Re-accreditation is no easy task for a school system to undertake.
Documentation must be compiled and put together in a report. Site visits from an accreditation team has to take place. Interviews must be conducted.
Gwinnett County Public Schools has that process coming up in 2022 and it is one of the big topics — aside from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — that the county’s school board, which recently welcome two new members, Tarece Johnson and Karen Watkins, has to deal with this year.
“The process for that will start this fall and so we are well on our way toward meeting that re-accreditation and making that seamless and making that happen,” school board Chairman Everton Blair said during a recent forum hosted by state Rep. Jasmine Clark.
There are several efforts school board members want to look at, such as looking at the district’s equity policy and making sure it is properly implemented as well as ensuring students have access to counseling services. But re-accreditation is one topic that comes up time and again at town halls, board meetings and discussions with state legislators.
Accreditation can have far reaching impacts for GCPS students, including eligibility for financial aid when they get to college as well as whether colleges will consider admitting them.
There are two types of accreditation available for public schools: individual school accreditation and district-wide accreditation.
During a recent Zoom meeting with local legislators, board member Mary Kay Murphy said the district’s accrediting agency, Cognia, will visit the district in February 2022.
“And, we’ll spend a good part of this year working to prepare the reports and the visits that are a part of that very, very important accreditation,” Murphy said. “It comes every five years and so our most recent visit was in March 2017.”
Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Watkins told legislators that teamwork among the board members will be key to retaining the district’s accreditation.
“The main opportunity we see is helping to make sure we maintain our accreditation here in this lovely school system of ours and working together as a board,” Watkins said. “We have more alike and similar because all of our focus is in and around student achievement and ensuring we five all work together to make sure we still maintain our accreditation.”
There are other issues the board will have to tackle this year, including the budget that will be coming up for approval — assuming there is no disruption to the General Assembly’s legislative session as there was in 2020 — of the school system’s budget this summer.
“We’ve got to make sure this budget process, as disrupted as the last one was, really focuses on the areas where we have been growing and that we are moving forward with our equity policy and agenda so that we are serving all of our students in the district,” Blair said at the forum hosted by Clark.
And, of course there is the ongoing response to the COVID-19 that has to be dealt with as well.
“Some of the things that will be coming up this year is how we appropriate some of the COVID relief dollars that are coming from the federal government,” Blair said.
“My focus is to make sure that money goes to address academic recovery that many of our students experienced due to the disruption that the pandemic caused, and I know I share the sentiments of my fellow board members about making sure those resources go to our hardest hit and most needy communities first.”
The board is also in the process of getting acquainted with each other. Two-fifths of the board members are new and another two have only been on the board for two years.
Blair, as well as Watkins and board member Steve Knudsen expressed optimism at the Feb. 18 board meeting that they will be able to work cohesively. Board members recently underwent two days of training, led by the Georgia School Boards Association, that included an opportunity for the members to get to know each other and their visions for the district.
“To anybody who’s looking at this board, we are a motley crew in many ways,” Blair said. “We span age generations, races, countries of origin, political ideologies, religions and languages. When we talk about the diversity of Gwinnett County, it is also encapsulated in this board leadership and yet we work together and we have been able to prove that we can do that together.”
Knudsen said, “I just want to say to our two new board members that we got off to a bit of a rocky start, but we’re getting there and I appreciate y’all for taking the time and I appreciate Chairman Blair for spearheading that (training) and getting us together and I think it was very helpful.”
Watkins added, “I look forward as well to working with this board. We’ve learned so much about each other and we found that we had more in common than not in common, which is a great thing.
“And, the main thing we have in common is ensuring student achievement and ensuring all of our students have opportunities.”