This week, the Bulloch County school system is slated to submit final information from the schools' internal review to the AdvancED accrediting organization. AdvancED will send a team to visit some of the schools March 5-8 before deciding whether changes are needed to extend the district's accreditation for another five years.
Otherwise, the accreditation would expire June 30.
The annual Speak Up for Education forum hosted by the Bulloch County Board of Education last Thursday informed parents about the five-year accreditation review.
"It's all about a continuous improvement process, and we feel very good about this, this time, because everything we have been doing in the last four to five years has been focused on continuous improvement," Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson said on his way into the forum.
As in past years, Speak Up also provided updates on how each school is doing in its improvement plan, highlighting efforts to motivate students and target teaching in response to test scores.
First, Wilson gave an overview of the AdvancED process for forum participants assembled in the Statesboro High School auditorium. Parents and other citizens, among them members of the appointed school councils, then met with principals in separate classrooms.
Even if the local schools ace the accreditation review, it will provide useful feedback and point to areas for improvement, Wilson said. The internal review that involved each of the schools and the central office actually began in December 2015 and continued through December 2016 and into January.
"The key to this is a self-assessment process, and so it's not a matter of someone else coming and just saying what they see," he said.
In March, the team including teachers and administrators from outside the district will visit classrooms to see that schools are doing the things they said they were doing and using the best teaching methods, Wilson said.
Five basic standards
AdvancED is the trademark of the organization formed by mergers, in the past decade, of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, or SACS-CASI, with accrediting agencies based in the North Central and Northwest regions.
As Wilson explained with a slideshow, AdvancED looks at these five general standards as required for all schools:
Stable governance, management and leadership.
A coherent course of study.
A reliable system to assess students' progress.
Teachers who have a clear understanding of what they teach, how to teach it and why it is taught.
Access to needed resources.
The external review team will visit only a few of the schools. Nevils Elementary School Principal Nate Pennington told parents he doesn't know if his school will be visited but that Nevils has done its homework.
His part in the self-study report included writing "assurances" describing what the school is doing well, and where it's not doing so well, he said.
But for the detailed review on the five standards, Pennington assigned two teachers to work on each standard and then stayed out of it.
"I wanted it to be real and be honest," he said. "We're not afraid of areas that we're not doing well in."
Out of the 15 schools in the Bulloch County system, Nevils Elementary was one of six that exceeded the state averages on Georgia's public school scorecard, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, in 2016.
The school in the rural Nevils community also outperformed the state in all content areas on the Georgia Milestones tests, despite the fact that 57 percent of its students qualified as economically disadvantaged.
"Now, that doesn't mean that we're doing fantastic, because this is a very difficult test, it has a lot of components, specifically the writing component is a serious curveball for kids, but we are outperforming them, which is where we expect to be," Pennington told parents. "We just want to keep working from there, and we're not going to be complacent."
The school's scores increased in science and social studies, subjects where economically disadvantaged children typically struggle, he said. As a subgroup, African-American students' scores in math and science rose closer to those of Nevils students overall.
"That's huge, because we want all students to grow in math and science," Pennington said.
But the school's English-language arts scores dropped some, attributed to the writing test. So, Nevils Elementary now has all children in second through fifth grades rotating through a writing lab for three weeks during each nine-week grading period.
Means of input
The schools gathered parent input for accreditation through "stakeholder surveys" last year. Parents and other community members identified by school system staff will meet with the external review team, Wilson said. So, Thursday's forum was not an input session for AdvancED.
But school leaders do use feedback heard at the annual forums, said BOE Chair Cheri Wagner. In her welcome, she thanked parents for taking time to be an active part of their children's education.
"We value their input, and we utilize the input that we receive from this evening," Wagner said afterward. "In the past, we utilized it to help form the strategic plan, and we will continue to use the information we gather to continue to make plans for the future."
Sign-in sheets showed at least 179 community members attended, reported school system spokeswoman Hayley Greene. The 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. event was open to families of all the Bulloch County Schools' more than 10,000 students and the rest of the public.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.