Thumbs up: Visitors recommend renewal of school accreditation

Friday, January 30, 2015

After three days of observing the way the Berryville School District operates, a group of representatives from AdvancED opted to recommend that their organization renew the distric's accreditation.

Mary Mickelson, a retired educator from Indiana who served as one of the representatives, briefed district officials Wednesday afternoon on what led to this decision.

Mickelson explained that she and her colleagues aimed to do three things: to listen and learn, to observe children engaging in learning and to look at artifacts detailing the district's history. After gathering this information, she said the group rated the school on various criteria.

The ratings, she revealed, were all above the state average save for one.

"These are excellent numbers," she said, noting that the only criteria the school fell behind on was digital learning.

"It's not that we didn't see technology and it's not that we didn't see students using technology," she said. "We just didn't see students using technology at the highest level."

Explaining her findings, Mickelson offered the school powerful practices, opportunities for improvement and improvement priorities. Powerful practices, she noted, are ways the school is excelling.

She added that opportunities for improvement are extensions of what the school is already doing but could do better, with improvement priorities being more serious.

"You must address improvement priorities in the next two years and provide a report to AdvancED," she said.

Mickelson described three powerful practices currently in play. The first, she said, is that the district engages in various support programs and services to meet academic, social and emotional wellness needs of all students. This practice ties into the second powerful practice, which states that the district has developed and implemented processes and practices to enhance understanding of the student perspective.

"The focus on student needs here is incredible," she said, highlighting the intermediate school's Student of the Day program.

That program, Mickelson explained, allows teachers to step into the role of students for a day.

"There is that focus on the student perspective," she said.

The third powerful practice, she continued, is the supportive school culture that permeates the district.

"I knew it before I got here on Saturday. I knew it because I talked with (Superintendent Dr. Phil Clark) and read some of the things he sent me," she said. "We saw that culture. We felt that culture. It's clear."

She offered four opportunities for improvement. The first, she said, is to engage parents, students and other community partners in a continuous improvement plan. She pointed out that the second opportunity for improvement -- to design and implement a comprehensive formal curriculum -- ties into the first in how the district has already been improving in these areas.

"We know you have goals, and we know there has been some participation by different stakholder groups," she said. "We know you have curriculum, too. Extend that reach of those involved in the community. Organize that curriculum in some formal way so it's aligned across classrooms."

The third opportunity for improvement, she added, is to complete the continuous improvement plan already in place.

"I don't know when continuous improvement started here, but you are where you are," Mickelson said. "It's OK to be where you are. But where do you want to go, and how do you want to get here?"

Mickelson said the last opportunity for improvement, which addresses clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the district's employees, can be implemented in many ways.

"It will help this organization to be both effective and efficient, and we're not telling you how to do that," she said.

She also addressed an improvement priority, asking the district to strengthen its communication system. She acknowledged that Clark has recently started a Community Relations Committee, stressing the importance of that organization.

"They can be powerful communicators for getting information out into the community," she said.

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