After months of preparation and self-evaluation, as well as three days of extensive review by outside evaluators, the Franklin Special School District received a glowing review and has been notified of continued accreditation from AdvancED, one of the most esteemed education accrediting agencies in the nation. The AdvancED Review Team observed classrooms in all FSSD schools, met with hundreds of stakeholders, and reviewed many artifacts and other forms of documentation during its visit in April 2013.
“If asked to describe Franklin, the word would be ‘excellence.’ You guys have got it,” said Review Team member Dr. Gene Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of Sullivan County. “The passion that you have for children has made me renew myself as an educator, so I thank you.” “This external evaluation validates the commitment and dedication of our teachers, administrators, support staff, Board of Education, parents and community to providing the highest quality education to all children in the FSSD,” said Director of Schools Dr. David Snowden, who also led the district through the last system accreditation five years ago. During her exit report to the Board of Education and district administrators, Mary Anne Hipp, AdvancED Lead Evaluator, congratulated the FSSD on its impressive evaluation scores, coining the term, “the Franklin way” as it relates to excellence in teaching and learning. “When you go through the process of being accredited, you want a score that is going to hopefully fall between 2.0 and 3.0 on a scale of 1-4,” she informed the group. The FSSD exceeded those expectations in almost every standard:
- Purpose and Direction: 3.75
- Governance and Leadership: 3.3
- Teaching and Assessing for Learning: 3.67
- Resources and Support Systems: 3.25
- Using Results for Continuous Improvement: 2.8
Additionally, the Review Team shared what it found to be “Powerful Practices,” consisting of exceptional practices the FSSD has initiated or is engaged in that are making positive differences in the system and its schools. In short, a Powerful Practice is “something” the system is doing very well and at a high level. Each of these “Powerful Practices” garnered the high score of a 4. There were 18 Powerful Practices identified in the FSSD.
1. The district’s vision and mission statements were developed through a comprehensive process that involved all levels of stakeholders and focused clearly on high expectations for student success.
2. Data describing student performance at each school are maintained and monitored by building and district level personnel with feedback and training targeted to improve each school’s passion for student success.
3. District leadership and administrative staff maintain a laser-like focus on “Excellence in Teaching and Learning for All” consistent with its purpose and direction. 4. Franklin Special School District consistently establishes policies and supports practices that ensure effective administration of the district and its schools.
5. The FSSD Board of Education operates responsibly and functions effectively as evidenced in the community support, appreciation they have garnered, and recognitions they have received.
6. The Board of Education clearly understands its responsibility and enables the Director of Schools and school leadership to carry out daily school functions without interference.
7. The primary focus of supervision and evaluation processes in FSSD is improving professional practice and ensuring student success across the district.
8. A well-defined curriculum provides equitable and challenging learning experiences to all students with clearly defined learning targets communicated to students and parents.
9. The system utilizes a comprehensive assessment plan to monitor, adjust, and check for alignment of the curriculum, instruction, and student achievement maintaining a clear focus on teaching and learning.
10. Multiple layers of support are provided by the system to build capacity through differentiated professional development, to foster leadership development, and to align supervision and organizational structures.
11. The system is clearly a professional learning organization that supports improved instruction and ensures student learning at all levels.
12. An exemplary mentoring, coaching, and induction program supports instructional improvement consistent with the system’s mission and purpose.
13. The district culture creates environments where all students are known by at least one or more adult advocates in support of each school’s mission to achieve excellence for all.
14. District-wide grading and reporting practices are regularly evaluated to reflect clear learning targets and inform students and parents of academic progress.
15. Community participation and support agencies enhance the district’s ability to provide for the needs of all students.
16. The district conducts a systematic process to recruit, employ, and retain a highly qualified and diverse staff.
17. FSSD manages instructional time, fiscal resources, and material resources to fully support the vision of the district.
18. The district staff takes pride in proactively maintaining a safe, clean, and healthy environment for all stakeholders.
While the exit report was highly complimentary, the whole process is intended to provide school districts with additional ways they can improve. The Review Team and district leaders have identified the following areas for continuous improvement:
• Identify qualified personnel to assist students and staff in determining the informational resources and tools necessary to support the system’s educational programs, to systematically integrate instructional technology resources into daily classroom instruction, to optimize student opportunities to use these resources for learning, and to continuously monitor their effectiveness on student achievement.
• Provide additional training to teachers and support staff in the interpretation and use of data to inform instruction. This needs to be heightened in urgency as the mandate of Response to Intervention (RtI) approaches.
Hipp said that during the FSSD, several themes emerged:
- Intentionality of practices that consistently put children FIRST
- Strength of the district is PEOPLE
- Passionate learners
- Pride — “My child is a part of FSSD”
- No compromise on instruction
- Totally exemplary leadership
The AdvancED Accreditation Process is a clear and comprehensive program of evaluation and external review, supported by research-based standards, and dedicated to helping schools, districts and education providers continuously improve. The FSSD chose to undergo system accreditation rather than school-by-school accreditation. According to AdvancED’s web site, “System accreditation has the power to nurture and support individual school improvement, and at the same time unify school improvement and align it with overall system improvement goals so that the system’s schools are moving in one direction together, on the same page.”
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