They came. They reviewed. They approved.
Amidst spontaneous celebration, the McDuffie County school system was awarded District Accreditation last Wednesday from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.
A team of eight trained people from outside the county spent three days last week touring McDuffie County schools and interviewing administrators, personnel, students and members of the community. At an oral exit report given on Wednesday, review team Chairperson Patricia Golding said "the Quality Assurance Review Team recommends without reservation that McDuffie County be awarded district accreditation as a quality school system."
McDuffie School Board Chairman Jerry Randolph whooped and cheered; and, Superintendent Mark Petersen stood up and performed the dance move that has become his trademark.
"We've raised the bar," he said. "When I came in 2004, I had a goal that by 2007 we'd be the best school system in Georgia. ... Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is 2007 and we are the best in Georgia."
All McDuffie County Schools were already accredited by SACS, meaning they were following research-based practices that qualify graduates for admission to higher institutions. According to documents from SACS, district accreditation proves all the processes and functions of the system are working in concert. Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill described the district accreditation status as "a school system rather than a system of schools."
More than 100 local people were involved in the review process. The students themselves conducted the tours in some schools.
The findings of the review team acknowledged that in spite of the limitations of unfunded mandates and unpredictable growth and the challenges of subgroup gaps and Annual Yearly Progress requirements, the McDuffie school system excels in its quality staff and leadership, decisions based on data, enhanced technology, clean and safe schools and community support.
The team recognized achievements which included schools and school board of distinction, schools of excellence and blue ribbon schools, accreditation and 21st Century grants.
The team commended the system for its mission, vision and goals, for provision of schools' needs, for exceptional management of finances and the success of the Renaissance Program.
The recommendations included developing procedures for monitoring documentation of SACS standards, a continued development of civic partnerships and a continuum of gifted services.
"The recommendations are the scary part, and the ones they mentioned are all ones that were on our radar already. We have either initiated work on them or discussed them," Dr. O'Neill said. "So I was even excited about the recommendations because they were already in our sights. They were well perceptive to notice the same things that we knew."
Dr. Golding said the review team can only provide the findings and give the recommendation. The final approval is up to the SACS committee. Dr. Golding, who has been working for SACS since 1995, said the committee rarely goes against the teams' recommendation. The official written documentation should arrive within 30 days.
"It's phenomenal stuff for our school system, which in turn is good for economic development and everything else," Dr. Petersen said. "... So we are looking forward to it."
The QuART will return every five years to update their findings.