By Curt Yeomans
Next week's spring break for Clayton County schools will not be a time for relaxation for some district officials. A review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools looms on the horizon, and Clayton's 48,000-student school district is fighting to regain its accreditation.
All school system offices and schools will be closed for the week-long vacation, but several members of the system's 14-person internal team will spend the week, on-call, in case the accrediting agency's own review team needs them, as their three-day visit to the district starts the following week.
SACS' review team will begin its visit April 13, the same day the school system resumes operation after spring break. Clayton County Public Schools is the first school system in the last 40 years to carry the stigma of having its accreditation revoked by SACS.
"We are going to have members of the [district's] internal team on call just in case there are any questions from members of the [SACS] review team," School System Spokesman John Lyles said.
Last month, the district sent the accrediting agency an 109-page report detailing efforts to meet SACS' nine mandates for improving the school system. SACS officials actually said the district met one of those mandates last August, but the district's accreditation was revoked at the time, because it was the only mandate met.
During the upcoming visit, the review team will observe a school board business meeting, visit schools, and interview board members, senior administrators, and members of the community.
During a recent series of community forums, Executive Director of Fine Arts Paul Robbins, the district's new spokesman on the accreditation issue, told parents and staff members SACS will render a decision within 30 days of the end of the visit.
Since last fall, school system leaders have repeatedly said their goal is to have the accreditation restored before high school seniors graduate next month. The high school graduations are scheduled to take place 44 days after the SACS review team completes its visit to the school system.
In recent weeks, school officials have told board members, business leaders, parents and staff that re-accreditation, either full, or probationary, should be expected by mid-May.
"We are going to have our accreditation back before the class of 2009 graduates in May," Interim Superintendent Valya Lee told local business leaders during a meeting on March 26.
The school system's internal team is led by Acting Director of Professional Learning Judith Simmons, who served as the county's deputy superintendent under former Superintendent John Thompson. Thompson was fired by the school board March 14.
Other members of the group, according to the district's March 13 report to SACS, include Lee, Robbins, Boardmember Pamela Adamson, Assistant Acting Chief Information Officer Angie Bacon, former Chief Human Resources Officer Larry Connor, Acting Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson, Acting Chief Communications and Information Officer Luvenia Jackson, former Chief Operations Officer Joseph Jones, General Counsel Julie Lewis, Assistant Superintendent of High Schools Derrick Manning, Former Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese, former Chief Academic Officer Kay Sledge, and School System Spokesman Charles White.
Lyles, however, said he did not know how many review team members will remain on-call during spring break.
The school system will host one more community forum to discuss the SACS visit, and Superintendent Lee's plans for improving the school system, Thursday, at 6:30 p.m., at Forest Park High School, 5452 Phillips Drive, Forest Park.