The DeKalb County School District appears to be on the way to mending the problems that resulted in it being placed on academic probation in 2012 by the agency that accredits the district.

AdvancEd, the parent of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, recently issued a report citing “material progress” the school district had made in confronting challenges and completing required actions.

“We are encouraged that AdvancEd has taken note of the progress we’ve made in stabilizing the system and re-directing our focus on the growth and achievement of our 100,000 students,” said Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the school district, in a statement. “We will continue to build on our momentum, because there is much more work that needs to be done.”

DeKalb students return August 11 for a new school year.

The district was put on probation due to a SACS investigation that found mismanagement of money, abuse of power and unethical hiring practices. The district was told to address 14 actions to improve its accreditation status. According to the AdvancEd report, nine have been completed, with “steady progress” being made on the other five. The district was taken off probation in January.

The report, released in July, noted that school board meetings have improved focus. “Board meetings are once again focused on the needs and issues impacting the growth and academic success of the students of DeKalb County,” it said. “The meetings are professional and collegial. Even when board members are not in agreement with each other or have difficult questions for the staff, there is a new atmosphere of respect.”

The report also noted fiscal progress the school system has made. “As a result of sounder financial management, realistic budget forecasting and more rigid cost controls,” a $14 million deficit in 2012 turned into a $10.8 million surplus a year later.

Challenges the board still faces, said the report, include “the transition to a new board and the search for a new superintendent. In the recent past, these challenges have been wrought with conflict and confusion. It is imperative that the Board of Education and district leadership ensure that the school system and community are prepared to address these known challenges in a professional and coherent manner.”

SACS says the board still has to complete the following five actions, which it notes are “in progress”:

1. Devise and implement a written, comprehensive plan for unifying the DeKalb County Board of Education so that the focus can become serving the needs of the children of the DeKalb County School District.

2. Establish and implement policies and procedures that ensure separation of duties of the governing board and that of the administration, including the elimination of Board working committees which result in board members assuming administrative functions that should be the responsibility of appropriate staff.

3. Develop systematic and systemic processes to ensure the continued implementation and sustainability of the continuous improvement efforts of the DeKalb County Board of Education in establishing and sustaining the Board as a highly effective governing body.

4. Develop and implement plans, policies and processes to monitor, evaluate and sustain the school system’s continuous improvement efforts.

5. Continue to implement, evaluate and adapt the system’s technology plan to ensure an effective and equitable distribution of technology throughout the system and its long-term sustainability.

Board Chairman Melvin Johnson said that the improvements will continue.

“We will have stringent training protocols in place for new board members to ensure our meetings remain professional and collegial,” he said. “And when we embark on a national search for a new superintendent, we will ensure that the process is open, transparent and focused on finding the best CEO to build on the legacy of Mr. Thurmond and the current board.”

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.