Year in Review: Accreditation a major issue for local schools last year

Dr. Mark Johnston - superintendent Shenandoah County Public Schools Rich Cooley/Daily

Accreditation proved to be a major issue for Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah county schools. All three of the districts had schools that failed to meet the Virginia Department of Education’s full accreditation standards.

In Warren County, Ressie Jeffries Elementary School had its accreditation denied, while Skyline High School is now partially accredited. W.W. Robinson Elementary North Fork Middle schools in Shenandoah County were both denied accreditation. This was the fourth year both schools did not meet all benchmarks. Peter Muhlenberg Middle School received partial accreditation.

When the standards of learning results arrived in August, indicating that some schools in Shenandoah and Warren counties would lose their accreditation, Warren County Schools Superintendent Gregory Drescher emphasized that most students in the schools were learning what they needed to learn.

“In both cases (i.e. Ressie Jeffries and Skyline) there are many students at these schools achieving to the highest level and overall a majority of students are doing very well,” Drescher stated in an email. “However, we certainly are not satisfied until all of our students get to the high standard set by the SOL tests.”

None of Frederick County’s schools had accreditation denied. But three schools – Frederick County Middle School and Gainesboro and Redbud elementaries – received partial accreditation as a “reconstituted school,” a standard designed for schools that are making progress toward reaching full accreditation but have failed to meet the full standards.

Greg Drescher

Indian Hollow and Middletown elementary schools in Frederick County also received partial accreditation.

That has left just two-thirds of the schools in the three counties with a status of full accreditation, compared to 86 percent across the state.

But while many of the regional schools struggled to meet full accreditation standards last year, changes to the Virginia Department of Education’s accreditation procedure could help the districts.

The Department of Education decided this year to revise its regulations so that schools are rewarded more for improving student test results, and not just for meeting state standard results. The changes also look at schools based on additional standards, besides test results and graduation rates.

Both Drescher and Shenandoah County Superintendent Mark Johnston praised the changes.

“This has been long awaited from the many years when the only thing used to determine school accountability was test results, and almost exclusively multiple choice tests at that!” Johnston said earlier this month.

Shenandoah County Public Schools also had to contend with a brain drain in the district.

In August, Shenandoah County Public Schools announced that for the second year in a row it experienced a 15 percent loss of teachers, with many leaving for jobs in area districts, including Winchester, which budgeted for pay raises and offered better benefits.

The Shenandoah County division lost 77 teachers in 2016 and 83 teachers in 2017, for a total of 160 teachers. On average those teachers had seven years experience.

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