Accreditation agency reverses most criticism of Cobb County Schools

The Cobb County School Board met to discuss directives for improvement from accreditation agency Cognia. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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The Cobb County School Board met to discuss directives for improvement from accreditation agency Cognia. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state’s largest accreditation agency for K-12 schools walked back last year’s findings that the Cobb County School District rushed into policy changes and did not properly vet spending decisions.

But Cognia stood by its criticism of how the Board of Education functions.

“The evidence indicated that the board is fractured. You are divided,” said Mark Elgart, the president and CEO of Cognia, at a school board meeting on Monday. “You can watch one board meeting, you can watch 10 board meetings, you can watch 50. It’s highly evident.”

Elgart specifically pointed to the way the board usually votes along political party lines. He encouraged the board members to set aside personal agendas.

The reversal means the district won’t have to show evidence of improvement to Cognia until 2024.

The school district — the state’s second largest — was the subject of a special review by Cognia in August after the accreditation agency received complaints from board members, residents and teachers. The complaints focused on the board’s governance and financial decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in a departure from the original review, Elgart on Monday commended the board for its fiscal responsibility and for following correct procedures when implementing policy changes.

He told board members that the original review was largely conducted by volunteers and not checked by professional staff members because there was no change to the district’s accreditation status. At the district’s request, employees conducted a review of the findings and reexamined evidence provided by the district.

That led to rescinding several of the recommendations for improvement listed in Cognia’s November report.

ExploreCobb schools investigation ends with no accreditation change

“The report and its findings are no longer valid and are replaced by the observations and direction provided in this letter,” Elgart said in a letter to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale dated March 3.

Three of the board’s seven members were among the complainants that led to the review. The three Black Democrat members accused the four white Republican members of preventing them from speaking at meetings or adding items to the agenda.

ExploreGroup that accredits metro Atlanta schools operates under public’s radar

Board member Jaha Howard, one of the three board members who had complained, called the agency’s reversal “a major power flex.”

“Now it makes sense why we never had a public conversation about the findings for over three months,” he said. “It must be nice to have powerful friends who can have an accrediting body completely shift their tune.”

Board Chair David Chastain said the board will continue to work on improving professionalism.

“You bring seven independent people together as a team that didn’t go through human resources. They were elected by the people — sometimes it’s going to be a bumpy road,” he said. “But I do not question that every individual on the board and everybody in the school district has the best interest of our kids at heart.”

Although Georgia law does not require that districts be accredited, students must graduate from accredited schools to take advantage of the state’s college scholarship program. Cognia accredits most of Georgia’s public school systems.

ExploreCobb County Schools consults with alternative accreditation agency

The school district has also been consulting with the Georgia Accrediting Commission, Phillip Murphy, the organization’s executive director, recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Representatives from the alternative agency visited each of Cobb’s high schools in February.