Atlanta’s High Schools Placed on Probation

By Christina A. Samuels — January 18, 2011 2 min read
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An accrediting group placed Atlanta’s high schools under probation on Tuesday, saying in a report that the decision was driven by fierce infighting among the district’s board members and a breakdown in board leadership.

AdvancED, the parent organization of the accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, said that when a review team visited the district in early December, it heard about board votes taken without proper approval, staged media events to promote the board chairman’s personal agenda, a board member using a district-issued charge card for personal expenses, and continuing fallout from an investigation into allegations of cheating on state tests. Factions have hardened on the board to the point that most votes now are 5 to 4, according to the report.

The high schools remain accredited, but AdvancEd is giving the district until the end of September to straighten up, said Mark A. Elgart, the organization’s CEO. In addition, the district must submit an interim report by May on its progress. Because the high schools remain fully accredited, students are not at risk of having college or scholarship applications disrupted this school year. The accrediting organization released a Q&A document that outlines its actions and the district’s next steps.

(The elementary and middle schools in the district aren’t affected by the AdvancED action because they are accredited by a different organization, the Georgia Accrediting Commission.)

Keith Bromery, the spokesman for the district, said in an interview that the school board had a special meeting today and “embraced” the report’s findings. At the board’s next meeting on Jan. 24, it’s expected to formally adopt the report findings. The district plans to work closely with AdvancED to prove that it is making progress, he said.

But Elgart told me it was notable that Atlanta had gone from a district honored for its strong management 18 months ago, to a “state of paralysis.” Clearly, “it’s gotten to a place of being personal for them,” he said. In fact, the special report was prompted at the request of board members, who were concerned that they weren’t able to govern.

And, though the board has until September to right its ship, it actually has less time than that: Superintendent Beverly L. Hall is stepping down this year. “There’s not a qualified, capable superintendent in the country who wants to be elected on a 5-4 vote,” Elgart said.

Photo: Atlanta School Board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El, second from right, talks with Superintendent Beverly Hall, third from right, school board member LaChandra Butler Parks, left, and Hall’s chief of staff, Sharron Pitts, during a school board meeting on Jan. 18. —David Goldman/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.