POWHATAN – All Powhatan County Public Schools have received accreditation according to the final report from the Virginia Department of Education.
During the Powhatan County School Board’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8, Tracie Omohundro, assistant superintendent for instruction, gave a presentation about the division’s accreditation for 2019-2020. The final accreditation report for the district was released on Sept. 30.
Omohundro pointed out the school division was accredited using the School Qualities Profile implemented by the Department of Education. The system no longer uses the term “fully accredited,” but all Powhatan schools received the highest accreditation possible under the new system, she said.
Each school was evaluated using school quality indicators that measure their performances in certain categories. In addition to looking at the overall student body in each school, the accreditation process also considers the school’s performance in certain subcategories: students with disabilities, black students, economically disadvantaged students and Hispanic students.
Performance on each school quality indicator is rated at one of the following levels: Level One, meets or exceeds state standard or sufficient improvement; Level Two, near state standard or sufficient improvement, and Level Three, below state standard.
Based on these, a school would either be: accredited, meaning all school quality indicators at either Level One or Level Two; accredited with conditions, meaning a school has one or more school quality indicators at Level Three; or accreditation denied, meaning a school that fails to adopt or fully implement required corrective actions to address Level Three school-quality indicators.
Omohundro went through how each school did with the school quality indicators.
* Flat Rock Elementary School – accredited. Level One in all overall categories. Successes included increases in math among economically disadvantaged students (+10) and a 3.7 decrease in chronic absenteeism. Areas of focus were students with disabilities (Level 2 in English and math).
* Pocahontas Elementary School – accredited. Level One in all overall categories. Successes included increases in the black (+3) and Hispanic (+2) student reading subcategories and a 10-point increase among students with disabilities.
* Powhatan Elementary School – accredited. Overall Level One ratings except a Level Two rating in mathematics achievement gaps. Successes included overall growth in math and science (+2), students with disabilities showed gains from third to fourth grade in reading (+23) and math (+48), and a 3.9 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism. Areas of focus are Level 2 in English for students with disabilities and math for black students and a Level 3 for students with disabilities in math.
* Powhatan Middle School – accredited. Overall Level One ratings except a Level Two rating in English achievement gaps. Successes included an overall increase in math (+12) and English (+3); increases in English among Hispanic students (+14) and students with disabilities (+14), and increases in math among black students (+25), Hispanic students (+20), students with disabilities (+10), and economically disadvantaged (+15). Areas of focus are in English for black students (Level 3) and economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities (both Level 2).
* Powhatan High School – accredited. Level One in all overall categories. Successes included an overall increase in math (+8) and English (+3); increases in English among black students (+23), students with disabilities (+14), economically disadvantaged (+5); and increases in math among black students (+3), Hispanic students (+14), students with disabilities (+13), and economically disadvantaged (+16). Areas of focus include a dropout rate that increased 1.2 percent.
Omohundro pointed out that the schools had already been reviewing preliminary data and coming up with strategies and supports that could be implemented based on the analyses.
Some of the strategies she outlined included: developing teacher leadership and spreading strengths through book study (PMS); instituting progress monitoring for English Language Arts (PMS); matching intervention more closely to student needs (PowES); presenting culturally-responsive teaching performance development to meet needs of reporting groups (PHS); providing before and after-school tutoring for reading at the elementary and middle schools; providing phonics training (PocES and FRES), and utilizing book studies focused on achievement gaps (PocES).
“These are just some example of the things they have developed at the school level to address the areas that we saw that were areas of focus by school,” Omohundro said. “But overall, it has been great core instruction by our staff, great analyses by our administrators. A focus on considering each student throughout the school year to make sure that they are doing the best they can, so we are very pleased at the overall accreditation report we received this year.”
Rick Cole, who represents District 1, said he hoped the schools understand that the school board is very proud and grateful to everyone who has a hand in getting the schools accredited. He said he didn’t want to minimize that the schools have areas they need to work on and it would be wonderful to someday “get everybody in every category to where they need to be,” but he wanted to acknowledge “how hard that is, because you are talking about individual students who have individual strengths and they also have individual limitations.”
“Basically what we are trying to do is get everybody across the same finish line, and many of them are not starting in the same place,” Cole said.
Kim Hymel, District 5, said she hopes to see the schools focus in on raising the Level 2 and 3 standings in some of the subcategories, particularly black students.
Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent, said that according to the state superintendent of schools, only one school division out of 132 divisions in the state made the mark when it comes to students with learning disabilities.
“We certainly know that we have work to do and we have made some tremendous gains and we still have work to do,” he said. “But this is a societal issue and a statewide issue and it is one we will continue to work on with some of our students that are certainly struggling to make the mark on one multiple choice test.
“That is the other point that I want to make – that this is one test and it is one measure that quite frankly in Powhatan we don’t spend a lot of time preparing for anymore because we think there are more important types of learning activities, assessment activities, experiences that we want our students to have as opposed to just drilling and killing for one test,” he added.
Omohundro concurred that if people walk into PCPS classrooms and see the rich instruction students are receiving, it is “never going to show up on a test with these kinds of measures.” The “drill and kill” method could increase the division’s scores by several points, but the schools instead choose paths that will make the students successful in the long run, including increased STEM activities, rich writing experiences, or career exploration.
“Those are the things that will make our students stronger in the long run than just performance on a single test. But we also understand that there is value in reporting this information for a community as a whole for economic development, for housing,” she said. “We understand that and we understand we are part of that, but I will say if you come to our schools, if you participate and you see what is going on with our teaching and our learning, a single measure does not show what is really happening.”
Despite that assurance, Jones pointed out that the division is still doing better on its SOL ratings over last year.
For a full listing of results of PCPS’ accreditation, visit http://schoolquality.virginia.gov/divisions/powhatan-county-public-schools.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.