The Jessamine County school district got a thumbs-up from an external review team this month and will be recommended for re-accreditation from a global organization.
The team from AdvancED — formerly the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) — visited at the district and school levels Feb. 4-5 after the district completed a substantial self-assessment process in the fall. Jessamine County received its first district-wide accreditation in 2008 under the SACS model, giving a comprehensive umbrella for all the schools that had already been accredited individually. The re-accreditation process takes place every five years.
The five-member review team pored over more than 800 documents prior to the visit and during the visit saw six schools and interviewed 256 different stakeholders. Lead evaluator Lynn Simmers said she was impressed with how the district’s assessment lined up with what the review team saw.
“The district was very well prepared for the external review; they were very organized, very hospitable,” said Simmers, an assistant superintendent in DeKalb County, Ind. “I believe the diagnostic pieces that they completed prior to our arrival were right on target.”
In fact, the review team said Jessamine County school officials had actually underestimated themselves on three of five major standards: purpose and direction, governance and leadership, and using results for continuous improvement.
“We were tickled that none of (the major standards) went down,” chief of staff Matt Moore said. “They actually thought we had scored ourselves a little bit tougher than they would have.”
The assessment included five standards broken into 35 separate indicators judged on a four-point scale, with a 4 indicating the positive statement was true in all cases, a 3 indicating it was true in most cases, a 2 indicating it was true in some cases and a 1 indicating it was true only rarely.
The review team gave Jessamine County a rating of 3.25 on the standard of purpose and direction, a 3.17 on governance and leadership, a 2.88 on resources and support systems, a 2.83 on teaching and assessing for learning, and a 2.80 on using results for continuous improvement.
The review team presented its final report to the Jessamine County Board of Education during a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 6. In that report, the group was extremely complimentary of the district’s progressiveness, expectations for continuous learning among staff, and support from the community.
“We believe that there is a lot of pride that exists in the school district by all stakeholders, not just by your staff members or your leadership team but by students and parents and community members and leaders,” Simmers said.
The report highlighted innovations such as Jessamine Career and Technology Center, the Jessamine Early Learning Village and The Providence School. Simmers called the district’s thinking “extremely progressive and proactive.”
Simmers pointed out that professional development is expected and valued not just for teachers but for all employees in the district.
“They want to make sure that regardless of your role or your responsibility in the school district that they’re giving them the tools and resources that you need to be successful in your job,” she said, “because ultimately, they all play a role in the success of students, regardless of what that looks like.”
The team identified several “opportunities for growth,” which Moore and superintendent Lu Young said they were glad to see lined up clearly with the district’s comprehensive improvement plan. One of the team’s suggestions was to make the experience across schools and grade levels more stream-lined and consistent.
“What they really want is to ensure that we have a system in place that establishes these clear pipelines so that parents can expect very similar levels of communication from an East-track elementary to East Middle and to East High so that you begin really living up to some seamlessness in terms of services to kids,” Young said.
The only “required action” given by the review team was to find ways to identify effective programs and then expand those to reach more students.
“We have this student academic performance piece that we’re looking at,” Simmers said. “If we want to know which of our programs are truly leading us forward and which of our programs that are being implemented in the district are having the biggest bang for their buck, we need to take program-evaluation data and combine it with student-achievement data so we know which initiatives to continue to move forward with, which ones to we make revisions to, or which ones do we abandon because they’re not giving us the results that we want?”
Young said she was excited to see that the required action was something the district was already working toward.
“We felt like it was directly in line with what we had put in our district comprehensive improvement plan, which was the monitoring closely of the various programs and checking for the fidelity to see if they were being implemented the way that they were so that we could potentially identify the strengths in our district and duplicate them in other places,” she said.
Moore had outlined the process of re-accreditation with the school board in August 2012 and provided updates along the way as different components were completed. Young said that preparation and breakdown helped the process flow smoothly.
“While it was a huge task on top of our redistricting, preparing to open a new school, new test results — all the stuff that we’ve got going on all the time anyway — having this on top of it could have been an unmanageable burden, but it didn’t turn out to be that way because it was broken up so much,” she said. “But we were all doing a happy dance when it was over Wednesday afternoon.”
Jessamine County is one of only 20 county school districts in Kentucky accredited by AdvancED — only 30 of the state’s 174 total public-school districts are accredited.
Young said accreditation used to have more to do with quantitative assessments but now has a broadened focus.
“I used to resist everything to do with accreditation because it always just seemed like such a colossal waste of time, because they were just bean-counters, literally counting library books and that kind of thing,” she said. “As I’ve seen the transformation into AdvancED, they really get it, that what we’re after is this set of high expectations around best practice and school improvement.”
Young called the external validation a “feather in our cap.”
“In a state like Kentucky where we’ve got a lot going on, sometimes we forget to stop and look at the fact that there are these global expectations of schools and districts,” she said. “That validation of the work just in terms of a technical validity is important.”
The district will receive a written report back in 30 days. The accreditation commission only meets in January and June, so a final approval of Jessamine County’s re-accreditation should take place in the summer.