Dr. Mark Elgart with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
ATLANTA -- Atlanta's public high schools have been put on accredited probation for their school board's inability to show the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that they meet their governing standards for accreditation.
The probation period is effective immediately and will last nine months. In the meantime, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) will remain accredited. At an emergency school board meeting immediately following the SACS announcement, several board members as well as APS Superintendent Beverly Hall pointed out to a large audience that right now there is no threat to scholarships, including HOPE, for current high school seniors. However, they all agreed the situation needs to be resolved before it becomes even more serious.
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For much of the past year, Atlanta Public Schools board members have been accused of losing their focus, losing sight of their mission, arguing with each other and splitting into factions. One faction even sued the other for control of the board and the schools.
"The board as a whole has to rebuild trust in the community." Dr. Mark Elgart, CEO of Alpharetta-based SACS, said in a news conference Tuesday morning. "Trust is the most difficult thing to build, but you can lose it in a moment."
In coming months, Atlanta Public Schools will be required to meet six criteria set by SACS.
*Develop and implement a long term plan to communicate and engage stakeholders in the district's work to achieve the school board's mission for educating students in APS.
*Secure and actively use the services of a trained impartial professional mediator who will work board members to resolve communication, operation and personal issues impeding the effectiveness of the governing body.
*Ensure actions and behaviors of board members are aligned with board policies, especially those related to ethics and chain of command.
*Review and refine policies to promote processes needed to achieve the board's mission in the education of APS students.
*Develop and implement a process for selecting a superintendent that is transparent during all phases, engages public participation, and demonstrates integrity throughout the process. It is strongly suggested that final selection for the superintendent should be determined by more than a simple majority vote. (This is in direct reference to the school board's current 5-4 split.)
*Work directly with state to address inconsistencies in the Atlanta Independent School System Charter so as to ensure alignment with system policies and governing board actions.
APS will be required board to submit a written progress report to SACS by May 1. The school distict will also be expected to host a monitoring team's visit by Sept. 30 to assess the board's progress toward meeting required actions.
SACS only accredits high schools in Atlanta. Elgart noted that had SACS been in charge of accrediting middle schools and elementary schools, they would have raised red flags long ago with the CRCT cheating scandal.
Elgart challenged APS to use today as a starting point to improving the quality of their education system.
APS board member and ousted former chair LaShandra Butler Burks said, "It is progress that we must start making immediately, and it has to be genuine."
Current Board Chair Khaatim Sherrer El called the probation a "serious wake up call", saying the board will do all it can to try to meet SACS requirements to save their accreditation.
Fellow board member Reuben McDaniel called it a "grave moment in our history, but one that we must resolve."
Board member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane told her peers that they must accept responsibility for the fact that it was their actions that got them to this point.
Clayton County was the last Metro Atlanta school district to lose accreditation in 2008. It was the first school system in the nation to do so in nearly 40 years.
SACS CEO Dr. Mark Elgart says he will take questions about Atlanta's probation at the next regular APS school board meeting, Monday at 2 p.m. The public is welcome.