Dr. Pam Adamson, chair of the Clayton County Board of Education, wrote this piece in anticipation of this week’s visit by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The SACS accreditation team has been in Clayton since Monday.
By Pam Adamson
Clayton County Schools has had a tumultuous history with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and its parent organization, AdvancED, for many years starting in the early 2000s. After years of warnings and failed opportunities to comply with its standards, SACS withdrew accreditation from Clayton County schools in August of 2008.
The district had become a swinging door of instability with regular staff turnover, including leadership at the highest levels. The Board of Education was in a state of turmoil at that time, with some board members having resigned, some having lost re-elections bids, and others dismissed by then Gov. Sonny Perdue.
In January of 2009, an entirely new board vowed to regain accreditation. The work began immediately, and accreditation was restored in May of 2009, but on a probationary status. The district and board faced two years of probation and four special reviews at six month intervals during that time.
Again, the district and board worked to remove the probationary status and gain full accreditation. After the district satisfied all nine mandates and four recommendations and successfully hosted the four special reviews, SACS restored full accreditation in June of 2011.
I wish I could report that accomplishing the restoration of accreditation was an easy task, but that is not true. The board and district were faced with distractions, distrust, and daunting challenges, both internally and externally. But through the process, our board and district office became stronger and focused on the education of children. The Clayton community began to believe again that we had quality schools and that we could accomplish anything that we attempted together. The healing process had begun.
All Clayton County Public Schools individually have been fully accredited for many years. During the two-year probationary period, every Clayton County school was required to conduct a self-assessment and host an external review to confirm that accreditation. All of our schools were successful in their attempts to maintain accreditation for a five-year period. They are all scheduled to go through the routine SACS accreditation renewal process in 2015 or 2016.
In 2011, the school system and board made a commitment to achieve district accreditation from SACS. This relatively new opportunity allows districts to apply for accreditation for all of its schools rather than each school going through the process individually. District accreditation requires a united effort from all schools and district departments.
It measures the efficacy of educational opportunities for all of our children and operational effectiveness throughout the district. It determines whether we, as a district, have common goals and a consistent mission supported by a strategic improvement plan compiled by representatives from all stakeholder groups. It confirms that the district as a whole is in compliance with the five SACS Standards.
The effort to gain district accreditation is not a reaction to a SACS mandate or challenge, but is rather a voluntary attempt on the part of the district to make a statement that together we are working toward excellence.
The external review for district accreditation was scheduled for Monday through today. In September of 2012, the district received a letter of concern from Mark Elgart, President and Chief Executive Officer of AdvancEd, which cited specific factors that he wanted us to address prior to hosting our external review team in April. The district responded to Dr. Elgart’s concerns in January of 2013 and received his positive and supportive response soon thereafter.
Our efforts to gain district accreditation have reached a climax today. For the past three days, the district has hosted the external review team that will make a recommendation regarding whether we gain district accreditation. This team has reviewed artifacts that confirm who we are, interviewed a variety of stakeholders, visited schools, observed classrooms, and gotten to know Clayton County Schools.
The team’s exit report will be given to stakeholders this afternoon. It will cite identified areas of strength as well as actions that are required for us to work toward excellence. The report will also make an accreditation recommendation.
Let’s stand together, Clayton County, as our school system strives to attain this prestigious accomplishment. We have come a long way and are within reach of one of our ultimate goals – district accreditation.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog