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News: DeKalb School District improves its accreditation status. Moves closer to full restoration.

The DeKalb County School District moves closer to full accreditation after an upgrade today from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

I have raised concerns in the past about the criteria with which SACS judges the soundness of a school system, putting a lot of emphasis on congenial and cooperative school boards and less on how well schools perform, especially when compared to peer schools in other districts.

The improved accreditation status from SACS comes at a time when some parents have lost confidence in DeKalb. In Druid Hills, some are campaigning to leave DeKalb Schools and join Atlanta, a system that has had its own share of troubles.

The SACS report focuses on areas yet to be reformed, and most fall under the purview of the school board rather than the administration. The agency wants the board to change policy about members meeting with and requesting information from senior staff without going through the superintendent. (That is code the board is still meddling and circumventing the superintendent.)

SACS also raps the board for its failure to move on the critical issue of finding a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Michael Thurmond.

Here is the official statement from DeKalb:

The DeKalb County School District’s accreditation status has been upgraded from “Accredited Warned” to “Accredited on Advisement,” one notch from unconditional accreditation.

“The Board of Education, principals, teachers, and staff working with parents and community leaders have made great strides in meeting the needs of our students,” said Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District. “SACS recognizes the progress we are making toward stabilizing the District in a manner that allows us to refocus our efforts on academic achievement.”

The decision to elevate the District’s accreditation status was based on a three-day visit in December 2014. The SACS report recognized the “concerted effort and focused work of the Board, Superintendent Thurmond, system staff and personnel at all levels to stabilize the system and create a culture of trust and transparency.”

SACS also acknowledged the District’s considerable fiscal progress, noting a budget surplus of $31 million for Fiscal Year 2014 and for operating in a “financially responsible and transparent manner.”

In addition, the District “has developed and systematically implemented a comprehensive technology plan,” according to the report. The launch of the Infinite Campus student information system was described as a success.

The report concluded with an observation that the district is at a “crossroads” and faces two “major transitions” -- the search for a new superintendent and transition to a seven member board. The report challenges the board to “leverage the progress” that has been made in the past two years to resolve these challenges.

SACS directed the district to address 14 required actions in order to approve its accreditation status. Eleven action items have been completed. The most significant remaining action item requires the Board of Education to revise Policy BAB to “eliminate all references to Board members meeting with, and requesting information from Senior Staff” without prior notification and approval by the Superintendent.

The report documents that the Board is undergoing a “culture shift”; however, there is no written policy that specifically prohibits board members from “circumventing the Superintendent” in the daily operations of the district.

“The board is committed to creating an environment that ensures trust and transparency between the district and its stakeholders,” said Melvin Johnson, chairman of the DeKalb Board of Education. “We will resolve these remaining issues in order to restore full and unconditional accreditation to our district.”

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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.