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School Board views not renewing accreditation

The new Anderson County Senior Center on Edgewood Avenue in Clinton — which officially opened its doors last January — is already running out of space, county officials say.

Its parking lot and its center are filled to overflowing on most days, said Dist. 5 Commissioner Robert McKamey, who was instrumental in getting the Edgewood building for the seniors at the February Commission meeting.

Board members are considering not having the school district seek re-accreditation with the agency next year.

The costs associated with the annual membership or “maintenance” fee the school district is required to pay the agency is a major factor in the school board’s consideration to cut off the accreditation.

“It costs us about $14,025, just to pay an annual membership fee, and we don’t know if it will increase this year. In looking through the budget at which items to cut, this was something Parrott wanted to investigate and discuss with the board to see if you all wanted to continue this process. It is a very lengthy and a very involved process. We don’t think it’s worth it but it isn’t for us to decide. It’s the board’s decision and that is what Parrott wanted to talk to you about tonight,” Assistant Director of Schools Greg Deal stated during a report he and Director of Schools Tim Parrott made informing the board of the district’s budgetary plans and updates.

And about $750 of the $14,025 in membship fees includes a charge for computer software that is seldom used, Anderson County Schools Finance Director Jim Woodward added.

According to school officials, the system’s AdvancED accreditation expires June 30, 2019, and although they have a two year window before it’s set to expire, the Anderson County School Board is already discussing their options on accreditation because the review process takes up to two years to complete.

Schools seeking re-accreditation are required to submit an accreditation progress report two years in advance before AdvancED performs an external review, school officials reported Saturday. In communication with school directors across the state, Parrott stated that he learned from directors in districts nearby that the trend is, if schools are going to continue seeking accreditation every few years, that accreditation be applied to high schools only.

Only the high schools in Knox County and Sevier County are accredited, he said.

“All schools in the Oak Ridge School System are accredited, but places like Clinton City and Kingsport City Schools are not accredited. They don’t see the purpose of accreditation, and argue that they have higher standards than the accrediting agency does,” Parrott said.

“My main concern when Dr. Parrott first spoke with me about whether we should not seek re-accreditation next year, was how would it affect the application process for college bound high school seniors. We wanted to know if high school seniors would have their college applications turned down because the schools were not accredited by a national organization,” said Assistant Director of Schools Greg Deal to the board members.

Deal related that he spoke with admissions representatives from Tennessee Technological University, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Carson Newman, and all of them replied the lack of accreditation would have no effect on college applications. It would not negatively impact students.

The accreditation process with AdvancED is a rigorous, multi-step process that includes an internal, external, and a post review in which schools are required to collect student performance data, conduct self-assessment and stakeholder surveys, write an executive summary describing their district, highlighting its achievements and challenges, establish a quality improvement plan, and work with AdvancED representatives to conduct and host an external review, Deal explained.

The intent of seeking accreditation is to have an outside organization evaluate the school using a systematic approach to determine if the school district is functioning at a standard consistent with educational best practices, Deal said.

“The process of getting accredited is supposed to help the school system make the most out of their talents and resources,” he said, “but with the amount of time and the cost that goes into it, is it worth it? Is it a worthwhile process for us to go through? Is the tag—the price label—or the plaque worth going through it?”

With all the work the school system put into the internal review and the multi-page report they submitted to AdvancED, school officials noted they were disappointed to find out the recommendations the accrediting agency provided the district once the external review was complete mirrored the recommendations the school district made to AdvancED’s recommendations committee.

“The recommendations the committee [AdvancED] made to us were basically recommendations we had told them that we had already come up with,” Deal said, and argued that the district already has an outside agency monitoring the school system’s standards: the Tennessee Department of Education.

“My vote would be to get rid of it today,” Anderson County Board of Education member Dail Cantrell commented.

“What we’ve seen here this afternoon at the retreat—this is your evaluation—where we’ve looked at our scores, at the programs, and at the effectiveness of what is actually being produced. We should choose not to play the accreditation game. It’s a waste of time and money, money that can be used to benefit the students in our district and help improve our schools,” Cantrell said.