Will the struggle to retain accreditation bring unity to DeKalb’s school system—or tear it apart?
In the past few months, there have been promising signs—unanimous votes by a more collegial board, meetings between parents from north and south DeKalb, vows of working together. But shades of distrust are apparent in the push for dual accreditation, a back-up plan to add Georgia Accrediting Commission approval for the district’s high schools.
At a recent community meeting in south DeKalb, Robert Boyd, a GAC accreditation consultant, acknowledged that he had received calls from “two or three schools” after the district was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). GAC accredits individual schools in Georgia, while SACS is a regional accrediting organization that accredits school systems.
“We have requests all the time from individual schools,” Boyd said, but he added, “We would seek the approval of the superintendent of the system.”
Yet the sense that some school communities wanted to save themselves—outside of the district’s efforts—clearly rankles Superintendent Michael Thurmond.
“If we have individual high school accreditation, what if one high school is accredited and another high school is not?” Thurmond asked the gathering of a few dozen parents. “It really has the potential for setting up a dual system and the one thing we have to do in DeKalb County is to come together.”
Added Thurmond: “The thing that has hurt us the most is ‘my school, my neighborhood, my community.’ It has been devastating to the quality of education in DeKalb. If we’re going to raise this school system, we’re going to have to raise all the schools so all the children can have access to an equal education.”
Restore DeKalb, a group led by some South DeKalb community activists, sponsored the informational meeting on dual accreditation, which it dubbed a “safety net.” But Thurmond made a reference to “secession” efforts in Dunwoody, where city and community leaders are exploring the creation of a new school system altogether.
Dunwoody Councilman Terry Nall previously met with Thurmond to ask about dual accreditation, but he insists that he was always focused on covering all high schools. “To suggest this is just something of interest to just two or three high schools in the county is simply a false statement,” said Nall, who attended the Restore DeKalb meeting.
When asked to respond to Nall’s comments, Thurmond gave a skeptical look. “That was not my interpretation, initially,” he said.
The board is scheduled to vote on dual accreditation on July 1. The proposal has been sponsored by four of the nine members. At the Restore DeKalb meeting, Thurmond said would not oppose dual accreditation if it occurred after the December deadline set by SACS to complete “required actions” and it applies to all high schools.