Following a visit from a Quality Assurance Review Team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, district leaders in October learned that their school system would be receiving the highest accreditation rating from SACS CASI's parent organization, AdvancED. Now nearly a year later, officials still continue to work on improving operations on both the school and central office levels.
Part of that work will involve not just district employees but also students, parents and community members, as the district today is putting out perception surveys for those groups of individuals to undertake. The surveys are available on Bartow County Schools' website, www.bartow.k12.ga.us, and are slated to be available for six weeks.
"They're perception surveys about how is our school system doing, how safe are our schools, those types of things," said Avis King, director of School Improvement for the district. "We really want people to take them online, because it's easier for us to compile [the data]. We will do some hard copies, and we probably will send some translations out to some of the schools to help out there, but it's hard to put those in, so we do want people to go online."
The data obtained through the surveys will be compared to similar surveys that were put out more than a year ago prior to the SACS visit. The comparison data will be one component members of a strategic planning team will use when they meet at the end of November to discuss how the district can improve its consolidated local educational agency improvement plan, which covers curriculum, testing, school operations and more.
"We're going to use those surveys and compare them to our SACS surveys so that it's a living, breathing document," King added. "We're not just doing it -- we're going to take it and when we meet together ... [we'll determine] where are we, in what direction do we need to go in, based on a lot of different things, not just that but on our academic achievement, our demographic data, our financial records, those types of things."
"This is a three-year process," Assistant Superintendent Ben Desper said. "We started last year with the SACS, then we'll be looking at data and then we'll be connecting it with school improvement to strengthen the plan. When I first began teaching, you did a SACS study for a number of years, then you put it on the shelf and it got dusty, then you dragged it back out again to look. Now, it's a continuous process -- every year you're into it, you have certain responsibilities to see that you're making progress toward meeting your goals.
"[It's] to get more of the community involved -- business leaders, as well as PTOs and PTAs and school councils, because we value their input and because we need their input," Desper added. "We invite the public to be a part of these surveys and give us their opinions. I think we're very, very good about what we do, but we still could get better."
Superintendent John Harper said the perceptions of staff members obtained through the surveys also will be key as the district works toward continuous improvement.
"Certainly the climate had changed with regard to financing of school systems throughout the country, so the fallout of all of that is probably some reduced morale," he said. "We need to learn about that as well. Not that we think we can do much about the finance piece, but we certainly can look hard at continuing to be very frugal with how we spend our money, particularly in hiring staff."