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Gainesville school system receives strong review
Wanda Creel
Wanda Creel

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Wanda Creel said she was pleased an evaluation of the district by an outside team this week discovered similar findings to an internal review school officials did while preparing for the evaluation.

David Barnett, lead evaluator for the AdvancED team that visited Gainesville this week, told school officials and the school board Wednesday his team’s report will recommend Gainesville for continued accreditation.

“It was pretty amazing that we are right on track with where the exit team saw us,” Creel said. “The things that we outlined that are needs in our next steps are exactly what they saw as the next steps they saw for us to continue to improve.”

Gainesville Schools earned an overall score of 280.49 on the two-and-a-half-day visit from the five-member team, compared with the average score of a school district of 278.94. The team talked to 202 people, including 62 students, and observed in 50 classrooms during the visit, Barnett said.

“The systems that go through (AdvancED) accreditation are above average and want to compare what they’re doing with research-based practices,” Barnett said. “So, you are above the above average.”

In his presentation to the board, Barnett called the Gainesville district “very well-prepared, focused on students” and praised “the nurturing aspect of the school system and the community.”

“I think the school system clearly has a number of things to celebrate,” he said.

The team recognized the district for two “powerful practices,” the use of technology and human resources for collaboration and its effective use of data in decision making. Barnett said recognizing two powerful practices was significant.

“Many of the reviews that are completed (school districts) have no powerful practices because a powerful practice should be held up as a banner, a standard for other districts to follow,” he said.

Creel said she was pleased with the recognition of Gainesville with two powerful practices.

“It’s very dynamic to think about the fact that this district is using data in order to really know about the children that are sitting in our chairs and how we are working and how we are adjusting the instruction that is given to our students,” she said. “I’m grateful they saw the way we are communicating across our district is a powerful practice. What we wanted to do was to take away any barriers to people being able to share the successes that they’re seeing in their classrooms and what’s working and how people can learn from that.”

One of the areas Barnett mentioned for improvement was a more defined system “that addresses the physical, social-emotional, academic, and career planning needs of all students at all levels.”

“Whether it’s me as a middle school teacher, the cook the principal or whomever it is, the formalized program is just a way to assure that no kids fall through the cracks,” said Barnett.

Another improvement priority from the committee was the need to have a process that makes sure all students “are engaged in rigorous learning experiences.”

Although he said the team saw no “red flags,” Barnett expressed surprise at the more than 1,700 students at Gainesville Middle School

“I’ve never seen a middle school that large,” said Barnett, a former middle school teacher. “Given the size of the school, they’re doing a pretty remarkable job.”

Creel said middle school administration, teachers and staff are addressing the need by breaking down the student population into smaller teams of 90-120 students by grade level. She added that the board has had discussions about the size of the middle school.

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