SACS to DeKalb: We’re coming next month.

In a letter today, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools informed DeKalb Schools that it intends to pay a site visit Oct. 17 -19 to address its ongoing concerns over governance and leadership and resource and support systems.

Addressed to Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and signed by AdvancED president Mark Elgart, the letter states that while the school chief has outlined reforms under way in DeKalb, SACS remains concerned that the system’s problems “could have a significant, negative impact on the capacity of the system to realize the many improvements that are the focus of these initiatives. Consequently, AdvancED has determined that an on-site investigation is warranted and necessary to evaluate the adherence of the DeKalb County School District to to the Accreditation standards and/or practices.”

That review team will then recommend whether DeKalb’s accreditation status should be “continued accreditation, advised, warned, probation or dropped.”

The Elgart letter comes today in response to Atkinson’s contention that DeKalb is moving ahead on many of the agency’s concerns. The school system is “on advisement, ” a step below full accreditation.

In a letter sent to DeKalb on Aug. 28, SACS said it had received dozens of complaints from a broad spectrum of people in the county — parents, public officials and school staffers — who alleged everything from mishandling of the budget to undue board influence in hiring.

It was that letter that prompted a response from Atkinson on how the system was moving forward.

As the AJC reported:

Atkinson outlined 16 initiatives she’s taken since becoming superintendent less than a year ago to address budgetary, staffing and other issues that predate her tenure on the job. Fixes that are either under way or complete, she wrote, include: a still in-the-works forensic audit of the district’s financial records by the outside accounting firm KPMG; restructuring the central office; delivering a new curriculum in line with new common core standards, and establishing an internal legal affairs division to manage and reduce legal costs.

“We are working daily to make huge strides to sustain continuous improvement and to provide the best education possible for the students of DeKalb County, ” Atkinson wrote. “Progress is ongoing and we have not stopped working on any concerns. Some issues may take longer than others to resolve, but we are continuously striving to achieve excellence on all SACS standards.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

84 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

September 18th, 2012
9:13 am

I suppose I should say “better late than never”, but SACS had an opportunity 2 years ago to take the tough steps with this school district and Elgart chose not to. If he had, maybe the district would be further along in its “recovery” from a dysfunctional board and the criminal enterprise that ran the school district.

Digger

September 18th, 2012
9:23 am

OMG. Clean this dump. Sweep the thugs under the rugs. We are having company!

Dr. John Trotter

September 18th, 2012
9:29 am

This private, “non-profit” profiteering money-grabbing company called SACS (Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents) won’t really do a darn thing to DeKalb County. It already dropped the atomic bomb on Clayton County and destroyed this community — and all over a Chairperson (Ericka Davis) not getting her way. SACS is a joke. It is really the union for superintendents. I believe that SACS works hand-in-hand with not-so-much-a-good-ole-boy-system but a select few effete and elite in this country who have determined that too much money (close to a trillion or more, I think, in total direct and ancillary costs) is going into public education. SACS is the enforcer for these peoples and groups like ALEC. Their tentacles are all over public education today, and their ostensible concern for public education is just that…ostensible.

The real concern for these people and these groups is money. I think that this is the real concern for SACS. As long as it does the enforcement for these people (viz., scares the heck out of communities and school boards to keep them in line), then SACS is rewarded with loads and loads of money from the public troughs, and SACS’s CEO, Mark Elgart, continues to receive his close to one-half million in salary and benefits. AdvanED? Huh! MoneyED is more like it! It’s all a ruse, good people. All a ruse.

SACS’s so-called standards mean nothing. They are always arbitrarily and capriciously applied, depending apparently on who receives the blessings of Zeus Elgart sitting atop Mount Alpharetta. I wish that the General Assembly would finally stand up to this educational phony, this educational Elmer Gantry and quit buying his snake oil. He’s like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz…or like Wisconsin’s Joe McCarthy before someone in the U. S. Senate finally stood up to this bully. Norreese Haynes and I have been speaking out against this educational hypocrite for about five years now. Our discordant sound has begun to pick up a few notes the flute and tuba sections too. Mr. Haynes immediately called SACS’s flawed, biased, skewed, and laughable report on Clayton County “a sham and a farce.” He was right then, and we have been right on Mark Elgart and SACS ever since.

http://www.theteachersadvocate.com

http://www.georgiateachersspeakout.com

Ernest

September 18th, 2012
9:32 am

I’m not surprised by the actions of SACS and welcome the investigation. I was concerned that Dr. Atkinson could not be forthright with her response. The letter from SACS lacked specificity with respect to the allegations which allowed her an ‘out’ to respond in the manner that she did. Perhaps this was intentional on the part of Dr. Elgart.

Having this cloud hang over our community for so long is not good for many reasons. I hope when SACS does come, they also set expectations as to what they can and can’t do along with sharing any evidence they uncover, especially if it results in the district going on probation. I’m looking forward to when we can focus on student performance rather than these continuing distractions.

Dunwoody Mom

September 18th, 2012
9:34 am

What Ernest said….

DunMoody

September 18th, 2012
9:39 am

At this stage of the freefall decline in DCSS, I don’t care how SACS is regarded. If it catalyzes attention by the State of Georgia to step in, a change to the State constitution restricting the formation of local school districts, and a clearing-out of the too-influential remnants of Crawford Lewis’ regime, then …. yay.

Maureen Downey

September 18th, 2012
9:40 am

@Ernest and to all, I had a conversation with Dr. Atkinson 12 days ago about the lack of responsiveness and transparency from DeKalb’s communications department. I told her that simple stuff that should be turned around in a matter of hours was taking days. I cited Gwinnett, which responds quickly to media calls and sends all sorts of support documents. The issue is not that the media deserves special treatment and that officials should drop everything to take my calls or those of other reporters. My point was that rumors fly fast and furious in DeKalb and the district ought to move just as fast to get out the facts.

I am happy to say that Dr. Atkinson was responsive and that communications from DeKalb are coming a lot faster now and the county is sending out original documents, such as the SACS letter this morning. I know that she did not have this degree of media attention in Ohio, and I am sure she has had a learning curve on media relations.
But in a county that has incredible watchdog parents, it is far better to release everything, to speak at length to issues rather than give cryptic responses and put out timely and complete statements.
Maureen

band mom

September 18th, 2012
9:45 am

geesh thanks for stopping by… Too late damages have destory school system. DO US A FAVOR AND GET RID OF THE ENTIRE SCHOOL BOARD! Start there

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

September 18th, 2012
9:47 am

@Maureen Of course Atkinson is going to be responsive to your inquiries, you administer the biggest education blog in our state. I’m surprised Jeff Dickerson didn’t send you a box of chocolates…Meanwhile, I’ll sit up and take notice when DCSS becomes more responsive to parents and taxpayers.

Mortimer Collins

September 18th, 2012
9:49 am

Dr Atkinson…LOL. This is hilarious.

claytondawg

September 18th, 2012
9:49 am

I’m not necessarily a Trotter fan, but he does have an interesting assumption that SACS “destroyed” Clayton County. However, let’s not forget that Clayton County actually destroyed itself before SACS stepped in and “dropped the atomic bomb.” My contention here is that the Dekalb System has gotten MORE than its share of chances. Just because it’s one of the bigger systems in Georgia should not give it immunity along with chance after chance after chance. SACS…isn’t it about time to demonstrate what you are supposed to be doing? (Whatever that is)

Dunwoody Mom

September 18th, 2012
9:49 am

@Maureen, imagine my surprise when I saw the letter from SACS posted on the DCSD website early this morning. I thought someone had made a mistake!!!

Maureen Downey

September 18th, 2012
9:53 am

@bill, No chocolates and sometimes no return calls even from my former AJC colleague Jeff Dickerson. (Jeff was an editorial colleague of mine for years. But then again, so was Brian Robinson, the governor’s spokesman, and he didn’t return my last call, either. And when Brian does respond, he’s often annoyed at me or at postings about his boss.) So much for past friendships.
Maureen

Carl

September 18th, 2012
9:55 am

DeKalb County…like Clayton County is hopeless. Vouchers are our only hope for improvement.

Mortimer Collins

September 18th, 2012
9:57 am

Dr this, Rev that, Bishop this…these so called leaders arent qualified to mow the lawn. Yet the same people keep electing the same scammers, expecting different results and that isnt gonna happen.

This being the case, be not surprised when your children repeatedly bring home F’s or incompletes, drop-out/get expelled and finally receive their govt benefits via incarceration.

They are your children not mine and if you dont care why should I.

concernedmom30329

September 18th, 2012
10:03 am

I know two parents who filed different Freedom of Information Requests in the last three weeks. Neither ever received a response. If they choose to complain, then DCSS faces fines from the Attorney General’s office. Are you kidding me?

By the way, they weren’t complicated requests. And even complicated requests, require a response within three days indicating how long it will take to gather the information.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

September 18th, 2012
10:08 am

I do hope you’re right about Atkinson’s effort to be more transparent. In the past, I’ve sent many emails to members of the Dekalb BOE and administration and have received very few responses back.

Maureen Downey

September 18th, 2012
10:10 am

@concerned, They ought to file complaints. The Georgia open records law was strengthened last year to impose greater consequences for failure to comply.
Maureen

Ernest

September 18th, 2012
10:28 am

Maureen, I’m glad to hear that Dr. Atkinson was responsive and the communications flow has improved. I hope this is not an aberration but a dedicated effort to ensure the community and media has information in a timely manner.

We are aware of the changes in the school district’s communications department and hope they will also publish what is going right is the school district. I understand the need to react to ‘hot stories’ but I’d like to see more proactive efforts on their part to share classroom successes. Julie Rhame (Decatur BOE member) did a GREAT job with that when she was in the communications department for DeKalb.

Uncle Joe

September 18th, 2012
10:30 am

Back in the bigoted, dark ages, DeKalb had the best school district in the SE, if not much of the nation. One of its schools boasted the “Star Student” for the entire nation. Fernbank Science Center was built along with many new schools. I was proud to be a student in DeKalb then, if but a mediocre one. Now, that dream fulfilled is gone. The only thing left in DeKalb schools that is to be admired are the remnants of Mr. Cherry’s work (built to last apparently). It reminds me of barbarians living among the ruins of the Roman Empire.

This is not a judgement on individual parents, students and educators. I know there are many hard-working, qualified and frustrated teachers working in DeKalb. I admire all you good parents and teachers! Perhaps you should band together and form excellent private schools or homeschool.

Just Me

September 18th, 2012
10:34 am

I lived in DeKalb County for 38+ years. Two children went to DC schools and were well taught and ready for college when they graduated from Tucker HS. The reason – the teachers cared about their students and their future. DC had excellent superintendents who cared about the children and their futures. The last 10-20 years I am afraid the supts have cared more about themselves, their salaries, political correctness, etc. The students and this once great school system are the ones who have suffered. Someone needs to hold the leaders of the DC schools accountable. Breaks my heart to see it come to this. Hopefully intelligence and care will govern this process.

Flabberghasted4sure

September 18th, 2012
10:53 am

If Dr. Atkinson is sincere about communicating, why isn’t the calendar survey in plain view on the school system’s web site? Why hasn’t the school system utilized the K12 alert, their twitter or facebook page to let parents know the calendar options are available for viewing and the survey is open.

PSP

September 18th, 2012
11:02 am

Dekalb public schools are hopeless in their current state…..no way I would send my kids to these baby sitting factories.

Maureen Downey

September 18th, 2012
11:06 am

@Flabber, I have added links in the post to both calendars on the DeKalb site.
Maureen

paulo977

September 18th, 2012
11:11 am

Dr. John Trotter

September 18th, 2012
9:29 am

This private, “non-profit” profiteering money-grabbing company called SACS (Still Advocating for Cronies and Superintendents) won’t really do a darn thing to DeKalb County.
___________________________________________________

Well, very well said ……THAT IS WHAT IT IS!!!

paulo977

September 18th, 2012
11:14 am

Carl …”Vouchers are our only hope for improvement.”
_______________________________________

There we go , the voice of PRIVATIZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

paulo977

September 18th, 2012
11:16 am

Band Mom…”DO US A FAVOR AND GET RID OF THE ENTIRE SCHOOL BOARD! Start there”

___________________________________________________

Do outline your reasons!!!

Shar

September 18th, 2012
11:23 am

I am not a DeKalb resident and most of my understanding of the school situation there comes from this blog. The most bitterly resented failings of the DeKalb BOE, according to the posters here, are the “Friends and Family” hiring practices insisted upon by influential Board members and the resultant administrative bloat those questionable employees have weighted down the system with, and ongoing, persistent and corrupt budgetary mismanagement.

Neither of these issues is addressed by Dr. Atkinson’s letter to SACS, and I feel quite confident that both were at the heart of the reason the BOE decided to discuss the SACS demands behind closed doors.

If it takes a power-hungry, attention-seeking blowhard like Elgart to wield the big stick and slam these BOE members in the wallet, then so be it. Open the doors and let as many investigators as possible in.

The Deal

September 18th, 2012
11:24 am

I think Dr. Atkinson is good at talking to the people she wants to talk to (Maureen, Elgart, Walker), but she has done nothing to improve achievement for the 90,000+ people that matter more than Maureen, Mark Elgart, and Gene Walker. She just doesn’t seem to have a clear plan or even the stated desire to make things better.

As I’ve said before, it’s not like she has presented all of these great ideas to the Board and the board has turned her down. I haven’t seen anything impressive from her office.

I had high hopes when she kicked off the central office audit, but she admitted she wasn’t following the recommendations and won’t even publish what she did decide to do.

I hope SACS lowers the boom on this entire system. It’s the only thing that’s going to get us help from areas that haven’t been empowered to do it before (although I think everyone from Ellis to Millar to Deal to the state super should have been public about their thoughts, even if they can’t technically do anything). I don’t have any respect for SACS because they have failed this system with their inaction over the past 5 years, but they appear to be the stepping stone for making something big happen.

Dunwoody Mom

September 18th, 2012
11:49 am

As The Deal stated, in order for any hope of revitalizing this school system, this issue has to be escalated to the Governor Deal level. The only way this can happen is for the system to be put on probationary status. Will Governor Deal act at this time? What would those actions be? I guess we will all stay tuned.

Pardon My Blog

September 18th, 2012
11:51 am

Whether we agree with SACS as a viable entity or not (in fact I agree, what took them so long when there were so many known violations and those are the items that the public knows about) at least this is a start. I think that not only should SACS be looking at the system, the State needs to do some investigating of its own. I believe they will find enough criminal acts to keep them busy for years!

William Casey

September 18th, 2012
12:06 pm

I’m afraid that I must agree with Dr. Trotter’s harsh but accurate assessment. I see no meaningful improvement for DeKalb schools coming out of a SACS visit. Elaborate dog and pony show.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

September 18th, 2012
12:29 pm

Folks, one can safely bet that the SACS “evaluation team” will bring its rubber stamp.

Beatings will continue until morale improves

September 18th, 2012
12:29 pm

Well by announcing that King Elgart is coming, all the down trodden serfs (teachers) will be pushed away and the lords of the manor (administrators and bureaucrats) show off their nice shiny castle, while the feudal structure of DCSS crumbles into the ground.

Teachers in this system have had it y’all. Were tired, were furious, were sick of having to stay late for staff developments till 5:30 already, were tired of parents yelling at US for students failing, and whats really getting my goat lately is the fact we have RT3 and Teacher Keys bureaucrats sitting in our building occupying air when they are not doing a damn thing in our school to assist with maintaining positive school culture. Empty suits getting paid probably more than I do to sit on their butts in an office while I am responsible for maintaining a classroom full of 37 kids. Notice how I said “maintaining” not “teaching.” Teaching becomes maintaining at 33 kids. I say get rid of all the bad teachers, but dont throw those who do their job under the bus with them.

Teachers in this county are truly serfs- legalized slavery bonded to their fief with a contract.

bu2

September 18th, 2012
12:36 pm

I think Atkinson has lots of grand ideas, but its like putting electronic monitors on a sewer system filled with holes. First, you need to fill the holes. Then you deal with electronic books, balanced calendars….

As for friends and family, the 1st superintendent dropped from the 3 finalists last year was the one who said the school district should be for the kids, not the adults. The board members who most believe it should be for the adults are the ones on the subcommittee responding to the SACS letter.

Ole Guy

September 18th, 2012
12:46 pm

Does mean that administration officials are going to take a few Las Vegas-based refesher junkets in governmental tap dancing…

Burroughston Broch

September 18th, 2012
12:47 pm

@ Maureen
Just to be clear, the “Communications Department” is a misnomer. Its real job is to limit and manage information flow to minimize inconvenience to the Board and the Administration. A better title would be “Miscommunications Department.” It’s very similar to the “Human Relations Department” in a large company, which employees often mistakenly think is concerned about them. Of course, it’s not; it’s about protecting the comapny from the employees.

Another Dunwoody Mom

September 18th, 2012
12:57 pm

Dekalb county schools have been a problem for too long. I have attended too many meetings where decisions were already made before any discussion took place. And living in Dunwoody, we get the tail end of the stick on it all. Dunwoody needs to form its own school system and be done with Dekalb county for our kids. Dekalb county will always control Dunwoody by the schools.

Bernard

September 18th, 2012
1:08 pm

I am an outspoken supporter of public schoolteachers, and I enjoy defending them against the conservative horde. That said… @Beatings: It is much easier for me to defend you when you are not posting comments that are rife with grammatical errors.

You need a comma after “Well.” We’re one word into this post, mind you.
“Downtrodden” is one word.
“show” in the third line should read “will be shown”
“Teachers in this system have had it,” comma, “ya’ll.”
Every “we’re” needs an apostrophe.
What’s is a contraction meaning “what is.” I’m not sure what “whats” is.
You can occupy space, but you can’t “occupy air.”
The sentence that begins “Empty suits…” is not a complete sentence.
“don’t” is missing an apostrophe.
“their” is ambiguous because it is unclear whether you are referring to the bad teachers or to the good ones.
In your last sentence, “slavery” should be “slaves.” One cannot be “a legalized slavery.”

Do you see how difficult this sort of barely-intelligible rant makes things for people like me, who want to speak up for you?

Also:
Your complaint about “staying until 5:30″ will fall on deaf ears to all non-educators reading this.
and:
With regards to separating the good teachers from the bad ones, you ought to offer some suggestions about how we are to discern one group from another. Perhaps a writing test is in order.

Dekalbite

September 18th, 2012
1:27 pm

It does appear that all those non teaching employees who are certified to teach have been moved around like pieces on a chessboard. Instead of Instructional Coaches, there are now Data Coaches who have their own secretarial help to keep up with the data. You can have all the data in the wold, but with 37 in a classroom in a low income school you will not improve student achievement. DeKalb has too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. The worse shape the classrooms are in, the more teachers want to flee them to a non instructional position. Who can blame them? Friends and family members are looking to spend their requisite 3 years in the classroom and then get placed in a highly paid no instructional position. This is how it’s done in DeKalb. Anyone who works in the school system knows this is true.

AnonMom

September 18th, 2012
1:39 pm

SACS probably feels the need to get DCSS on probation before DCSS runs itself out of money and SACS finds itself in the awkward position of having received upwards of $300k per year in fees for consulting and accreditation while it had DCSS on various stages of “watch” and did nothing while DCSS languished in various stages of running out of money while those in charge ran the system into the ground to feed “friends and family” (a version of the wolves guarding the hen house”) while those of us who figured out what was going on screamed for the 2004 audit and pleaded for investigations and reviews were ignored and were told that we were making things up. The system is almost completely out of money and now we learn that the state wants $24 million back from last year …. where are these dollars coming from? where did they go? Those being harmed? The kids that aren’t getting their education that are dependent upon the adults in their lives…. Bring on the vouchers….. bring the dollars to the lowest possible level. The sooner the better. The corruption has got to be minimized….. (note, I’ve intentionally not said eliminated, as that is, unfortunately, not possible).

bootney farnsworth

September 18th, 2012
1:48 pm

SACS will only act if it gets pushed on embarrassed.
the last thing on the SACS agenda is actual education

LOGIC

September 18th, 2012
1:58 pm

I would like to see the criteria with which SACS will review DCSD. Are they going to review who is related to whom and how they got the job? Are they going to review salary levels compared to competency? Are they going to review why Atkinson hasn’t made some of the deeper cuts recommended in the audit she initiated? Are they going to review the Heery Mitchell debacle and the crime ring that was run out of DCSD? Are they going to review the map debacle the Board had post the census? Are they going to review the contract negotiation with Tyson and why we are paying the equivalent of two Super salaries when we are in dire financial straits? Are they going to review who in the administration put together the 2010-2011 budget? Are they going to review how such egregious financial errors occurred? Are they going to review why the school system has a science center? Are they going to review Arabia Mountain’s lease agreement? Are they going to review the ties to New Birth Church? A they going to review the dollars spent per child and how poorly managed the school system is due to favors between Board members? Are they going to review the need to have multiple law firms because one “understands the children?”

After the so called review, will there be a plan to prevent convicted felons and people accused of sexual harassment from sitting on the Board? Are they going to implement a no friends and family plan? Are they going to implement a plan to ensure resources are for the schools and not the administrators?

Some one said it best by stating that there is years’ worth of material. The residents know this, but we are more interested in what you are going to do about it, SACS. DeKalb is home to Emory and the CDC and we deserve a school system that represents us well as it did many years ago.

beatings will continue until morale improves

September 18th, 2012
2:00 pm

@Bernard

The typical excuse of “you should know grammar” to be a teacher. I wonder how it feels to be a grammar nazi and pontificate from upon high. Last time I checked, no one is perfect and neither are teachers. If you want to check my writing scores, please feel free to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of my records with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GPSC).

Congratulations! You ignored the crux of my arguement and decided to attack a teacher. I hope you never advocate for teachers.

beatings will continue until morale improves

September 18th, 2012
2:00 pm

And yes, I employed the double negative…

:-)

MATTHEW BUGGS

September 18th, 2012
2:06 pm

Just a crazy thought… Why cant the School districs who are doing well help-out the ones who are NOT? Gwinnette and Cobb are not light years away. They are just around the corner!!! Why is it so difficult to ask for help when you know you need it???

Beatings will continue until morale improves

September 18th, 2012
2:13 pm

@Buggs

Why would you want to help a ship that is sinking? Honestly, Gwinnett and Cobb already have enough to deal with. The last thing they need or want to do is help DeKalb.

DeKalb provides them with enough students to show that their counties are growing in terms of transfers. The only problem is those former DCSS students might be light years away in terms of behavior and academics.

DunMoody

September 18th, 2012
2:15 pm

I actually do not believe SACS will provide any benefit to DCSS whatsoever, but I do think their lackluster presence will help catalyze action by the state. I participated in one of SACS’ so-called parent meetings, a rushed fifteen-minute session with two exhausted SACS investigators that resulted in not one bit of info provided by parents being shared with the Board or school system. So I expect nothing better this time. But their presence may be the glaring light the State seems to be waiting for.

Bernard

September 18th, 2012
2:18 pm

@beatings
I agree with the crux of your argument. You make some good points. You should not be asked to manage classes crammed full of students. The coming exercise is sure to be plagued by waste – wasted time and wasted money.

However, your message falls flat if you fail to properly communicate it. This is something that I should not need to point out. Using proper grammar is a prerequisite for being taken seriously in any profession. This is an _extremely_ important message for teachers to heed. Posting messages full of poor sentence structure is as hurtful to your credibility as showing up to a parent-teacher conference in jean shorts and a tank top.

You are in a public forum, ostensibly representing the interests of teachers. Proofread before you click “submit.”

Flabberghastedforsure

September 18th, 2012
2:19 pm

@ Buggs: a strong leader would have done just that- sought out the successful superintendents in metro Atlanta and established a working relationship with them as colleagues/mentors