work session.

"We want as many of you to become informed about the SACS response as possible," said Lee to community members gathered at Monday's business meeting. "The idea is that the SACS team will visit the district next month, and it may very well call on you to talk about the school system."

Lewis said she will send the district's response to SACS as soon as the board approves the document, makes it official, and Thompson signs it.

"We look forward to the day when we can stand before you and say 'We are accredited,' " Thompson told parents on Monday.

The SACS mandates are:

· Establish a governing board that is capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities.

· Remove the influence of outside groups and individuals that are disruptive to the work of the school system.

· Enact and commit to an ethics policy that governs the actions and work of the members of the board of education and staff, including appropriate steps when said policy is violated.

· Implement a comprehensive review of board policies that includes training for board members on the purpose and expectations of said policies.

· Conduct a full, forensic audit of financials by an independent, certified accounting firm and take appropriate steps to address the findings of such an audit.

· Conduct a comprehensive audit of student attendance records and take appropriate steps to ensure that attendance records are accurate and meet legal requirements.

· Ensure that each member of the board is a legal resident of the county and is eligible to hold the elected seat on the board.

· Secure the services of outside consultants with expertise in conflict resolution, governance and organizational effectiveness.

· Appoint a permanent superintendent with the experience and expertise to lead the school district and establish proper conditions for effectiveness.