Clayton County school district accredited, but with a catch

Clayton County Public Schools has received its long-awaited accreditation, but it comes with strings attached.

The southside school district is now “accredited on advisement,” a status that will follow the district for the next two years chiefly because AdvancEd, the agency that grants accreditation, wants to make sure the school board continues working on its professionalism and governance issues.

The decision means the agency will continue to track how well the school board conducts itself. Infighting among school board members had been one of the problems that had tripped up the school district in the past and ultimately helped strip it of accreditation in 2008.

“The results of this process are not arbitrary or punitive but provide a more precise assessment of an institution’s status in an ongoing process of continuous progress,” Barbara Remondini, vice president of public school systems for AdvancEd, wrote in a letter to the school district dated Sept. 4. “The indicator performance levels (will) provide your institution with a road map.”

The added stipulation placed on the district by AdvancEd, the parent of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which monitors school districts, is an extra requirement beyond the standard accreditation recommended by the review team that visited the school district in April.

“I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed,” said Luvenia Jackson, Clayton’s interim schools superintendent, who learned of the decision upon receiving AdvancEd’s letter. “The review team recommended the highest-level accreditation. This (final decision) is the second-highest level.”

Jackson said the agency’s top committee made it a requirement, not just a suggestion, that the school board continue to improve how it governs itself.

“They want to see consistent positive dialogue,” Jackson said. The school board is “not going to experience 100 percent agreement all the time,” but AdvancEd wants to see how board members “maintain their professionalism at all times,” she said.

The review team that visited in April was so impressed with the district that it urged school officials to tout its accomplishments more and beef up its technology, something it’s already doing.

“I came here with preconceived notions, but the minute we talked to the superintendent, the minute the (review) team started talking to staff members and listening to other stakeholders, we found out that all we had heard (prior to the visit) were lies,” lead evaluator James Brown told a packed crowd in April.

The final recommendation was due in June, but the school board just learned of the decision when it received the AdvancEd letter. It is unclear why the decision took so long to be relayed to the school board.

The news was a bit of a downer for a school system that had been on a high since the SACS review team’s visit. Yet the news was a morale-booster for a community that has struggled to repair its image after its school district’s 2008 accreditation loss. At the time, Clayton was the first school district in 40 years to lose its accreditation. Since then, the school district has had to deal with an exodus of students, governance issues, acrimony on its school board and a revolving door of superintendents.

Wednesday, Jackson shared the accreditation news at a Principal Partner’s Day Mixer where members of the community and businesses will spend time next month shadowing principals at the district’s 65 schools. The crowd of about 200 burst into applause after hearing the news.