Parents, school leaders respond to SACS probation

By Dal Cannady - bio | email

BAXLEY, GA (WTOC) -  The sign on the Board of Education door officially told the public, but word of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS report on Appling County Schools was already all over town.

SACS investigators recommend the school system go on probation. The investigation came based on complaints from Gary Moore and others that the school system was ignoring the public.

"This thing escalated to where there was no transparency, had problems in the system among teachers, parents, staff, everything was chaos," Moore explained.

In recent months, the board and former superintendent dismissed two principals and closed an elementary school all over public objections and questions of "why?"

"It's like there are secrets with every issue that comes up, hidden agendas and things are going on," noted Mark Melton, who chairs a community group opposing the school closing.

In the report, investigators found evidence of "assigning and transferring staff in an arbitrary manner" and "appear to be the result of retaliation". It also claims some board members "directly involved themselves in day-to-day operations of schools" including taking sides in personnel issues, especially those involving friends or relatives.

Debra Brantley, the new interim superintendent, said the report doesn't pull any punches.

"Yes, we've made mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. We're willing to correct them because we want the board and community and schools to work together," she said.

Brantley said the accusations from SACS are not related to the level of instruction students get in the classroom, but how school staff, administrators, and board members have dealt with each other.

SACS tells the school system to come up with a plan by November to at least look for a permanent superintendent that will handle employees different and keep board members from interferring. Brantley said its about listening to the community as much as possible and including them in the overall plan.

"If we can earn their trust again and work together, it can work," she stated.

"I'm still not certain we're going to get anything but lip service," Melton worried.

Both sides agree they need each other to keep their schools accredited. While accreditation from groups like SACS are noteworthy, they aren't legally required by the state of Georgia. However, the ranking helps schools systems acquire grants and help high school graduates obtain HOPE scholarships and qualify for many colleges and universities.

The Appling Board of Education meets with the public to discuss the report at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning at their complex on Blackshear Highway.

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