This is what the educators and students of Marlboro County face at the moment.
The Marlboro County School District will start a three-day evaluation process Monday aimed at gaining the system outside accreditation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which is part of the international accreditation group AdvancED, is responsible for signing off on all levels of educational institutions, elementary schools to universities, and is the regional industry standard for non-governmental approval.
Each year schools and districts must get accreded by the State Board of Education, but the added level of outside approval from SACS is optional and intended to keep standards high and prove that systems for school improvement work. Some states require all schools and districts to get AdvancED certified. Only 50 of the South Carolina’s 85 public school districts are accredited by AdvancED. But Marlboro has not undergone the audit-like process as a district in 10 years.
Wes Park, the district’s finance administrator, said that because the district has undergone a lot of changes and had five superintendents in three years, the review process got delayed.
“That did not allow for the stability that was needed to go through a formalized process like this,” Park said.
Other than prestige and keeping high standards, the main benefit of accreditation for students is that colleges and universities are more likely to accept students who graduate from accredited schools. But nine of Marlboro’s 10 schools are already individually accredited by AdvancED, including Marlboro County High School. And according to Perry Wilson, the admissions director at Francis Marion University, colleges don’t look at district-wide accreditation, only school credentials, which guarantee higher teaching standards.
“To be admitted you have to come from a SACS or other regionally accredited school,” Wilson said. “Otherwise, like a home-schooled student or someone coming from a correspondence school, you have to take the GED to get in even if you meet the state’s 19 course requirements.”
Dr. Henry Cobb, the district’s public relations director, said the district began preparing for AdvancED’s visit last July by getting their policies in order. He said they’ll be asked to prove high standards of governance and leadership, teaching and learning, documenting and using results, resources and support systems, stakeholder communication and commitment to improve.
Oddly, when asked how the process might improve the district or benefit students, Cobb declined to answer and when pressed, hung up.
Park said the district allotted $30,000 to pay for the accreditation in its $29 million budget for the year, but now expects to use less than $15,000 to cover the per-school fee of $550 plus the travel expenses for the AdvancED staff members.
If the district gets approved, it’ll have to update its accreditation every five years.
Good luck, Marlboro County Public Schools. We're rooting for you.