SACS Is Not a Thermostat

School Board candidate writes about the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SACS, is the organization that holds the accreditation process for DeKalb County School System, DCSS.

for DCSS District 4 Board of Education, I am studying the rules and regulations of board membership and ethics are a particular area of interest given the recent history of DCSS. Current board members have made comments, in conversation and in a campaign forum, that made me sit down hard and think about what they said:

"A school board member is not allowed to enter a school without the express permission of the superintendent."

I've been searching on the SACS website now for the rule that states that, or an explanation, or even if it exists. For an organization whose sole function is to verify that a school system is qualified to hand out diplomas, they are not very transparent. A well written list of specifications and guidelines would be good but all I find so far are vague statements that leave much to the discretion of the auditors.

After some thought on this, I came up with an analogy to explain my concern with the ban on school board members visiting schools.

The thermostat on my wall is used to tell the air conditioner what temperature I want the house to be. When it works properly, the air conditioner turns on and off as needed. The thermostat has a built-in thermometer that measures the air temperature and that is how the thermostat decides it's cool enough to turn off or warm enough to turn on. If the thermometer is broken, the AC may run all the time or not at all.

The school board and its policy making authority are the thermostat. The school board passes policy to the superintendent who acts to make it happen. But here is where the "not allowed to enter" rule causes problems. Like the thermostat, the school board must have a thermometer, a progress report of sorts, to decide if the policy is effective. Currently, according to board members pointing at SACS rules, the ONLY source for the board of this report is the superintendent.

The way it works now is the superintendent is required to implement policy and also provide the sole evaluation of their quality and effectiveness. SACS is the only other evaluator and that's only every five years.

Isn't this how we got into the mess we are in now? Lack of board oversight on a superintendent and their staff seems like the answer to "What went wrong?" Sounds like the fox guarding the hen house to me. NOTE: I'm NOT accusing the current superintendent of anything - this only about the process itself.

OK. By now, someone is thinking, "But, Jim! The board can't micromanage all aspects of the operation of a school system?!" And, yes, that is true and the board should not ever consider that as an option. But the board must be able to gather information about the policy effectiveness that is independent of those who are being evaluated. That information comes from the teachers, principals and students. DCSS has clearly shown itself to have little to no "upstream" communication process. For instance, why did for four years?

I would like to visit schools and sit down at lunch and talk with teachers and students about whatever they want to talk about. I want to be able to observe first hand, not third hand and heavily filtered then edited for "correctness", the good, the bad and "in progress" that goes on. If we can't talk about the problems, how can we work together to create solutions?

We need a thermometer in the schools.

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Cheryl Miller July 25, 2012 at 02:52 PM
To make matters worse, parents with complaints are urged to email their PTA board members who are told to "hold all complaints" and "let them vent if they need to," but they do not ever intend to actually do anything about it, keep any records or contact anyone in the school, much less the board, about it. They are a buffer between the parents and the school, so the only issues that do get brought up are the ones that the board members themselves actualy have or agree with. The PTA will then notify the principal who will not want the complain to go further than his/her office. If it is something they are tired of hearing or something they also are concerned about, then it might get passed to the Superintendent or a Regional Super. but still not the board. A board member may then be blindsided by a remark made by an angry parent or group of parents at a board meeting who show up and rant about how they have tried and tried, but no on will listen to them. The board member is clueless, the Superintendent may be able to fill in some blanks, but they are not going to disucss the matter then and there. The board members cannot respond to the citizens. The citizens cannot applaud or show any form of support and the whole mess either fizzles out or turns itself into an ugly lawsuit. And you've heard the track record on those, right?


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