DeKalb Schools prepared to pass accreditation

In her last official act as interim superintendent Tyson told the DeKalb Board of Education that they are ready for the test that could make or break Georgia's third largest school district.

"We are one month out before AdvancED returns and we are well underway," she said.

AdvancED, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, put the district on notice last May that it could lose its accreditation if it didn't address some serious issues. Loss of accreditation could affect whether or not its graduates could gain college admissions or qualify for scholarships.

The district had been rocked by a financial scandal involving its former superintendent Crawford Lewis, who is facing racketeering charges involving $80 million in school construction funds. The district also has been plagued with poor academic performance at many of its schools and questions of the board's ability to govern the district of 96,000 students.

Tyson gave a report to the board Monday night covering all of the big points from SACS, stating that the district has met all of the criteria.

A new superintendent, Cheryl L.H. Atkinson of Lorain, Ohio, has been hired and her first day is Thursday.

New financial safeguards are in place and a new fraud hotline is set to go online later this month.

Academic improvement plans are in the works and a longrange planning session is set for Sept. 20 with parents and community leaders invited to participate.

But one of the eight areas of concern from SACS doesn't seemed to have been clearly solved in some parents' minds -- namely, can the board get along?

At a recent meeting when the board hired its new superintendent, the vote was 6-to-3, with board members Don McChesney, Nancy Jester and  Pam Speaks voting against her. While the three dissenters told parents that they would back Atkinson, three other board members walked out of the meeting during a heated discussion.

That spurred ongoing public debate about whether or not the board is really making changes needed.

David Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said that the whole process of hiring a new superintendent has been troubling, including an ongoing debate about the board's conduct on Internet blogs.

"What we hope now is that the 9 of you can come together for the sake of the children," he said.

SACS and its parent company AdvancED recently held a workshop for the school board to review best practices on conducting meetings. But DeKalb board chairmanTom Bowen said that the meeting was scheduled before any split on the board over Atkinson was disclosed.

Neither Mark  Elgart, president and CEO of SACS nor a representative of his company returned calls from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday.

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