When it appeared that the DeKalb School system was at risk of losing its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, many parents began pushing for accreditation from the Georgia Accrediting Commission, as a “safety net” to insure the value of their childrens’ DeKalb County high school diplomas. The tactic, referred to as “dual accreditation,” was initially met with resistance from interim school superintendent Michael Thurmond. In spite of lingering reluctance from some board members and administrative staff, dual accreditation now appears to be on track to becoming school board policy, and should be formally adopted at next month’s board meeting.
Board members John Coleman, Marshall Orson, Karen Carter and Michael Erwin sponsored the measure and sought board approval of a dual accreditation policy at the board’s most recent meeting. Coleman brought the issue up, saying dual accreditation “represents an opportunity for more accountability in the system,” and emphasized repeatedly that seeking accreditation through GAC “is in no way an attempt to undermine SACS… full accreditation through SACS remains a primary priority” of the board.
Although she said she was not a “naysayer,” board member Dr. Joyce Morley opposed bringing the matter to a formal vote. “I believe that people are looking at dual accreditation out of fear,” she said. “I think we’re in the middle of a river, and when you’re in the middle of a river, you don’t take on more stuff,” Morley added, and asked her colleagues to consider revisiting the matter in December of this year, or possibly 2015.
Chief Strategy Officer Ramona Tyson expressed the concerns of the administrative staff more clearly: “I don’t think there’s any administrator that wouldn’t support dual accreditation,” Tyson said, but added: “But the staff preparation for accreditation through GAC would compete with their efforts necessary for SACS accreditation.”
But Robert Boyd, an accreditation consultant with GAC told the board that accreditation through GAC for individual schools would take “no more than four or five days,” and that since DeKalb Schools had previously been a member of the GAC, re-accreditation could be accomplished in a single visit “if the appropriate documentation and personnel were in place.”
While SACS uses board governance to determine accreditation for entire systems, the GAC process focuses on individual schools and uses specific, measurable items, such as the length of instructional time for each class period, maximum individual class sizes and the number of books per student in school libraries to determine accreditation. GAC estimates the cost of accreditation for all 22 high schools in the DeKalb system at less than $2,000 in the first year, and Coleman’s proposal would cost no more than $15,000 over five years. Students who graduate from GAC accredited schools are accepted at colleges and universities all over the world, including private colleges and Ivy League schools, said Boyd. “We don’t feel you can go wrong with a dual accreditation policy,” Boyd added.
The board eventually deferred consideration of dual accreditation until its July meeting, with an understanding that the administrative staff would focus their efforts on meeting the requirements for regaining full accreditation by SACS from June through December, and still have time to meet the GAC accreditation requirements in time for GAC accreditation in March 2014.
Dunwoody City Councilman Terry Nall, who has been championing dual accreditation for months, said “The GAC dual accreditation I’m pushing is only to accredit the county’s high schools as a safety net for all graduating students to protect [their] college applications, technical school applications, and scholarship funds.” In an email to constituents, Nall also expressed his “disappointment” that “dual accreditation was not approved and implemented when it was first requested earlier this year,” but added that he believed the new timeline was “a good compromise.”