GREENSBURG — A packed auditorium at St. Helena Central High School erupted into thunderous applause and cheers Wednesday at the announcement that the school district passed muster for accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
School districts granted accreditation generally score between 2.5 and 3.4 on a 4.0 scale, and St. Helena Central Elementary and High schools hit that mark for each of the five standards on which SACS accreditation is based, said Cheryl Allread, of Mullins, S.C., lead evaluator for the SACS external review team that visited the district this week.
Allread delivered a summary of the team’s exit report during a special School Board meeting attended by the district’s students, faculty, staff and administrators Wednesday afternoon.
“For a district to do so much with so little, they are truly to be commended,” Allread said. “They don’t make excuses; they just deal with their circumstances and move forward. And they have made such significant gains because of it.”
The review team’s findings will be forwarded to Advance Education, the nonprofit accreditation organization of which SACS is a part, for review and an official grant of district accreditation status, Allread said.
With only 19 other public school districts in the state granted that status, including several of the highest-performing such as Zachary, Ascension and West Feliciana, accreditation is an affirmation that St. Helena has found its footing and is moving forward, Superintendent Kelli Joseph said.
The external review team conducted 84 interviews with administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents and community members, as well as 35 classroom observations at the elementary and high schools to compile the report, Allread said.
The parish’s middle school, run by the state’s Recovery School District, was not included in the review.
The team was looking for indicators of “systemic, systematic and sustainable improvement” and found that several themes continually emerged in St. Helena, Allread said.
Allread identified those themes as good leadership from the superintendent; a cohesive and focused School Board; dedication to further development of trust and respect among all stakeholders; and a commitment to increasing student achievement, improving educator effectiveness and building public confidence.
The district’s scores in SACS’ five standards, Allread said, were: 3.0 in purpose and direction; 3.17 in governance and leadership; 2.5 in teaching and assessment of learning; 2.5 in resources and support systems; and 3.0 in using results for continuous improvement.
The team noted three actions the district should take to further improve: implement a teacher recruitment and retention policy to ensure highly qualified professionals are in every classroom; develop a plan to systematically monitor instruction and provide timely feedback and support to teachers; and formalize a process for evaluating programs to determine their impact on system effectiveness and student achievement.
Joseph said the accomplishment has been a team effort and strengthened that team in the process.
“No one person can do it,” Joseph said. “We’ve all worked so hard, and this process has really pulled us together.”