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CCS has AdvancED accreditation visit

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Chilton County Schools administration is eagerly waiting to hear from AdvancED the decision on whether the school system will receive district-wide accreditation through this independent entity.

While the school system is accredited through the state, AdvancED offers an additional level of accreditation, which includes an outside source’s review of the school system and can bring additional benefits to graduates.

“This is the first time the school system has gone through an accreditation process, so if we receive accreditation, it would be the first time in the history of the school system to be fully accredited, which is a huge, huge deal,” Chilton County Schools Superintendent Jason Griffin said.

Maplesville, Chilton County and Jemison high schools had previously received AdvancED accreditation as schools but had to go through the process again for the entire district to be considered.

An accreditation committee toured the school system and interviewed employees, students, parents and community members Dec. 3-5.

Ashlie Harrison, CCS Department of Teaching and Learning director, said three of the committee members were from Alabama and three were not. Some were retired educators, but others are working in education. One member works for the Alabama Department of Education and another was the vice president of AdvancED.

The leader of the committee was from Kentucky.

“We started out with Mr. Griffin giving an overview and talking about our system … how the system is set up as far as the K-12 schools and the feeder patterns that we have,” Harrison said.

A presentation the following day by the district-level leadership team included information about the school system’s goals and its five-year strategic plan.

Assistant Superintendent Adriane Dennis said the committee also interviewed leadership teams at the board of education office and each of the schools.

The committee visited classrooms in eight schools.

“They did 97 observations,” Harrison said. “They interviewed approximately 250 stakeholders (people who are connected to the school system.)”

When interviewing students, the committee made sure to talk to a variety of students, not just the top academic achievers, according to Dennis.

Harrison said committee members interviewed principals of the schools that they did not visit.

“In each of these classrooms, they were doing what is called an eleot (Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool) observation, which measures student engagement,” Dennis said. “They were not necessarily measuring teacher performance.”

The school system has received the results of the eleot observation. The committee was looking for equitable learning (if students were being treated equally in access to involvement in the classroom), high expectations, supportive learning, active learning, progress monitoring, well-managed learning (good behavior and respect for teachers) and digital learning.

Chilton County Schools received a score higher than the national average in every category, except digital learning, according to Harrison.

In preparation for the accreditation visits, principals attended three training sessions on developing and submitting documentation to AdvancED. Each principal wrote about the goals for their school and how the school was reaching those goals. These documents were then uploaded to a website for the committee to access.

All of this information will be used by the AdvancED committee leader to create a report for the school system of things to work on and advice for future goals.

“When we get that back, we are going to share it in a board meeting,” Griffin said.

Initial feedback has the administration hopeful that the school system will be approved for accreditation.

“Most of what they said has been really positive, so we feel really good about the process,” Harrison said.

Griffin said some employees had concerns about the process initially, but he feels these were eased by focusing on that it is about “continuous improvement” and not a pass or fail type exercise.

Chilton County Schools had begun the accreditation process but was put on hold when AdvancED changed the format it uses. The process has taken a few years, but usually takes 12 to 18 months.

The school system should have an answer sometime in January. Griffin said he has plans for the system to celebrate and honor the accomplishment, if accreditation is received.