The Cherokee County School District received excellent news today: the district’s international accreditation as a high-quality school system is recommended for renewal for another five years!
[NOTE: Here is a video about CCSD prepared as part of the review process]
“Accreditation is the gold standard for school districts – it provides independent assurance to parents, employees and taxpayers as to the excellence of their public schools,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “I’m incredibly proud of the work that all of our employees do every day to provide the best possible education and care to each of our students. Thank you to the amazing parent volunteers and business and community partners who support us. None of this would be possible without the outstanding leadership of our School Board, its vision for our future and its strong stewardship of the resources entrusted to them by our community.”
Accreditation is the highest level of overall accountability for school systems. It is achieved through an independent review by a team of education professionals who measure excellence by set standards. CCSD is accredited by Cognia, formerly known as AdvancEd and SACS, which is considered the top accreditation organization in the world by both public and private K-12 schools and school systems, colleges and universities. The team of educators that reviewed CCSD all boast considerable experience; they were led by Dr. W. Darrell Barringer, who has 45 years of experience as a teacher and principal. The team’s recommendation for approval will be presented to the Cognia board, with official renewal to be awarded within the next month.
Cognia reviews school districts in three main areas: Learning, which includes curriculum, instruction and assessment; Resources, which includes use of resources entrusted to it by taxpayers; and Leadership, which includes the governance of the School Board and Superintendent of Schools, including accountability and transparency efforts and School Board policies.
As part of its recommendation announcement today, the review team provided the School Board and Dr. Hightower with highlights from the full report that CCSD will receive next month. Those highlights include commendations for excellence in meeting and exceeding standards. CCSD earned 11 commendations for excellence, and no requirements for improvement were issued.
The commendations praised CCSD for its: targeted focus on achieving student success; district vision and accountability; visionary leadership and excellent transparency; strong strategic focus; clearly defined processes, expectations and procedures for operations; intentional use of financial and human resources; recruiting and retaining top teachers, support staff and leaders; building capacity in teachers through outstanding training, resources and tools; collaboration among educators; professional development to improve teaching practices; leadership opportunities for students, parents and employees; and “growth heartset” that focuses on the well-being of all students, employees and families.
The team noted many specific “powerful practices” and significant evidence of success, noting the 90% high school graduation rate, a 15-year high; 93% teacher and leader retention rate; and that 96% of CCSD graduates don’t need a single remedial class at University System of Georgia colleges and universities. In addition to providing overall quality assurance, colleges, universities and organizations that award financial aid and scholarships for higher education also rely upon accreditation as a measure of whether a student has received a high-quality K-12 education.
“Continuous improvement is the story of CCSD,” Dr. Barringer said, as he reviewed the report that he will file with the Cognia board.
The Cognia team interviewed 373 CCSD stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, business and community partners and the Superintendent and all seven members of the School Board. Many of Dr. Barringer’s comments focused on the school district’s positive culture.
“So many things that you are doing are creating hope,” he said. “The school district is a real hope giver.”
While Cognia review teams often have recommendations for improvement, for CCSD, the team instead recommended that the Superintendent and School Board stay the course on current initiatives, specifically noting existing plans to step up blended learning to further incorporate technology in classrooms and to provide even more future-ready skills to graduates.
The first step in the renewal process was Cognia’s examination of the school district’s Pre-K program, which took place earlier this month and also resulted in the recommendation for its continued accreditation.
In addition to receiving the official decision on accreditation next month, the School Board also will receive a full report from the accreditation team, which will include scoring in specific standards relating to teaching and learning, stewardship of resources and effective governance and leadership.