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Officials preparing for final SACS visit

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

In a report approved by the county's school board earlier this week, Clayton County Public Schools officials are asserting that the district has met every mandate and requirement handed down, over the last three years, by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

On Monday, the school board voted 7-1 to send a new report on the district's progress to the accrediting agency, which is preparing to send a review team, next month, to monitor that progress. Two-and-a-half years ago, SACS revoked the district's accreditation, but it later gave it back, on a two-year, probationary basis, in May 2009.

In the district's report, school officials summarized that the system is improving and focusing more on student achievement.

"Continuous effort to develop systemic improvements benefiting student achievement and district operations have produced significant positive changes to Clayton County Public Schools," the report states. "The realization that student learning is the primary focus of our work has energized and motivated the district.

"Building upon these positive changes, we will offer our students a quality education in a safe and supportive environment, recognize individual differences and needs, and provide an education that validates the fact that all children can learn," the report continues.

SACS has been monitoring the school system with visits every six months since the accreditation was restored nearly two years ago. The regular visits were a condition of the school system's probation.

The accrediting agency's review team is scheduled for a three-day visit, April 24-26, according to a copy of the report approved by the school board on Monday. "We're hoping that this is the landmark report, and we're hoping we get a really good result," said School Board Chairperson Pamela Adamson, on Monday.

The report shows that the school system's evidence of improvement includes: The school board's professional development plan; the board members' self-assessments; stakeholder surveys; board meeting minutes; video archives of board meetings; newspaper archives of community service; a summary of SACS quality assurance review team findings from school-level reviews; board policies; Georgia Senate Bill 84 (which outlined ethics standards for all school boards in Georgia); the Clayton County school board's policy manual; financial and attendance audits, and board member residency verification forms.

One of the last remaining areas the school system had to address with SACS was the mandate that the district establish a "governing board that is capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities."

In the district's new report, officials claimed they had finally "completed" that mandate. They cited the school board's professional development plan, which includes several topics, such as funding sources, expenditure and purchasing laws, community service projects, team-and trust-building, strategic planning and policy reviews and revisions.

"The Clayton County Board of Education continues to increase its capacity to govern the school system, and to assume its proper roles and responsibilities," school officials wrote in the report. "The board recognizes the importance of professional development that is based on assessed needs, as well as interests."

The report, in a section about conflict resolution and governance, also states that the school board has "begun to identify its own professional needs, using its self-assessment and board-meeting evaluations.

The report cited, as an example of board members identifying their own professional needs, the fact that "the board requested, and received, more detailed training in budget preparation. The board has also requested training in team-building, governance, curriculum and instruction, and instructional support services."

On Monday, Kay Sledge, the system's fine arts director, told board members their own meeting records showed proof that they were meeting the mandate laid out by SACS officials in early 2008. Sledge is also overseeing accreditation efforts for the district.

"At each board meeting, there is an academic focus," Sledge said. "Your board minutes, agenda, and data have shown you're a board capable of fulfilling your roles and responsibilities."