DeKalb Schools officials ‘elated’ about full accreditation

DeKalb County’s school district has regained full accreditation, more than three years after being faced with losing accreditation altogether amid slumping test scores and mismanagement concerns.

Superintendent Steve Green made the announcement during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

“The DeKalb County School District will be relentless in sustaining the work completed and remain focused on the quality of instruction in the classroom and thereby raise the bar for teaching and learning,” he said. “Our students will rise to the level of expectation that we set. We are locked in on this mission.”

The district had its accreditation lowered to “Accredited on Probation” in December 2012 after a site review that October showing a faltering district with a $14 million deficit.

Michael Thurmond was hired as interim superintendent in February 2013 to address the accreditation and the deficit. He came in just before Gov. Nathan Deal ousted six school board members for fiscal irresponsibility and the board “being at war with itself.”

“The primary problem was board governance,” Thurmond said Tuesday. “They had dysfunction at the board level that led to many problems, from the deficit, lagging academic achievement, low morale and lack of trust across the community.”

After a December 2013 visit, the district’s accreditation was boosted to “Accredited Warned.” A visit in December 2014 moved it up to “Accredited on Advisement,” a step before full accreditation.

When Thurmond left last July, instead of the $14 million deficit there was a $92 million surplus. Teachers had received raises for the first time in six years. SAT scores were up 103 points. The district’s graduation rate was up 10.3 percentage points from the year he began.

DeKalb County Board of Education Chairman Melvin Johnson said hiring Green, a superintendent known for his work in curriculum and instruction, was critical to regaining accreditation.

“One thing” AdvancED president Mark Elgart “asked us to do was deal with sustainability of the board and instruction,” Johnson said. “I truthfully feel when we focused on going out and getting an instructional superintendent, that really helped us gain our accreditation. I’m elated, first of all, for the news. I thank the superintendent. I thank the former superintendent (Thurmond), our stakeholders, staff for working diligently to actually do what AdvancED asked us to do.” AdvancED is the agency that gives the district its accreditation.

Allyson Gevertz, who has several children attending DeKalb County Schools, said she’s not surprised by the district’s turnaround.

“I think Dr. Green’s a rock star,” she said. “If he couldn’t get us fully accredited, who could? The board is more aligned in their mission than before. This has a lot to do with getting Dr. Green here for sure.”

Among Green’s plans for the district was to assemble a team to address schools at risk of being taken over by the state under Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District program. If approved by voters, the program could put some failing schools into a state-run district with options from changing to closing them.

DeKalb’s improvement plan targets the schools at risk of being put into the Opportunity School District, then adds 30 schools deemed in need of more support based on a three-year average of their College & Career-Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores.

The team’s priorities for addressing the deficiencies include an audit of the district’s curriculum, pointing out professional learning opportunities and family and community engagement. Green has said turning the district around would take an all-hands-on-deck approach, with “laser-like” focus on the mission.

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