Wake County Schools

Wake schools keep accreditation, despite leadership concerns

Posted March 16, 2011 2:26 p.m. EDT
Updated March 16, 2011 9:06 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— Accreditation agency AdvancED released a report on Wake County high schools Wednesday, placing them on "accredited warned" status due to a lack of effective governance and leadership.

According to the report, the actions of the Wake County Board of Education have created "a climate of uncertainty, suspicion and mistrust throughout the community" over the past 14 months. The report specifically cites the 2009 elections of board members John Tedesco, Chris Malone, Debra Goldman and Deborah Prickett as the beginning of a "period of instability."

The report states that Wake high schools do not meet AdvancED's governance and leadership standards, in part because four board members joined with Chairman Ron Margiotta to launch a "premeditated attack that resulted in destabilizing the school system and community."

Regarding student achievement, the review team met with school system staff who supplied data showing "positive gains in student achievement," the report states. But in interviews, some board members claimed to have their "own data" that showed the opposite trend.

"This lack of alignment between staff and board has led to ineffective policy decisions," the report states.

AdvancED, an Atlanta-based company, outlined seven action steps required to ensure the school district retains its accreditation when the agency reviews its status in November. The steps include developing a strategic plan, analyzing and revising the "node" system of assigning students, providing ongoing training for school board members and implementing a policy review process.

The results of the review were presented Wednesday morning to Margiotta, Goldman and Superintendent Tony Tata.

Tata said he welcomed the input and intended to "aggressively implement" the agency's recommendations.

"We have some issues that we've got to resolve and as a learning organization, we're going to get after those issues," Tata said. "We've got a strategic plan that we're developing and the vision, the mission and the core beliefs are all part of that strategic planning exercise."

Tata said he wasn't surprised by the review team's findings, but was happy that high schools will remain accredited.

"(Students) are going to have high school diplomas that are fully accredited and their applications for college are going to be equally competitive with everybody else, so I'm very satisfied that we've got the accreditation in standing," Tata said.

Board members have said that accreditation from AdvancED might be unnecessary and Tedesco said there are other agencies that might be a better fit for Wake schools. He called AdvancED "a totalitarian monopoly from Atlanta."

On Tuesday, North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill in the House that would prohibit universities in the UNC system from considering a high school's accreditation status, unless accreditation was done by the state. 

The special review team from AdvancED met with Tata, all board members, 12 high school principals and 78 stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers and community members, in February. The review team planned to visit in October, the report states, but "system leadership resisted scheduling the visit." 

In letter and e-mail exchanges between AdvancED and school board attorney Ann Majestic, Majestic called the review process “fundamentally unfair” and asked that the review team limit the scope of its review to issues not subject to an investigation by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and to allow legal counsel to be present and able to represent the interests of the board.

AdvancED CEO Mark Elgart responded that "Wake County leadership continues to take action that is confrontational."

“I seriously doubt the school system can benefit from the accreditation process with this attitude and approach," he wrote.

Kristen Stocking, who said she supports the new school board, was one of the stakeholders interviewed by AdvancED in February.

"I think the tone of the report is somewhat scathing toward the new majority," she said. "They pretty much came in with an agenda."

The special accreditation review was launched after the North Carolina NAACP, which fears the board's neighborhood schools assignment policy will segregate schools, filed a complaint in March with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a subdivision of AdvancED, and the Office for Civil Rights.