City schools face accreditation visit

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools providesschools nationwide with reviews, feedback and accreditation everyfive years, and the Brookhaven School District is currently hostingseveral evaluators for its five-year checkup.

“This is a process to make sure we’re doing what we say we’redoing,” said Superintendent Lea Barrett. “They’re here to giverecommendations on our processes, and it’s great to have externaleyes to let us know what our strengths and weaknesses are.”

Assistant Superintendent James Tillman said the evaluators usedto be from surrounding areas in the state, but now the panel isregion-wide. The group in town this week has members from as faraway as Georgia and Arkansas.

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District accreditation is based on the fact that increasingstudent achievement involves more than quality instruction.

The process used to be based on equipment, numbers of employeesand other resources. Now, Barrett said, the process is based on thequality of the education the students are getting.

“We know it’s important for our school district to be successfulnot only for our students, but because the community uses it toattract business,” said Barrett.

Schools are evaluated through the SACS every five years, andBrookhaven School District has boasted of internationalaccreditation ever since 1973.

The process is a rigorous one, officials said.

“They’re not just taking our personnel’s word for it,” saidTillman. “They’re also talking to parents and other stakeholders inthe community.”

The accreditation team uses insights gathered from the reportand information obtained during the on-site visit to providefeedback to the school district on how officials can improve it. Atthe end of the three-day visit, a recommendation is made onaccreditation.

The regulations are passed down from the AdvanceED office out ofAtlanta, officials said, and regulates districts across the nation.Being accredited through SACS not only does good things for theschool district, but it directly affects the students’ futures aswell.

“It affords you an opportunity for students to enroll in majorcolleges and universities,” said Dr. Robert Gilbert, one of theaccreditation counselors. “Some schools won’t even accept studentswho did not attend SACS accredited schools.”

It also speaks well of a school district’s desire to improve,said Dr. Billy Folkes, of the University of Southern Mississippi.He is also in town with the SACS team.

“This accreditation makes them a step above,” he said. “They’vegone through external channels to get a different view of theireducational quality. It helps them continue to improve.”

Accreditation team members said they are confident in theirprocess, as well as in the schools that pass it.

“It’s a great process,” said team member Mary Kate Garvin, ofMoss Point. “And it’s a good indicator for schools to continue theprocess of improvement.”

The standards assessment report will be issued to schooldistrict officials Wednesday afternoon, and helps them identify theinformation and evidence that prove that standards are beingmet.