Dr. Mark Elgart with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Did you ever get a note on your report card saying, "needs improvement"?
Well, that's pretty much what DeKalb County Schools got from their accrediting agency Thursday.
The same accrediting agency that put Atlanta Public Schools on probation in January and took away accreditation for Clayton County Schools two years ago, put DeKalb County Schools on "advisement".
On a 4 step scale, that's the least serious condition, followed by warning, probation, or loss of accreditation.
"For accrediting purposes, they're not in crisis," said Dr. Mark Elgart with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. "They have time and opportunity to address these very challenges."
Elgart outlined the "challenges" during an afternoon news conference.
He said DeKalb County's Schools could be in trouble if they didn't accept and work on eight steps SACS set forth in their report.
He pointed out that DeKalb has gone through a series of crises the past few years, including the criminal bribery indictment of former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Patricia Reid and two others in a construction contract scandal.
Elgart also pointed out concerns over cheating on CRCT standardized test answer sheets and the year-long waffling over redistricting and closing of unneeded schools.
He said throughout it all, DeKalb has been too reactive and not proactive.
"You lose sight of the big picture and I think that's the biggest challenge they have," Elgart said. "They have to get out of this mode day-to-day of putting out fires."
Among the steps ordered by SACS were clearer guidelines and monitoring of standardized testing, clear and direct lines of authority and a better protocol to review policies.
He also said the school board needs to work better as a team instead of being overly concerned with the needs of their own districts.
Chief among concerns, Elgart said, were finding a new superintendent to replace Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson and creating a fact-based and not emotional plan for redistricting.
He also pointed out that DeKalb County Schools asked for SACS' help about two years ago and have been very cooperative.
He said they are moving forward and not backward at this point, which he called a good sign.
Thursday afternoon the full DeKalb County School Board voted to accept the SACS report.
Chairman Thomas Bowen said it will be a big help in preparing for the system's full accreditation review, which comes in the Spring of 2012.
"This just gives us, as Dr. Elgart said, a good road map to make sure that the true, critical process, that renewal, goes well," Bowen told reporters.
SACS says it will conduct another monitoring visit of DeKalb Schools in October to prepare for the 2012 full accreditation review.