Cognia Special Review
Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) recently underwent a Special Review from its accrediting body, Cognia. On Monday, September 13, Superintendent Calvin J. Watts shared Cognia's final report and that the accreditation agency had made no change to the school district's accreditation status. GCPS remains a fully accredited school district.
GCPS was first contacted by Cognia on March 1, 2021, notifying the district that it had received complaints regarding the school system. According to the letter, the complaints were submitted by members of the community and primarily centered on the Gwinnett County School Board upholding its duties as a governing body. After an initial review, Cognia determined a Special Review of the district was in order.
Specifically, the Special Review examined adherence to six of Cognia's Performance Standards for School Systems by the school district and its Board. In its report, the Cognia Review Team found GCPS to be meeting three of the standards and exceeding expectations for another standard by demonstrating noteworthy practices that have produced clear expectations and results. The Review Team report did note two Improvement Priorities which they found to be in an "Initiating" phase, indicating the district could enhance and extend its current improvement efforts. In these two areas, Cognia has issued directives for the district to complete in coming months, prior to a monitoring review that will be scheduled before May of 2022.
Several of the specific actions included in the directives already are a part of the district’s processes; however, they were not evident to the team during their review. For example, the district and School Board annually complete a review of School Board policies and adopts policy changes to ensure they reflect current practice and comply with State School Board rules and regulations and changes in legislation.
Other improvement areas have been addressed or will be addressed through future Board of Education-Superintendent training sessions. For example, the Board of Education is continuing work on finalizing its Board norms. These norms will represent a shared set of rules and expectations for how the Board will collectively create a healthy space for productive governance as Board members work with each other, the superintendent, and the communities they serve. The development of these norms recognizes the diversity of the population served within the district, the varied needs of the community, and the Board members’ desire to work together as an effective governance team to lead Gwinnett County Public Schools. The work on developing norms continues and will be shared and published when completed.
Everton Blair, Jr., chairman of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, is pleased that this review has not resulted in any change to the district’s accreditation. He adds, “We are excited to see that the recommendations Cognia suggested are initiatives our Board is already working on. We look forward to growing and learning together as a Board governance team with our new superintendent.”
“As a Board governance team and as a school district, we are accountable to our students, families, staff, and community,” explains Dr. Watts. “In Gwinnett County Public Schools, we believe accountability is a good thing. It shares with our stakeholders the progress we make toward fulfilling our responsibilities and meeting goals that we have set. We will use Cognia’s findings and recommendations to improve. We know that this commitment and work toward improvement will benefit the school district, which ultimately benefits our students, schools, and community.”
Cognia conducted its Special Review of Gwinnett County Public Schools June 13-16, 2021. The review included interviews with a wide range of community members, including School Board members, the superintendent, teachers, administrators, students, parents, and other community members. In addition, the district provided Cognia with information to demonstrate its adherence to Cognia’s Performance Standards for School Systems. In issuing its findings, the Special Review Team and Cognia determined it would continue the accreditation of GCPS with the status of Accredited.
GCPS and Cognia Accreditation
Gwinnett County Public Schools last had its External Review Team Accreditation Visit in March 2017. During that visit, the accrediting team examined key components of the school district. Areas under review included leadership, governance, student performance results, student engagement data, support services, curriculum quality and efficacy, allocation and use of resources, equity of resource distribution to need, level and sustainability of resources, long-range capital, and resource planning. The district received an overall score of 340.38 out of a total 400 during this extensive review. (At the time, the AdvancEd Network Average was 278.94.)
In the 2017 accreditation review report, a number of “Powerful Practices” were noted. The first cited GCPS for fostering a “Culture of Collaboration, Excellence, and Pride.” This Powerful Practice specifically mentioned that the “Board knows role of organization,” and that there is “collaboration between district office and school.” The report also stated that GCPS maintains a clearly defined and expansive student assessment system and that the district frequently monitored and analyzed data regarding student achievement, school performance, and progress towards system improvement goals and that this information is consistently communicated to all stakeholder groups. Lastly, the report noted as a Powerful Practice that GCPS uses a systematic, systemic, and collaborative process to monitor, review, and revise curricular, instructional, and assessment practices throughout the district.