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ALPHARETTA, Ga. — An educational standards agency said Tuesday that it has placed Atlanta Public Schools on probation and given the system nine months to make improvements or risk losing accreditation for its high schools. Losing that standing could diminish grant money and make it harder for graduates to get into college.

The system’s board has failed to meet standards on governance and leadership set by accrediting agency AdvancED, said its president and CEO, Mark Elgart.

“The issues are serious,” Elgart said. “They affect the future direction of the school system and its ability to provide a quality education for all students.”

Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, said he has reached out to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and has called a meeting today with the entire Atlanta state legislative delegation.

“I will make every effort to ensure that Atlanta’s children are not harmed by the adults who have failed them,” Deal said. “We must do everything possible to stop an embarrassing situation from snowballing into a destructive situation.”

School Board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El said the district takes the report seriously and will address all concerns. “Retention of our accreditation is a top priority … because the academic standing and reputation of the district is at stake,” he said.

Losing accreditation could put the 50,000-student district in danger of losing private grants and could keep students from gaining admission and winning scholarships at some colleges.

The agency’s move is relatively rare. Of the roughly 5,000 districts nationwide that AdvancED has accredited, only eight are currently on probation, said spokeswoman Jennifer Oliver.

Schools remain accredited during the probation, which doesn’t apply to elementary and middle schools because they are outside the agency’s purview.

The board had become divided after the launch of an investigation of allegations of cheating on standardized tests. After months of bickering, four members sued in October alleging that the board’s chairman and vice chairwoman were improperly elected to the leadership positions. They had to give up the positions as part of a settlement, though El became chairman again in a subsequent vote.

To keep its accreditation, the board must develop a long-term strategy, hire a mediator to resolve board disputes and put in place a transparent process for selecting a new superintendent. The system will have to convince Elgart’s group that it’s making “authentic progress” by the end of September, he said.

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