Atkinson was notified via letter by the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Sept. 18 that it will deploy a special review team to handle the inquiry next month.
“We certainly acknowledge that we’ve had some challenges and we’ve listed some things [as such] … but we will work with SACS,” the DeKalb schools chief said. “They will be sending a team to investigate and our plan is to cooperate fully with that team.”
Atkinson’s remarks came during her state of the system address at a meeting of the Emory LaVista Parent Council at Lakeside High Sept. 19.
She received the aforementioned letter from AdvancED — which operates SACS — the day before and within a week of her official response to its Aug. 27 correspondence announcing the allegations.
Mark Elgert, AdvancED president and chief executive officer, stated in this week’s letter to Atkinson that her efforts to detail the several measures undertaken designed to improve the system under her watch were not enough to deter an investigation.
“The concerns described to you could have a significant, negative impact on the capacity of the school system to realize the many improvements that are the focus of these initiatives,” Elgert’s letter stated.
Consequently, the special review team — comprised of trained professionals — will be dispatched to conduct the on-site investigation Oct. 17 through 19.
The focus of the inquiry will be, but is not limited to, evaluating the school district’s adherence to the following two accreditation standards: governance and leadership; and resources and support systems.
The review unit will make recommendations that will require ‘immediate and decisive corrective action.’ In addition, the team will recommend the appropriate accreditation status for the DeKalb school system — ranging from continued to dropped, Elgert stated.
Atkinson addressed the issue after delivering a speech touching on several other hot button topics, including the possible implementation of a balanced school calendar, the district’s collaborative leadership development program with Mercer University and gains and gaps in student achievement.
“Although we recognize some issues take longer [to rectify] and culture is hard to change … we cannot do this alone,” Atkinson told the audience. “We need you, our ambassadors. We are committed to doing whatever it takes every day.”
Among the major accusations lodged against the DeKalb Board of Education are the body’s purported shortcomings regarding fiscal stewardship.
The crowd on hand in Lakeside High’s new auditorium featured educators, parents and district staffers as well as state and county government officials.
District 40 State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, among those present, recalled being put off by the school system’s financial shape for some time.
“I’ve been harping on [the system’s] finances for the last year and a half … then Mr. [Michael] Perrone, [the district’s new chief financial officer] came in and uncovered a lot of financial issues,” Millar said. “Last year there was a $24 million deficit … and it looks like there will be another shortfall this year.”
Although Millar expressed concerns about the aforementioned leadership program and balanced calendar concept, he lauded Atkinson — nearing her first anniversary as DeKalb Schools’ chief administrator — for navigating a landscape chock full of inherited troubles.
“Overall, based on her first year I think she deserves pretty high marks,” Millar said. “She’s not [General] Custer, but the Indians have been circling.”