By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The Starkville School District is busy preparing to renew its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement accreditation next month.
The district voluntarily goes through the national accreditation through the AdvancED organization every five years.
“It gives us an opportunity not only to have someone come in and look at our district, but also for us as administrators, school teams and district teams to take a close look and analyze where we are and where we’d like to go,” Interim Superintendent Beth Sewell said.
The accreditation is a two-step process with both an internal assessment and an external review.
“We have a lot of reports we have to fill out and then an assessment where we rate ourselves,” Professional Development Coordinator Theresa Pitts said. “This process isn’t to write about how good we are; it’s so we’ll really do a true assessment. Then you’ll have the external evaluation so you realize where your weaknesses are and grow. It’s all about growth.”
On April 22-25, the district will host the Quality Assurance Review team, which is made up of three evaluators from Mississippi and two from out of state. The team members will spend the time looking over the district’s compiled information and interviewing teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members including representatives from the school board, city government, Mississippi State University and OCH Regional Medical Center.
The accreditation is based on seven standards, including vision and purpose; governance and leadership; documenting and using results; resources and support; stakeholder communication and relationships; and commitment to continuous improvement.
The district is required to provide artifacts, or evidence, to prove its work and progress in each area. For the stakeholder communication and relationships standard, for example, the district could provide copies of the SSD Key Communicator, a weekly newsletter informing community members about the happenings within the district.
On the last day of the visit, the QAR team will have an exit conference with the SSD school board to go over their findings and recommendations.
“It’s not be looked at like it’s an evaluation that shows what you’re doing wrong. It’s more of an analysis of where we are and what we can do to move forward and be better,” Sewell said.
During the district’s last accreditation process in 2007, the QAR team recommended that the district work on facilities improvements, increasing technology and using data to track student progress, all of which have since been addressed and continue to be points of focus for the district.
The entire accreditation process is a long and arduous one, Sewell said, but it is important the district maintain standards that go above those set by the state.
“The standards of SACS and AdvancED are above and beyond those required by Mississippi. That is another achievement for us as a district because I think we do strive to go above and beyond what is required so we can provide the best education we can, not just for our students but for our teachers and our community,” SSD Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas said.