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Galax schools were recently accredited by the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accreditation organizations recognized by the state Department of Education, Galax Schools' Superintendent Bill Sturgill told school board members on Nov. 9.
Accreditation through the SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement is not a requirement, but “allowed a team of experts to come in and give an honest assessment of things we're doing in the division,” said Sturgill. “We feel that it's important for outside educators to take a look at what we're doing.”
Sturgill said this provided the opportunity for educators outside of the Galax school system to review the strengths and weaknesses.
Sturgill and Galax School Board Chairman Ray Kohl went to Richmond last month to receive a certificate of recognition from the Virginia Board of Education for the SACS accreditation. The certificate describes SACS as “a rigorous accreditation process designed to enhance the three pillars of accreditation — high standards, quality assurance and continuous improvement...
“Receiving division accreditation recognizes the Galax City Public Schools for leading the way for excellence in Virginia's schools through effective efforts to ensure that all children receive a quality education.”
In the past, each school in the division went through the accreditation process. In other words, one school in the division could have been accredited and another might not.
This time, the Galax school division as a whole was accredited. In this case, if one school has some deficiencies, Galax would not receive accreditation.
This is the first time for a district-wide accreditation for Galax schools.
“We felt that the district approach was more thorough, so we selected to go that route,” said Sturgill. “An individual accreditation looks good, but the schools might not fit together. The challenge is to make certain we have a good design of the overall program.”
For example, Sturgill said the team looked at how the elementary school's new reading program would impact middle school and high school.
“The team wanted to see how well our programs supported what we want to accomplish,” said Sturgill. “They wanted to make sure that our programs are researched, studied and reviewed and how it will impact students and the community.”
A team of six to eight with SACS came to Galax schools last year and interviewed educators, administration, school board members, parents and students on the quality of education received, along with other factors.
The team evaluated each class and program, reviewed the 5-year plan, looked at practices and policies in place and reviewed how teacher inservice programs were relevant to programs in place.
The team noted strengths, such as small class sizes and support to the system from administration and the community, and how much the system values its teachers.
The Galax school system “has an understood focus on high expectations for student achievement across all school levels,” the accreditation report says.
“District staff, school-based staff and community stakeholders have joined a unified focus on student performance results...There was a sense of pride and openness regarding the need for all groups to accept ownership in the efforts for addressing student motivation and academic needs.”
“The accreditation process was an intensive view of the system and what we're doing for students and the community,” said Sturgill. “This accreditation serves as a reassurance about the programs we have in place and the way we're running the division.”
Schools can reapply for SACS accreditation every five years. Sturgill said the last time Galax schools went through the process was in 2003.