Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SACS, is the organization that holds the accreditation process for DeKalb County School System, DCSS.
As a candidate for DCSS District 4 Board of Education, I am studying the rules and regulations of board membership and ethics are a particular area of interest given the recent history of DCSS. Current board members have made comments, in conversation and in a campaign forum, that made me sit down hard and think about what they said:
"A school board member is not allowed to enter a school without the express permission of the superintendent."
I've been searching on the SACS website now for the rule that states that, or an explanation, or even if it exists. For an organization whose sole function is to verify that a school system is qualified to hand out diplomas, they are not very transparent. A well written list of specifications and guidelines would be good but all I find so far are vague statements that leave much to the discretion of the auditors.
After some thought on this, I came up with an analogy to explain my concern with the ban on school board members visiting schools.
The thermostat on my wall is used to tell the air conditioner what temperature I want the house to be. When it works properly, the air conditioner turns on and off as needed. The thermostat has a built-in thermometer that measures the air temperature and that is how the thermostat decides it's cool enough to turn off or warm enough to turn on. If the thermometer is broken, the AC may run all the time or not at all.
The school board and its policy making authority are the thermostat. The school board passes policy to the superintendent who acts to make it happen. But here is where the "not allowed to enter" rule causes problems. Like the thermostat, the school board must have a thermometer, a progress report of sorts, to decide if the policy is effective. Currently, according to board members pointing at SACS rules, the ONLY source for the board of this report is the superintendent.
The way it works now is the superintendent is required to implement policy and also provide the sole evaluation of their quality and effectiveness. SACS is the only other evaluator and that's only every five years.
Isn't this how we got into the mess we are in now? Lack of board oversight on a superintendent and their staff seems like the answer to "What went wrong?" Sounds like the fox guarding the hen house to me. NOTE: I'm NOT accusing the current superintendent of anything - this only about the process itself.
OK. By now, someone is thinking, "But, Jim! The board can't micromanage all aspects of the operation of a school system?!" And, yes, that is true and the board should not ever consider that as an option. But the board must be able to gather information about the policy effectiveness that is independent of those who are being evaluated. That information comes from the teachers, principals and students. DCSS has clearly shown itself to have little to no "upstream" communication process. For instance, why did Tucker Middle School smell like sewage for four years?
I would like to visit schools and sit down at lunch and talk with teachers and students about whatever they want to talk about. I want to be able to observe first hand, not third hand and heavily filtered then edited for "correctness", the good, the bad and "in progress" that goes on. If we can't talk about the problems, how can we work together to create solutions?
We need a thermometer in the schools.
This article was originally posted on Tucker Patch