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Tours guide decision on accreditation
School system will learn about renewal today
Tour WEB 1
Dick Spohr, above, talks with students Lauren White, center, and Priya Dunna on Monday in their science class at Lambert High. The visit was part of the system’s accreditation process. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Like the winter wind, Dick Spohr swept through Lambert High School on Monday afternoon.

Spohr was in a science room watching students dissect hearts. A few minutes later, he passed through the art classrooms, admiring some of the pottery and commenting on a pond in a science room. Then, it was onto the engineering room.

In each room, Spohr spoke to students and looked over their notebooks and handouts. Within minutes, he was onto the next room.

“You’re getting a taste,” he said. “It’s a sampling. It’s boots on the ground, and we’re not just looking at paper, and everybody can draw their conclusions from it.”

Spohr is chairman of an eight-member team from AdvancED, a company which will decide if the Forsyth County school system’s accreditation will be renewed. Its decision is expected this afternoon.

The team has spent the week touring eight county schools, meeting system officials and interviewing parents, students and teachers.

The interviews are a key component, but Spohr said the tours give the best picture of how they implement the seven required standards and 63 indicators.

He said he was looking to see not only if the work was being taught, but if it was being learned.

“You look at the kids’ eyes,” he said. “And they were engaged. They were involved. And in every classroom, technology was being used and every student was engaged.”

Spohr’s guide for the tour was Madison Turner, Miss Lambert High, who was able to point out some of the more interesting rooms and spoke about her school with pride.

The teachers, she told him, are “all amazing.”

“I can’t speak highly enough of them,” she said. “We call it the Lambert family.”

The team also visited Brookwood, Coal Mountain, Midway and Mashburn elementary schools, Forsyth Central High and Liberty and Piney Grove middle schools.

Terri North, Piney Grove’s principal, said the school was glad to “showcase our commitment to providing a wide variety of exceptional learning opportunities.”

“Team members toured our school and interviewed students, staff and parents,” North said. “We look forward to hearing their final report on Wednesday, so we can incorporate their findings into our future school improvement plans.”

Spohr seemed impressed with the system. He said it’s one he would feel comfortable letting his own children attend.

“[The system has] high expectations and have a focus on learning,” he said. “Not just a focus, but what I’m seeing here, and with the evidence they’re providing, they’re not only focused on it, they’re committed to it.”

Spohr did stray from the tour, often opening doors to random classrooms, but always stumbling on a room where a teacher was in control.

The system received its first accreditation in 2007. Prior to that, all schools in the system had to be individually accredited.

By accrediting the entire district, just a few schools need to be individually reviewed.

Having the status of being an accredited system gives a level of distinction. The real winners, however, are the students.

The status is often required in order to be able to transfer credits, get greater access to loans, scholarships, colleges and military programs.

If the accreditation is renewed today, Spohr said the AdvancED team would still require the system to take action toward improvement, something needed by even the best systems.

“If a person is at 98 percent on a test, there’s not too much [higher],” he said. “We find that in our highest performing districts, the greatest challenge is how do you get some of that last 2 percent.”

Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans said the system has spent months planning and preparing for the accreditation process to begin.

“It really has been a team approach in preparing for the visit and then observing the many events that have taken place between Sunday evening and this point,” Evans said.

“We are optimistic that the visit will both affirm much of the work of the district over the past five years, as well as help open us to continued opportunities for improving the work of our district.”