Wake County school leaders say the district has made most of the changes necessary to keep its high schools accredited by a Georgia-based agency whose stamp of approval helps guide college admissions.
In a progress report to AdvancED, school leaders say the district has completed most of the changes the organization wanted on student assignment and school governance.
A copy of the report was released Wednesday in advance of a visit by the accreditation organization Tuesday and Wednesday to Wake County. AdvancED will interview school and community leaders to see what's happened since they issued a report in March accusing the school board of creating a climate of uncertainty and mistrust in the community.
AdvancED put Wake's high schools on "accreditation warned" status, meaning it found at least one serious issue that needed to be corrected within a year to keep the accreditation.
In their report, Wake school officials pointed to actions such as changing how the school board conducts business and the adoption of a new student assignment plan as signs they're addressing AdvancED's concerns.
"As the above progress report clearly demonstrates, significant work has occurred over the months since the AdvancED review to improve the governance and cohesiveness of the Wake County Public Schools leadership team," Wake's progress report says.
Wake's response marks a 180-degree turn from how school leaders initially approached the investigation launched after a complaint from the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
School board members initially accused AdvancED, which accredits more than 27,000 institutions in 65 countries, of overstepping its authority by probing the board's action. During heated closed-session discussions, school board members debated whether to cooperate with the accreditation review before ultimately complying.
Parents fearful about the loss of accreditation lobbied the school board to cooperate. Loss of accreditation could make it harder for high school students to get into college and to receive scholarships and financial aid.
Republican school board Vice Chairman John Tedesco blamed those who supported the AdvancED review for putting Wake's accreditation at risk and causing parents to be so worried.
"They're the ones who caused the public perception of the schools to be negative," Tedesco said.
AdvancED was critical of how the Republican board majority took steps, particularly at its first meeting Dec. 1, 2009, to introduce a sweeping series of changes without prior notice to the public or the Democratic board members.
AdvancED accused the new majority of having worked "to launch a premeditated act that resulted in destabilizing the school system and community." AdvancED also accused the school board of having "no compelling data" when it voted last year to eliminate the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.
In the recent campaign for school board seats, Democratic school board candidates and outside groups used the fear of losing accreditation as campaign issues. Democrats swept all five school board seats on the fall ballot to take a 5-4 majority that will take office Dec. 6.
Some critics of AdvancED have raised the possibility of using a law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly this year that would allow school districts to get high schools accredited through the state Board of Education. But state education officials haven't yet developed the process for providing accreditation.
Tony Tata, who became Wake superintendent in January, has stressed since March that school officials are taking AdvancED's concerns seriously.
"We're really working hard to complete the action steps in the report required by AdvancED," said Tata in an interview Tuesday.
According to Wake's report, they've completed five of the seven action steps required by AdvancED.
For instance, school officials say the new choice-based student assignment plan addresses AdvancED's requirement that they revise the old assignment system "to ensure objectivity, transparency and consistency."
The report points to how school administrators studied student assignment practices in 22 school districts, held 21 parent information sessions and had more than 21,000 participants in an online test drive of the plan.
"We were exceptionally thorough and transparent and we are confident that this is the best plan for our students and our community," the report says.
The report also cites actions such as the development of a strategic plan and making sure board members get enough information before meetings. In addition, the board gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a policy revision that says action items can be added at the start of meetings only with a two-thirds vote.
Newly elected Democratic school board member Susan Evans said the policy change is a step in the right direction.
Evans said board members are mindful of the concerns that AdvancED raised in the report about board governance. She said members of the new majority are not having group meetings in advance of the Dec. 6 swearing-in.
"We're not working behind the scenes," Evans said. "We're trying to be very transparent."
Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED, said he couldn't comment on what Wake has done because it would prejudice the review team's work. But he said that after the visit next week, a report will be issued to Tata in 30 to 45 business days.
"The team will be looking for evidence that the school system has addressed the required actions in a meaningful and comprehensive way that is sustainable for the future," Elgart said.