Based on the initial report delivered by a review team, Chadron Public Schools is performing at the top of the class when it comes to accreditation standards.
A review team from AdvancED visited the district last week to determine if the school continues to meet the standards required for accreditation through the organization. Accreditation is a required process for all school districts in the state. That can be done on the state level or through AdvancED, which is a noted international organization that recognizes higher standards, said Superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester.
Chadron Public Schools has chosen to be accredited through AdvancED for 100 years, an important factor for students applying for college, especially to out-of-state or prestigious institutions. The AdvancED accreditation stamp on transcripts can make a difference for CPS graduates because institutions recognize the district is endorsed at a higher level.
“It gives outside people faith in our grades and test scores,” Dr. Winchester said.
The district’s five-year accreditation expires in 2019, thus the review team visit last week. The organization is expected to make a formal ruling on the next five-year cycle in January, but team members evaluated the district highly in its preliminary report.
“They noted three overarching themes or strengths,” Dr. Winchester said.
The district’s use of the Danielson instructional model was highlighted. The instructional model is a common language instituted throughout the district for learning and instruction. All of Chadron’s staff evaluations follow the same framework, and the model enables staff to have common expectations, goals for learning and professionalism standards.
The implementation of the instructional model has been a focus in the district since the last accreditation review in 2014, as it was one of the recommendations made by the review team at that time.
Relationships within the district and community partnerships were also noted as a key strength.
“(Team leader Steven Epperson) noted that in a school our size he’s never seen such an extensive partnership system. In the Panhandle that’s just how we do business,” Dr. Winchester said.
System-wide leadership was also a strong point. AdvancED has 66 standards, and the district scored in the highest level – Impact – in 61 of them. That indicates that practices are deeply ingrained in the culture of the district, and Dr. Winchester said that is a credit to the staff’s buy-in to ideas and practices, which are often implemented from the bottom up in Chadron.
The AdvancED review team included Lori Liggette of Gordon-Rushville, Amy Richards of ESU 16, Michelle Gayle of Florida, Linda One Feather of Pine Ridge, S.D., and Epperson of Illinois. The organization’s standards require the team leader and at least two team members be from out-of-state.
The group conducted 43 classroom visits and 156 interviews with students, staff and community members. Epperson said it was obvious the district has addressed the organization’s 2014 recommendations and continues to search for ways to improve.
“Some of these things you’re never done with,” remarked Epperson, who is a retired superintendent who has been conducting AdvancED reviews for 12 years.
The reviews themselves have changed over the years, focusing more on processes rather than items such as books, curriculum and buildings. The organization isn’t interested in dictating curriculum or any other practice but wants to ensure that districts have processes in place on how to make decisions about those things and to keep continuous improvement as a goal.
The team began preparing for the visit about a month before their arrival, reviewing documentation provided by CPS, and spent their days in the district doing informal observations and interviewing everyone from students to community members. They were pleased that all five board members also made time to meet with them.
“That doesn’t always happen,” Epperson said.
The reviews are valuable for the team members as well. Gayle, who has carried out AdvancED reviews for 11 years, said it provides the review team with opportunities to network with other education officials and see what does and doesn’t work in other districts.
“It’s an excellent learning opportunity,” she said.
Epperson and Liggette agreed.
“We always pick up and learn things from others,” Epperson said.
“It makes us all better,” concurred Liggette, who added that Dr. Winchester is a wealth of knowledge and gaining insight into how Chadron is accomplishing its successes is a valuable tool.
“Data is important. Everybody has it. It’s interesting to see how schools use it and how it makes it to the classroom to help students,” concluded Epperson.
The team recommended that CPS continue improving its alignment efforts and its integration of technology into the curriculum. Emphasizing social and emotional health among its students will also be another challenge the district will address based on recommendations from the team. The timing for that recommendation works well since the district recently received a $1.8 million, five-year grant to focus on mental health.
The district has already hired a mental health counselor to serve the district as part of the grant. Dana Tewahade is expected to begin her new position Dec. 10.