Gwinnett”s Great Advantage: Lifelong Learning Opportunities

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By Alvin Wilbanks

An organization committed to continuous improvement has to look outside its borders occasionally to affirm that it is, indeed, improving. That is what occurred in February for Gwinnett County Public Schools, when we hosted the Quality Assurance Review (QAR) team from AdvancED, the parent organization for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools” Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS/CASI).

We first earned district accreditation from SACS/CASI in 2007, meaning 2012 was the time for our five-year review. AdvancED brought in 26 educators from Georgia, nine other states, and Puerto Rico for an extensive look at the school district.

The team assessed our performance against seven “Accreditation Standards for Quality Systems,”# dealing with: vision and purpose; governance and leadership; teaching and learning; documenting and using results; resources and support systems; stakeholder communications and relationships; and commitment to continuous improvement. The team reviewed over 1,500 artifacts (documents, data, and other evidence), visited 28 schools (246 classrooms), and interviewed 1,002 stakeholders (Board members, parents, business or community leaders, students, and staff). Their purpose was to gather and analyze information in order to provide feedback to GCPS and make a recommendation to AdvancED regarding continued accreditation.

On five of the seven standards the team gave GCPS its highest rating; the other two standards earned the next-highest rating. The team commended GCPS for its strong, stable leadership that uses the district”s vision as a catalyst for change; strategic planning and action district wide; flexibility for schools to innovate, and relevant staff development that supports all improvement efforts.
Three areas were identified for “required action,”# or improvement. GCPS needs to: ascertain the validity and reliability of its interim assessments; increase the integration of instructional technology in all curricular areas, and involve stakeholders more in reviewing the system”s foundational components (vision, core beliefs, etc.).

We agree with the QAR team”s recommendations. In fact, work is already underway on improving our interim assessments. Our eCLASS initiative will help us address the second recommendation, and we will conduct a community-wide review of our vision, mission, and goals later this year.

The QAR team also reported that it will recommend to AdvancED that Gwinnett County Public Schools be given full district accreditation for another five years. We applaud AdvancED”s process for ensuring that school districts not only meet the quality standards, but also are committed to continuous improvement. AdvancED”s objectives mesh perfectly with ours as we continue to work on becoming a system of world-class schools.

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