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Warren County school system placed on probation following SACS review

WARRENTON, Ga. - The actions and behaviors of some Warren County Board of Education members have caused "perpetual paralysis" of the school system that could jeopardize the school system's accreditation, according to a report released this week from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.

As it is, the school system will be on probation for the 2009-2010 school year while local leaders address nine recommendations made by SACS investigators. The investigators plan to return - at the invitation of the board - by the end of November, when they can take one of three actions: revoke the system's accreditation, leave the system on probation or remove all sanctions.

"(Investigators) identified and validated that a number of actions and behaviors of board members that were counter-productive to the effectiveness of the Board's mission," the investigative team wrote in its report. "In fact, there is ample evidence to support a finding that the effectiveness of the Warren County Board is currently in a state of 'perpetual paralysis.'"

Board Chairwoman Clara Roberts pointed out the report did not name any board members specifically, and called on all officials - including the superintendent - to strive to work better together.

"There is a problem we need to correct in Warren County," she said during Monday night's Board of Education meeting. "We need to resolve our differences and move forward. ...Our first priority should be the academic achievement of our children."

Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said she hoped board members would take Mrs. Roberts' advice because the accreditation affects everything from the school system's charter status to the career academy to the overall welfare of the students.

Board member Gwen Tucker agreed, saying board members had been too focused on making policy changes, and not focused enough on the students.

"It's really been a waste of time," she said. "If we lay these policies to rest and move forward, I think the board and superintendent can work together."

SACS investigators spent June 22-23 in Warren County watching video tapes of meetings, interviewing board members, school volunteers and school leaders, and reviewing board minutes.

While the report does not name specific board members, it does mention specific instances where board members have violated board policy.

For example, three of five board members have not signed the board's ethics policy, despite being in office for six months. Those members - Mrs. Roberts, Charles Culver and Cecil Brown - were part of a unanimous vote Monday night to approve a new code of ethics for the board. Officials had squabbled about the existing ethics policy for months, with some saying they could not be sanctioned under its terms.

"This reflects a lack of understanding as to the importance and responsibility of elected officials to follow established policies and regulations," SACS representative wrote in their report.

At the same time, investigators also cited board micromanagement, one board member often abstaining from votes or offering only negative votes and several other examples of board policy being violated.

Among the recommendations offered by SACS officials in the July 2 report:

- Trustees must follow all board policies and procedures.

- Board meetings must maintain a professional decorum.

- Board members and the superintendent must seek mediation.

- Board members must be censured for policy violations.

- Board members must prove they have turned their focus to doing what is best for Warren County's students.

SACS investigators suggested that local leaders take the measures to avoid "the erosion in the public confidence" in the system.

"Personnel ambitions of people in public positions of trust should never be at the expense of the quality of the educational opportunities for those whose only hope for success is a quality education," they wrote in the report. "The schools belong to the community and it (is) time for the community to insist that the Board refocus on school improvement or resign from their positions of trust."

Nine recommendations of the SACS review team

The review team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Council on Accreditation and School Improvement made nine recommendations for the Warren County Board of Education:

- The Warren County Schools must be able to validate that all actions and behaviors of board members are fully aligned with the policies that they have formally adopted as a board, and all applicable AdvancED Accreditation Standards.

- The Warren County Board of Education has adopted the "Roberts Rules of Order" to guide the Board Meetings and the actions and behaviors of all parties involved in the meeting will be aligned with the tenets of this process.

- The decorum of all Board meetings will reflect the professionalism required of all those who are defining the quality of education for the community.

- The Board must engage in professional development focused on the roles and responsibilities of the board and fully internalize those elements of the training that ensure their actions and behaviors are aligned with board policies and the standards for Accreditation.

- The Board and Superintendent must engage in mediation sessions conducted by an agency that specializes in training and support for boards of education.

- Board agendas will be prepared and distributed in keeping with the board policies.

- The employment policies of the Board shall be followed in the selection and employment of staff and any discussion related to such employment is fully aligned with all relevant board policies.

- The Board must be able to validate that any member of the board who violates the policies of the board has been censured by the Board.

- The Board must continue to review and refine its policies to promote the processes that are needed to achieve the Board's Mission in the education of the Warren County students. The board members shall provide evidence that they have refocused all of their energies on improving the teaching and learning processes for all their students.

Web posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009

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