AdvancED, the agency that received major resistance last year when it threatened to yank Wake County high schools' accreditation, said Thursday that the system has made significant enough progress to upgrade its accreditation status.
The Georgia-based body had issued a scathing report in March accusing the Wake County school board of losing the community's trust. It gave the district a year to make changes in the way it governs. On Thursday, AdvancED cited results of a return visit in November when lifting the system's rating from a warning status to the higher "accreditation on advisement."
Wake's high schools will remain on the "accreditation on advisement" status, one step below full accreditation, for the remainder of the school year. AdvancED has asked Wake to submit a progress report by Nov. 1.
Schools Superintendent Tony Tata, who was not in office when many of the actions questioned by AdvancED took place, hailed the improved rating Thursday as part of a general overhaul of the board's governing practices during the last year.
"We've worked very hard to make sure that our accreditation status remains in good standing," Tata said Thursday. "I think the team came and highlighted ... what we have been doing over the past year, which is focusing on good governance. I am pleased, but I realize we have a long way to go."
In March, AdvancED questioned the way the former Republican board majority had changed the student assignment policy. The organization accused the board of eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment without having the data to justify the change.
In its new report, AdvancED said that the new choice-based student assignment plan developed by Tata's staff had "long overdue" improvements. At the same time, the agency said school officials should make adjustments to the plan as needed to help deal with "uneasiness" in the community.
AdvancED had recommended several other changes in March, including making sure board members had information on items before meetings and not introducing resolutions at the table without advance notice.
When AdvancED first announced an investigation of the system, some school board members responded so negatively that last January, they considered dropping accreditation rather than acceding to the investigation. The accreditation process is voluntary, and some among the board's Republican leadership suggested finding another agency or letting the status drop.
Republican school board member John Tedesco said he's pleased with the report's findings, singling out Tata for praise for lowering the temperature in the community and responding to AdvancED's concerns.
"The last six to nine months, the board has been working better together," Tedesco said. "A lot of the credit for that goes to the superintendent."
AdvancED investigated the school system based on a complaint from the state NAACP and its president, the Rev. William Barber.
"It was a political stunt by Rev. Barber and the NAACP, and AdvancED jumped in," Tedesco said.
School board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton, a Democrat, said the process wasn't political and ultimately helped the school board improve the way it governs.
"I do think it was helpful for the system," he said. "I think it made us as a system peel back the onion and see how we're governing."
During last fall's election campaign, Democratic school board candidates and outside advocacy groups had used the concerns raised by AdvancED as a campaign issue against Republican school board candidates.
Democrats went on to win all five seats on the ballot to retake the majority.
Many of the complaints arose from a tumultuous period in 2010 in which a newly elected Republican-dominated backed faced controversy over the way it handled meetings and changed policies.
"Overall, stakeholders share a greater sense of confidence in the school system, however, the Board must continue to be transparent, engage stakeholders and focus on student achievement to build trust within its community," AdvancED said in the new report.