By Curt Yeomans
Three down, and one to go.
Clayton County Public Schools completed its third six-month review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), on Wednesday, and district officials said they believe it was a good visit. When the district regained its accreditation in May 2009, on a probationary basis, it was required to be reviewed once every six months (which equals four visits), by the agency, over a two-year period.
School System Director of Fine Arts Kay Sledge said, while the review team's official opinion of the district will not be known until its formal report is released, team members had positive things to say about the school system's evidence of improvement. Sledge oversees accreditation work for the district.
She said evidence of improvement, that was provided to the review team, included Superintendent Edmond Heatley's job evaluation, and school board policies which the Clayton County Board of Education finished reviewing, on Monday, after several months of work.
"It went very well," she said. "The team was extremely complimentary of our artifacts and evidence. Of course, nothing written has been given to us by the team, but I believe we had a good visit."
Sledge said she expects it will take six weeks for the school system to receive, and make public, the review team's formal report. She said the team will have to write it, and send it to SACS' Georgia office for review. It will then be sent to the national AdvancEd accrediting body, which is the parent organization of SACS, she said.
Sledge added that once the report is approved by AdvancEd, it will be sent back to SACS' Georgia office, who will, in turn, hand it over to the school system. "Once Dr. Heatley has received the report, we will, of course, immediately make its contents known to the public," she said.
The school board has to show it has met nine mandates for improving the school system, which SACS handed down to the district in 2008, as well as four new recommendations that were issued last year, to regain full accreditation.
Some of the mandates include establishing a fully functioning school board, removing outside influences, enacting a strong ethics policy, reviewing all board policies, including the community in the strategic-planning process, and reviewing the district's organizational structure.
School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said she shares Sledge's optimism about how the SACS visit went. "We [the school board] made sure we got all of the things done that we were asked to do," she said. "We did real good. They know we are working hard to improve student achievement, and that we are policing ourselves as a board."
Anderson specifically singled out former Interim Superintendent Valya Lee, School Board Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs, and Board Members Pamela Adamson, and Jessie Goree, as being instrumental in making sure the board was ready for this visit.
"We have great people making sure we are doing what we needed to be doing," Anderson said. "Even the former superintendent, when she was here, was pushing us, and saying 'OK, ya'll need to be doing these policy reviews. We need to get this done.' And, Ophelia never stopped pushing, and Pam never stopped pushing, and Jessie never stopped pushing.
"They kept pushing the board, to make sure we got these policy reviews done."
Anderson said credit also has to be given to Sledge, for keeping up with documentation of actions the board took to regain its full accreditation. "I think Kay and her team have done a good job of documenting everything we have done, so we can show that evidence to SACS," she said.
But, Sledge said it was not just evidence that earned compliments from the SACS review team. She said interviews the team had with community members, including parents, and business and faith-based community leaders, also won favorable comments from the people reviewing the district.
"They were very complimentary of our community support, for their involvement in the school system," Sledge said.
Now that the third SACS review visit is over, Anderson said she hopes the school system can finally close the door on its accreditation crisis of 2008.
"We've done above and beyond what they have asked us to do," she said. "We're the hardest-working board in America. Everybody on this board is committed to the children."
There is still one more scheduled visit, which is expected to take place in April 2011.