After more than six months of preparing to host an international educational accreditation agency, Forsyth County Schools has received AdvancED accreditation, which was announced Wednesday.
David Barnett, lead accreditor and dean of the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Kentucky, made the announcement at a special called Board of Education meeting, where he reviewed the work his accreditors began Sunday, Feb. 5.
Wednesday, Feb. 8, was the last day of review.
AdvancED is “the leader in accreditation process and works with over 32,000 institutions worldwide,” Barnett said. It serves more than 20 million students worldwide and is the largest community of education professionals in the world.
“When school districts that are very good want to see how they compare to research best practices, they go through an accreditation process and say ‘How are we doing with our resource use and teaching and learning?’” he said.
The accreditation adds another level of accountability to the school system as a way to prove its student achievement compared to other accredited systems in the U.S. and 70 other countries.
Representatives from AdvancED, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, toured 10 of the county’s schools 37 schools, evaluating FCS based on five agency-set standards and two diagnostics.
The standards and diagnostic scores serve as data that is aggregated into a cumulative Index of Education Quality, or IEQ, score, which “provides a benchmark to assess and guide future decisions.”
“By analyzing the components of an IEQ score, an institution can focus their attention and actions on activities and systems that optimize learning for all students,” AdvancED’s website says.
The county was given an overall score of 310.80, which is almost 32 points higher than AdvancED’s network average of 278.94.
Barnett said he and his team were impressed by FCS.
“There were some themes that were recurring as we spent our time here,” Barnett said. “We heard collaboration over and over again — collaboration between the central office and the schools, collaboration between the schools, collaboration between teachers in the schools, collaboration between students in the schools and certainly collaboration between the superintendent and the board.
“In fact, we heard on more than one occasion, ‘we don’t compete, we collaborate,’ which is an admirable quality.”
Other reoccurring themes, he added, were autonomy — student-wide, schoolwide and districtwide — an emphasis on high expectations for students, teachers and the district and FCS’s rapid growth and increasing diversity.
Barnett also said he was particularly impressed with the district’s Learner Profile, which he called FCS’s “uniting factor.”
“That was the lightbulb that went off in my mind,” he said, “because I thought, ‘Is this a school system or a system of schools?’ When Dr. Bearden said this is in place at all the schools and you will see this in all classrooms, it was there. It’s really extraordinary.”
Barnett and his team did identify two improvement priorities for FCS to focus on.
The first suggestion is to “develop, implement and monitor a formal process in all schools whereby each student is well-known by at least one adult advocate who supports the student’s education and acts as a mentor for learning, thinking and life skills as well as physical, social and emotional needs.”
While the county does have a student support services team and counselors in each school, Barnett said few schools have a formal process where every single student is supported.
The second suggestion is to “promote an inclusive culture that provides for the recognition of diversity by developing relationships across boundaries and cultures in all decisions and actions to achieve the system’s purpose.”
“We recognize and you all recognize the increasing diversity in your community,” Barnett said. “We found a gold nugget in your learner profile and we actually lifted the language from that to include in this improvement priority. We thought this would recognize the attention that your growing population must have.”
The AdvancED team also noted three “powerful practices” FCS has in place: the school’s data dashboard, its Board of Education and superintendent team and its commitment to strategic planning.
Superintendent Jeff Bearden said he is proud the district received accreditation.
“We’ve been working on this for a long, long time,” he said. “All of our good work has come to fruition, and I told the team in my interview one thing we say in Forsyth County Schools is we’re either getting better or we’re worse. There’s no such thing as status quo.
“We will use these recommendations to move our district forward.”
The district has two years to work on the identified improvement priorities and submit an accreditation progress report in order to keep accreditation.