Return to Headlines

Cognia completes Special Review: Gwinnett County Public Schools retains accreditation

September 13, 2021

     Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Calvin J. Watts announced today that he received communication that Cognia’s Special Review of the school district is complete and resulted in no change to the school district’s accreditation. Dr. Watts says, “I am pleased to report to our community that our school district remains in good standing with Cognia and our district has retained its status as a fully accredited school district. This review is not something that we have taken lightly. Our district governance and leadership team will learn from Cognia’s findings as we move forward together. As a school district, we understand the importance of accreditation as a measure of quality and success and as a tool for improvement. As a teaching and learning organization, we will use the findings from the report to guide and strengthen our continuous improvement efforts.”

     Cognia, the district’s accrediting agency, launched the Special Review after receiving complaints from community members. The primary focus of the complaints centered on the Gwinnett County Board of Education upholding its duties as a governing body. Specifically, the review examined adherence to six of Cognia’s Performance Standards for School Systems by the school district and its Board.

Standards Reviewed and Findings

 

Standard

Finding

Standard 1.4: The governing authority establishes and ensures adherence to policies that are designed to support system effectiveness.

Initiating
(Improvement Priority—Represents areas to enhance and extend current improvement efforts)

Standard 1.5: The governing authority adheres to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities.

Initiating
(Improvement Priority—Represents areas to enhance and extend current improvement efforts)

Standard 2.1: Learners have equitable opportunities to develop skills and achieve the content and learning priorities established by the system.

Improving
(Met the Standard—Pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards)

Standard 2.7: Instruction is monitored and adjusted to meet individual learners’ needs and the system’s learning expectations.

Improving
(Met the Standard—Pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards)

Standard 2.11: Educators gather, analyze, and use formative and summative data that lead to demonstrable improvement of student learning.

Improving
(Met the Standard—Pinpoints quality practices that meet the standards)

Standard 3.8: The system allocates human, material, and fiscal resources in alignment with the system’s identified needs and priorities to improve student performance and organizational effectiveness.

Impacting
(Exceeded the Standard—Demonstrates noteworthy practices producing clear results that exceed expectations.)

     In issuing its report, the Cognia Review Team found Gwinnett County Public Schools 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.

     The two Improvement Priorities focus on the governing authority. They address:

  • Establishment of and adherence to policies that are designed to support system effectiveness.
  • Adherence to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities.

     In these two areas identified for improvement, Cognia has issued directives for the district and its governance team 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.”

     Documentation related to the Cognia Special Review is posted on the school district’s website.

Timeline of Cognia’s Special Review of GCPS:

  • GCPS was first contacted by Cognia on March 1, 2021, notifying the district that it had received numerous 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 and selected members adhering to their roles and responsibilities as members of the Board.
  • On April 19, 2021, Cognia notified GCPS leaders that it felt a Special Review was warranted. That review would focus on the complaint allegations in relation to six accreditation standards.
  • The Special Review was conducted remotely June 13-16, 2021, and included interviews with the five School Board members and then-Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks as well as interviews with 124 stakeholders, including students, parents, community members, teachers, principals, and district staff. Cognia also reviewed evidence and resources provided by the district and online recordings and minutes of Board meetings.
  • On September 9, 2021, GCPS Superintendent Dr. Calvin J. Watts received Cognia’s final report regarding the Special Review.