SACS peer review team visits Natchez-Adams Schools for evaluation of improvement

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; There were extra principals, teachers, supervisors, assistant superintendents and other school personnel walking the halls of the primary, elementary and high schools of the Natchez-Adams School District Thursday.

These &uot;extras&uot; were here to work, but not directly for the school district.

Peer review teams of school officials throughout Mississippi hit the halls to evaluate these schools for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation association.

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These schools are all up for re-accreditation from SACS following their last five-year approval.

Each school writes a school improvement plan, which they use for five years, and the peer review teams reviewed the plans before coming to the campuses Wednesday.

Eugene Owens, SACS chairperson for the four primary and elementary teams, said there are three main parts to the self-study:

4To check themselves against established standards.

4To develop and implement an action plan for the school improvement that focuses on student performance.

4To bring in an outside peer review team.

&uot;To me, it’s a check and balance thing,&uot; Owens said.

On Thursday, the teams interviewed many stakeholders in the schools system &045; teachers, parents and administrators &045; about the schools. At the high school level, the team also interviewed students.

The teams will take what they evaluated from the schools and compare that to what the school said are its strengths and weaknesses. If the group agrees, they will tell the school so. If they have further recommendations, things they saw that needed improvement or better solutions for problems, the team will present those &uot;enhancements&uot; to the school as well.

&uot;Our job is to validate the schools are meeting the standards of SACS and validate they have correctly assessed their needs,&uot; Owens said.

At the end of Thursday, the teams finished their report to present to the district. Then, they will send the report to the regional committee, who will evaluate it for the district, making a decision later this fall about whether to renew the accreditation or what other steps to take.

High school chairperson Sara Beard said the peer teams of fellow school personnel are a very important part of the process, bringing in everyone’s experiences, to the district.

&uot;Sometimes when we do a self-study within our system, we also need that balance of someone to come and verify we saw what we think we saw,&uot; Owens said.

&uot;It helps us determine we are doing what we say we are doing in the school community,&uot; Beard added.

Some of the things Owens said the teams looked at in the schools were performance data, teacher certification standards, staff development and infrastructure of the schedule and planning of the school day.

But the bottom line is to &uot;focus on improved student performance,&uot; Owens said.

Is this accreditation really important and why should people care if the schools are accredited?

Natchez-Adams Assistant Superintendent Larry Little said this accreditation shows that the schools have met a nationally &uot;recognized standard.&uot;

It is especially important at the high school level.

&uot;For students wanting to go to college, especially outside Mississippi, many cannot be accepted unless (the student graduated) are from an accredited school,&uot; Little said.

And while many districts do the accreditation process on the elementary school level but Little said the district does so &uot;because it keeps our schools at a higher standard.&uot;

The process does not stop here. Schools have to annually submit a report on what they have done toward their action plans, part of that five-year school improvement plan, Little said. So this peer review is only one step in the beginning of the next five-year process.

While the schools will not officially find out how they did from the regional committee until later this fall, the review teams were pleased with what they saw in the schools.

Beard and members of her team said great things about the high school, including the positive attitude of the teachers and students.

Owens also was positive about his two days in the Natchez-Adams School District.

&uot;From what I have seenŠthe Natchez-Adams School District and administration are on the right track regardless of what the general public thinks.&uot;