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LR district recommended for accreditation after study

by Cynthia Howell | April 21, 2011 at 2:51 a.m.

— The Little Rock School District is being recommended for accreditation by the international AdvancED accrediting organization after a three-day study this week of the district, its schools and leadership by a team of educators from both in and outside of the state.

This is the first time the district has sought systemwide accreditation, although individual schools in the district have long been accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement.

Dave Stipe, a 40-year educator from Topsail Beach, N.C., led the team that visited Little Rock. Fort Smith Superintendent Benny Gooden, Warren Superintendent Andrew Tolbert and Springdale Associate Superintendent Marsha Jones, as well as educators from places such as South Carolina and Florida, were among the team members.

Stipe announced the accreditation recommendation - which is subject to review by AdvancED’s accreditation commission - at a special meeting Wednesday of the Little Rock School Board. He offered both commendations to the district and listed areas that require improvement.

“As a school district, you are doing some wonderful, wonderful things,” Stipe said. “There are some great things going on in classrooms and in schools. We were very, very impressed with your teachers and your school leadership and impressed with the commitment and the work being done here in the central office. And the volunteers ... the parent support for your schools and what is going on in the classrooms is outstanding.”

Specifically, the district was heralded for its commitment to pre-kindergarten education, the value it places on volunteerism in the schools and community partnerships, and for having a dedicated, loyal staff that remains focused on student achievement despite frequent periods of administrative instability.

Areas that must be addressed include developing a process for evaluating all instructional programs and school improvement measures in the district to determine their effectiveness in raising student achievement and eliminating the ineffective ones, Stipe said.

“We are also asking that you analyze the central office staffing patterns to provide more effective and efficient leadership,” Stipe said, adding that a lack of authority within the administrationhinders the accomplishment of tasks.

“We are asking that you develop a culture within the structure of the board of education that ensures that the focus of all decisions promotes no other agenda except school effectiveness and student achievement,” Stipe said. He said that lack of focus was raised repeatedly in interviews the team conducted this week.

School Board member Melanie Fox welcomed the oral report.

“Our efforts to attain district-wide accreditation will demonstrate to our community a continuous commitment to excellence and our desire to improve student achievement,” she said in opening the special meeting.

In addition to reviewing district-generated documents, the monitoring team members visited 36 classrooms in 10 schools and interviewed 76 administrators, 115 teachers, 18 support staff members, 73 parents and community members, 75 students and six of the seven school board members this week to prepare Wednesday’s oral report to the board. A written report will be delivered in 30 days.

The North Central Association and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement joined together in 2006 to form AdvancED as a way to promote education excellence through accreditation and school improvement.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 04/21/2011

Print Headline: LR district recommended for accreditation after study

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