Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Atlanta to be fully accredited, but on watch

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
5:55 p.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Atlanta Public Schools in no longer at risk of losing accreditation for its 12 high schools.

An "elated" school board announced Tuesday the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools, the state's largest accrediting agency, has taken the district off probation. APS was downgraded to "advisement" status, meaning the agency will watch to ensure the district's progress is sustainable over the next year.

"We took this work very seriously," said board chairwoman Brenda Muhammad. "And the the Atlanta Board of Education has worked diligently and cohesively to reach this outcome. This is another indication Atlanta Public Schools is moving forward."

Board makes significant changes

In January, the district was placed on probation largely due to infighting among school board members. The board was given six directives that pushed them to work together. Since then, the board has made a series of changes including electing a new chair, selecting a new superintendent, revising a critical policy around board leadership and overhauling an ethics panel designed to police the board's behavior.

The board earned praise for changing its ways and for its ability to stick together, even in the midst of a widespread cheating scandal that toppled most of the district's top leadership. Encouraged by the changes, state school board members in July voted to let APS board members stay in office, despite a state law that allowed them to be removed.

After visiting the district in September and reviewing a detailed progress report, SACS determined the board completed four of the six required actions. But the agency still has concerns the board can sustain the progress once the threat of accreditation loss is lifted.

Can APS board continue with improvements

"Several interviewees expressed cautionary concern about whether the APS Board’s improved functioning would continue after the ‘bright lights' of SACS ... the Governor’s Office, the Mayor’s Office, and the State Board of Education have been extinguished. This issue of sustainability raises concern," the report said.

SACS officials ordered the board to develop a long-term plan to communicate with stakeholders and regain their trust, and ensure the board members continue to follow district policy. The board will have to report back to the agency in September 2012.

"These are not deficiencies," said Superintendent Erroll Davis. "The programs are in place, but they would like to see they are in place working over time."

Accrediation provides relief for students and parents

The loss consequences of accreditation loss would have been "devastating" according to Davis. Students who graduate from unaccredited high schools may not be eligible for scholarships or for entry to certain colleges. Parents and students also expressed relief that the threat of accreditation loss was gone.

Cynthia Briscoe Brown, whose son and exchange student are both sophomores at North Atlanta High School, said she was “thrilled” to hear the SACS ruling Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it is entirely justified,” said Brown, who along with her husband serves as co-president of the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools (NAPPS), which supports a cluster of eight schools in North Atlanta.

“Those of us who have been watching the board for the last year and a half have seen a big improvements in how they relate to each other and how they direct policy.”

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