Every five years, the Sampson County Schools system undergoes an external assessment by a review team as part of its accreditation process. This year, education officials were pleased to report that the system has once again received its accreditation, earning high scores in the process.
Six peer reviewers — three from Georgia and three from North Carolina — traveled to Sampson County recently and spent three days pouring over pages of data and self-assessments, and visiting six of the county’s 17 schools.
“There was a good mix of people,” said Dr. Ethan Lenker, superintendent of Sampson County Schools, of the reviewers. “There were some principals, a superintendent from our state, assistant superintendents, and directors.”
“We showed them our data from the past five years and our self-assessments,” explained Lenker. “They visited Plain View Elementary, Union Intermediate, Hobbton High, Midway Middle, Hargrove Elementary, and the Sampson Early College High School. At the schools, each reviewer visited three or four classrooms, interviewed groups of students, and talked with parents. For schools that weren’t visited, the reviewers met with parents here [at the Central Office]. They worked hard; it’s like 12 hours days.”
Through the reviewing process, reviewers found many positive things to report about Sampson County Schools.
“There’s five main standards they look at — Purpose and Direction, Governance and Leadership, Teaching and Assessing for Learning, Resources and Support Systems, and Using Results for Continuous Improvement,” shared Lenker. “These are evaluated on a scale of one to four with one being poor and four being exceptional.”
Lenker added that “as a rule, no one gets a four.” However, he happily reported that Sampson County Schools received three scores that were above a three and therefore rounded up to a four.
“We’re thrilled,” asserted Lenker. “They scored us higher than we scored ourselves in our self-assessments so that really says something. We took it really seriously.”
Overall, Sampson County Schools received an average of 3.02. Lenker shared that, according to the lead evaluator Rob Gilbert, that score is higher than most schools’ averages which tend to fall between 2 and 2.5.
“It’s something when an outside team comes in and essentially brags on you,” said Lenker, who was both proud and humbled by the results.
According to the superintendent, the reviewers were also impressed with the role of Sampson’s Board of Education. “They really liked that the board has their place and does their job just like I do mine and the principals and teachers do theirs. It shows the ‘working together’ attitude that we all have here.”
According to their report, the reviewers also noticed specific positive themes throughout all Sampson County Schools including pride in schools, a family atmosphere, a shared vision, and good collaboration among caring staff.
Of course, the reviewers also pointed out areas where the school system can improve, something Lenker looks forward to hearing.
“All of our thinking here is forward thinking, so we’re always talking about improvements,” Lenker stressed.
One of the areas that the reviewers noted as an opportuity for improvement was in grading, citing in their report that Sampson County Schools should look into “creat[ing] consistent grading practices across grade bands and schools.”
“This is something that we’ve been working on doing for years,” explained Lenker of the grading suggestion. “We hadn’t thought about it being an opportunity for growth though, so it was interesting that they picked up on that.”
According to the reviewers’ report, a specific learning environment to be improved upon is the digital learning environment. “That one is the one where we didn’t receive a three. However, we are still beating out other schools in that area by a whole point,” Lenker attested.
Despite their better than average marks, Lenker and his colleagues aren’t resting on their laurels. As they continually think about ways to better their system, they’ve always got a plan and are ever working toward meeting new goals.”We’re already doing individualized instruction, but right now we’re also working on individualized professional development for teachers which involves the resources and technology they want and need to use for teaching their particular subjects.”
“As we go through and replace some of our older technology, some teachers may want smartboards while some may want iPads. We’re even putting in big screens TVs in some classrooms so that video clips and other primary sources, which goes back to the Common Core curriculum, can be shown,” continued Lenker. “It really depends on the teacher and the subject as to the kinds of technology that need to be used. With some subjects, it works really well to use smartboards. In other subjects, smartboards may not be the best technology to use.”
“Our goal is to give the teachers the resources they need to help them teach to their best ability and to continue to improve,” stressed Lenker.
Overall, even though it required a lot of work, Lenker believes the accreditation process is a good experience for school systems.
“It gives us a chance to reflect on ourselves and assess if what we’re doing is actually working,” shared Lenker, noting that reflection is also an essential part of the internal evaluation process across all levels in the school system, including himself and the board of education down to school principals and teachers. “It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge what we’re doing well and to notice if there are some things that we need to tighten up on.”
“I have to commend all of the schools because they did an incredible job preparing for the review. All of our teachers and principals should be proud,” praised Lenker.
Accreditation is not just for the county school system either. It also has the potential to affect students and their futures, explained Lenker. “Some colleges look for students to be coming from accredited schools. Right now in North Carolina, with the UNC school system anyway, a school cannot use accreditation as a deciding factor when considering a student. But not all of our students go to college within the UNC system. The private colleges can make their own decisions, and you also don’t know how out of state colleges look at accreditation, so that’s another reason accreditation is something we need to do.”
“We’re excited,” shared Lenker as he looked over the reviewers’ results. “We’re so pleased with the outcome of the review. It was a positive day and shows that good things are happening in Sampson County Schools.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.