Accrediting group hits past Fayette BoE’s ‘factions’

Fayette County School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Barrow ay an early June 2014 board meeting. Photo/Bonnie Hester.

Lately, however, ‘board members appeared to be moving in a positive direction’

The Fayette County School System has received another five-year accreditation by AdvancED whose accrediting body includes the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS/CASI).

The school system’s score from the accreditation review which covered the past five years was an overall 2.57 out of a possible 4. Asked about the score, Superintendent Jody Barrow it is a reflection of the five-year period.

“It’s a self-reflection, not a comparison with other school systems,” Barrow said. “We challenged our folks to be open and honest about our practices over the past five years. I believe 2.57 is above average. I think we’ll be better going forward and I think the community will be happy with some of our innovations.”

Conducted in late April, the “External Review” of the school system included a summary of findings and required action.

Concerning the summary of findings based on interviews and observations, the report found that Fayette had completed “a thorough, rigorous and honest internal review” which was “well-structured, with standards committees in place to examine evidence, develop ratings and identity strengths and opportunities.”

During the review the team interviewed the four (at that time) school board members, 54 administrators, 84 teachers, 156 students, 15 parents and community stakeholders such as the chamber of commerce, law enforcement, elected officials and nonprofit agencies.

The AdvancED team noted several items at the conclusion of the report.

One of those dealt with the significant economic change within the school system and the county, including cuts in state funding, school closures, redistricting, the elimination approximately 300 job positions during the past few years and having five superintendents in four years.

Another item referenced the exemplary leadership found at all levels in the face of those challenges. The inclusion of principal representatives in the superintendent’s cabinet was considered a “powerful practice.”

The report also referenced evidence of “contentious internal board dynamics, even in public meetings, with apparent factions among board members. The (review) team also learned, however, that board members appeared to be moving in a positive direction in terms of their workings with another and in their public ‘face.’”

Covering a five-year period, the report correctly noted the division that was a feature at many previous board meetings. Though differing points of view sometimes occur in any meeting, the division which occurred several years ago was much more constant and was largely evidenced when fiscal issues were involved. During those occasions it was Bob Todd and Marion Key on one side of the fiscal coin and Terri Smith and Janet Smola on the other.

Another facet of the report dealt with required actions and opportunities which relate to the challenges faced by a system “with very strong schools but a lack of systemic focuses and consistent practices in curriculum, instruction and assessment. The team devised actions relating to ensuring that the system’s expectations in these areas become more systematic and intentional to make evident to all stakeholders of the high quality of all the schools. Interviews with the largely new curricular support staff at the central office showed that a strong foundation was in place to provide systemic growth while ensuring appropriate autonomy for schools.”

The report team as part of the review observed in 72 classrooms and evaluated the quality of instruction and learning that occurred.

“It was highly evident that students have a positive attitude and strive to meet the high expectations established by the teacher. Students were well-behaved and gave evidence of awareness of classroom routines, behavioral expectations and consequences. However, the team’s observations also revealed that use of exemplars of high quality work was by no means a routine practice.”

The report noted five areas of required action:

• Enlist internal and external stakeholders to create a vision for the future of the school system.

• Develop a process to ensure that internal board decisions and actions are in accordance with defined roles and responsibilities.

• Engage in a systematic process to align curriculum, standards-based instruction and assessment to foster creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

• Plan, organize and monitor a systematic and data-driven program for professional learning across all grade levels.

• Provide systemwide training on the analysis and application of data from multiple sources to monitor and adjust instruction.

The Fayette County School System was initially accredited by AdvancED in 2009.