By Portia A. Scott (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
Khaatim Sherrer El of District 2 and Atlanta School Board chairman, heard worried angry parents, teachers, college students and community leaders voice their opinion of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) placing Atlanta Public High Schools on accreditation probation.
The attendees agreed that September is too long to wait and that they would meet the SACS demands by April 29.
The meeting was held recently at the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in West End. The six demands included eliminating the “infighting” among school board members and addressing the state’s charges, investigating the cheating scandal among several APS schools, and selecting a new superintendent.
One community leader, Ann McKinley said she didn’t “have a dog in this fight,” but concurred that the matter was serious. She said she questions the integrity and credibility of El and school board member Courtney English, at-large seat 7.
El said that a full investigation of the Ethics Committee had found no wrongdoing.
McKinley was joined by other community leaders who questioned the changing of the charter in 2007 which gave the superintendent more power than the school board. Also, there was concern that the school board charter had turned the power over to the state and invited SACS into the fray.
Some called for more community involvement and a recommendation of a community oversight committee to be put into place immediately.
The attendees in the packed church also asked that the next school superintendent come before the community to be screened and to make sure the students’ interests were put first. They also said the school board should select a superintendent from Atlanta or the state of Georgia instead of launching a national search.
PTA leaders from Douglass and Booker T. Washington high schools said that a lot of issues are facing this board, even beyond SACS. They admitted that some cheating has occurred, but “not everybody was guilty.”
The Washington High School PTA leader said she was open to change and was “confident the outcome will be right if it reflects the interest of the children.”
The Southwest and Northwest Atlanta Parents for Public School (S.N.A.P.P.S.) president agreed that they would be watching the board closely, but the board needed to be given the chance to correct its wrongs.
El and English, who co-sponsored the meeting, agreed that more community involvement is needed.
El said that it is not so much the messenger, but the message that concerns him, and that the bottom line “is a risk of our children being cheated out of a good education.” He also agreed that the Atlanta Public Schools lacked transparency and a change was needed.
El promised that APS would not lose its accreditation and that he was going to cooperate with SACS requests.
El and English both said they ould not say anything bad about SACS and that the “question of cheating would never again be placed on the Atlanta Public Schools.”
The host also agreed that meetings like this one would be held monthly, and that the School Board meets every Monday evening to address the SACS requests.
APS parents Leslie Kelly and Deborah Strayhorn both consider the cheating accusations as very serious. Kelly said she was outraged as to what is going on. She said she had bounced around from Clayton County (which lost its accreditation and just got it back this year) and now its the Atlanta Public Schools. She said she had to give up her legal guardianship in Clayton County to move to Atlanta. English agreed that when students have to bounce around from school system to school system, “what kind of quality education are they getting?”
El said that everyone doesn’t want Supertindent Beverly Hall to go. Hall has agreed to resign in June.
The Rev. Toussaint Hill, pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church, opened the meeting with prayer and closed it out with the benediction.
Persons in attendance signed up to be added to the email list or calling post to be alerted when the next meeting would be held. College students expressed their concern to recruit more male students in the classroom, and to tutor APS students.