Georgia Schools: Atlanta Schools Risk Losing Accreditation

Georgia Schools: Atlanta Schools Risk Losing Accreditation
What happens to students when their high schools are at risk of flunking out and losing their accreditation? Learn about how Atlanta Public Schools are on the verge of losing accreditation and how this may impact their students.

It is a high school student's worst nightmare: to have the secondary school he or she attends lose accreditation, directly impacting the student's ability to obtain scholarships or even get admitted to the college of his choice. However, that is exactly the situation facing students and parents in Atlanta Public Schools, where an educational standards agency has placed the entire school district on probation and in danger of losing its accreditation before the end of 2011. We will take a look at just how Atlanta ended up in this situation, and what the school board plans to do to survive the probationary period and come out of it with their accreditation still intact.

Reason for Investigation

The accrediting agency AdvancED was notified of potential problems in the Atlanta school district last year, when bickering among school board members became a matter of public concern. AdvancED scheduled an onsite visit in December to review board documents and make necessary recommendations. At that visit, the accrediting agency found the Atlanta school system's board has failed to meet standards on governance and leadership, according to a report by the Associated Press at Google News.

CEO of AdvancED, Mark Elgart, said at a news conference, "The reason for probation is the issues are serious. They not only affect the effective governance of the board but they affect the future direction of the school system and its ability to provide a quality education for all students." A report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated that the decision to put the district on probation had nothing to do with academics, but with the governance of the city's school system by its elected board.

Discord in Leadership

Elgart told the AJC that bickering and discord among board members in Atlanta goes far beyond the normal political squabbles school boards typically face. He points to a specific example of the day GBI agents visited Atlanta schools to investigate allegations of cheating on tests. Elgart said that instead of working together on the cheating issue, school board members were busy arguing over who was chair of the board.

Last October, members of the school board filed a lawsuit to unseat the chairwoman and vice chairwoman in the midst of the test cheating controversy. After this effort, Elgart said the board was warned that their capacity to govern was in "serious jeopardy." In November, the board agreed to work with an outside expert in governance to try to put their system back on track. This month, the school district was officially placed on probation and now must prove to accreditation officials that they are making serious improvements in their governance or risk losing accreditation in secondary schools altogether.

Rules for the School Board

To save their accreditation status, the Atlanta school board must do the following:

  • Develop a long-term community engagement plan
  • Solicit outside mediation to resolve communication and personal issues
  • Adhere to board policies, particularly in terms of chain of command and ethics issues
  • Engage in policies that focus specifically on students, academics, and teaching
  • Participate in a "transparent" search for a superintendent that engages the public
  • Submit to a review of the board's governing charter in conjunction with state lawmakers

An article in the Midtown Patch also reports that the board has agreed to meet weekly to continue to address the recommendations. By May 1, the board must show significant improvement in its policies and procedures. If the appropriate changes do not take place by the end of September, accreditation could be removed from the district.

The Impact on Students

The probation announcement has worried many Atlanta high school students and their parents. Denise Romeo, who has two sons at Grady High School, told the Midtown Patch, "I'm very concerned. I want to see that the board members look comfortable with one another." Her oldest son now has to wonder if he will be able to get into the college of his choice in two years if Grady loses its accreditation within that time frame.

Parents that attended the meeting last week asked school board members if they would be willing to step down if the schools lost accreditation. The board said they would step down if they felt it would benefit students and the school system. Board members also apologized to students and parents for the undue worry over their schools and promised to do whatever it took to keep high schools accredited.

Atlanta is not the only school district in the state facing accreditation problems. Clayton County lost accreditation in 2008 and has since had it restored. The SACS will also determine whether to launch a full investigation of DeKalb County schools.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook @publicschoolreview.

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