LAPS earns accreditation

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Education: Only 30 other school systems share the distinction

By Tris DeRoma

Officials from the Los Alamos School District breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when they were granted a rare form of accreditation through “AdvancED” an accreditation service that specializes in accrediting entire school systems.

The officials, who included principals and some of the teachers from all of the LAPS schools as well as Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt and Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean, learned of the achievement at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon in Los Alamos High School’s ’Topper Theater.

For the past few days, an evaluation team from AdvancED had been roaming the halls of all of the schools, checking out classrooms, interviewing administrators, custodians, food servers, teachers, students and parents, sitting in on teaching sessions, checking out offices, cafeterias and even talking to people they met in the street.

Their mission?

The AdvancED officials wanted to see if the Los Alamos Public Schools deserved district-wide accreditation.

Members of the team included high ranking school officials from California, Minnesota and New Mexico. They were: Claudia Coughran, Dr. Clete Lipetzky, Ron Williams, Teresa Rowlison and Karen Dondelinger.

When the announcement was made, Schmidt stood and spoke to the principals, teachers and their supporting staff that came to the presentation.

“This is the school board’s and my moment just to say ‘thanks,’ Schmidt said. “This moment, this internationally world class benchmarked school system would not be possible without you.”

According to Coughran, lead evaluator for the AdvancED accreditation team, LAPS joins only 30 other school systems throughout the world that has an entire district accredited.

“You are a pioneer in continuous improvement in wanting to reach world class standards for your students, and you really should be commended for that,” Coughran said to the district employees that came to the presentation.

To achieve district-wide accreditation, Coughran said the district had to be committed to “systemic, systematic and sustainable improvement” throughout the district. “... and what that includes is building the capacity of your system and your schools to sustain and increase student learning for each child,” Coughran said. “It also includes stimulating and improving effectiveness throughout your system, not just in schools. Custodial staff maintenance staff, transportation, food services, instructional assistance, anybody... secretary staff, administrative staff, the ‘system’ is broad educational system. Not just the schools, not just the district, but all of it. That is a very high bar.”

Coughran and her team cited parent participation in the schools, robust communication between groups involved in teaching students, the high expectations the system expected of its staff, students and faculty and the respect all groups in the system had for each other when it came down to how to successfully employ classroom teaching.

Even though the district passed the test, it will be about a month until the district knows what level of accreditation it receives, Coughran said. She also said an accreditation team will be back in two years to see how the school is doing with recommendations given to it by the accreditation committee.

Those recommendations included:
• Completing the school district’s “Strategic Plan”
• Be more aggressive in improving the lot of students that are struggling academically
• Create a process for achieving academic goals that’s uniform and systematic
• Connect academic goals to the Strategic Plan

Before the meeting was adjourned, Schmidt thanked the AdvancED committee for their efforts.

“I think, as Claudia suggested, we can be very happy saying we’re doing fine, but the board has the courage to say we can do better,” Schmidt said. “For the past 18 months, it’s been that continuous question, ‘what can we do better?’  Well now we have an idea, we have a path. It will be up to us to decide whether or not we accept the challenge and move forward on the suggestions and prompts we’ve been given.”