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Earning the “Quality School” distinction – it’s a big deal for Gaston County Schools

Lauren Grindstaff, a fifth grade teacher at Kiser Elementary School in Stanley, leads a lesson in her classroom on February 27. Grindstaff says she is proud to work at Kiser Elementary, which earned the “Quality School” distinction as a result of Gaston County Schools’ five-year accreditation process. Photo provided

“Distinction as a Quality School” – it’s a phrase that has a nice ring to it, and it applies to all 55 public schools in Gaston County.

In June 2018, Gaston County Schools earned its re-accreditation from AdvancED, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of more than 36,000 educational institutions and systems in the United States and 70 countries.  The extensive accreditation process takes place every five years and involves an outside team of education professionals coming into schools to observe, interview stakeholders, collect data, and ultimately determine whether a district is deserving of accreditation.

Accreditation is an endorsement, certification, and recognition that signifies that schools have earned the distinction of being a quality school.  The accreditation for Gaston County Schools is valid until 2023 when the review process happens again.

  Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker stated, “We are so proud of our schools for what they do every day to provide a quality education for our children, and to earn accreditation from AdvancED is affirmation that we are achieving and excelling here in Gaston County Schools.”

Following the review team’s visit to Gaston County Schools, team members spent several months completing their evaluation and determining areas of strengths and what the district should do to fulfill its commitment to continuous improvement.

Booker added, “The accreditation team used a rating system that evaluated various areas as either exceeds expectations, meets expectations, emerging, or needs improvement.  We had 10 areas to exceed expectations, 15 areas to meet expectations, six areas that were emerging, and no areas in need of improvement – this is an outstanding accomplishment for Gaston County Schools.”    

 Here are four takeaways from the accreditation review:

The accreditation team was pleased to see the school district investing in its people and the educational services provided for children.  They believe the investment in school choice options (the district now provides 20 school choice/magnet school programs) gives students an opportunity to “find what they like, and it will help them to thrive.”

 During their school visits, the team saw well-managed classrooms with well-behaved students who are supported by a caring staff.  They characterized the schools as “very safe and conducive to learning.”

 They commended the district’s efforts in the area of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and were impressed by the number of students who have earned CTE credentials, commenting that the school district is “empowering its graduates.”

 The team complimented the school district’s sense of neighborhood pride and commitment to schools and described the culture of engagement and shared decision-making as “highly commendable.”

So what does accreditation mean for teachers and students?  Lauren Grindstaff, a fifth grade teacher at Kiser Elementary School in Stanley, sees accreditation as a “seal of approval” and confirmation that Gaston County’s public schools are providing a quality educational experience for students with many opportunities in academics, athletics, the fine arts, extracurricular activities, and other areas.

“For my school, accreditation means we are doing what we should to make certain that our students are learning and growing every day,” said Grindstaff.

After the accreditation process, school and district leaders began considering an update to the school district’s strategic plan.  Accreditation and strategic planning are processes that go hand-in-hand, and it is a time for evaluation, reflection, and looking ahead.

Strategic planning involved evaluating the district’s current vision, mission, and goals and working with various stakeholder groups (students, parents, employees, business/community partners, etc.) to gather feedback about priorities for the next five years.  The plan includes four overarching goals/priorities:

College and Career Ready: Every student will graduate prepared for college, the workforce, and other life-enhancing opportunities.

Healthy, Safe, and Responsible Schools: Every student has the opportunity to learn in a safe school environment.

Innovation: Every employee uses innovative practices to serve all students, parents, and other stakeholders.

Qualified Workforce: Every employee is qualified and committed to the education of all children.     

“Moving forward, we will continue to provide a safe school environment for students and employees, work to ensure that our graduates are ready for college and careers, employ a qualified workforce that is dedicated to the education of all children, and use innovative practices to give our students a dynamic and challenging educational experience,” said Booker.