SACS: Clayton's BOE has made 'significant progress'

Clayton County Public Schools received encouraging words from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that may mean the school system is close to fully recovering from its accreditation nightmare that began just over two years ago.

In the most recent report on the district, there has been a change in the language that SACS evaluators use to describe the Clayton County Board of Education. Words like "effective" and "efficient" have replaced the term "dysfunctional." The accrediting agency sent a review team to the district in mid-April to evaluate progress made since the group's visit in October 2009.

The review team's report from the spring visit was presented at a board meeting Monday night. The result? The school system has reached the ceiling in all but three areas, accreditation officials said. All that's left to do is to establish a governing board that can fulfill its roles and responsibilities, remove disruptive outside influences, and finish a comprehensive review of school board policies.

"The Clayton County Board of Education has made significant progress toward establishing and maintaining a board capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities," the SACS review team wrote.

The school system was without its accreditation from August 2008, until May 2009. When accreditation was restored last year, it was on a two-year, probationary basis, in which the district's progress had to be evaluated by a SACS review team every six months.

Under a new rubric, the classifications "Completed," "In Progress" and "Has Not Addressed," are now used to gauge the district's progress. According to the new report, the school system is listed as having reached "Completed" status on six of SACS' original nine mandates, as well as all four new mandates handed down by the accrediting agency.

"We can't slack off," Superintendent Edmond Heatley said. "We must stay focused, and the community must hold us accountable, so we don't lose that focus."

Heatley said while he was pleased, overall, now is not the time for the district to breathe a sigh of relief. He said the school system must work to improve itself, even in those areas where it has reached "Completed" status.

With three remaining mandates listed as being "In Progress," and remarks from the review team indicate that there are still some old behaviors that remain difficult for at least some board members to grasp. Review team members mentioned that only a "majority of board members" –– not the board as a whole –– is seeking to create a model school system.

The team also noted that some board members are serving "individual entities within the system," rather than the district as a whole.

"While evidence supports a more aligned vision and purpose among the board members, personal agendas and loyalty to individual constituents, rather than the system as a whole, are still evident among some board members," the team wrote. "These elements detract from the board's function of serving the entire system as a unified governing board."

SACS officials laid out several "directives" the school system, and the school board, must accomplish to meet all of the mandates for regaining full accreditation.

Those directives include: establishing a timeline for professional development for the board and district leadership; facilitating activities to preserve continual professional growth; completing a board self-evaluation process; implementing a plan to use data to guide the board's professional growth; completing the superintendent evaluation process, and establishing practices to make sure board members adhere to conflict-of-interest protocols.

SACS officials also are directing district officials and school board members to expand practices, such as stakeholder surveys and leadership-evaluation instruments, that evaluate the effectiveness of the board as a whole.

As far as reviewing the policies are concerned, SACS officials want district officials and school board members to come up with a way to make sure the district stays on track to complete its review and revising of board policies by the end of this year; create a development and revision timeline for administrative rules that back up the implementation of revised policies, and put procedures in place to make sure policy revisions are communicated to the district's internal, and external, stakeholders.

The board's goal now is to focus on getting the three "In Progress" mandates moved to "Completed" status by the next SACS review visit, which is scheduled to take place this fall, said School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson.

"We are going to work on them, so that when they [SACS] come back in the fall, we'll have met all of the mandates," Anderson added.