Loudon County Schools is making the grade, and not just in the classroom.
That was the recent finding of an external evaluation conducted by a team of educators with AdvancED, an accreditation company that uses officials from across the nation to examine the efficacy of school administrators and teachers in delivering quality education to students.
The school district was judged in five areas that included purpose and direction, leadership, staff and faculty support and strategies for continuous improvement. Loudon County scored above 3.0 in each of the topics, with 4.0 being the highest grade. The system’s highest benchmark of 3.5 was in purpose and direction.
"These five standards all together are what continuous improvement is about," Kathy Reifschneider, lead evaluator with AdvancED and an educator from Missouri, said. "You have to have all (five) of these to be an effective school system."
The team of auditors met early this past week and visited more than 20 classrooms at Eaton Elementary, North Middle, Philadelphia, Highland Park Elementary and Loudon High schools.
"Do you see some room in these that you can improve upon?" Reifschneider asked a packed room of board members, teachers and school administrators on Thursday. "If you want that 4.0, yes you can. There's always room for improvement there, but these are very high scores."
Director of Schools Jason Vance said the district would receive a final report and rating this summer.
"I believe this is a high mark that our students, teachers, administrators and community members can be proud of," Vance said in an email correspondence. "As a parent, I want to see that my children's school district is accredited. I believe that our parents will be excited to hear the positive comments that an outside agency through AdvancEd lauded Loudon County."
The district sought AdvancED accreditation, in part, to bolster educational performance in the classroom, assist in improving teaching and administrative strategies and highlight any areas that need improvement.
AdvancED listed one required action that the school district should take, which was to further incorporate professional learning communities at all grade levels of the system. Professional learning communities are designed to foster more communication, interaction and the sharing of strategies among teachers.
Reifschneider said parent comments solicited earlier in the week also show that the community backs the efforts of school leadership, noting that some adjectives that parents used to describe the district were "exemplary," "caring," "progressive," "hard working," "fiscally responsible" and "forward-thinking."
"It has to make you feel good because that's coming from your parents," Reifschneider said. "They're very proud of this district. They see all the hard work you're putting into this district, and they know it's for their kids."
Vance said school administrators would take the feedback from the review and determine what changes to implement in the classroom. The school district goes through the accreditation process every five years.
"We will certain(ly) incorporate the required action, which was to implement true Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) into our plan," Vance wrote. "Our teachers and administrators are doing a great job communicating about the curriculum and instruction. However, the External Review Team felt that we could streamline this process and make this even better than we currently have it as of today."
Reifschneider said Loudon County teachers and administrators have created a positive "culture" that "encourages collaboration" at all levels in the system.
"We were all just finding the same thing in each building, and we were all in different areas, so to have that culture and to have that sort of climate going on in your district makes the goals that you want to achieve very possible," she said.