CHATHAM COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods is weighing in for the first time about three school systems in the Coastal Empire that have been on the radar of the accrediting agency, AdvancEd.
Woods was in the Coastal Empire this week celebrating a major achievement in Liberty County as one of the schools became STEM certified.
This comes during a time when Liberty County is among two other school districts in the Coastal Empire that has been under the microscope of the accrediting agency, AdvancEd.
"We are always concerned when we do hear things about accreditation, which is very major for any district,” Woods said. "AdvancEd is investigating Savannah-Chatham, Liberty and McIntosh counties, all for board governance issues. Even though all three remain fully accredited, Liberty and McIntosh are on the probationary level of “Accredited: Under Review.”
Any district with that status is required to go before the state school board, but a few weeks before McIntosh and Liberty county’s suspension hearing, AdvancEd added another classification level, “Accredited: Under Conditions," which means any district that was classified as “under review” would no longer have to go before the state school board.
"It definitely added and changed the stream a little bit,” Woods said. "So, the July suspension hearing suddenly became irrelevant for both Liberty and McIntosh counties.
“The state is no longer required to make a recommendation to the governor,” said Liberty County Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry.
Liberty and McIntosh are no longer at the mercy of the state board, but they are not off the hook. They still have to make improvements in order to pull themselves out of the probationary status of “Under Review.
”I think if we execute and do the things that we should do, we are going to be fine,” Dr. Perry said.
“[AdvancEd] asked us to update our policies, so we have done that. We have self-assessment training coming up,” said Liberty County School Board President, Lily Baker.
McIntosh County is also working towards improvements with the direction of the former state superintendent.
“You have an individual who knows a lot about the school system, so we are here to support all of our school systems,” Woods said.
Meanwhile, the Savannah-Chatham County School Board is looking to maintain their current accreditation status. If they don’t, they could be joining Liberty and McIntosh counties.
"Our compliance committee has been meeting weekly, most months bi-weekly, to really look at the list of objectives that we were asked to complete by AdvancEd,” said SCCPSS District 2 Board Member, Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown.
This week, the school passed a new board governance policy and social media policy.
WTOC: “Do you think these changes are overdue?”
Hoskins-Brown: “I think that we didn’t know we needed them until we saw that we needed them."
Thousands of students, teachers, and parents remain at the mercy of these three boards.
WTOC: “When you have a board that has board governance issues, that can impact the entire district.”
Lily Baker: “It can and it did, and we saw that. I want our parents and our community leaders and everyone to understand that the board is working to cover all of the grounds that we need to cover to get back online, and we’re doing that.”
WTOC: “What’s your message to parents who feel like you are putting their child’s education in jeopardy?”
Hoskins-Brown: “Our accreditation was not in question. It’s currently not in question. We are looking at addressing the things we need to address to be a stronger board."
As these three district wait to be reviewed again by AdvancEd, Woods says there’s not much the state can do other than be supportive because they have no control or influence in the accreditation process.
“AdvancEd is out of our purview so we try to work with them, but ultimately, we are trying to make sure all of our schools are succeeding. That’s the bottom line,” Woods said.
According to AdvancED, McIntosh County is scheduled to be reviewed again next week. Savannah-Chatham is slated for a visit before the end of the month, and Liberty County will be reviewed again in the spring.