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Academics no problem for accreditation team

In contrast to controversies that have prompted an accreditation organization to schedule an early visit to the Liberty County School System, the system is apparently doing well in academics.

Administrators say the schools are working on four specific areas that need improvement pointed out by the school accreditation group AdvancED.

The system is evaluated every five years and was last evaluated in March 2016. After doing interviews, classroom observations and reviewing district records, LCSS kept its accreditation after earning a rating of 266.26 out of 400, less than 10 points lower than a 276 earned by the Bryan County Schools in 2014.

The review team’s report said Liberty County School Systems’ strengths were a caring culture for students, effective resource management, well-maintained facilities and technology equipment, strong communication efforts, a superintendent who is a catalyst for improvement and a multitude of options for students.

Powerful practices are areas in which the school system is doing well, better than other districts in the area. AdvancED pointed out two, resource management and planning, and a caring culture.

The evaluating team stressed four areas the district needs to address by May 2018 for the district’s rating to increase. If not, a team from AdvancED will make another visit.

The district has to submit information showing the district’s efforts to fix the problems. Recently parents and community members were asked to provide feedback through a survey on the district’s efforts.

The Board of Education also got an update March 28 from Sonja Duncan, executive director of special programs, and Kellie Ziegler, director of professional learning, who are over the accreditation improvement efforts.

"The goal is to obtain the status of ‘accept’ when the progress packet is submitted," Ziegler said.

According to AdvancED’s report, the first improvement priority is to have teachers work together analyzing different student test scores and using that information to create lesson plans, tests and other assignments.

In response, the district created what it calls Professional Learning Communities, where teachers work together to analyze scores, and create personalized lessons and tests.

The second priority is making sure test score information is filtering down from the district, to the school level and then into the classroom.

AdvancED found that school administrators spent time analyzing scores and growth data, but there was "limited evidence of classroom instruction being adjusted based on the data analysis," according to the report.

Along with the learning communities, and encouraging personalized learning, the district also created "Data Dig" sessions where school administrators, academic specialists and the district’s test coordinator show teachers how to analyze scores.

The third priority is providing each student with an adult advocate to create a "meaningful, long-term relationship."

Interviews with students showed they feel comfortable talking with the school counselor, principal, teachers and friends, but no employees were assigned to specific students as advocates.

Each school now has a student advisory program, where students meet regularly with a teacher who talks with them about school, social interactions and other topics. There are mentoring programs for different groups of children and counseling plans developed for each schools’ needs.

The fourth priority is providing more training and support for board of education members and school governance team members.

During AdvancED’s visit last year, lead evaluator Cheryl Allread said governance team members did not have clear understandings of their roles and board meeting minutes showed board members were trying to handle problems that were not their responsibility.

Interviews with board members and minutes showed problems related to the board’s code of ethics and training.

According to the draft, LCSS board members, school governance teams and administrators have begun various training sessions.

This includes team-building and leadership sessions, professional development courses reviewing roles and responsibilities, monthly principal meetings, assistant principal seminars and videotaping of board meetings.

In spite of these efforts, issues have plagued the school board, prompting a visit from AdvancED later this year.

The visit is not in relation to the district’s efforts in addressing the other improvement priorities.

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