Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, said the city school board will have until Sept. 30 to make progress on six recommendations from the agency (see the list below) designed to improve leadership among members. The district could lose its accreditation if the agency's suggestions are not addressed by the next review.
“Leadership is critical in the success of any school system, and what we're trying to do in regards to leadership matters is to prevent them from negatively impacting what happens in the classroom," he said.
Elgart said conflicts between Atlanta school board members go beyond normal squabbles between elected officials. For example, when GBI agents visited Atlanta schools as part of an investigation into test cheating, the board spent the day in a meeting debating who was in control, he said.
"The focus that day should have been on helping parents, students and teachers," he said. "It's not a usual event for investigators to walk into schools, but they weren't talking about this, they spent eight hours arguing over who was chair of the board."
The eventual winner of the argument, Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El, said board members would "pull out all the stops" to address all the accrediting agency's concerns. Members met in a special session Tuesday afternoon to review the report. They will meet again at a regular meeting Monday to formally vote to accept it. Elgart will also attend that meeting to answer board members' questions.
"Retention of the district's accreditation is crucial," El said. The six specific recommendations the agency told the board to meet by Sept. 30, El said, were all "fixable."
Accreditation can affect a student's eligibility for scholarship money, including Georgia's HOPE scholarship, federal funding and college acceptance. Atlanta's high schools are accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which reports to AdvancED.
Three metro school districts are under review by SACS and AdvancED. An on-site review is scheduled in DeKalb County Schools next month because of concerns over operations there. In 2008, the accreditation for Clayton County Schools was revoked, but it has since been restored on a probationary basis.
Here are the six recommendations from SACS:
1. Develop and implement a long term plan to communicate with and engage stakeholders in the work of the district to achieve the board’s mission for educating the students of Atlanta Public Schools. The plan should focus on efforts that will regain stakeholders’ trust and confidence in the governance and leadership of Atlanta Public Schools.
2. Secure and actively use the services of a trained, impartial professional mediator who will work with the board members to resolve communication, operational and personal issues impeding the effectiveness of the governing body.
3. Ensure that the actions and behavior of all board members are aligned with board policies, especially those related to ethics and chain of command, and AdvancED/SACS CASI Accreditation Standards and policies.
4. Review and refine policies to promote the processes that are needed to achieve the board’s mission in the education of the Atlanta Public School students. The board members shall provide evidence that they have refocused all of their energies on improving the teaching and learning processes for all their students.
5. 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 the final selection of the superintendent should be determined by more than a simple majority vote of approval by the board.
6. Work directly with the state of Georgia to address the inconsistencies in the Atlanta Independent School System Charter so as to ensure alignment with system policies and governing Board actions.