School & District Management

Loss of Accreditation Looming in Georgia for Troubled District

By Linda Jacobson — March 18, 2008 5 min read

The Clayton County, Ga., school district is now on the brink of being the first school system in nearly four decades—and the first ever in Georgia—to lose its accreditation, after a vote this month by a national school accrediting group to enforce a Sept. 1 deadline for major improvements.

The loss of accreditation would mean that students in the 53,000- student district, south of Atlanta, could have trouble being accepted to college, that high school graduates wouldn’t be eligible for the state’s HOPE college scholarships, and that the district would not be allowed to offer the state-financed pre-K program.

“The opportunity is up to them,” Mark Elgart, the president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta- based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, a regional accrediting body, said in an interview after the March 15 Chicago meeting in which the group’s parent body affirmed the September deadline.

But Mr. Elgart added that he has little faith that members of the Clayton County school board can implement the recommendations without “significant intervention” from outside experts.

To district officials, the national group’s vote came as no surprise. Glenn Brock, a lawyer for the school board, called the Chicago meeting of the AdvancED Accreditation Commission, the regional accreditation group’s parent, a formality.

In a report issued Feb. 15, SACS portrayed a bickering and dysfunctional school board, and charged unethical behavior on the part of board members.

Digging Out

The Clayton County, Ga., school district must take action in nine areas in order to avoid losing its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools:

• Establish a governing board capable of fulfilling its roles and responsibilities.

• Remove the influence of outside groups/individuals that are disruptive to the work of the school district.

• Enact and commit to an ethics policy that governs the actions and work of the members of the board of education and staff, including appropriate steps when the policy is violated.

• Implement a comprehensive review of board policies that includes training for board members on the purpose and expectations of those policies.

• Conduct a full, forensic audit of financials by an independent, certified accounting firm and take appropriate steps to address the findings.

• Conduct a comprehensive audit of student-attendance records and take appropriate steps to ensure that those records are accurate and meet legal requirements.

• Ensure that each member of the board is a legal resident of the county and is eligible to hold the elected seat on the board.

• Secure outside consultants with expertise in conflict resolution, governance, and organizational effectiveness.

•Appoint a permanent superintendent with the experience and expertise to lead the school district and establish the proper conditions for effectiveness.

SOURCE: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

It gave the board six months to “show cause” that the district should remain accredited, either by refuting the accusations presented in the report or by demonstrating significant progress in nine areas. They include enacting and committing to an ethics policy, using outside consultants who are experts in conflict resolution, and hiring a permanent superintendent who can “establish the proper conditions for effectiveness.”

If the district’s accreditation is revoked, it would have one year to work toward reinstatement. If that failed, it would need to begin the process from scratch, which could take two to three years, Mr. Elgart said.

Rare Sanction

Only a few other districts in the nation have approached the situation faced by the Clayton County district.

In 1969, the Duval County school district in Florida, now with 124,000 students, lost its accreditation, but all its schools are now accredited. And in 2005, SACS recommended that the 1,600-student Lanier County school district, in southern Georgia, lose its accreditation. But Lanier County was able to meet the recommendations in the “show cause” time frame.

School accreditation, which predates and is separate from the system of performance targets and sanctions set up under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is a process that involves meeting a set of guidelines focused on school improvement and governance that are evaluated by outside professionals, not government officials.

In addition to the regional accrediting groups, some states still accredit schools on their own, although that process has largely become part of their accountability systems for education. In the case of Clayton County, however, the district is experiencing governance problems that the state’s accountability program does not address.

The national organization overseeing the Clayton County accreditation, AdvancED, was formed in 2006 through the combination of SACS, the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, and the National Study of School Evaluations, the AdvancedED research arm.

AdvancED, which has offices in Schaumberg, Ill.; Decatur, Ga.; and Tempe, Ariz., represents more than 23,000 public and private schools in 30 states and 65 countries, including more than 6,000 school districts.

SACS’ current investigation into the Clayton County district, which it had examined on a separate occasion several years ago, started in October after some board members began to launch accusations of impropriety against each other.

According to the SACS report, the violations include a vote by a board member for a raise that would benefit his wife, a teacher in the district; a vote by another member to give her husband a job in the district; and a vote by a third member to fire a football coach who wouldn’t give her videotapes of her son’s games.

Four of the board members are also aligned with a for-profit professional group called the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, or MACE, which regularly stages protests at school board meetings.

Board Actions

The school board has already made a few moves to address the issues in the report, such as considering the appointment of what they are calling a “corrective superintendent,” who would be hired to specifically pull the district out of its mess. The district currently has an interim superintendent, Gloria Duncan.

At its March 3 meeting, the board also voted to declare vacant the seat held by Norreese Haynes, also the executive director of MACE, because he doesn’t actually reside in the county.

But members of the public, outraged by the behavior of board members, have called for all the members to resign, and Mr. Elgart has himself said that he doesn’t believe the current members will be able to overcome their difficulties and keep the district’s accreditation.

As the first district in Georgia this close to losing its accreditation, Clayton County has prompted state leaders to do what they can to provide help. But state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in a Feb. 22 press release that state officials “have limited legal authority over issues of accreditation and local governance.”

Still, Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, last month appointed two state school board members as special liaisons to work as advisers to the district. He also called for audits of the district’s finances and student attendance records, as well as a review of board elections.

And in the state legislature, a Republican lawmaker is sponsoring a bill to create a private-schoolvoucher program specifically for students attending schools that lose their accreditation or persistently underperform.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 26, 2008 edition of Education Week as Loss of Accreditation Looming in Georgia for Troubled District

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.

Read Next

School & District Management Student Mental Health and Learning Loss Continue to Worry Principals
Months into the pandemic, elementary principals say they still want training in crucial areas to help students who are struggling.
3 min read
Student sitting alone with empty chairs around her.
Maria Casinos/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion A Road Map for Education Research in a Crisis
Here are five basic principles for a responsible and timely research agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin J. Lake
4 min read
Two opposing sides reaching out to work together
J.R. Bee for Education Week
School & District Management 1,000 Students, No Social Distancing, and a Fight to Keep the Virus Out
A principal describes the "nightmare" job of keeping more than 1,000 people safe in the fast-moving pandemic.
4 min read
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School, in West Jordan, Utah.
Dixie Rae Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, Utah, would have preferred a hybrid schedule and other social distancing measures.
Courtesy of Dixie Rae Garrison
School & District Management A School Leader Who Calls Her Own Shots on Battling the Coronavirus
A charter school founder uses her autonomy to move swiftly on everything from classroom shutdowns to remote schooling.
3 min read
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of School at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, Ind.
Nigena Livingston, founder and head of school at the URBAN ACT Academy in Indianapolis, makes swift decisions in responding to the threat of COVID-19 in her school community.
Courtesy of Nigena Livingston