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AdvanceED recommends accreditation of Sumter County Schools

AMERICUS — A team from AdvanceED, a globally known firm providing improvement and accreditation services, made a presentation before the Sumter County Board of Education Wednesday in a called meeting.

Cheryl Allread made the PowerPoint presentation, explaining that the team’s findings were made after interviewing six board members, the superintendent, 30 parents and business leaders, 14 administrators. 32 instructional staff, 24 support staff and 44 students. They also visited five of seven of the schools over a two-day period.

The findings pointed out three actions: powerful practices (commendations); improvement priorities (requirements) and opportunity for improvement (recommendations).

Some of the positive themes found in the system included the following.

• Students who know classroom routines and behavioral expectations

• Students who follow classroom rules

• Students who speak and interact respectfully with teachers and peers

• Supportive learning environments

• Well-managed classroom environments

• Professional Learning Communities at district and school levels

• Data rooms and true data analysis

• Commitment of resources to provide job embedded professional learning (academic coaches)

In these domains, the system rated 2.47 (international average 2.66) in equitable learning environment; 2.31 (2.78) in high expectations environment; 2.83 (3.03) in supportive learning environment; 2.69 (2.94) in active learning environment; 2.62 (2.73) in progress monitoring and feedback environment; 3.00 (3.09) on well-managed learning environment; and 1.47 (1.88) in digital learning environment.

The team examined leadership capacity (institutional purpose and direction, governance and leadership effectiveness; stakeholder engagement, improvement capacity and results).

They found committed, visionary leadership; excitement about current leadership and direction the school district is moving; shared leadership and collaboration; and positive, supportive relationships between district office and schools.

The team examined resource utilization (allocation and use of resources; equity of resource distribution to need; level and sustainability of resources; long range capital and resource planning effectiveness.

They found the system has technology equipment, has just received a $500,000 technology grant and has ample instructional supplies and materials. The team also found the system needs improved technology infrastructure, and more pervasive integration of technology resources into the instructional program system-wide.

Other findings by the team included the following.

• Superintendent is a committed leader who deliberately and consistently aligns his decisions and actions toward continuous improvement to achieve the system’s purpose. Leaders at district and school levels foster a positive culture of collaboration, shared leadership and a strong sense of community.

• The collaborative learning structures at the system and school levels support improved instruction and student learning at all levels.

The areas that need improvement include the following.

• Create and implement a structured process to evaluate the decisions and actions of the governing board to ensure they are in accordance with defined roles and responsibilities, a formally adopted code of ethics, and free of conflict of interest. Ensure the plan supports and respects the autonomy of the district and school leadership and allows the leadership team to manage the day-to-day operations effectively.

Allread commented, “We acknowledge how far you’ve come and the progress you’ve made. We’re aware of the history. You are truly working free of conflict of interest and personal agendas, and for the best interests of the students.”

• Implement a standards based instructional framework to ensure challenging, differentiated, and equitable learning opportunities for all students. Incorporate technology and engaging instructional strategies to promote higher order thinking skills in a way that supports the achievement of learning expectations.

• Provide model exemplars to guide and inform students of learning expectations and standards of performance.

• Review, revise as necessary, and promote the Public Relations Plan to more effectively communicate student, school and system successes to all stakeholders in order to improve community perception and support of the school system.

The team found an opportunity for improvement that includes establishing, implementing and monitoring a process to address technology needs related to infrastructure, technology training and support, and integration of technology with the system’s curriculum standards.

The overall conclusions include the IEQ (Index of Education Quality). The system’s overall score is 243.90 (282.79 international average). Teaching and learning rated 242.86 (274.14). Leadership capacity rated 265.00 (296.08) and resource utilization rated 215.00 (286.32).

Allread explained that the international average by AdvanceED includes the wealthiest systems, the poorest systems and all between worldwide that they study. She said Sumter County falls between 200 and 250 where most systems in the United States fall.

She told the board, “You’ve got some real facilities needs. There are some very old buildings and infrastructure.”

Allread said the core of 243.90 is “not punitive at all. It is a baseline score. You want to show growth at the next accreditation.”

Allread said the team is recommending full accreditation to the system for five years. She had high praise for Victoria Harris, assistant superintendent, for her detailed report. “It made our jobs easier,” she said.

Sumter Schools Superintendent Donnie Smith issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon to all school system employees.

“Thanks to all of you for your hard work on our AdvancEd re-accreditation efforts. The review team has recommended continued system accreditation for the district. This is great news for our students, staff members and the community.”