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SACS monitors to return to Clayton Schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools will go under the microscope again this week, as representatives of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) make their third trip to the school system since it regained its accreditation last year.

The school district has been on probation with SACS since regaining its accreditation in May 2009. The probation was scheduled to last for two years, with the accrediting agency frequently returning to re-evaluate the district.

"They told us we were going to be on probation for two years, with ... reviews taking place throughout that time period," said Kay Sledge, the school system's director of fine arts. Sledge is also in charge of efforts to regain the district's full accreditation. "This is our third visit since we regained our accreditation."

The latest visit, to begin Monday, is scheduled to last three days, Sledge said. In order to eventually get off probation, SACS officials said last year, the school system has to show it has met the nine mandates for improvement the agency handed down in 2008, as well as four additional recommendations.

In the past, SACS officials have repeatedly said the site visits were designed to let the agency keep tabs on whether the school system is improving, or slipping backwards. When the district lost its accreditation in 2008, it became the first U.S. school system in nearly 40 years to do so.

When the accreditation was restored -- on a probationary basis -- SACS officials said improvements were being made, but there was still work to be done. That was a theme that was re-iterated in SACS reports following the first two district-wide visits in October 2009, and April of this year.

Sledge said SACS' four-member review team will meet Monday night at an undisclosed location in Clayton County, to map out its visit, and go over information the district has provided about its progress since the last visit.

Sledge added that the team, on Tuesday, will interview approximately 40 people, including all nine members of the county school board, Superintendent Edmond Heatley, his cabinet, a dozen principals, and a dozen parents and community leaders. The team will also review evidence of improvement provided by the district, she said.

She said the team will wrap up its visit, on Wednesday, by continuing to review the evidence provided by school system. Sledge said she believes the school system will do well on its latest check-up, by showing it is continuing to meet the requirements that SACS has laid out. "I feel very optimistic about this visit," she said. "The [school] board has worked diligently to meet all of SACS mandates."

Among SACS' original mandates were requirements to set up a fully functioning school board; ridding the board of outside influences; enforcing a strong ethics policy; reviewing attendance and financial procedures and records; reviewing all of the district's policies; guaranteeing that all board members live in their districts; hiring a permanent superintendent, and training board members in conflict-resolution techniques.

Among the more recently added recommendations were: Including stake holders in the strategic-planning process, as well as reviews of the district's mission, vision and goals, and conducting a comprehensive review of the district's organizational chart.

After the visit in April, SACS officials said the school system had completed all but three of its requirements for regaining accreditation. The remaining requirements were the establishment a fully functioning school board, removal of outside influences, and completion of the policy reviews.