School officials reveal evidence in SACS response

By Curt Yeomans


Clayton County Public Schools officials lifted the lid covering Corrective Superintendent John Thompson's "buckets of evidence" on Thursday, during a meeting with local politicians, business leaders, and parents to discuss the district's response to its accreditation crisis.

The district has all of the evidence it needs for its response to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), according to Thompson. The system is now seeking feedback from it's stakeholders to include in a report which will be sent to SACS later this month.

The district's accreditation will be revoked by SACS on Sept. 1, if the system fails to meet nine mandates for improvement. A review team from the accrediting agency will visit the school system on Aug. 14 and 15, and a decision regarding the district's accreditation will be announced sometime between the end of the visit, and Sept. 1, according to SACS President Mark Elgart.

"We want to let SACS know we did engage the community in this process," Thompson said. "It is our goal to create a document that you feel you have ownership of."

The district's response to SACS will include Thompson's overview of the response; documented evidence to show the district has complied with each of the nine mandates; policy revisions and adoptions; stakeholder feedback; supporting documents, and a closing appeal to retain the accreditation.

Several elected officials, and representatives of Clayton State University, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, Arts Clayton, The Metro South Association of Realtors, The Clayton County Council of PTAs, The Superintendent's Student Advisory Counci,; The University of Georgia's Clayton County Extension office, and the Concerned Citizens of Clayton County attended the meeting.

Thompson described the community members who showed up as "the wind beneath our wings."

Board of Education Chairperson Michelle Strong and board member Sandra Scott also attended the meeting. The board will vote on approving the response on July 28. Those attending the meeting on Thursday were not given access to the entire response. Thompson said everything is not yet ready for public viewing. The public unveiling of the district's response will be on July 25.

Thompson has repeatedly said SACS will receive "buckets of evidence" before August. The contents of those buckets include:

· Minutes and videotapes from board meetings.

· Documents outlining the board's agenda-setting practices.

· Documents pertaining to the superintendent's Key Communicators group, which consists of parents from each school in the district.

· Agendas from board meetings and training sessions.

· The recently revised public participation policy, and the new civility policy, as well as other policies the board revised or created.

· A new state law which created an ethics commission for the Clayton Board of Education.

· The board's code of ethics, which was revised to match language in the new state law.

· Results from financial and attendance audits. Valya Lee, who led the district's internal review team, said the district was cleared by a variety of auditors of alleged improprieties in the areas of purchasing, contracts, human resources, and attendance records.

· Residency affidavits signed by board members.

· A residency investigation of the entire board, conducted by Secretary of State Karen Handel's office.

· Documentation showing the board's removal of former board member Norreese Haynes following a police investigation that called his residency into question.

· Press releases sent out by the district's communications department.

· A March 8 article from the Clayton News Daily, entitled "SACS endorses superintendent plan for Clayton schools."

After attending the meeting, David Barton, vice president of governmental affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors, said he was impressed with the evidence unveiled. He said he felt the school system has a strong chance of retaining full accreditation as a result of the internal review team's efforts.

"Based on what I saw at the meeting, I am 110 percent sure that they were able to meet all of the nine mandates," Barton said. "To correct what we corrected, does not [justify] probation. We should keep our full accreditation."