Posted on 12 May 2016.
Cedar Springs announced last week that they had earned their North Central Accreditation through AdvanceEd, a global leader in providing continuous improvement and accreditation to over 32,000 institutions worldwide.
The district went through a rigorous and detailed review this school year that culminated with an external review team conducting a 3-day on site visit last week, after which they awarded the district the distinction of this national accreditation.
“We are thrilled, of course,” said Cedar Springs Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn. “We have such a great district. The process really goes on all year. But this visit is where the rubber meets the road. It’s when they see the things that they’ve heard about all year long.”
On Wednesday, May 4, Cedar Springs Public Schools held a special meeting, where AdvanceEd presented results of their accreditation review to staff and the community.
“It is so evident that you really care about your students and should be proud of your district, from the top all the way down,” said presenter Vicki DeMao.
The five-person team from AdvanceEd interviewed 120 stakeholders in the district, consisting of the superintendent, board members, administrators, teachers, support staff, parents/community members, and students. They also visited 32 classrooms in all seven buildings and observed students.
The report showed what powerful practices (or strengths) that the district had in various areas, and what ways they could improve.
Under “leadership,” there were two powerful practices and one improvement priority.
Powerful practice #1 was that “Cedar Springs Schools has created multiple partnerships in collaboration with community organizations, area educational institutions, agencies, and local businesses resulting in expanded learning opportunities for all students.” They mentioned the Cherry Street Health Center, DHS, KSSN, Rotary, Parks and Rec, En Gedi, PTO, and more.
Powerful practice #2 was that “the school board has developed new NEOLA policy documents and its members are committed to implementing the policies with an understanding of their roles and responsibilities as school board members.”
Improvement priority #1 was that they need to “create a conduit for two-way communication between Central Office staff and building level personnel that is collaborative, transparent, and open which leads to a culture of trust that is system-wide.”
When rating the seven classroom environments on a scale from 1 to 4, Cedar Springs consistently scored above the average—earning a 3+ in 5 areas, and a 2.74 in another. There was only one area where they fell beneath the average, and that was in digital learning.
Powerful practices under teaching and learning included teachers using instructional strategies that improve students’ critical thinking skills, collaboration and self reflection, and the practice of using professional learning communities (PLCs). “I think you are well on your way to improving test scores,” remarked the presenter.
Under Resource utilization, there were two improvement priorities.
Improvement priority #2 was that they “deploy a broad based planning committee to research and make recommendations to the superintendent concerning the safety and security of the school buildings to ensure that students and parents are free from fear or harm.” She noted the need for more secure entryways and playground areas.
Improvement priority #3 was that they “include wide representation on a system technology planning committee leading to recommendations which ensure that all students have equitable access to an effective technology infrastructure with modern digital tools that support student research, problem solving, and the creation of original works to prepare them for college and careers.”
She said that many of the computers are outdated, or only available for the teachers.
“If you don’t do this, students will be left behind,” noted the presenter. “It is a big ticket item. But those using them will be better qualified for a 21st century career.”
When points were tallied, Cedar Springs’ score in teaching and learning impact was well above average—284.76 to AdvanceEd’s average district at 268.94; Leadership at 293.33 to the average of 292.64; and resource utilization was lower at 250.00 to 283.86. That left them with an overall score of 280.49, which is above the average AdvanceEd district’s score of 278.34.
AdvanceEd recommended that the improvement priorities be addressed within the next two years.
VanDuyn was pleased with the results. “There were no surprises,” she noted. “The things they mentioned (for improvement) are what we’ve been working on—things like security, technology, and having more time to dedicate to spending in various buildings.”
The school district must go through this process every five years. They were last accredited in 2011, and it was good through June 2016.