The Wake County school system is making gains but has to do more to restore the community’s trust before it can regain full accreditation for its high schools, according to an accrediting organization.
AdvancED, a Georgia-based group that accredits schools and colleges, told school officials in a Jan. 9 letter that the system’s high schools will remain under “accredited under advisement” status, the next-to-highest level, through June 30 instead of being restored to full accreditation. The organization wants to monitor the school system’s search for a new superintendent, its work on a new student assignment plan and its efforts to improve relations on the school board.
“They have been making progress, but not enough,” Mark Elgart, president of AdvancED, said in an interview Tuesday. “Certainly there’s a strong core in the community that doesn’t believe the board is entitled to the progress it’s claiming.”
The accreditation of Wake’s high schools has been under review since March 2010, when the state NAACP filed a complaint critical of the former Republican school board majority. Wake County has been trying to maintain its accreditation because the status can affect the ability of high-school students to get into college and to compete for scholarships and financial aid.
School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner focused Tuesday on the progress that AdvancED cited in its January letter.
“We have a great school system,” she said. “Our governance of the school board has improved steadily. Our school board has calmed down.”
In March 2011, AdvancED issued a scathing report in which it lowered the schools’ accreditation to “warned status.” That meant AdvancED had identified serious problems that it felt needed addressing.
In January 2012, AdvancED raised the status of Wake’s high schools to advisement status, citing the progress being made by the school system to address the issues and the efforts of former Superintendent Tony Tata. It has remained at that level.
In September, the Wake County Taxpayers Association filed a complaint accusing the school board’s Democratic majority of creating “unnecessary fear and uncertainty” by dropping the choice-based student assignment plan and firing Tata.
“They really need guidance from an accrediting group like AdvancED to get back on track,” Russell Capps, president of the taxpayers association, said on Tuesday.
In responses filed in November and December, school officials said they were making the fixes requested by AdvancED and that they had valid reasons for dropping the choice plan. School officials also said that most school board votes are unanimous and that the board only has “good faith differences” on issues.
Officially, Elgart said Tuesday, AdvancED has made no determination as to whether the taxpayers association complaint is valid. However, he said, if the agency already had found it to be invalid it would have given Wake’s high schools full accreditation.
“We’re not picking sides in the complaint,” he said.
AdvancED wants a report from Wake by May 31 on the superintendent search and the assignment plan. This includes providing information on how it is communicating with the community about how the new assignment plan will be put into effect.