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Accrediting agency gives pathetic picture of Burke school board

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools looks for evidence of work to improve schools when it gives a stamp of approval. But in Burke County, it found, "the focus of the school board is clearly not on school improvement." Instead, the accrediting agency says the board is focused on creating an environment of chaos and engaging in petty politics. The accrediting agency paints the board members as pathetic leaders consumed with themselves instead of education. One example: Board members complained when they were not seated on the stage at public events Long-time school board member Sam Wilkinson says he's devastated by the report. "Southern Association accreditation is extremely important. This is taken very seriously by most of your colleges and universities. It could adversely affect our students. But if accreditation were to be lost it would have serious consequences," says Wilkinson. The Burke County school system has been in turmoil in the last year, most notably over who should be superintendent. Wilkinson was one of two board members who clashed with the five other board members over the tenure of former Superintendent David Burleson. The majority of the board including its chairperson and vice chair wanted Burleson out. But they never said why they wanted him out. Burleson was a popular superintendent, and the decision to oust him was very controversial. The accrediting group first received complaints of possible violations by certain board members early in 2009. A special review team visited the district in early August and found several violations. Among the more scathing findings were: - A board member being sanctioned for sending racial e-mails system-wide; the particulars were not disclosed. - Board members completely ignoring school transfer policy as they interviewed parents who requested transfers. In fact, the report says very few policies have been reviewed since 1991. When policies are updated, they're done by one staff member with no input. The accrediting agency made 12 recommendations on areas that need improvement. While the report found egregious actions by some board members, it also found what it calls a dedicated group of school administrators and teachers. An accrediting team will visit and guide the district in mid-December and then one more time before the May first 2010 deadline to make changes.