Peach County schools recommended for accreditation

jmink@macon.comMay 1, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- School board members burst into applause and the superintendent wiped away tears Wednesday after Peach County schools received a glowing critique and recommendation for re-accreditation from a national review team.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Superintendent Joe Ann Denning said. “I don’t cry easily, but I have tears running out of my eyes.”

It’s been a nearly two-year process for Denning, who began working toward accreditation goals when she took the reins as superintendent in 2011.

Now the district has improvement strategies in place, but it must prove that it can sustain those initiatives, said Cheryl Allread, lead evaluator with the AdvancED Quality Assurance review team.

“You have all the pieces in place to get where you want to go, but this is in the infant stages,” Allread said. “You’re going to have to have a period of time to prove yourself.”

The district received an average score of 2.7 out of 4 points, which is “extremely strong,” Allread said, adding she has never worked with a district that received a score of 4. The district was scored in different areas -- from leadership to teaching -- after the team reviewed documents, visited classrooms and interviewed more than 260 school employees, students, parents and community members. The team will recommend the district be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS will make that decision in June.

The system was last reviewed in 2007.

The team required the district get started on two tasks within the next year. The district needs to develop a monitoring process to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs and services.

“You have so much going on and put into place,” Allread said. “What’s working? What’s not working?”

The district also will be tasked with providing employees with professional training, which teaches them to use and analyze student data. School officials already have identified and are working toward both goals, Denning said.

“So they concurred with us,” she said.

Allread also suggested the district better communicate its grading and reporting procedures with parents and look at broadening its student advocate program.

Still, Allread commended the district for the policies it does have in place and stressed that school officials should be proud of themselves. The district has a strong purpose, a commitment to improve, strong leadership, well-maintained facilities and wise spending practices, she said.

She highlighted the district’s pursuit and use of grant money and commended the district for finding ways to sustain its programs after the grant money runs dry.

“I come from a very poor school district,” she said, “and I know what it’s like to scratch for money.”

Out of five categories, the school district received its lowest score, a 2.0, in using results for continuous improvement. That score is due to so many new policies, which need time to prove their effectiveness, Allread said. The highest score, a 3.17, was in governance and leadership.

“I see no other way of going but straight up for this district,” Allread said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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