Gwinnett County Public Schools has retained its accreditation through Cognia, a nonprofit organization that accredits schools throughout the country. GCPS is accredited through June 30, 2022.
The announcement came from Superintendent Dr. Calvin J. Watts, who shared the information Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
GCPS underwent a special review conducted remotely June 13-16, 2021, in response to complaints about the district. According to Cognia’s special review report, those complaints focused primarily on the board of education upholding its duties as a governing body and certain members adhering to their roles and responsibilities.
Examples of such complaints regarding board members included:
- Exhibiting a lack of understanding regarding their roles and responsibilities as members of the Board.
- Not demonstrating collegiality for their differences or working cohesively to promote student achievement and the district’s success.
- Not adhering to the Code of Ethics.
- Having allowed discrimination to take place against students of color for discipline infractions.
- Making decisions that seem unethical and discriminatory regarding the use of social media.
- Having not been responsive to a downward trajectory in student achievement within the district.
According to the special review report, the review team examined the district’s written responses submitted to Cognia regarding the alleged complaints, reviewed current website information, examined recordings of board meetings, and reviewed documentation provided by the district. During the review, the team conducted individual interviews with the five school board members and the superintendent, conducted additional interviews with stakeholder groups, including 15 district staff members, 17 principals, 28 teachers, 19 students, 22 parents and 17 community members, totaling 124 stakeholder interviews.
Within the findings, the review team determined some board members had not separated their personal and professional roles and responsibilities. A board member also called at least one emergency meeting along with a second board member to discuss the pandemic without abiding by the protocols that a special meeting must be called by the chairperson or at the request of three or more board members.
The special review report also noted concerns expressed by stakeholders regarding offensive postings and comments by some board members on social media. One member’s postings on YouTube and TikTok were provided as evidence by stakeholders. In an interview with the review team, that board member said the postings expressed artistic talent and were replications of other people’s work. The review team found that one of the videos contained unprofessional language and another had racially offensive statements and connotations.
A board member’s Facebook posts were also a concern expressed by stakeholders, who argued the posts were inappropriate and promoted the board member’s self-interest. The review team found supporting evidence that the board member marketed personal business and solicited funds from stakeholders.
“Parent, teacher, and principal interviews indicated that the school board’s unprofessional behaviors and actions do not contribute to positive student outcomes,” the report reads. “On several occasions, principals and teachers reported the school board’s activities as ‘embarrassing’ due to the adverse publicity of board actions and behaviors.”
The stakeholders also reported school board meetings were combative, uncivil and strained.
The review team recommended the board review current policies for ethics and conflicts of interest, among other directives.
According to a statement on the school system’s website, improvement areas have been addressed or will be addressed through future training sessions for the board of education and superintendent.
“We are excited to see that the recommendations Cognia suggested are initiatives our Board is already working on,” Board of Education Chairman Everton Blair Jr. said in the statement. “We look forward to growing and learning together as a Board governance team with our new superintendent.”
Within the review, the school system was evaluated based on six Cognia Performance Standards for School Systems, meeting three standards, exceeded one and needing improvement in two others.
- Leadership Capacity Standard 1.4 — The governing authority establishes and ensures adherence to policies that are designed to support system effectiveness. | Rating: “Initiating,” which represents areas to enhance and extend current improvement efforts. | Improvement Priority 1 — Conduct, with immediacy, a review and revision, where applicable, of board policies and procedures required by state legislation and state board rules and regulations to ensure that the Board and school district are in compliance.
- Leadership Capacity Standard 1.5 — The governing authority adheres to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities. | Rating: “Initiating,” which represents areas to enhance and extend current improvement efforts. | Improvement Priority 2 — Establish and publish the roles, responsibilities, and functions of the superintendent and board members and ensure that future board training comprehensively addresses these practices and focuses on ethics and conflicts of interest to promote optimal organizational effectiveness.
- Learning Capacity Standard 2.1 — Learners have equitable opportunities to develop skills and achieve the content and learning priorities established by the system. | Rating: “Improving,” which pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards.
- Learning Capacity Standard 2.7 — Instruction is monitored and adjusted to meet individual learners’ needs and the system’s learning expectations. | Rating: “Improving,” which pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards
- Learning Capacity Standard 2.7 — Educators gather, analyze, and use formative and summative data that lead to demonstrable improvement of student learning. | Rating: “Improving,” which pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards.
- Resource Capacity Standard 3.8 — The system allocates human, material, and fiscal resources in alignment with the system’s identified needs and priorities to improve student performance and organizational effectiveness. | Rating: “Impacting,” which demonstrates noteworthy practices producing clear results that exceed expectations.
“In Gwinnett County Public Schools, we believe accountability is a good thing,” Watts said in the statement posted online. “… We will use Cognia’s findings and recommendations to improve. We know that this commitment and work toward improvement will benefit the school district, which ultimately benefits our students, schools, and community.”
For more information on the special review and to read the complete report, visit gcpsk12.org.