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Division gets high marks from AdvancED

AdvancED, a nonpartisan organization that conducts on-site external reviews of school divisions and individual schools, has awarded Buckingham County Public Schools full accreditation status.

The independent organization reviews processes and procedures at schools containing grades K-12, works “to ensure that all learners realize their full potential,” according to its website. “Our goal isn’t to certify that schools are good enough. Rather, our commitment is to help schools improve,” AdvancED officials said.

According to Division Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead, there are varying levels of accreditation, including not accredited, not fully accredited but moving in the right direction and fully accredited.

Accreditation is determined by “looking at the capacity to move your school in the right direction,” said Snead.

AdvancED determines a school’s capacity to move forward by looking at five standards, including purpose and direction, governance and leadership, teaching and assessing for learning, resources and support system and using results for continuous improvement.

The accreditation process included self-assessments, classroom visits and observation and interviews with nearly 200 people.

The observations and interviews took place over a three-day period, Snead said.

“An independent organization coming in is quite powerful,” Snead said. “We may think that we’re performing well in areas or not well in areas … but when an external team comes in and either validates that or challenges you, that helps your organization grow in the right direction.”

Dr. Cecil Snead

Snead said some of the comments made from AdvanceED evaluators include the division being instructionally sound and increasing its capacity for moving in the right direction.

According to Snead, AdvancED noted the division’s governance and leadership — school board, superintendent and building administration — being marked as strong.

“They were very impressed with how much we can accomplish and we are able to do a lot of work and have a lot of impact with the amount of people we have in central office,” Snead said.

The division received a banner and certificates for each school for the accreditation.

“I’m really proud of our efforts,” said Snead. “I wasn’t really expecting us to reach capacity on the first try and the fact that we did, it’s an excellent honor for everyone involved.”

The county’s elementary and primary schools have struggled with accreditation rankings since they were consolidated from other smaller primary and elementary schools in 2013. The two schools, along with the county’s middle school, currently lack full accreditation status by the standards set by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Only the high school is deemed fully accredited.

Since 2014, both the elementary and primary schools have been termed priority schools, meaning they’re in the lowest-performing five percent of Title I schools in the state. Such schools must engage a state-approved turnaround partner to help design and implement school-reform models that meet state and federal requirements.

VDOE spokesman Dr. Charles Pyle explained a school’s accreditation is determined by the pass rate of students on SOL benchmark tests in the core classes of science, history, math and English.

According to the VDOE website, each public school in Virginia must meet or exceed an SOL pass rate of 75 percent in English, 70 percent in mathematics, 70 percent in science and 70 percent in history in order to earn a fully accredited ranking.

If a school does not meet the required pass rates to receive full accreditation, they may be eligible for a variety of partial accreditation statuses, according to the VDOE.