Muscogee County School District recommended for accreditation

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 24, 2012 

The Muscogee County School District is being recommended for another five years of accreditation, the evaluation team leader from AdvancED announced Wednesday at a called school board meeting.

Accreditation matters because it shows independent experts approve of the way a school district is educating its children. Colleges might not accept a high school diploma from a non-accredited district.

"They put us under a microscope, and that's a good thing," Muscogee County School Board chairwoman Cathy Williams said. "Their findings will help us be a better school district."

Sharon Knudson, a retired superintendent from Cheyenne, Wyo., led the eight-person team of educators that interviewed 352 people, including administrators, faculty, staff, parents and students, and visited 82 classrooms in 10 schools during a three-day stay. On a scale of one to four, the team scored the school district in the following five standards:

• Purpose and direction: 2.5

• Government and leadership: 2.0. "You have an opportunity," Knudson said. "You have a lot of change. You are looking for a superintendent."

• Teaching and assessment: 2.5. "You need to celebrate that," Knudson said. "When you think about the amount of change you've had, it's truly remarkable."

• Resources and support systems: 2.3

• Using assessment results for continuous improvement: 2.8 "That's the one I think you should celebrate the most," Knudson said. "It means you have an assessment system that's going to guide the teaching and learning, and you are committed to continuous improvement."

The positive practices the evaluation team noted were the district's strategic plan, new teacher induction and mentoring, the district's parent portal, safe classrooms and schools, infrastructure and assessment guides learning.

The team also listed required actions it wants the school district to focus on, including:

• Revising vision and mission to make it more student-centered.

• Improving governance with the aim of becoming a school system, instead of a system of schools.

• Aligning district framework to better model the district's vision and mission.

• Examining initiatives and working smarter, not necessarily harder.

• Improving communication in the district to make it user-friendly and two-way. "You're going to have to manage change," Knudson said.

AdvancED, formerly known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, will send the district a full report in 30 days. Pending further review by the commission, accreditation is expected to be granted in January.

"The good part of it is that it's about continuance of improvement," Ronie Collins, the district's chief academic officer said before the meeting. "They want to see that we have measures in place and we have procedures in place to continue to get better."

After the meeting, Williams explained that more significant than the name change from SACS to AdvancED, the accreditation system also has changed, so the district's scores can't be compared to previous years. Although scoring in the twos on a scale of one to four may seem like getting a bunch of Cs on a report card, she said she was told most districts are in that range.

"Four is perfection, and there's never been a four," Williams said. "It's something that will evolve as AdvancED moves through their scoring in this pilot program. It's like that teacher who never gives an A. It's like the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement. A mission statement is reality, and a vision statement is utopia."

Williams said she is most pleased with the district's highest score, a 2.8, in using assessment results for continuous improvement.

"That's where you want it," she said. "Every one of the components is important, but where you really want to shine is in the classroom."

The biggest concern, which the evaluation team acknowledged, is the amount of change the district faces as the board searches for a new superintendent, Williams said. "We've gone through so much, and we have so much yet to go through," she said. "I appreciate their recommendations. I think they are really good. … They didn't pull any punches."

Knudson challenged the district with this image: "You have the lighthouse as a symbol. Think about how you can use that."

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