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home : features : features August 1, 2014

12/4/2013 10:19:00 AM
Humboldt school district conquers 'scary' accreditation
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Sue Tone

While many public high schools obtain accreditation, the case for an entire district to voluntarily seek it is more rare. Only 10 school districts in Arizona have achieved accreditation with AdvancED, formerly known as North Central Association. Ten more districts, including Humboldt Unified School District, have undertaken the process.

The HUSD governing board learned of the AdvancED's recommendation for accreditation at a special meeting on Nov. 20, after an extensive external review by a team made up of members from Arizona, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Montana.

Accreditation is an internationally benchmarked protocol, said Dr. Paige Fenton Hughes, consultant from Wyoming. In some states, such as Wyoming, she said, all school districts must undergo mandatory accreditation. In Arizona, the process is voluntary.

It begins with a team of evaluators that review the self-evaluation documents from each principal before they arrive for a four-day visit of school sites. The point of the accreditation process is to receive external and objective validation of the areas in which the district does well, and the areas for continuous improvement.

Evaluation is based on an analysis of three areas: impact of teaching and learning, leadership capacity, and resource utilization.

The team conducted a total of 87 interviews, which included administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents and board members. They also observed in 80 different learning environments and rated those in seven areas.

"It takes courage to open up to this process. It's scary to do that when you don't have to do it," Hughes said. "I applaud you for doing the work you're doing under such constraints," she added, referring to cuts in Arizona's education budget.

Evaluators gave HUSD high scores in Learning Environment except for a category called Digital Learning Environment. Hughes said the district doesn't have the infrastructure yet to support digital technology.

The review team critiques districts at the end of the process and offers direction for improvement. It listed two required actions for Humboldt.

The first is to prioritize its improvement plans, which includes aligning and implementing professional development and training for all staff. The second is to evaluate the effectiveness and purpose of all programs. Hughes said this could identify those that are working and some that aren't, and the district could "get some things off your plate."

"Focus on a few things, support that with professional development, and evaluate," Hughes advised. "Continuous improvement isn't an event. It's how we do business."

The announcement of the recommendation for accreditation drew applause from board members, administrators and audience.

"Congratulations to all in the room and to those who aren't here," said HUSD Board President Rich Adler. "It takes everyone to make this kind of thing happen."

Danny Brown, HUSD federal programs and school improvement director, said the process was lengthy and took a lot of work and effort. Each school and the district filled out a self-assessment. Stakeholders answered and returned surveys. Principals provided data analysis of student performances and evidence of how they accomplished their goals.

Humboldt will receive the AdvancED report in 30 days, and the Accreditation Commission grants accreditation status to districts in January and June.

Accreditation helps students when transferring credits, and also with obtaining scholarships, said HUSD Supt. Paul Stanton.

"Parents can make informed decisions about their child's education. Accreditation matters because our students deserve the highest level of education possible," Stanton said.

In 2006, the North Central Association for K-12 grade joined with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to create a shared accreditation protocol called AdvancED. It is used by 32,000 schools and school districts in more than 70 countries, the company's website states. NCA remains an accreditation division of AdvancED.

Charles Tack, electronic communications manager for the Arizona Department of Education, said ADE does not require accreditation of Arizona high schools or districts. If they choose to do so, it's usually on a local level through North Central Association.

"It is optional; it is going above and beyond," he said. "The schools that earn accreditation can claim themselves as having taken that extra step."

Related Stories:
• School board rates itself on performance

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