A ‘powerful validation’ — Accreditation firm interviewed teachers, staff, students and parents

Published 11:02 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

A non-profit, non- partisan educational firm says Buckingham County’s public schools are on their way to state accreditation.

After an extensive review, AdvanceED has determined Buckingham is deserving of “the distinct honor of accreditation,” according to Division Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead.

“What the team is saying is that, ‘OK, you have the leadership capacity and the resource utilization, now you’re teaching and learning impacts, which of course is the lagging indicator with test scores, (accreditation) will come if you keep doing what you’re doing,’” Snead said.

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The news comes in the wake of the Virginia Department of Education only deeming the county’s high school as fully accredited, based on last year’s state Standards of Learning scores. The middle school is partially accredited, while both the county’s elementary and primary schools’ accreditation statuses are listed as “to be determined.”

The primary and elementary schools have struggled with accreditation since 2013.

“I think they’ve done a lot of work to prepare,” said Sharon Knudson, a lead evaluator with AdvanceED, who led a team of five in the firm’s review. “You just don’t jump right to the student achievement piece. You’ve got to have some of the rest of this in place first … They have everything set now to change how that student learning happens in the classroom. And that happens over time.”

“This is the first time Buckingham’s ever gone through this,” Snead said of the firm’s accreditation process. “In running an organization, there are obviously many, many components to being successful in an organization, and you want to make sure that you are maximizing your resources and that you’re leadership is effective.”

One way to determine success, Snead said, is to have a third party, non-biased organization to examine and review all processes and procedures of the division.

What the AdvanceED ranking means to Snead is the division has its systems and processes in plays for “a model of continuous improvement.”

The firm looked at three distinct areas before making its determination: leadership capacity, resource utilization and teaching and learning impacts. Snead said the division scored above the international network average on all three categories except teaching and learning impacts.

“Which makes sense, because we’re struggling with accreditation at the state level with our elementary reading. “What this organization says is … we have great leadership, we are maximizing our resources and using them wisely, fiscal and otherwise, in order to improve the experience for the students,” Snead said, adding there wasn’t a lot more the division could do to gain state accreditation “other than shore up some of the priorities, which is to put in writing a comprehensive system that monitors student achievement, teacher practices and provide quality data. That is the improvement priority they gave us, which is what we’re working on. So, in two years, we should have that done as well.”

One takeaway for Knudson after visiting the division is the “positive learning environment from the board members all the way through to the classroom, and how people were very positive about working with kids.”

She said teachers emphasized the support “they got from each other and from the leadership.”

According to Snead, AdvanceED was contracted in 2013. The division has paid the firm $4,125 annually to conduct its review.

“I’m real proud of my staff,” Snead said, calling it a “powerful validation” for the division.

Snead said the firm interviewed 216 people, including teachers, administrators, students, support staff, parents and board members.

“This is something independent that the board and I decided to do,” he said. “Because, sometimes you have to get another set of eyes to look at what you’re doing … We want to know what we can do better … We just want to be the best we can be.”