2017-08-09 / Front Page

School system close to full accreditation

Board also reviews comments policy
By Rich Griset

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly reported that Matoaca Elementary was denied state accreditation last year. Ettrick Elementary and Falling Creek Middle were the only two county schools to be denied full accreditation in 2016. We regret the error. 

At its Tuesday night meeting the School Board discussed the possibility of changing its public comments policy, and revealed that the school system may have 98.4 percent of its schools fully accredited for the new school year.

In a presentation about graduation rates, Thomas Taylor, the school system’s chief academic officer, explained that 98.4 percent of the systems schools should be fully accredited next year, based on preliminary results. One school’s status is still yet to be determined.

The issue of school accreditation made headlines last year when Falling Creek Middle and Ettrick Elementary were the first two schools in the system’s history to be denied accreditation by the state.

“We’ve seen, across the board, amazing results,” said James Lane, superintendent for Chesterfield County Public Schools.

The improvement comes at a time when the Virginia Board of Education is reviewing how schools are accredited. Since 1997, school accreditations have been determined almost entirely from Standards of Learning test pass rates. The Virginia Board of Education is considering changes that would include other factors for school accreditation, including success in reducing absenteeism and narrowing achievement gaps.

The School Board also discussed revising how it conducts public comment sessions at business meetings. Presently, the School Board hears public comments on each action agenda item prior to voting. The proposed change would move public comments toward the beginning of the meeting, consolidating public comments for agenda items into one period.

Members of the public would each have a total of three minutes to talk about the items up for vote, instead of having three minutes to talk about each action item. Other proposed changes include that the comments must be relevant to services or policies of the school division, and that citizens may not yield their time to other speakers.

The changes follow a suggestion by Javaid Siddiqi, School Board chairman and Midlothian district representative, that the board consider condensing public comments for all action items to the beginning of its meetings. That suggestion came after a contentious meeting on April 14 where local watchdogs Brenda Stewart and Rodney Martin stood up and shouted in protest.

At the April 14 meeting, the School Board had an action item on its agenda regarding CCPS’ supplemental retirement plan. When Siddiqi read a statement saying that the board would take no action on the item and attempted to move on to the next agenda item, Stewart and Martin protested. Siddiqi relented, and both spoke about the issue.

At the School Board meeting on Tuesday, CCPS spokesman Shawn Smith explained that the school system had conducted a survey with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to look at how public comment was conducted at other school board meetings. About 70 school divisions responded, and Smith said the proposed “streamlining” of the agenda fell in line with roughly 70 percent of the divisions surveyed.

Stewart criticized the proposed change, saying that it would give her and other citizens less time to address School Board agenda items. The change, paired with other modifications in how the School Board conducts meetings, is a further move away from transparency, she said.

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