Midtown Raleigh News

Wake high schools regaining full accreditation

Wake County’s high schools will regain full accreditation now that an organization that sanctioned the school system in 2011 has found that the system has made major improvements in the way it is governed.

Wake’s high schools had seen their accreditation status reduced while AdvancED required changes such as making the school board’s actions more transparent. But in an Aug. 14 letter released Monday by the Wake County school system, AdvancED said that the district had completed all the steps required by the Georgia-based group, one of the world’s largest accreditation organizations.

The letter closes the investigation into complaints filed in 2010 by the state NAACP against the former Republican school board majority and in 2012 by the Wake County Taxpayers Association against the current Democratic board majority.

“As a resident of Wake County, I want to know that the Board of Education is following its policies and procedures, and this is what it shows,” said school board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner, a Democrat. “This allows our high schools to focus on academics.”

Wake County has been trying to maintain accreditation because the status can affect the ability of high school students to get into college and to compete for scholarships and financial aid.

Russell Capps, president emeritus of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, charged that AdvancED didn’t conduct a real investigation. Capps said AdvancED didn’t interview members of the taxpayers association. The group interviewed members of the NAACP when it filed its complaint.

“It’s simply a political agency which has one thing in mind, which is to protect the schools at all costs,” Capps said.

Wake’s governance has been under review since 2010, when the NAACP accused the school board of making decisions such as scrapping socioeconomic diversity as a basis for student assignment without following board procedures.

Normally, high schools are accredited individually. But in March 2011, AdvancED lowered the status for all Wake County high schools to “warned status” as part of a scathing report on the school board.

In January 2012, AdvancED raised the high schools to advisement status, citing the progress being made to address issues and the efforts of former Superintendent Tony Tata.

Last September, the Wake County Taxpayers Association filed a complaint accusing the school board of creating “unnecessary fear and uncertainty” by dropping the choice-based student assignment plan and firing Tata.

In January, AdvancED told the school system that it was making gains but had to do more to restore the community’s trust before it could regain full accreditation.

In the new letter, Donna James, director of AdvancED in North Carolina, repeatedly used the word “transparent” to describe the process the school board used to hire Jim Merrill as superintendent and to revise the student assignment policy. James said the school system followed “established procedures” when it modified the policy, which includes restoring the goal of keeping schools from having too many low-income students.

“The decision by AdvancED is evidence of the thoughtful, purposeful, and transparent manner in which the Wake County Board of Education goes about its business,” Merrill said in a written statement.

Wake’s high schools will go back to being accredited based on their actions and not those of the school board. The high schools are all individually fully accredited.

“We congratulate the Wake County Public School System on the significant progress demonstrated,” James wrote in her letter.

Capps said that AdvancED still might have come to the same conclusion if it had responded to the taxpayers association’s request to return to Raleigh for another onsite visit, as it had in the NAACP case.

“They call themselves an accrediting agency,” he said. “But they didn’t do an investigation. They showed they’re not a credit to themselves.”