Wake County Schools

AdvanceED CEO says Wake schools review is fair

Posted January 14, 2011 4:08 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2011 11:06 p.m. EST

— The national accreditation group at odds with the Wake County Board of Education over whether an upcoming review of the panel’s effectiveness is unjust is standing by its insistence that the process will be fair.

Atlanta-based AdvancED, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, plans to review the Wake County school system next month after a complaint filed last year by the North Carolina NAACP alleging that some board members want to segregate the school system.

The school board’s attorneys have sent e-mails and a letter, questioning the scope of the review and insisting that attorneys be able to act in the interest of board members, partly because of a legal challenge that the NAACP also filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

AdvancED has denied the requests.

“The accreditation process is not a legal process,” president and chief executive officer Mark Elgart said in a letter Friday to school board attorneys. “It is an educational process designed to facilitate improvement. In order for this process to succeed, we will insist that all parties engage in this process freely and openly.”

He adds that the review won’t be focused on the legal challenge with the Office of Civil Rights but about the governance and leadership of the school board.

Elgart goes on to write that the school board is asking his group to deviate from policies and procedures that are applied to more than 27,000 institutions.

“During the past six months, the leadership of Wake County Schools has maintained a confrontational attitude towards [sic] the accreditation process,” Elgart said. “In your letter, you are asking for us to deviate form the policies and procedures that guide our work with all other school systems and their institutions.”

The review will happen Feb. 17-18 with or without the cooperation of the board, Elgart said.

Wake County’s incoming superintendent, Tony Tata, who starts Jan. 31., said at a meeting of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce on Friday that he believes both sides shouldn’t lose sight of what’s important.

“You’ve got a lot of high school seniors and juniors whose hopes and dreams are riding on the outcome of this decision, and I really hope that all the adults involved – AdvancED, the school board – (that they) can remember this is about students.”

The disagreement between the two groups has led school board members to discuss the possibility of dropping AdvancED and look to another accreditation agency, board member John Tedesco has said.

The issue stems from the NAACP complaint filed in March after the board voted to move away from a longstanding policy of busing students to achieve socio-economic diversity for neighborhood schools.

Opponents believe the move will segregate students, lead to high teacher turnovers and keep economically disadvantaged students from getting the same quality of education as their counterparts.

Supporters of the plan disagree, saying it will improve student achievement, allow parents to be more involved in their children’s education and give parents more choice.

The ongoing debate has put the national spotlight on the school system, prompting national media outlets, including The Washington Post this week, to report on the controversy.

The Post’s article prompted U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to respond in a letter to the editor published Friday.

“In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background,” Duncan wrote. “School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.”

“I don't know why he's getting involved with Wake County without coming to question us in what we're trying to do,” school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said Friday afternoon. “I think it's a bit unfair that he hasn't come in to question us on what our intentions are.”