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District 518 receives five-year accreditation

WORTHINGTON -- Independent School District 518 is a quality environment for student learning, a recent evaluation determined. The district recently achieved its five-year accreditation renewal after participating in an optional external evaluatio...

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WORTHINGTON - Independent School District 518 is a quality environment for student learning, a recent evaluation determined.

The district recently achieved its five-year accreditation renewal after participating in an optional external evaluation in November. The AdvancED evaluation included an on-site review of the district’s stakeholders and four facilities.

“We think we’re doing good work, and we know that we have areas for growth, but we think it’s important to bring in an extra set of eyes every five years to help us think about what can we do to become even better to meet the needs of our students, parents and community,” said District 518 Director of Teaching and Learning Katie Clarke, explaining the purpose of the accreditation process.

The evaluation’s results were determined by the AdvancED review team’s on-site observation of 60 districtwide classrooms and interviews with 160 stakeholders, which included a selection of school board members, district office personnel, community/business partners, parents, building administrators, teachers and students. Teacher, parent and student surveys were also conducted.

The team ranked more than 30 specific components to student learning by using a set of performance standards, which the organization calls research-based. The team categorized the district as “emerging” in 16 of these areas, eight as meeting expectations, four that need improvement and three that exceed expectations.

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Strong suits Two of the three areas that were determined to exceed expectations were attributed to the district’s board of education.

The review team called the board effective in fulfilling its role of governance, and that it does so ethically and with fiscal oversight.

“Leadership has established fiscal stability while concurrently investing in the many emerging support needs in order to serve the increase in quality and complexity of its population,” the report articulates.

The district is also efficient in implementing a special services process to identify and support its English Language Learners and Special Education students, the evaluation found.

“Parents of EL students had nothing but praise for the schools and the efforts they make to meet the needs of their children,” the report detailed. “Classroom observations revealed social integration to a level where it was impossible to identify students new to school.”

The classroom reviews were also positive. The review team called the district’s classrooms a “well-managed learning environment” where students interacted respectfully with peers, teachers, and in the hallways and locker areas.

“Students appeared to know the rules, and teachers at the elementary school redirected their students quietly and effectively without interrupting instruction,” the report said.

Clarke said it’s not uncommon for students to be pulled out of their normal classroom setting for more one-on-one instruction with specialists to better meet their needs throughout the day.

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“The students don’t even notice,” Clarke said about the lack of disruption those exchanges cause to the majority of students. “One, they’re being engaged in the classroom instruction, and two, it’s just business as usual.”

Students also appeared to be positive about learning, had supportive relationships with teachers and were confident to share ideas and work in class, the review said.

Clarke said another positive identified is what she considers the district’s “democratic system.” This means that instead of directives coming solely from central offices, the district creates multiple task force teams with various individuals involved throughout the system to collaborate and provide feedback for the decision-makers to consider.

Areas for improvement Areas the AdvancED team identified for district improvement related to the organization and utilization of student data and better review of the effectiveness of teaching practices.

Clarke said the district was already aware it could better organize student data, and said a data “warehouse” is in the works. Clarke described the warehouse as a software tool that will organize every student’s state and district-administered tests into one location that is easily accessible to instructors.  

Clarke is hopeful the data warehouse will allow instructors to dig deeper, diagnose why students are missing particular problems or concepts and adjust their instruction based on what students are missing.

“It will better help us engage each student at the level they’re at,” Clarke said. “It will also help teachers jumpstart getting to know their kids.”  

The report also found that the district should implement a quality assurance process to better enhance accountability for achieving improvement goals. What that means, Clarke said, is to slow down the pace a bit and devote some time to reflection.

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“In education, we get really good at setting up things and doing them,” she said. “But we want to get really good at progress monitoring. Is what we’re doing effective for students, and how do we measure that?”

Similarly, AdvancED also noted that the district could do a better job implementing the same reflection of effectiveness and reaction process for its special programs, whether that’s special education, EL, college readiness or advanced classes.  

Clarke said if the district can improve those two areas, vertically and horizontally aligning K-12 curriculum (another area identified in need of improvement) should naturally follow.

One thing the district has begun doing is a curriculum writing training for teachers who want to participate, Clarke said. The four-hour training at the end of the school year includes collaborative curriculum writing and individual checkpoints throughout the summer.

The report also noted that teachers and students could more effectively use the technology they’re provided.

Clarke said the district’s 1:1 technology initiative - which provides students with their own electronic device - was the outcome of AdvancED’s recommendations to enhance student engagement after its 2013 evaluation.

The recent review said students could be using the technology more “collaboratively to learn or communicate, conduct research, create original works or gather/evaluate/use information for learning.”  

What’s next Clarke said it’s up to the district to choose what to do with the report, if anything. At District 518, she said, the feedback is not just another report to put on a shelf.

“We’re all interested in continuous improvement for our schools, so we choose to do something for the betterment of our students,” she said.

Immediately, that means a complete overhaul of the District Improvement Plan, she said.

The five-year plan with yearly targets also helps determine the direction of school improvement plans - which are created for each other district’s facilities with consideration to their unique needs. Clarke said past accreditations have helped the district determine where to focus its efforts to better meet student needs.

“I think one reason accreditation is successful at Worthington is that we have high levels of school board support, a high level of superintendent support, and when this report comes out, we’re going to have their support and backing - let’s get after it.”

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