When a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting team visits Bibb County schools next month, it will determine the fate of the school systems reaccreditation efforts, in part, by reviewing school system documents such as board meeting minutes, financial statements, student achievement data and stakeholder surveys.
Jennifer Oliver, vice president for communications for SACS parent company AdvanceED, would not weigh in on whether controversies such as the recent buyout of the superintendents contract, pending lawsuits against the school district and its involvement in the Macon Promise Neighborhood program might hurt the districts chances of reaccreditation.
I really think the most important thing is to allow the accreditation team to do their own homework ... and let them decide whether they should get accreditation, Oliver said. I believe the team will do a very thorough job in reviewing Bibb County and giving a thorough assessment.
A SACS team is scheduled to visit Bibb County from April 28 to May 1 as part of the accreditation process that takes place every five years.
Besides the quality assurance that a SACS review can provide, Georgia students must graduate with a 3.0 grade-point average from an accredited high school, either by SACS or one of several other organizations, to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship. If not, they have to meet additional academic requirements to qualify.
The SACS visit will come about two months after the school board bought out Superintendent Romain Dallemands contract for $350,000. The buyout deal also gives Dallemand his accrued pension benefits, health insurance for him and his family through July 2014 or when he finds a job that provides coverage -- whichever comes first -- and a reference letter signed by four board members.
Last Thursday, the board chose Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, one of Dallemands deputy superintendents, to serve as Bibbs acting chief for 30 days or until an interim superintendent is named. In any case, the district will be without a permanent leader when the accreditation team comes to the district next month to visit schools and interview board members, district leadership and parents, among others.
Not having a permanent superintendent wont affect the school districts chances of being reaccredited, Oliver said.
The accreditation visit can go on just as it was scheduled, she said. The superintendent position, of course, will be filled by the board, and the timing of that does not have an impact.
Board member Lynn Farmer said she isnt sure whether some of the issues the school system is facing would hurt its accreditation chances.
However, she said she has high expectations for the accrediting team and school officials.
I expect SACS to be fair and professional. Thats what I expect, she said. I expect the board and our staff to be professional.
The SACS review will examine whether Bibb County schools are meeting five broad standards that include the districts purpose and direction, the use of data for continuous improvement, and its governance and leadership.
At the end of their visit, team members will share their findings with the system, and SACS officials will provide a comprehensive report within 45 to 60 days, Oliver said. That report will include strengths in the school system as well as areas for improvement.
In addition to the buyout of Dallemands contract, the school system is in the middle of two lawsuits, including one challenging the legality of Dallemands employment contracts. The other is a whistle-blower lawsuit from former schools Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier, who alleged Dallemand demoted him for asking questions about the legality of writing a $1 million check related to the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative, among other claims. The Promise Neighborhood program aims to tie together community services to help students and their families in two of Macons poorest neighborhoods.
Colliers lawsuit also sought to block lease payments to the Macon Promise Center, but the judge recently threw out the injunction request. The $5.75 million in rent payments the school district will pay over 10 years will go toward renovation and bond payments on the building.
The school district signed the lease without taking the matter to the full school board. However, after Collier sought to block lease payments, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis ruled that the lease had already been approved through a court bond validation hearing, and neither Collier nor anyone else sought to intervene before the bond was approved.
Despite all the school district changes in recent weeks, Jane Drennan, the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, will continue to spearhead the districts accreditation efforts, which have been under way more than a year, Griffin-Ziebart said.
School system officials generally prepare for the visit long before SACS officials set foot in the district, Oliver said.
The staff that has been preparing with the visit should be able to move forward with that without the presence of the superintendent, she said. The board has been part of the process as well, and they should be prepared for the visit.
Interim school board President Sue Sipe is confident the district will be ready for SACS visit, given the time school officials have put into preparing for accreditation.
Im very comfortable with all the work that our administrators and principals and teachers have done, Sipe said. We will welcome the team in April. Im very hopeful we will have a positive outcome.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.