After a visiting team from AdvancED approved the Bulloch County Schools last week for a five-year extension of the school system's accreditation, the Board of Education promptly rewarded all employees with a 1 percent pay stipend.
The AdvancED six-member external review team, led by John Sedey of St. Paul, Minnesota, visited Bulloch County and its school system March 5-9. Sedey announced the accreditation recommendation and the team's findings during a special Bulloch County Board of Education meeting Wednesday. Then, at Thursday night's regular meeting, the board approved the stipend on a recommendation from Superintendent Charles Wilson.
"You are on the brink of doing incredible things," Sedey told board members, local educators and community members. "You have the right people and pieces in place."
Sedey and his team evaluated the school system on five standards and two categories of diagnostic data: student performance and stakeholder feedback.
On AdvancED's trademarked Index of Education Quality, the Bulloch County school district's overall rating of 281.71 was a little higher than the network average of 278.03 for systems AdvancED accredits internationally. The Bulloch County school system's leadership capacity score, 319.44, and its resource utilization score, 304.17, exceeded AdvancED's respective network averages of 292.76 and 284.48 by larger margins.
But the district's teaching and learning impact score of 251.59 was lower than the network average of 267.91.
"These are all very good things," Wilson told the board. "It's good feedback, and the teaching and learning impact tells us exactly what we'll need to focus on while we sustain the strengths that we've developed."
Teaching and learning is an area where the team saw steps being taken and the district poised to make improvements happen, particularly with its work creating a "Guaranteed Viable Curriculum" across all schools, Sedey said.
"You don't have problems, you have challenges," he said.
Both Sedey and Wilson described the external review, and the overall accreditation process, as means to motivate and guide continuous improvement.
"What you're seeing them say is, we have our community engaged, we're involved together and have developed a purpose and plan and have the resources following it, and we're developing the deep culture that goes to support it ... and that's what continuous improvement is about," Wilson said during Thursday's meeting.
He added "kudos and congratulations to everyone in this district" and said this extends to the community supporting the schools.
The review team was required to give the school district at least one priority for improvement, and it gave Bulloch County three, Sedey noted.
The school system has two years to work on these before submitting a progress report.
Implement a comprehensive, vertically aligned, monitored curriculum to ensure equitable, challenging learning experiences for all students, preparing them for success at the next level.
Expand the induction and mentoring program for teachers and school leaders.
Implement a coordinated system to ensure teachers and instructional support staff are trained in the interpretation and use of data to improve instruction.
As it was not required to do but could, the team also identified "powerful practices," three things it praised the school system for doing.
Using a comprehensive, inclusive strategic planning and resource management process.
Engaging families and the community in a variety of ways to provide opportunities for input, information and participation as partners in their children's education.
Implementing "an exemplary culture of collaboration" through "professional learning communities," which are teacher teams that monitor and plan for students' progress.
Also not required, the AdvancED team suggested two "opportunities for improvement," different from the required priorities.
Design and evaluate a plan for each student to be well known by at least one adult advocate in the school who supports the student's educational experience.
Implement and regularly evaluate the consistent use of district-wide grading and reporting policies at all schools.
The school system does not have to report back on these.
With final accreditation now a formality, school system officials expect to receive a full report from AdvancED in six weeks.
Kudos and cash
Board of Education members joined in remarks celebrating the positive preliminary report.
Steve Hein, now one of the longest-serving members, described his first reaction as "one of relief." He recalled a "shakeup" and change of direction the board undertook several years ago, including hiring a superintendent, with some doubts from the community at first.
"Though we have a long way to go, the pathway has been laid, and we've got a good prognosis ahead of us if we just stay the course," Hein said.
Cheri Wagner, the board chair, said she heard positive impressions of local teachers and staff from AdvancED team members.
"They used such words as 'professionalism,' 'warm,' 'inviting,' " Wagner said. "I mean, what compliments to have spoken about our staff members, and really, that's what we want to see in the classroom ... professional, yet warm and inviting."
"Go Bulloch County school system, we've done good!" said Mike Sparks, who seconded Hein's motion for the one-time, 1 percent pay stipend.
The stipend will cost about $600,000, school system officials said. It is to be paid March 31 to all active employees hired with board approval, and with the usual tax and retirement system deductions.
The external team's visit followed a self-evaluation by the schools, beginning about two years ago with initial planning and data gathering. A team of faculty and administrators produced a 60-page report, which the external team of education professionals from other districts and states, reviewed.
They conducted focus groups and interviews with 237 Bulloch County "stakeholders," including seven board members, the superintendent, 29 other administrators, 81 teachers, 18 support staff, 72 students, 20 parents and nine other community members.
The external review team also toured seven of the district's 15 schools and visited 60 classrooms, according to a news release provided by Hayley Greene, the school system's public relations specialist. She also provided the quotes from Sedey and other information reported here.
The accreditation self-study and other info are available at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us.
AdvancED is a nonprofit organization that provides accrediting services to more than 32,000 institutions in various countries. In Georgia, school systems must maintain accreditation for their students to be eligible for HOPE scholarships.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.