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Gainesville schools pass accreditation with flying colors
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Gainesville City Schools received a stamp of approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools at a called board meeting Wednesday.

SACS, a division of AdvancED, is a worldwide education community that oversees the accreditation process.

"I think you can give yourself a round of applause," SACS team member Agnes Smith told Gainesville school board members. "The recommendation of this team will be for the AdvancED commission to vote on an accredited status for Gainesville City Schools at their next meeting."

The team members, which included two from Alabama and three from other Georgia districts, spent the past three days mulling over every aspect of the school district. They interviewed board members, teachers, parents and students, toured all eight city schools and reviewed a self-study board members created.

In all, Smith said, the team conducted 459 interviews, more than she ever experienced being on an accreditation team.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she believed the team would pay special attention to areas that needed improvement from the last accreditation visit - leadership stability at Gainesville Middle School and communication with Latino parents - and Wood's Mill High School, which had not previously been part of the process.

Accredited school systems are expected to meet seven standards, including having a research-based curriculum, having a comprehensive assessment system, fostering effective communication among stakeholders, including a process for system improvement, monitoring schools and departments to make sure they're meeting standards, preparing and hosting an accreditation team every five years and responding to findings from the team, Smith said.

Dyer did not foresee any major concern areas, and the team did not find any.

Smith said it was a challenge for the team to come up with valid improvements the school system needed.

The three that were presented were to find a balance between implementing multiple programs to help students and managing them effectively, develop a plan to find and use more emerging technology and help students transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school.

"You have to just look at it and prioritize what's most important and be mindful when one initiative has served its purpose, let that go and move onto another," Smith said of the first area of improvement. "That's nothing unique to you, and you're doing well with it. It's just a continued challenge."

An easier task was praising the schools with "overarching commendations" and praising board members for their effective leadership and the sense of trust they instilled in stakeholders, parents and students.

"And the ways in which you are celebrating and demonstrating appreciation for diversity - that was the first thing we heard when we asked for strengths," Smith said. "We also commend you for supporting so many interventions to help students with their needs."

Dyer said accreditation is important for students to be eligible for certain scholarships, including the HOPE scholarship.

"(Accreditation) is a mark of distinction," Smith said. "It says to parents and business partners that the school district indeed has a commitment in continuous improvement and always strives to meet the needs of their students."

The team rated the school district on each of the seven standards. In all categories, Gainesville City Schools earned a "highly functional" or "operational" score, meaning each standard was being worked toward or reached.

After the team perfects its written report, the findings will be sent to the AdvancED office in Tempe, Ariz., where it will be read by a third party. Then it will be returned to the office and finally sent back to the school board, a process that usually takes 30 days.


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