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SACS review team starts visit Thursday

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools will get its first opportunity, on Thursday, to show signs of improvement to the Southern Association of College and Schools, since the accrediting agency restored the school district's accreditation in May.

A SACS review team will begin a two-day visit to the school system at 8 a.m., on Thursday, Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley announced on Monday.

The district went nine months during the 2008-2009 school year without its accreditation, because of a series of problems, ranging from the functionality of the district's former school board members, to the lack of a permanent school superintendent, to ethics issues, to attendance and fiscal recording-keeping questions.

In one SACS report from 2008, the district was called a "ship without a rudder in dangerous waters."

When accreditation was restored earlier this year, SACS placed the district on probation for two years, with visits from a review team scheduled to take place roughly every six months, to monitor improvement.

"This is our first shot to show them what they said about us isn't true," Heatley told the county's school board on Monday. "We may have slipped, but we're on our way back up to the top."

During the visit by SACS' four-member, review team, Heatley and other top administrators, as well as members of the school board, will be interviewed to see how the district has been doing since accreditation was restored, SACS Spokesperson Jennifer Oliver said. She said visits to individual schools are not likely to take place.

Each time SACS conducts a review of the school system, it will be the same team visiting the district, Oliver said. "When we put the school system on probation in May, we made a commitment to check in on their progress every six months," Oliver said. "The focus will be on how they're coming along."

When accreditation was restored in May, there were still a few of the accrediting agency's original questions left to resolve. Among them were the hiring of a permanent superintendent; the establishment of, and commitment to, an ethics policy that governed the actions of board members, and the implementation of recommendations from a forensic, financial audit that was conducted last year.

Four additional recommendations were added, including the initiation of a comprehensive-review process -- with community involvement -- to determine the district's vision, mission and values; implementation of a comprehensive, strategic-planning process; a review of the district's organizational structure, and the establishment of an action plan designed to resolve problems and conflicts involving district employees and the school board.

Some changes have occurred since that time, including the hiring of Heatley as the district's fifth superintendent, and a series of meetings involving more than 200 community members and district employees in August, in which the school district's mission, vision, goals and values statements were rewritten.

The school system is currently working on revising it's strategic plan.

Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson said district officials, and school board members, are continuing to work on addressing all of the remaining issues, and the work should be done "within the time given to us by SACS."

She said hiring Heatley was key in the efforts to move toward full SACS accreditation. "We've made great progress in regards to meeting the SACS mandates by hiring a superintendent with the qualifications to run the school district," Anderson said. "I think SACS will be very pleased with the efforts we've made toward meeting those goals that they laid out for us."