Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DeKalb County School District no longer on probation, free from possible accreditation loss

Posted By on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 1:28 PM

DeKalb Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond
DeKalb County School District officials can breathe a deep sigh of relief following the end of its lengthy probation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools gave the 99,000-student school system a vote of confidence this morning after placing it on probation in December 2012 for governance and financial mismanagement problems. Mark Elgart, the president and CEO of AdvancED, SACS' parent company, said that the school system's potential loss of accreditation was "no longer imminent" and moved moved DeKalb's rating up to the slightly less ominous "warned" status.

"The stain of probation has been eradicated from the DeKalb School District," DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond said in a statement. "The decision to upgrade the district's accreditation status provides a sense of pride and relief to our internal and external stakeholders."

According to 11 Alive, the school system's new status would not hurt district graduates who have applied for grants, scholarships, or other forms of financial aid. But DeKalb's turnaround isn't quite complete:

"The progress made by the DeKalb County School District since May 2013 is commendable," the accreditation commission said in a report of its findings. "Many programs, policies, and processes have been put into place to stabilize the school system and begin to restore confidence and trust among stakeholder groups."

The district must now complete three required actions that demonstrate continuous improvement, and undergo monitoring by AdvancED. The next review will be conducted no later than May 31.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who last year suspended and replaced six DeKalb school board members, was on hand for the announcement. The AJC's Greg Bluestein chatted with the governor, who felt vindicated for his involvement, and looked at the decision's political ramifications:

"Yes, they've given me the best validation I could possibly receive," Deal said. "I don't claim credit for the validation because it was in their hands to show that they could work together. And they have done so."

A careful political calculus helped drive and complicate his decision to intervene last year. Deal took considerable criticism by wading into DeKalb after SACS found the local board to be a dysfunctional mess, and residents and outside groups attacked the Republican for wading into a thorny local matter in a Democratic bastion.

Now Deal's team hopes the move pays dividends. With education at the center of his re-election bid, the resurgence in DeKalb is the type of bipartisan teamwork Deal's team salivates over.

Some members of Georgia's Senate Democratic Caucus didn't take too kindly to Deal's politicization of the positive accreditation report. While State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, commended Thurmond for his leadership, State Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, said major changes to Georgia's education policy were needed to prevent other local districts from falling into the same trap.

"It is disappointing to the people of DeKalb County that Governor Deal tried to turn this announcement into a campaign stop," Henson said in a statement. "What made this process successful in DeKalb is that we put politics aside and focused on education. Under Michael Thurmond's leadership and with full cooperation from the DeKalb School Board and the community, a positive outcome has been achieved."

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