By Nick Nunn staff writer

Last week, the Morgan County Charter School System was recommended by an external review team to receive accreditation from AdvancED, a non-profit organization that accredits both primary and secondary schools both in the United States and internationally. Dr. Cheryl Allread, the lead member of the external review team, gave a presentation to the Morgan County Board of Education (BOE) last Wednesday during a special called meeting, during which she described the school system as the “highest quality institution possible” and “among some of the elite international leaders.” Superintendent Ralph Bennett thanked the external review team for giving Morgan County the “opportunity for [the school system] to go forward.”

“We want to thank the team for the work they’ve done,” said Bennett. Allread said that the purpose of the evaluation was to give the school system the information they would need in order to create “systemic, systematic, and sustainable improvement.” She stated that the evaluation takes a “balanced approach,” which takes the impact of teaching and learning, leadership capacity, and research utilization into consideration in order to determine the effectiveness of the system. Allread said that 139 total interviews were held since the team arrived three days before the presentation. Administrators, teachers, support staff, board members, students, and parents all took part in the interviews in order to give the team “a feel” for the practices of the school system. The team also engaged in 61 “effective learning environment observations” of 20 minutes or longer.

They analyzed seven learning environment criteria: equitable learning environment, high expectations learning environment, supportive learning environment, active learning environment, progress monitoring and feedback environment, well-managed learning environment, and digital learning environment. Scores were given for each criteria ranging from scores of one to four. Morgan County’s scores ranged from 1.78 to 3.33 based on the criteria, with digital learning environment being the lowest and well-managed learning environment being the highest. Speaking to the well-managed learning environment criteria, Allread said that Morgan County’s school system boasted “extremely well-behaved kids,” which resulted in “very little wasted instructional time.”

In terms of providing a digital learning environment, Allread said that the team felt that technology was not being “integrated” into the educational process on the student’s end as well as it could be. On a scale from 100 to 400, the team placed the Morgan County School System’s index of educational quality, which was based on all evaluative criteria, at 288. “Overall, a very effective learning environment,” said Allread about the school system, saying that the board should be “very pleased” with the outcome. She recommended that the board take the scores that they receive during this review as “baseline data” for improvements by the next accreditation cycle. Allread then set out three Powerful Practices that set Morgan County apart from other school systems and three Required Actions that the team recommends for improving the system as a whole. The first Powerful Practice listed by Allread was the system’s One Morgan motto, which has allowed the community as a whole to become “committed to the system’s purpose.”

“The level of institutional memory… is unreal,” said Allread. The system’s governing body was the second Powerful Practice named by Allread, who stated that the board acts as a “cohesive unit that operates responsibly and functions effectively.” The third Powerful Practice is the “equitable and challenging” college and career curriculum in place at Morgan County. She added that having 49 AP students and 18 IB diploma earners in a school system of this size is “extremely exceptional.” The three Required Actions given by the team were to reinforce strategies in order to address the individual learning needs of each student in the system, to establish protocols and guidelines for successful system-wide collaboration, and to ensure the proper use of performance data in order to guide decisions regarding instruction and curriculum throughout the system.

Allread said that, in each of these cases, Morgan County has the structures in place to realize each of these Required Actions and that enacting them is a matter of adhering to system ideals. Allread concluded her presentation by telling the board that they will receive the full report from the external review team sometime in the next 30 days and that Morgan County will receive final confirmation of the accreditation status from the AdvancED Accreditation Commission in June. BOE Chair Nelson Hale again thanked all of the members of the external review team for their work and the information that they have supplied to the Morgan County School System.