By Curt Yeomans
The leaders of the Clayton County Board of Education said Monday night they believe the school system's governing body is "operational," despite the board's current configuration having existed for less than two months.
The school board was the central reason why the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) revoked the system's accreditation at the beginning of September. On Monday, Deputy Superintendent Judith Simmons unveiled a four-stage, self-evaluation method, which the district and SACS officials developed for the school board.
The stages of the board's level of functioning under the method are: Non-effective (the lowest level); Emerging; Operational, and Highly functioning (the highest level). Four of the seven people sitting on the board at this time were not sworn in until late September. Two others were sworn into office in July, while the other member did not take office until August.
However, board Chairperson Alieka Anderson and Vice chairperson Jessie Goree said the board is moving in the right direction, which is why they are giving the district's governing body such high marks.
"For the short amount of time we've been together as a board, we've made a lot of progress," Anderson said. "The board is working cohesively, and we're working with the superintendent. All we're asking for now, from the public, is that they be patient with us as we try to get this thing worked out ... We've been thrown into the fire."
Goree said, while the board is still at the "emerging" stage when it comes to parliamentary procedures, she also feels it is, overall, at the "operational" stage.
The school system has until Sept. 1, 2009, to meet eight remaining mandates for improvement. If the district can meet that deadline, SACS will retroactively re-instate Clayton County's accreditation. The district has a self-imposed deadline to have the accreditation restored by the time the high school seniors graduate in late May 2009.
"We're on task and moving forward to meeting the eight remaining SACS mandates," said Superintendent John Thompson.
Simmons said the district is making progress toward meeting two mandates which deal with forensic and attendance audits. The audits have been completed, and the school system is in the process of implementing the recommendations of the auditors, which is something SACS officials said needed to happen before those mandates could be checked off the list.
She put five of the remaining mandates into one group with the first mandate -- the establishment of a fully functioning school board that understands its role and responsibilities, as the central object in that group.
According to Simmons, the other mandates, which are tied to the first requirement, are: Removing outside influences; enacting an ethics policy which governs the board and staff members; conducting a comprehensive review of school system policies, and securing the services of an expert in conflict resolution.
"If you are fulfilling your roles and responsibilities [as a school board], then you are certainly going to fulfill those mandates which surround mandate No. 1," said Simmons to board members on Monday.
Simmons said the board's hiring of McDonough-based parliamentarian, Lester Cooper, to guide it on parliamentary procedures, and approving the creation of an internal auditor and a coordinator for the district's purchasing card program, are some of the steps the board has taken that show the district is moving in the right direction.
The board will have to do more training in the areas of parliamentary procedures and policies to meet the first mandate, said Simmons and Thompson. "The whole process of training and learning to do their jobs will take one to two years to complete," said Thompson.
However, Simmons said one hurdle in this arena is the makeup of the board. A full, nine-member school board will not be in place until January. "In light of the situation, I don't know when we can say we've done enough training. That decision is really up to SACS," she said.