By David Boyce
After John Sedey spent nearly 30 minutes delivering a glowing report to administrators throughout Liberty Public Schools, in the board room at the central office on April 6, he elaborated his thoughts on the school district in an interview.
“You have magic here,” he said.
Sedey, a retired district office administrator in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, was part of a six-person team with the AdvancED accrediting agency that reviews 34,000 schools and school systems across the country.
AdvancED is the largest community of education professionals in the world. It is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts rigorous, on-site external reviews of pre-k-12 schools, and school systems, to ensure all learners realize their full potential.
While their expertise is grounded in more than a hundred years of work in school accreditation, AdvancED is far from a typical accrediting agency. Their goal isn’t to certify that schools are good enough. Rather, their commitment is to help schools improve.
The AdvancED team that looked at LPS was comprised of three educators from Missouri and three out-of-state educators. They spent a little over three days during the first week of April talking to 279 people involved with LPS, ranging from the superintendent, to students and parents, and everybody in between involved in the education process in Liberty.
To get a complete grasp as to what LPS is doing well and what it needs to improve on, the AdvancED team spoke to 85 students, 44 parents, 79 teachers, 49 administrators, and 4 school board members.
Sedey was left impressed by what he saw at LPS.
“So many places you go to have pieces of the puzzle,” Sedey said. “This one you have the whole puzzle. Everybody is working together. Everybody understands the mission and the vision, and they embrace it, even the kids, the parents, the staff and business community.”
One reason LPS is functioning so well as a school district is because it takes the extra step, such as using AdvancED, to learn what it is doing well and the areas in which it needs to improve. LPS used AdvancED five years ago. AdvancED is in addition to the Missouri accrediting agency, Missouri School Improvement (MSIP).
“The state of Missouri is ready to rollout MSIP 6,” said Jeanette Westfall, LPS Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Staff Development. “There are several states that use AdvancED as their primary accreditation. Illinois only uses AdvancED as their accrediting service. AdvancED reviews the components of a school through five standards: the purpose and direction, the leadership, teaching and learning, support services, and improvement. How do we improve?”
April 6 was kind of like the day the students get their test back. Speaking to more than 30 administrators, Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Tucker, and several school board members, Seday went over the things the AdvancED team found. A full written report will be given to LPS in six weeks.
During the presentation, Sedey explained the process, the things AdvancED found that the school district is doing right and the things it needs to improve on. The best news of the presentation came near the end when Sedey showed the numbers of how LPS compared to the average. Overall, LPS scored 342.28, compared to the AdvancED average of 278.94. LPS was also well above average in the teaching and learning category, scoring 341.27 compared to the average of 268.48.
“To see where we fair against districts held to the same standards as 32,000 other school districts around the country, and to see our performance level exceeding those averages, is gratifying,” Tucker said. “It is a testament to the work of our leaders, our principals, our teachers, and also the support of our community for our schools.”
The improvement priority that AdvancED targeted for LPS was to create and implement a grading policy that is consistent throughout the schools.
The aspect that makes AdvancED so beneficial for a school district is it asks for a progress report on the area of improvement a couple of years later to show progress.
“The first one (AdvancED visit), we had to work on some curriculum issues and organization with alignment within the district,” Westfall said. “In our strategic plan, we addressed those issues. We will do the same for this one.”
In his opinion, Liberty North Principal Martin Jacobs said there are three reasons why these types of reviews are important for a school district.
“For one, it helps to occasionally do a thorough review of your practices and procedures.
“The second thing is, it provides a validation or a critique of how we view ourselves from an external agency of well informed, strong practitioners who can objectively critique,” Jacobs said. “That is important feedback for us to have.
“The third thing is accreditation. Our high school kids have got to go to an accredited institution, and AdvancED is probably the most creditable accrediting agency for high schools in the United States.”
Going through the accreditation process, said Sedey, is critical.
“You put yourself out there that you are going to be into continuous improvement,” Sedey added. “The status quo isn’t enough. You are always going to be looking for ways to improve.”
Jacobs liked what heard from AdvancED on April 6.
“One of the things this review validates, is that we are strong at all levels,” Jacobs said. “It is not like we have strong high schools and weak elementary schools or strong elementaries and weak high schools or middle schools. We are strong all the way through our buildings. We do really fine work.”