SACS controversy a tough lesson
by Rebecca Johnston
Columnist
June 29, 2013 09:59 PM | 6461 views | 2 2 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rebecca Johnston<br>Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
Rebecca Johnston
Cherokee Tribune Managing Editor
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The conflict between a Cherokee County school board member and teachers and school board staff is creating a maelstrom of controversy for our local education system that is hard to miss these days.

When District 1 Board of Education member Kelly Marlow filed a complaint with SACS calling for an investigation and leveling charges against the school board chairman and superintendent, the move hit many as drastic and premature.

The issue is causing many to take to Facebook to argue their cause, spawning groups of those for and against, polarizing political organizations, pitting neighbor against neighbor and galvanizing the community as few topics can.

After less than six months on the job, it seems a bit early for Marlow to be calling for an investigation that possibly could be avoided with a little more time, effort and attempt at communication.

To label Cherokee’s outstanding school system as in the same category with beleaguered metro systems in Clayton and DeKalb is extreme and appears like a calculated attempt to discredit our school system rather than an attempt to find answers.

The struggle leading up to the battle began when a charter school tried to open in Cherokee County and has over the last two years escalated, virtually dividing our community and bringing political titans down.

It is easy to lose sight that this political battle is not just about power, it is about our children’s future.

It is irrefutable that Cherokee County’s schools are doing well, beyond my highest hopes or anything I could ever have imagined. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Our schools have become some of the best, if not the best in the state, the envy of counties large and small. People move into Cherokee County so their children can attend. Businesses locate here based on the great schools.

I am a product of this school system. I graduated from Cherokee High School, as did my husband and my two grown children, and I can tell you that we have not always had such bragging rights about our schools.

When I was growing up we got a good education, but it fell far short of being great.

I graduated fairly high up in my class and got accepted to a good college, but once there I struggled to keep up with other students from the Atlanta area and from private schools. That was also true for my husband.

But these days, our high school graduates from Cherokee County have the highest SAT scores in the state. Our students test well above the average in other measures.

Our kids are getting accepted to the best schools in the country, and if the daily deluge of dean’s lists and scholarship announcements we receive here at the Tribune is any indication, doing well when they get to those colleges and universities.

I am proud of those accomplishments. They have been a long time coming.

Fifteen years ago, when my children were in middle and high school and I was PTA president at Teasley Middle School, we started down a path that led to a SACS investigation, turmoil in our school system and finally probation for all Cherokee County schools.

Fortunately, Cherokee County never lost accreditation during those dark times for the school system. The board member whose actions were heavily cited by SACS eventually resigned after a recall effort was begun to remove him from office.

During that time, the school board hired Dr. Frank Petruzielo to come in and take the helm as school superintendent.

Since he took over, times have changed in many ways.

Dr. P is never worried about ruffling feathers. I would even hazard a guess he likes a good fight from the look of things over the years. Yes, the school board was occasionally told to sit down and be quiet, perhaps not too tactfully. And school board members were cautioned not to get involved in the operations of the school system, because that is not their job.

That advice was part of what got our schools out of the sights of SACS and back on good standing.

Because it was clearly a board member who got the school system in bad standing then, just as it is an individual board member who is flirting with SACS this time around.

And SACS was very clear in its findings back then.

We need to learn the lesson that experience taught us and not let history repeat itself, for the sake of our children.

Cherokee County School District and the students and parents in this county deserve better than this.

They deserve school board members who will work long and hard to avoid chaos in our school system, not members who want to see the school system led into a fray that could be avoided.

To call SACS in should have been a last resort, not a first salvo.

Because if history does repeat, the price will be high for our community.

Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.
Comments
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Patricia Moody
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June 30, 2013
Being formally from Cherokee County I do agree with Rebecca, the board needs to come together and work this out!
Julie Olvin
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June 30, 2013
Thank you for this article, Rebecca. The stakes are high these days for Cherokee County Schools. It has become clear that Ms. Marlow sees her role on the Board as a means to carry out her own personal and political vendettas. It saddens me that she does so at the expense of the 39,000 students she threatens to harm in the process. I truly hope that she will resign before we, the voters in Post 1, are forced to initiate a recall.
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