September 24, 2008

Duval County Seeks Tougher Accreditation The 4-Year-Old Option Looks at the Entire District, Instead of Individual Schools.


The Duval County school system wants to join dozens of Florida's school districts by earning a new, more rigorous district-level accreditation next month.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the only accrediting body for public schools in 11 southern states, used to evaluate only individual schools on an approximately five-year cycle. But four years ago, it began offering as an option the tougher, district-level accreditation.

Forty of Florida's 67 county school systems have applied so far. Twenty-seven have earned the accreditation and 13 are still being evaluated.

None in Florida has failed. But three - Collier, Lake and Hardee counties - received a warning, which means they failed to meet one standard or more. They earned temporary accreditation and have up to two years to correct the problems or they could face probation and, ultimately, loss of accreditation.

Students applying to college in Florida must come from an accredited high school or an approved equivalent, such as a home school. If a student is coming from an non-accredited public school, only the college's president can make an exception to the state rule and admit the student, said Jim Owen, the director of One Stop Student Services for the University of North Florida.

Owens' office handles academic records and student aid and helps students through the admission process.

"It's basically the seal of approval so that a school recognizes the degree or diploma as being equivalent region to region," Owen said.

Nassau and St. Johns public schools are the only First Coast districts that have earned the new accreditation. Putnam County will have a team visit its schools this fall.

A team of more than 30 educators, half from Florida and half from across the country, will visit Duval County public schools for four days beginning Oct. 5 to evaluate the district's programming and operations.

Nikki Armato, senior vice president for professional services for AdvancED, the parent organization for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and her team will measure the local school system on three elements: whether it meets a set of research-based standards, the effectiveness of Duval's continuous improvement efforts, and the district's internal monitoring and support systems for schools.

"I feel strongly that we are ready," said Alvin White, chief of staff for the school system and the person in charge of preparing the district for its exam. "If I thought we had some standards in jeopardy, I would have fixed it by now."

Duval had to do a self-review prior to the accreditation team's arrival. The review allows the district to pinpoint problem areas and make changes, but it also provides a road map for the accreditation team.

The self-review is public and can be found on the district's Web site.

The accreditation team will visit 28 schools and speak with parents and students during its four-day [email protected] (904) 359-4169

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