Chris Ragsdale MUG

Chris Ragsdale

MARIETTA — Cobb Schools is soon to be the subject of a special review that Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said could endanger the district’s accreditation.

The district received a notice of the special review earlier this week. No timeline has yet been established as to when the review will take place.

The review comes three months after the school board’s three Democratic members sent a letter to the district’s accrediting body, Cognia, asking for its “professional expertise in ensuring that the Cobb Board of Education is upholding its duties as a governing body.”

The letter is signed by board members Charisse Davis, Dr. Jaha Howard and Leroy Tré Hutchins.

Charisse Davis

Charisse Davis

Jaha Howard MUG.jpg

Jaha Howard

Hutchins_leroy.jpg

Leroy "Tre" Hutchins

In an emailed statement, Ragsdale called the unscheduled review “unusual for a number of reasons.”

Chief among them, he said, is that the district’s accreditation, a recognition of a district’s educational standards, was renewed by Cognia just over a year ago.

“In 2019 and 2020, Cognia’s leadership expressed sufficient confidence in the district to extend our accreditation through 2024 — the maximum length we could have been given,” Ragsdale said.

The allegations Cognia has centered its special review upon, the superintendent said, are those of political disagreement and quarrels within the Board of Education.

Ragsdale noted that loss of accreditation could have serious consequences for students, staff and the greater community.

Loss of accreditation, should it come to that, could make students from Cobb less competitive during college acceptance and make it harder for them to receive the HOPE scholarship. Changes in accreditation status could also affect educator recruitment and retention and district enrollment and funding, according to the district’s news release. And beyond the implications to the district are also concerns of ripple effects on the county’s economy, property values and bond credit ratings, Cobb Schools officials said.

Clayton and DeKalb counties saw the effects of accreditation loss play out in their school districts in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

When Dr. Mark Elgart, head of Cognia — formerly known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Council on Accreditation and School Improvement — handed down his recommendation to revoke Clayton’s accreditation in 2008, he cited areas of concern including mistrust and fights among board members; the influence of outside groups, including local “teacher unions”; a lack of fiscal responsibility; a lack of an effective ethics policy; and insufficient training of board members, among other items.

Elgart’s organization also accused officials in DeKalb, which was not fully accredited between 2011-2015, of bickering that resulted in the weakening of the district’s finances.

While Cobb Schools has not run into those problems as of yet, bickering among members of the Cobb school board is not new. The board has been polarized in recent years, with frequent votes split along the four-Republican, three-Democrat party lines. Davis, Hutchins and Howard even voted in February not to extend the superintendent’s contract.

In a letter to Elgart, dated Jan. 21, the three Democrats offered their rationale for requesting a review and noted the “continued silencing of board members who would like to not only talk about positives, but also publicly address challenges.”

“After numerous points of conflict over the last two years, we recently sent a letter to the entire board and superintendent requesting that our leadership team add the letter as an agenda item. The letter outlined three critical items to frame our work ahead as we grapple with a global pandemic and its effects,” the Jan. 21 letter reads, adding that they’d hoped to discuss early literacy, employee support and board governance training.

The aim of the request for review, the Democrats wrote, is to engage the rest of the board in discussion about:

♦ Enhancing governance training and bringing in a third party to “navigate our differences for the sake of our students and staff.”

♦ Agenda items relating to staff support and safety improvements related to the pandemic;

♦ Agenda items related to expansion of literacy interventions.

Their letter says the district is grappling, like many others, with the need to close opportunity gaps for students, improve safety and adjust to changing demographics. It notes, for example, that recent Georgia Department of Education data reports more than 45% of third grade students in Cobb are reading below their grade level.

“None of these challenges have been discussed by the current board,” the Democrats write. “We did not receive even an acknowledgement of our letter, nor was it added to the agenda. … The three of us remain concerned that our governing body is not adhering to the leadership standards set forth by Cognia.”

The district was first contacted by Cognia in a Feb. 16 letter, when the body communicated complaints about the Cobb County Board of Education’s behavior, according to Thursday’s news release.

Cobb schools officials say Cognia informed the district they’d also received complaints from “groups and individuals alleging the same or very similar violations of Cognia standards.”

Despite a district response on March 26 that attempted to reaffirm the board’s commitment to policy and procedure, the district received notice of the impending special review in recent days, officials said Thursday.

“The district has taken great care to provide Cognia extensive information demonstrating our adherence to its standards,” Ragsdale said. “While the district’s record speaks for itself, we know there is always room for growth in all areas, including effective board governance and interactions.”

The superintendent also noted that it is a primary responsibility of the board to maintain accreditation, under Georgia law.

“The district is committed to continuous improvement in meeting our obligations under Cognia, state law, and board policy,” Ragsdale said.

Especially given the potential impacts on students and staff, Ragsdale said his district is taking the special review seriously and will cooperate with Cognia in the process.

“I have every confidence the district’s adherence to performance standards will be evident, just as it was in 2019 and 2020,” he said.

Ragsdale maintains his district is strong and has a history of “academic excellence, student success, and sound fiscal stewardship.”

CCSD is the second largest school system in Georgia and the 25th largest in the nation, with 111 schools and more than 107,000 students. Officials say the county leads many metro Atlanta school districts in measures including graduation rates (89%), SAT scores, ACT scores and Georgia’s accountability scores.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, residents need trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by purchasing a digital subscription. Your subscription will allow you unlimited access to important local news stories. Our mission is to keep our community informed and we appreciate your support.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

18
2
6
8
66

Recommended for you

(16) comments

Mike Nelson

The Democratic members on the board have accomplished absolutely nothing but trouble and dissent. They will literally do anything to push their agenda on us.

Michael Lord

I am very curious about what is going on here. As a former resident of Cobb, Wheeler HS Class of 1980, I wonder what the true motive is of the Dems on the Board. Any ideas?

Ant Banks

You really sound dumb. I'd advise you to actually read the article and the issues at hand. 45% of students below reading levels? That's insane for this county. But I know, everything is Democrats(bad) vs Republican (good) with you idiots

Shonda Lewis

It’s 45 percent of 3rd grade students only. I am looking at the letter emailed from the school. Not 45 percent of all students. That was the only academic issue in the letter the board members complained about. The rest of complaints were social issues

Howard Peterson

To Ant Banks. With crazy comments like you have made, I wouldn't use my real name either!!

Howard Peterson

To Ant Banks. This is the quote from above. "Georgia Department of Education data reports more than 45% of third grade students in Cobb are reading below their grade level.". Re-read it. It says 45% of third grade student, not 45% of students!!! You must work for NBC, CNN or MSNBC since all Fake News outlets are known for deceptive editing and news story "twisting".

Pamela Davison

Leave it to the three Democrat board members to file a grievance because of pushback of their incendiary race-driven agenda. I'd be willing to bet their ultimate goal is to turn the Board blue so they can push the radical Critical Race Theory through our Cobb schools... and the 1619 Project will be next. Like in other parts of the country, they are stoking racial divisions between people where few or none existed before. It needs to stop!! Parents, pay attention, get informed and be ready to fight back.

George Sandru

Today's Democrats are like a cancer that has metastasized to every level of government and education. Too many of them are just interested in power and control and not the wellbeing of our country nor our children's educations. Very sad and very disheartening.

Shonda Lewis

This sounds a lot like they want to bring in critical race theory into schools. Since they just completed an audit in 2019 and 2020 and it found the accreditation was okay why so quick to bring another in? Time for parents to start fighting back. This is absurd

Howard Peterson

EVERYTHING Democrats do is racist, including the air we all breathe.......Grow up or grow a pair, one or the other!!!

Steve Rip

Hi Howard, just an FYI - I responded to your questions over on this article: BOB BARR: The lords of social media set America on a dark path.

Ant Banks

It's hilarious to see the partisans come out and comment. The article says that the county has 45% of it's students below reading levels. I can see why. The parents don't seem to read either. If they did they would've read the part that noted the Cognia received the same complaints from other groups as well. It's always D's vs R's with you people. My kids don't have time for your tribal political views.

George Sandru

Actually Ant Banks, what is really hilarious is someone who publicly indicts a group of people by impugning their capability to read with a blatant misquote. The actual quote says "more than 45% of third graders" not "the county has 45% of it's students". Huge difference. Some possible reasons for the third graders' poor performance? Maybe over a year of Covid and virtual "learning"? Maybe Cobb County has many more single parent families now where the breadwinner didn't have time to help their kids to read better? Maybe a significant percentage of those R's for which you display so much disdain have sent their kids to private schools where they don't get fed phony propaganda in lieu of reading, writing, and math? Or maybe all of the above?

John Cove

[censored]

John Cove

Keep this up and the City of East Cobb will become a reality. We'll take out schools, our education standards and our taxes with us.

Ian Rhea

This is what happens when one half of the board completely snubs and ignores the other. They wouldn't even acknowledge their requests. I wish they hadn't taken such drastic action though

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.