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Clayton BOE readies for accreditation visit

The Clayton County Board of Education will review a policy outlining the duties of its members next week, in an ongoing effort to police itself.

The school board began reviewing the policy on its duties a month ago. Monday night, a proposal listed for discussion during its business meeting, and possible vote, would mandate board member participation in meetings and training sessions, said Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson.

There also is a possibility the board will seek to emulate policies in other districts, such as Atlanta Public Schools, where a member is not allowed to talk negatively about his or her colleagues in public, Anderson said.

The meeting will be Monday at 6 p.m., in the district's central office, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

Anderson noted the policy review is "a work in progress." She also said there is a possibility the board may not vote on the changes Monday, as it is scheduled to do, if the policy presented to it by district lawyers does not include sanctions for board members who violate it.

"It's just ethical things school board members should do, and holding ourselves accountable for our actions," Anderson said.

In addition to the policy on board-member duties, other items on the agenda include the adoption of a revised policy on free lunches, a superintendent search update, an accreditation update, and public comment.

An update by district officials on the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School approved by the state last week is also on the agenda.

As the board members discuss their duties and accountability, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is set to send a review team to the district Monday to begin evaluating the district's efforts to meet nine mandates for improvement.

The accrediting agency established the mandates in February 2008, and revoked the district's accreditation six months later when only one mandate was met. A major SACS complaint was that Clayton had an "unethical" and "dysfunctional" school board.

Since the mandates were issued, the entire membership of the board has changed. Some members resigned, and some were removed by their colleagues, or by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Board member Pamela Adamson, the board's SACS liaison, said the accrediting agency informed district officials on April 2 that the review team will not attend Monday's board meeting as originally planned, though SACS officials will be present at the meeting. She said the agency did not tell the district which officials would be in attendance.

"They [SACS officials] don't want the team to stand out, and be submitted to community pressure," Adamson said. "They would like to just come in, and do their job as inconspicuously as possible."

The SACS team is set to interview board members, school system staff and members of the community on Tuesday and Wednesday. The review team will make a recommendation about Clayton County's accreditation to SACS, and its parent organization, AdvancED, within 30 days of the end of the visit.

School system officials have expressed hope that the district's accreditation will be restored before its seniors graduate in May.

"District officials have worked very hard to get the accreditation back, and we are prayerfully believing in a positive outcome," Interim Superintendent Valya Lee said. "We are optimistic, but the final call is after the team leaves, and makes its recommendation, and SACS announces its decision."

Anderson said she "feels good" about the accreditation "because we worked so hard" to get it back. She said allowing SACS officials to have an opportunity to watch board members discuss revising their duties policy, to include more accountability, may help the district's chances of regaining the accreditation.

"We have a great opportunity in this district to make great changes, and I think SACS will appreciate that," Anderson said. "We believe, and we hope SACS will see we're headed in the right direction for the sake of our children."

SACS President Mark Elgart could not be reached for comment.

Superintendent search update likely

Finding a permanent school chief is another top SACS mandate.

The board is expected to add a superintendent search update from attorney Glenn Brock to the agenda at the beginning of the business meeting, Anderson said. Brock was hired by the board in February to conduct the district's national superintendent search. His firm is also one of two law firms representing the school board after former General Counsel Julie Lewis was let go by the district last month in a reduction in force affecting 14 district-level positions.

Eight of the board's nine members interviewed two candidates for the superintendent's vacancy at the National School Boards Association conference in San Diego earlier this week, Anderson said.

Only embattled board member Michael King, whose future as a board member hinges the outcomes of an appeal of the school board's decision March 23 to remove him from office, did not attend the conference, Anderson said. Although the board has voted to remove him, King is allowed to remain on the board until he has exhausted his appeals.

Overall, the board has interviewed three candidates for the superintendent position, including one interview which was conducted March 24, at the school system's central office, Anderson said. She said the board plans to interview as many as 10 candidates. They will be brought to the board by Brock from a pool of applicants. Board members said more than 50 people had applied for the vacancy.

The board wants to have a new superintendent in place by June 30. Interim Superintendent Lee has been leading the district on a temporary basis since the board fired former Superintendent John Thompson on March 14.

As the district moves forward, through the SACS review team visit and the superintendent search, Anderson said the board wants to focus on student achievement. She also said the board's duty should be to guide the school system on that path toward better student academic success, rather than control the district's every move.

"The board should be responsible for holding the superintendent accountable for meeting the state's standards for making AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress], and setting policies for the district," Anderson said. "All of the other things ... get into micromanagement