County schools accredited

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

For the first time in its history, the Covington County Schools System – as a whole – received district accreditation from AdvancedEd (SACS).

Wednesday, school board members, principals and representatives from AdvancedEd, the parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools met to discuss the findings of the three-and-a-half day process.

“First, I have to say, ‘job well done,’ to everyone involved in making this process a reality,” said superintendent Terry Holley. “We have learned what we can improve on and what we’re going to do get to the next step.”

In the past, individual schools completed the accreditation process. SACS only recently began allowing the option of a district-wide accreditation, which the Covington County system opted for this year.

Schools and districts benefit from accreditation through objective peer review, attainment of high standards and engagement in continuous improvement, said Dr. Sharon Steinem with the SACS committee.

“This process is designed to make sure that all schools in the system are ‘on the same page’ so to speak to get students past the basic test taking skills so that they are ready to go out into the world of work,” Steinem said. “It is an intense process and the national protocol for school districts to a systemic, system-wide approach that shows all schools designated within the district’s focus how to, on a broad overview approach, lend itself to a more efficient and more effective system.”

Steinem said the district accreditation process, “recognizes that increasing student achievement involves more than improving instruction. It is a result of how well all the parts of the education system-the district, school and classroom-work together to meet the needs of students.”

To achieve accreditation, the system must meet seven standards ranging from a cohesive “vision and purpose” to learning how to utilize all resources and pledging a commitment to continuous improvement.

System-wide, there were four “required action” items noted by the SACS committee that included a revision and re-evaluation of the system’s current vision and mission statement; the development a system-wide plan; finding a way to engage more stakeholders; and establishing a system-wide practice for school-based personnel to collaborate among and between the schools. Holley said stakeholders are anyone affiliated with a school, “from the teachers and the students to the parents and support personnel on up to the board members.”

“This is an opportune time with the start of a new superintendent to make sure the mission statement is aligned with the beliefs and values of all Covington County Schools System stakeholders, to get a broader spectrum of people involved in your system and to find a way to do more to work with others in all of the schools,” Steinem said.

Steinem credited the area’s “wonderful culture” and “unbelievable test results” as proof the system should serve as a model for other systems.

“You can tell everyone takes pride in your schools,” she said.

“People – from the teachers to the students, many whom are now parents with students attending now – they come to stay and don’t leave. Your schools have truly achieved unbelievable results in state level testing. All of which can serve as a case study of how schools can achieve.”

There are nine schools under the Covington County Schools System, and the system-wide accreditation is for five years.