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Los Alamos schools earn top ranking in accreditation

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Education > Months-long process culminates in ‘highest status’

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos Public School District recently learned that its achieved a rare milestone as far as school systems are concerned. “AdvancED,” an accreditation service that grants district-wide accreditation status to school districts, recently told the district that it has received the highest level of accreditation, which, officials say, is very rare.

It was in November of last year the district learned it received accreditation from AdvancED after a lengthy review and evaluation process, but until recently district officials didn’t know what grade or level of accreditation.

“I am proud to say that Los Alamos Public Schools did receive the highest status possible,” New Mexico’s AdvancED director, Priscilla Fernandez said in a statement. “Fewer districts throughout the nation received fully-accredited status compared to years past, due to the rigor involved in the accreditation process.”

According to the same press release, there will be immediate benefits for high school students because of the accreditation and grade of accreditation.

“Students should experience ease in transferring credits from one school to another,” Fernandez said. “And, students should gain greater access to federal loans, scholarships, postsecondary education and military programs that require students to attend an accredited school.”

In 2011 and 2012, members of AdvancED observed what went on in the district, from cafeteria practices all that way up to the highest levels of the school administration. Members of the AdvancED evaluation team also sat in on classrooms as well as interviewed teachers, principals and parents on what the district is doing right and what it can improve upon.

Along with the announcement, the district also received a report explaining what the grade means, the process behind the evaluation, what the district is doing well, and what it could do better.

In general, AdvancED targeted the quality of communication within the district as well as how well it communicated goals and results with parents and others. AdvancED also studied the district’s evaluation techniques when it came to teacher performance and student learning.

In each of these categories, the school system received high marks, something school board President Jim Hall noted was well-earned.

“I was pleased to see the district get this additional recognition because accreditation is a significant achievement that pronounces the school district’s high quality of education,” he said.

The report highlighted the district’s work on its “Strategic Plan” a project being led by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt that will help improve academic performance for all students in the district. It also praised the district’s efforts and techniques of keeping parents informed of what’s going on in the district as well as with their students.

“Another notable component of engagement was the various mediums of interaction between teachers and parents. Email, text messages, phone calls, and social media were all mentioned as modes of communication,” the report noted.

“Lastly and probably most importantly, is the engagement of students inside and outside the classroom. Students at LAPS enjoy abundant opportunities to connect to the school, district, and community.”

Even though the district received top-rank status, it also included areas for improvement, mainly in keeping up with technology when it comes to classroom learning and implementing a more effective evaluation process when it comes to what students are learning and how they are applying that knowledge.

“It is important that the system enacts a comprehensive assessment system that monitors and documents performance and uses these results to improve student performance and school effectiveness,” said a statement in the report.

“The next step is to understand what it is they think we do well, try and duplicate that so we can do better but also take a look at what they see as opportunities and get to work right away on those,” Schmidt said.

According to Schmidt, the evaluation cost $8,500, with $4,000 going toward hosting the evaluators while they were in town. Approximately $4,500 was for the annual membership fees for all seven schools in the district to stay enrolled in the AdvancED accreditation program.