Systemwide accreditation likely for Clayton Schools

Some welcome good news came to the Clayton County Public Schools Wednesday after five years of a revolving door in the superintendent’s office and on the school board, a loss of accreditation, and families leaving the district in droves.

The head of an accreditation review team told Clayton schools officials he will recommend the system be awarded districtwide accreditation.

The recommendation capped a three-day visit from a group of evaluators from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and carries a lot of weight with the National Accreditation Commission at AdvancEd, the parent company of SACS. If the commission approves the review team’s recommendation as expected in June, Clayton will join about a half dozen other metro Atlanta school districts that have achieved the districtwide distinction in the last few years.

Speaking before a packed audience of more than 125 mostly school administrators Wednesday lead evaluator James Brown said that coming in, he’d heard a lot of criticism about the school system that did not reflect that many of the problems had been addressed.

“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,” Brown said.

While the issue of governance has dominated Clayton schools in recent years, the review team, in its exit report Wednesday, reminded school officials that they still have work to do, namely getting students up to speed in technology, improving teaching techniques and student achievement overall.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle the school district faces involves repairing its image which has suffered since the 2008 accreditation loss and even after accreditation was restored, school-by-school, in 2011. The review team noted that lingering problems have overshadowed the work being done in the classroom and the collaboration taking place among the schools.

“We feel your story needs to be told,” said Brown, a retired deputy superintendent of schools in Tallahassee, Fla. who now has his own consulting firm, PSTB Consulting. “I travel all over the United States conducting accreditation visits … Clayton County’s school district ranks among the best.”

Discussions with parents, students and community people is “what changed our minds,” Brown said in an interview after the presentation which drew three standing ovations. “The parents were not concerned about the direction of the school system. They felt it was in the capable hands of the interim superintendent (Luvenia Jackson). As far as the students were concerned, they felt the school system was preparing them for their future.”

Lack of accreditation hampers students ability to get into choice colleges and their ability to receive financial aid. It is something families look for when deciding to move into or remain in a community.

The audience erupted into applause upon hearing the review team’s recommendation. School board members Alieka Anderson and Charlton Bivens high-fived each other.

“I’m so excited. I couldn’t be more pleased,” School board chair Pam Adamson said. “This (review) group has validated who we are.”

School board member Jessie Goree said she was “very proud of the work” of the entire district staff, especially interim Superintendent Jackson and the district’s SACS point person Monika Wiley in preparing the district for this week’s visit.

“We have worked together and done what we were supposed to do and we’re moving forward,” Anderson said

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