Accreditation debate continues

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The future accreditation status of Wake County’s high schools remains unknown.

The board of education did not take action at its work session this week or move to respond to the accreditation organization’s latest communication, which said that it would not limit the scope of its investigation, as the school board had demanded in a letter last week.

Further, the organization’s president Mark Elgart announced in the letter that unless Wake withdrew its own accreditation, AdvancEd would conduct its review February 17-18, “with or without the cooperation of individual board members and professional staff.”

In a public hearing at Millbrook High School last week, majority members indicated that they might be prepared to pull Wake’s accreditation if AdvancEd did not agree to the terms set out in the letter.

“Not all school districts in North Carolina are accredited,” said pro-neighborhood schools majority member, John Tedesco at Tuesday’s meeting. “Cabarrus County isn’t accredited.” He also added that children who come from home schools do not possess a diploma from an accredited high school, but that those children receive “high college placement.”

Tedesco noted that the interim-superintendent Donna Hargens has assembled a team to identify the effect losing or changing accreditation will have on college admissions.

“It’s important and necessary we deal with this soon to keep our accreditation in tact,” said minority member Keith Sutton. “What else can we do when there aren’t any other opportunities and ballgames in town?”

Only six organizations have the ability to accredit entire school systems, rather than individual schools, and those accreditors operate regionally. Wake County is currently accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or SACS, a branch of AdvancEd.

If worst came to worst, Tedesco said the board would seek accreditation from the State of North Carolina and push the state to raise its standards for accreditation.

“It’s never a positive thing for a school to not be accredited,” said Barmak Nassirian, press officer for the Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers. “In some places it can be the kiss of death, like in highly competitive schools that receive ten applications for every one seat.”

AdvancEd’s latest letter, in what it has called a “confrontational” correspondence, said that in the organization’s experience of accrediting more than 27,000 institutions, there has been no other instance of “an institution or school system [that] failed to cooperate in the accreditation process.”

After AdvancEd put the ball back in the board’s court with its prompt response, many thought that the board would take action at its work session Tuesday, but the item was noticeably absent from the board’s agenda.

Tedesco said the investigation isn’t too broad in its examination of the divisive neighborhood schools policy, as many suspect. On the contrary, he said he would “be happy to talk to AdvancEd about that.”

He believes that AdvancEd is going too far by wanting to review the decision to give parents a choice of a traditional or year-round calendar school, which, Tedesco claims, “the people elected us to do.”

Majority member Deborah Prickett’s complaint of the AdvancEd investigation is slightly different. She is unclear about AdavancEd wanting to review the school system’s “governance.” “We have lots of kinds of governance. That could be schools or administration or central office, she said.

Elgart’s recent letter did stipulate a review of the school system’s governing body, but stated, “The governing body of the high schools in Wake County is the Board of Education.”

A reason for non-compliance?

“All we asked for in the letter is two things,” said Tedesco. “A lawyer present during the review- which some of my colleagues feel is an issue of due process- and that they [AdvancEd] keep the investigation relevant.”

Elgart noted that the board is “asking for us to deviate from the policies and procedures that guide our work with all other institutions and their school systems.”

Addressing the board’s concerns, he wrote, “The accreditation process is not a legal process.” The letter continued: “In order for this process to succeed we will insist that all parties engage in this process freely and openly.”

AdvancEd also specified the terms of its review in the letter, but added that limiting the terms would be impossible because “the review team has the responsibility to identify, if evident, violations of other AdvancEd standards and policies that may be discovered through [the] review process.”

Tedesco indicated that he’s willing to meet with AdvancEd in February, if the review comes to fruition.

“As anyone will tell you, I’m open to meet with anybody. Some people love me and some people hate me, but everybody knows where I stand,” said Tedesco.

What it is unclear is whether the board majority will decide to drop the county’s high school accreditation before the scheduled review in February.

“It’s unfair to the students who want to go to college. They didn’t get us into this mess,” Keith Sutton said. “All nine of us got us into this mess and now we need to shoulder the responsibility of being investigated by SACS.”

“If your decisions are principled, based on sound research and you feel comfortable with them, then what’s the problem with answering questions about them?” Sutton asked.

He added, “Some of my colleagues feel they don’t have to answer to anyone.” Referring to the board’s closed session discussion on accreditation (the support of which was divided along party lines) Sutton said, “It’s easier to just walk away and not participate [in public discussion.]”

The closest the board came to giving insight into when Wake County can expect closure on accreditation, was in an exchange between board members well after the public had left the board room, which mostly involved scheduling.

“While we’re here I’ve got to ask,” said minority member Kevin Hill, who supports a fast resolution to the situation, “When are we going to discuss SACS?”

“It’s got to be quick,” said the only majority member up for re-election this year, board chair Ron Margiotta.

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