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School district off probation
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It MAY not BE a big move, but it seems to be a move in the right direction.

The Special Review Team appointed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI) has recommended that the Savannah-Chatham County Schools be moved from “probationary” to “warned” status.

The district had been placed on probationary status eight months ago because of violations of the SACS/CASI governance standard for accreditation. The review team found that three members of the board -- who were not named -- had become personally involved in issues such as placement of students, graduation procedures, the employment process, contract bidding and more.

SACS alleged the board was not following its own rules and that board members were becoming involved in areas where they should not be allowed.

The board began working to correct the problems to come into compliance with the SACS CASI standards.

“The committee was very impressed with the progress that has been made,” said Col. George Bowen, acting superintendent of schools, at a recent press conference.

“The board has been working as a team,” Bowen said. “There is a strong commitment to getting the community involved.”

A report issued by the Special Review Team notes that the board has begun revising and updating policies and procedures, and has participated in training session conducted by the Georgia Board of Education.

While the change in status reflects improvement, Mark A. Elgart, CEO of CASI, says more must be done.

“The findings and observations in the report indicate that the Savannah-Chatham Schools have made progress in addressing the violations of standards and recommendations stemming from the initial and interim visits,” he wrote in a cover letter accompanying the report.

“As a result of the progress that has been made, the Special Review Team is recommending that the accreditation of the Savannah-Chatham County Schools be moved from probationary to warned status,” he wrote.

“The change in status reflects the progress that has been made but that continued and further progress must be realized in order to fully restore the accreditation status of the school system.”

At various times over the past eight months, some board members faced recall efforts led by the Rev. Leonard Small and Jackie Sommers.

Representing the State of Chatham Political Action Committee and the Unity Political Action Committee, Small and Sommers filed recall applications against Board President Hugh Golson, District 1 representative Susu Cox, District 3 representative DeWayne Hamilton and District 2 representative Daniel Frazier with the Chatham County Board of Elections.

None of the recall efforts were successful.

The change of status from probationary to warned is particularly important to future graduates who might be turned down by some colleges and universities because the high school they graduated from was not accredited. Also, accreditation of schools affects the awarding of the HOPE scholarship.

After acknowledging the steps the board has already taken, Golson said more improvements will be made.

“We want to go to ‘clear,’ the top status,” he said. “The most important thing is that we have passed the test.”

Cox said the alleged infractions were actually isolated incidents. She said the reason for the board’s problems was its detrimental relationship with former Superintendent John O’Sullivan.

“The trust had been broken on both sides and wasn’t going to be replaced,” Cox said. “We’re looking for a much more collaborative relationship.

“We are nine individuals,” she said. “We are not here to agree on everything. What we are working on is each member’s understanding their role as a board member.”

Sullivan was fired by the board last November and Bowen was appointed interim superintendent. The board is continuing its search for a new superintendent -- one it can work with.

This past Friday four finalists for that position were announced. Bowen was not one of the four.

“We must have a collaborative relationship with the superintendent,” Cox concluded. “Until SACS sees that, will we stay on ‘warned’ status.”

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