Nancy Meister

The Atlanta Board of Education ended a marathon meeting Jan. 24 by voting unanimously to accept a report by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools critical of the board’s governance and leadership and which led to Atlanta’s high schools being put on “accredited probation.”

The school board has until Sept. 30 to address six issues cited in the report to the satisfaction of SACS to avoid risking the system losing accreditation for its high schools, including North Atlanta High in Buckhead.

But District 4 school board member Nancy Meister said all members of the board vowed to try and work through correcting the six items by May. She said the board will meet every Monday at 6 a.m. to deal exclusively with correcting the items to SACS’ satisfaction. “We are taking this very seriously,” she said.

Parents and students who showed up at the Jan. 24 meeting to speak to the board expressed concerns that students in Atlanta Public Schools might graduate from a non-accredited North Atlanta High School and not be able to gain acceptance into a college or get scholarships.

Meister said the action by SACS “has absolutely no affect on this year’s seniors” because the high schools have not lost their accreditation at this time.

She said it could affect this year’s juniors at North Atlanta High, who will start their senior year Aug. 8, if the board does not successfully complete making the fixes required by SACS by Sept. 30.

“But that is not going to happen,” she said emphatically.

Meister also said that Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED the parent of SACS, told the board that it is possible that even those juniors in high school now could avoid losing scholarships or college admissions even if the board should fail to correct the six issues by Sept. 30. She said Elgart told them that when Clayton County schools lost its accreditation, county officials went to the governor and “he was able to do something” so the students did not lose their eligibility.

Buckhead resident Julie Davis Salisbury, who has created a Step Up or Step Down Facebook page, said the board members also all added their signatures to a resolution stating that they would all work together to address the fixes required by SACS.

She and members of Step Up or Step Down want the board to fix the problems well in advance of the Sept. 30 SACS deadline. In fact she would like to see them fixed by the end of February.

“The September time frame is just not an acceptable time frame for parents who need to make decisions long before that,” she said. “There will be a loss of engagement from parents and business leaders and students who have put so many hours into making the schools successful. It would be a shame to lose this engagement.”

Salisbury said the group’s primary goal is to get as many people as possible across the city “to join the conversation. All of our community needs to come together and speak out and add our voices to the conversation to tell the school board we’re paying attention and we’re not going to allow our district to lose its accreditation because of its governance issues.”

About the creation of the group and Facebook, she said, “a group of us found each other.” The Facebook page drew 625 members and 18,000 hits in its first six days. She said the members represent a good sampling of people from across the city.

Salisbury, who has children at Sarah Smith Elementary and Sutton Middle School, said she has been a longtime volunteer in the Atlanta Public Schools and wants her children to go through the system from kindergarten through North Atlanta High. .

Elgart announced the APS probation action Jan. 18 following an investigation into the board’s leadership conflicts and infighting among its members.

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The six issues SACS says Atlanta’s public schools must address to avoid losing accreditation are:

• Develop and implement a long-term plan to communicate with and engage stakeholders in the work of the district and to regain the trust of parents and students.

• Secure and actively use the services of a trained, impartial mediator who will work with board members to resolve communication, operational and personal issues that are impeding the effectiveness of the governing body.

• Ensure that the actions and behavior of all board members are aligned with board policies, especially those related to ethics and chain of command.

• Review and refine policies to achieve the mission to educate students.

• Develop and implement a process for selecting a new superintendent that is transparent and engages public participation. The final choice of superintendent should be determined by more than a simple majority of the board.

• Work with the state of Georgia to address inconsistencies between the state charter for the school board and system policies.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.