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School chief denies he said accreditation has 'slim' chance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Clayton County Corrective Superintendent John Thompson moved quickly to deny claims made in a Tuesday article in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution quoting him saying that the school system has a "very slim" chance of maintaining it's accreditation.

In a news conference on Tuesday morning, Thompson said a quote from his recent State of the System Message was taken out of context. He assured the public that the school system is moving forward to meet Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) accreditation standards by its own internal deadline of July 15.

"If SACS came in today, I feel that we would have a good chance to maintain our accreditation ... that's how confident I am," said Thompson. "The story is misquoting me ... What it has done, it has hurt some of the efforts that we have made with the public that we have done everything possible.

"We are doing our due diligence to make sure that everything happens," said Thompson.

During the meeting, Thompson provided transcripts of the quoted portion of the State of the System Message, which was recently made available on the web site of the Clayton County Public Schools.

In an interview discussion with David Waller, manager of television services for Clayton County Public Schools, Thompson was quoted as saying, "talking to all of the politicians, and the people, and the powers that be, we had a very slim chance of maintaining accreditation at all. Uh, it could have dampened my spirits, but it did not. I'm still hoping that we can get full accreditation by September the first, by doing the things that SACS has been very, very, very thorough and very, very upfront about ..."

Thompson said AJC reporter Megan Matteucci asked him to confirm those comments on Monday night, after a public hearing for the school system's 2009 budget.

"She asked me if I had said that the powers that be, and the politicians, said there was a very slim chance," said Thompson. "I told her that she was exactly right, and that I am very optimistic about maintaining our accreditation."

Thompson noted Matteucci said in her article "that the superintendent said" the chance of maintaining accreditation is slim, which Thompson asserts is not an accurate statement. He added that Matteucci discussed the story with school system spokesperson Charles White on Monday, and that while, "Charles [White] told her before the story was written that that was not what [I] said," Matteucci went forward with the story.

When asked to comment on the matter for this article, Matteucci said "we can't comment," citing the AJC's policies.

Michelle Strong, school board chairperson, said the BOE has made many tangible gains toward accreditation over the last few months, including improving board room decorum, providing training for board members by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and removing the influence of outside groups.

"We have done extensive training, we have been working together in a harmonious way," said Strong. She said the last "five or six" meetings have produced "unanimous votes" and behavior that is "respectful and polite."

"Those are some things we can show SACS," said Strong. "Just [by] video alone ... the evidence is there that we are working together."

Mark Elgart, president of SACS, said his last meeting with Thompson was "about a month ago" and that he hadn't had any direct contact with members of the school board for "over two months." However, he said the school system has been "following procedures" in regards to inviting SACS to do a return evaluation of the school system in August, before review on Sept. 1.

"They know the next step in the process is to request a return evaluation, so they are following procedures in regards to that," said Elgart. "That has been consistent for the last several months, that they plan to have us back in August, so that isn't anything new."

"We have a committee that works on this full time," said Thompson. "We have addressed each one of those items ... and the community has come alive to support this whole process. That is why I am so encouraged, much more encouraged than the first day I set foot here."