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Report finds board has failed to show progress

WARRENTON, Ga. -- Last June, they were put on probation for being "in a state of perpetual paralysis." Since then, they haven't moved forward. In fact, the Warren County Board of Education received a notice on Jan. 5, that they will lose their accreditation.

An investigation and subsequent report by a special team of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement reveals school board members failed to comply with their own policies, and went as far as changing their ethics policy so they wouldn't have to sign it.

But that's not all.

The report finds "an inappropriate use of the right to abstain from voting," "executive session discussions (which) included comments that are illegal to consider when employing applicants, including considering the applicant's race, age, and whether applicants were residents of Warren County," and the board "revoked decisions of the Hearing Officer because of personal knowledge or friendship of the persons involved."

On their first visit in June, the team investigated complaints about the governance and leadership of the school board.

Another team returned in November for a follow-up. During both visits, the special review teams watched videos of board meetings, conducted interviews with members of the board, the superintendent, district staff and community representatives, and reviewed supporting documentation.

"The team that visited them in November felt that they had not made significant progress, and in some cases, they made no progress," said Jennifer Oliver, SACS vice president of communications. "So, the team felt the school system should not retain their accreditation."

Board members have one last chance to save their accreditation. The date of the dropped status is delayed until July 30, Ms. Oliver said, so students set to graduate at the end of this school year will not be affected. If the board makes progress on the original recommendations, they can be reviewed again.

Ms. Oliver said accreditation is voluntary among schools and school systems, but there is a special emphasis in Georgia because graduation from an accredited school is a qualification for the Hope Scholarship.

Many colleges also base their admission criteria on it.

"The community is not happy, the kids won't have the Hope Scholarship, and they won't be able to get into some colleges," Warren County School Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said. "And we can't have dual enrollment classes... The board members are the ones that have to do the action. There's nothing more anyone else can do."

The accreditation is important in order for Warren County students "to break the poverty cycle," according to the report. "Warren County is a rural community that currently is struggling economically because of the lack of business and industry to provide the jobs and opportunities to move forward."

Warren County received SACS CASI district accreditation in 2007. At that time, there were many outstanding achievements within the school district.

In the fall of 2008, the outlook for the school district was "very positive," according to the report, with improvement in student test scores, and involvement of parent and community volunteers in the schools.

"Between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009, the leadership and focus of the Warren County School Board dramatically changed," the report stated. "It lost its focus on guiding the district on the path that supports continuous improvement of the teaching and learning processes within the school district. The focus became the personal agendas of the board."

Web posted on Thursday, January 14, 2010

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