By Curt Yeomans
Two Georgia Board of Education members, and two officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Georgia office, believe the Clayton County Board of Education is heading in the right direction toward regaining its accreditation.
The accrediting agency sent a review team to the school system Monday to begin a site visit that will last through Wednesday.
During the school board's meeting on Monday, the board recognized students for their academic successes, heard a report on the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School that was approved by the state Board of Education earlier this month, and was told by district officials of efforts to make sure students are ready for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
SACS' State Director for Georgia Mike Bryans was optimistic about the way he and Associate State Director Jay Wansley saw the board conducting its proceedings. Bryans and Wansley will report their observations to the review team today.
"The evidence clearly indicates the board functions on behalf of students," Bryans said. "The emphasis appears to be on student achievement."
A year ago, a similar review team decided Clayton's school board was dysfunctional, and established nine mandates for improving the school system. Six months later, the district became the first U.S. school system in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation after a second review team decided the board was still dysfunctional, and the district had only met one of those mandates.
The review team visiting the district this time will begin interviewing school board members, district staff and administrators, and members of the community, today at the school system's central office in Jonesboro. Bryans said a decision should be made within the next month about Clayton County's accreditation.
If the school system does not regain its accreditation this time, it will have to begin the re-accreditation process from scratch. The process could take as long as two years to complete.
On the eve of the interviews, Georgia Board of Education members Brad Bryant and James Bostic, who were assigned by Gov. Sonny Perdue a year ago to be his liaisons to the Clayton County school board, told board members early in the meeting they were becoming a better school board.
"You've rolled up your sleeves and worked hard" to regain accreditation, Bryant told board members. He said the board members have been more receptive to improving themselves than their predecessors. Those members have either resigned, or have been removed from office.
"If we're asked by SACS about this board, I think we'll be in a position to say substantial progress has been made by this board," Bryant said. "It's been a challenge in that you did not have any veteran board members to guide you, so you've had to learn on the fly."
Bostic said they have not been asked to meet with SACS' review team, and he declined to speculate on what he thought the school system's chances of regaining accreditation were.
"We have no idea," Bostic said. "The committee has to decide that."
Clayton School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the board was not trying to be on its best behavior Monday for its SACS guests, although the meeting lasted several hours less than board meetings of the recent past.
"This is how we normally function," Anderson said. "It's not business as usual anymore. We are moving to become a highly functional board that is focused on student achievement."
In addition to the confidence and optimism expressed by state board members and the SACS representatives, several community leaders and parents offered their own praise for the board, and messages for SACS.
"SACS, we love our community, and our county, and we're taking it back," said Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon. She also offered a message of support to Bryans and Wansley during a public-comment segment of the meeting. Wynn-Dixon said she, and the mayors of Clayton's other cities, were working to teach their residents not to be apathetic about community issues, such as the health of the school system, anymore.
Riverdale parent Linda Granger said she is pleased with the progress made since the new board has taken office.
"It's about the children," Granger said. "Continue doing what you are doing so SACS will not have to come back in the future."
State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), flanked by a dozen ministers from the county, said, "This will be the model not only for the state, but the nation as well.
"We have been under the microscope far longer than anyone else. We have no more kinks left," Glanton said.