Panel finds some improvement in DeKalb schools, but not enough

The panel was assembled by AdvanceED, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accreditation agency. The panel's recommendation is not binding until AdvanceEd ratifies it, which is expected in coming weeks.

The panelists interviewed 1,132 students, parents, teachers and others at 26 schools. They assembled and reviewed data and then debated until nearly midnight Tuesday before deciding DeKalb should maintain its "accredited on advisement" status, lead evaluator Judy Forbes said Wednesday.

"This means that they are accredited," Forbes said.

But not fully. DeKalb has been on AdvanceEd's accredited on advisement list since last March, after a similar team visited and criticized the school system for several issues.

DeKalb needed to make improvements in planning, training, lines of command, redistricting and other items. The school district has reached most of those goals, including the recent establishment of a clear line of authority from the internal auditor to the superintendent.

Yet its performance was still sub par -- or in AdvanceEd's parlance, "emerging" -- in three areas: "visions and purpose," "governance and leadership" and "documenting and using results."

Tom Bowen, the school board vice chairman, was chairman when DeKalb dropped onto the advisement list. "We will aggressively pursue these new items," he said.

"We understand that we have work," said Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, who implemented several of the improvements noted by the team.

Marcia Keise-Coward, president of the DeKalb County Council of PTAs, was disappointed with the verdict.

"I was hoping that they would have gotten their full accreditation back," she said, "because we really need to move forward and leave all of the baggage behind."

DeKalb has been striving to bounce back from the indictment of former Superintendent Crawford Lewis in connection with fraud allegations and complaints about squabbling among school board members.

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