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Clayton Schools optimistic about SACS reviews

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools officials are awaiting the official word, from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), on how the first round of school-level Quality Assurance Reviews went, but they said this week they are optimistic about the report.

Kay Sledge, the school system coordinator handling the district's accreditation efforts, said eight schools were reviewed from Feb. 22 to Feb. 24, as part of the district's process of re-gaining full SACS accreditation. These reviews are separate from the system-wide reviews that SACS is doing every six months as part of the school district's two-year probation, which began last May.

The schools reviewed so far are Anderson, Edmonds, Fountain, Lake City, and Marshall elementary schools; Babb and Forest Park middle schools, and Morrow High School, school system officials told Clayton County Board of Education members on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Sledge said she expects to receive the accrediting agency's reports on the schools at the end of the month, but added that the schools seem to have done well, based on comments the review team gave to principals in its exit reports.

"They [review team members] said there was strong leadership at the schools, excellence in academics, the teachers at the schools showed a strong commitment to student achievement, and there was evidence of a strong commitment to community involvement at each of the schools," she said.

The Quality Assurance Reviews at each of Clayton County's 60 schools are part of the district's re-accreditation process. When the school system regained its accreditation on a probationary basis last May, SACS officials cited the need for such evaluations.

On Thursday, SACS Spokesperson Jennifer Oliver said schools undergo Quality Assurance Reviews every five years to make sure the schools continue to meet the accrediting agency's standards. Clayton's reviews are three years behind schedule because of recent accreditation woes in the district, according to the agency's May 1, 2009, report on the school system.

"Because of the difficulties the district has faced the last few years, they got off cycle," Oliver said. "So, what we're trying to do is get them back on that five-year cycle, and we're working with the school system to set up a schedule to do that."

Oliver said the review team has 30 days after it finishes its visit to complete its written reports, during which time the reports must go through three phases of being compiled, and finalized, for approval.

First, the team leader gathers the written observations of team members into the reports, she said. Then, they are reviewed by the state-level AdvancEd office. Finally, they are reviewed for grammatical and spelling errors by a proof reader. AdvancEd is the parent organization of SACS.

After those steps are taken, she said, the state AdvancEd council has to vote on approval of the reports, and then the national AdvancEd Accreditation Commission must also vote on approval. The reports are still being dealt with at the state level, Oliver said, but she could not specify where they are in the process of being created.

Sledge said the next group of schools will be visited by SACS review team members in August. The remainder of the schools, she said, will be visited throughout September, October and November. She said the number of schools reviewed during each visit will vary.

"Every school, except the [Eddie J. White K-8 Academy], will be visited by the review team," Sledge said. "The K-8 school will not be visited because it's a new school [opening in August], and therefore has three years to have its review done."

According to the "Accreditation Standards for Quality Schools" guidebook put out by AdvancEd, there are seven accreditation standards a school must meet to be fully accredited. Those standards are:

* The school establishes and communicates a shared purpose and direction for improving the performance of students and the effectiveness of the school.

* The school provides governance and leadership that promote student performance and school effectiveness.

* The school provides research-based curriculum and instructional methods that facilitate achievement for all students.

* The school enacts a comprehensive assessment system that monitors and documents performance and uses these results to improve student performance and school effectiveness.

* The school has the resources and services necessary to support its vision and purpose and to ensure achievement for all students.

* The school fosters effective communications and relationships with, and among, its stakeholders.

* The school establishes, implements and monitors a continuous process of improvement that focuses on student performance.