Leader Blues

Thursday, January 17, 2008

TOP STORY >> Auditors press JHS to reach standards

By RAY BENTON
Leader managing editor


Jacksonville High School is undergoing a scholastic audit by the state this week for failing to meet benchmark standards for four consecutive years.

The school is in year four of a state improvement plan because of the lower-than-standard scores according to the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program, or ACTAAP. JHS was put on improvement status by the state in compliance with No Child Left Behind legislation.

There are nine points of focus under three categories that are being audited, and parents are being asked to complete surveys and participate in interviews with the state auditors.

Jacksonville High principal Kenneth Clark welcomes the auditors, who arrived Monday morning and will be at the school through the end of Friday’s classes.

“We need to get better and they’re here evaluating and trying to find ways that will help us do that,” Clark said. The first category being looked at is academic performance. Under that heading are curriculum, classroom evaluation and strategy assessment, and instruction quality.

The auditors make sure that Jacksonville’s curriculum is in line with local and state department requirements.

Classroom evaluation means that each teacher will be visited twice during the week and evaluated on how well the students are instructed and how well engaged the students are in classroom activities. The auditors will also study student-teacher relationships.

Learning environment is the second category.

The first item under that heading is school culture, where auditors will evaluate the school’s diversity values and the effectiveness of its practices of higher achievement.

They also look at family and community support, which Clark believes will receive high marks.

“That’s one area in which I certainly believe we excel,” Clark said. “We have staff that works hard to generate support from the community, and we have parents and community leaders that are always willing to lend of hand.”

Professional growth and development, the third item under learning environment, simply means the auditors will make sure that staff has stayed up-to-date with all the classes and workshops required by the state.

The final category being audited is efficiency. This is the area in which the school’s leadership is most closely evaluated. In fact, item one under the efficiency category is leadership.

“They take a close look at the decisions I have to make,” Clark said. “They want to make sure that my decisions, and the decisions of my assistant principals are generally focused on student learning. I also need to be looking for any avenues where I can improve high performance of achievement. They also want to make sure that we all understand that everyone on staff here is a leader.”

Part of that task is covered under item two of the third category, which is organizational structure and resources.
“They want to make sure that we (the administration) do our part in maximizing time and resources through proper organization,” Clark said.

The state also looks at the effectiveness of the counselors in making sure students get in the right classes to stay on pace to graduate.

With the new credit requirements for graduation, there is little room for oversight in this area. For example, tutoring is made available to help students who have fallen, or are falling off graduation pace, get back on track.

However, tutoring costs money and proposals have to be written to the district requesting money to pay for the tutoring.
The auditors are looking at how rigorously and effectively the school is pursuing these types of avenues.

The final category is comprehensive and effective planning, which mostly evaluates how well Jacksonville High School aligns with the plans and goals of ACSIP, the Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

It is uncertain when the findings of the audit will be complete and available.