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State accrediting body OKs Clayton Schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County high school seniors will graduate with accredited diplomas after the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC) blessed the district's 64 schools, five special-purpose programs and 23 pre-kindergarten programs with its highest seal of approval on Sunday.

The agency has four levels of accreditation available for schools, with the highest levels being "Accredited" and "Accredited With Quality." Clayton County's schools and pre-k programs received "Accredited with Quality" status, said GAC Executive Director Carvin Brown. Brown added that the special-purpose programs did not receive the same status because "Accredited" is the highest level available to them.

A review team spent a week in late September visiting Clayton County schools.

"They were very impressed by what they saw," said Brown. "Some of them said Clayton County had some of the best schools they had ever seen, and many of our consultants have been doing this for a long time."

GAC accredits nearly 1,600 schools, special-purpose and pre-k programs in Georgia. The accreditation for each school and program will last five years before it has to be re-affirmed. Unlike the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the commission only grants accreditation on a school-by-school basis.

The school system continues to work on regaining its accreditation from SACS, which was revoked last month because of problems with the board of education. The district has one year to retroactively regain accreditation, or it will have to begin the SACS' accreditation process from scratch. Starting over is a process which takes two to three years to complete.

Bob Threatt, the head of the review team, which inspected Clayton County schools, said the school board-related issues did not appear to have a negative effect on the quality of education provided at the individual schools. He said the schools were "well organized," employees were focused on their duties, and a good relationship existed between teachers and students.

"Whatever the schools were supposed to be doing, they were doing," said Threatt.

GAC accreditation provides a security blanket for students in case SACS accreditation is not regained by next year. The commission is one of seven accrediting bodies the state recognizes for the purpose of giving out HOPE scholarships. The University System of Georgia's 35 institutions will also regard transcripts for Clayton County students as coming from an accredited school, said Brown.

The University system previously stated that the loss of SACS accreditation would not prevent the students from being admitted to a public college or university in Georgia. The Georgia General Assembly also revised state law, so Clayton County students, who graduated from high school by May 2010, would be able to participate in the HOPE scholarship program.

The school system will have to pay $50 per school, or program, per year, to maintain the accreditation. GAC officials contacted Superintendent John Thompson on Monday to announce the decision.

"This is excellent news for our students, our employees, and our community," said Thompson in a statement. "The results of the GAC review team visit confirm what we have been saying - that students in Clayton County schools are receiving an excellent education from highly qualified teachers using exemplary practices."