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County schools are 'doing their job well'

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Wilson County Schools has received its accreditation renewal, valid for five years, from AdvancED Accreditation.

The AdvancED review team led by Dave Stipe, a retired North Carolina educator, spent three days visiting 58 classrooms in eight schools and observing the school system, as well reviewing data and interviewing officials, stakeholders, and all five board members.

Stipe told the school board at a special-called meeting Wednesday that the team, which included four educators from all across Tennessee, is an all-volunteer group with a commitment to helping schools improve.

The team was pleased to note the overall progress that Wilson County Schools has made since its last accreditation in 2010, Stipe reported.

'Tremendous improvement'
"Things found five years ago have already been addressed," Stipe told the school board.

"This school district has shown tremendous improvement. We're very pleased with what we have seen."

The system-wide graduation rate of 96.3 percent is extremely good, he said. "It's higher in every school than either the state or federal graduation rate."

Stipe added that the team believes the graduation coaches program in Wilson County is largely responsible for its above-average graduation rate.

The school system is doing well in all three areas measured by AdvancED, Stipe told the board. But the team did identify a few areas to work on improvement.

He said the schools need to "go beyond the data" to identify "root causes of achievement gaps" for economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

Data can't identify causes, Stipe explained. Data can only point out where to look.

The team also recommended that "the district implement a system-wide communication plan for all stakeholders," pointing out that the process has already been started by the hiring of an information officer.

'Make grading consistent'
AdvancED's third recommendation is that the school system "develop a system-wide standard" for grading, so that each teacher uses the same criteria to decide what a student must do to receive a particular grade.

"An A is an A is an A," Stipe said, but exactly what is required to get the "A" may vary from school to school. He said there should be common grading practices to assess student work.

Stipe also said one area in which schools visited by team consistently fell short of the "best practices" is student use of computers. But Wilson County Schools' new initiative to put computers in all schools - and to issue laptop computers to every older student - is already working to correct that issue.

The bottom line is that while there are always ways to improve, Wilson County Schools are doing well. "Wilson County Schools has earned the distinction of accreditation by AdvancED Accreditation," Stipe said.

Officials react positively
"This is a good report," Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright said. "It charts a path for us and validates from a neutral party we're on the right track."

Director Wright continued, "I like the phrase 'root causes' because it's not just a data point."

The school board unanimously accepted the report with plans to use the information to create an even better school system. The overall good news brought positive reactions from the entire board.

"We can take this and use it to continue to move forward," said Board Chair Larry Tomlinson, who represents Zone 5.

"We hope to take this information and propel us into the future," Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers agreed. "I think we have a good school system, and we're working hard to get better."

Score is 'within range'
Wilson County's score of 271.71 is lower than the average AdvancED score of 282.45, Stipe said, but it's unquestionably within the acceptable accreditation range and represents a significant accomplishment.

The county's score can't be compared numerically with AdvancED's accreditation of the school district five years ago, Stipe added, because a different system was used to calculate district scores in 2010.

The AdvancED Accreditation team - which began with a 2006 merger of the pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade divisions of the North Central Association and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) - expanded in 2011, when the Northwest Accreditation Commission joined it.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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