Spearfish School District accreditation process

As a parent, student, community member or anyone with interest in the Spearfish School District, I’d like to inform you of the recent accreditation review process that our school district has been involved in.

Continuous improvement that results in success for all learners should be the goal of every school district.  The improvement journey for each school district may look different, but should always include measures of the quality of learning and instruction.  In the Spearfish School District, we use an international accreditation institution by the name of Cognia (formerly known as AdvancEd).  They provide a set of evaluative criteria that lay the foundation for improvement planning and implementation, and then review our system against those criteria to aid us in our improvement journey.

Why is accreditation important in a school district?  Accreditation lays the groundwork for success of schools and students.  Parents have long held education as a key to their child’s preparation and success in life.  Equally, educators have known that a quality education is of the utmost importance for a child’s future.   Quality and success are not mutually exclusive in the education process.  Quality and student success go hand‐in‐hand and are why many schools seek accreditation.  When a school or school system achieves accreditation, parents and the community can be assured that the top priorities are:  increasing student achievement, providing a safe and enriching learning environment; and running an efficient operation.

Five years ago, in 2015, the Spearfish School District underwent an accreditation review and became accredited via AdvancED, now known as Cognia.  During that review the AdvancEd review team noted many exemplary practices, but also indicated some areas that we could improve upon.  Items noted for improvement were: develop and align common assessments to measure the effectiveness of the district’s curricular and instructional programs; provide a structure for all instructional staff and leaders to collect and analyze data; and provide equitable and challenging learning programs for all students.

Utilizing the feedback from that review as well as other sources of data, we proceeded with strategic planning in the spring of 2017.  We focused attention on those items as well as other areas that the strategic planning stakeholders thought were important for the overall improvement of teaching and learning in the school district.

In February of 2020, we had our next accreditation review by Cognia.  First, I am pleased to announce that we have been approved for system-wide accreditation once again.  Secondly, I am proud to say that the improvement recommendations that the 2015 review team recommended are now areas of success for us.  Other items of noted success were our commitment to improvement through the strategic planning process, our curriculum and instruction alignment, and probably most importantly the commitment by our staff to develop relationships with students as well as the implementation of social & emotional programing in our schools. 

The Cognia review team did have some recommendations for improvement as well.  Items such as personalizing professional development to the needs of individual teachers, establishing & coordinating the use of Professional Learning Communities within our district to achieve system-wide instructional practices, and to develop a systemic approach to the transitions that students experience when moving from one building to the next.

So, what is our next step?  Our next step in our improvement journey will be to conduct another strategic planning session like the one we did in 2017.  We have a wealth of data from the Cognia review and other sources that we will utilize to chart our course over the next three to five years.  We intend to start this process in late fall 2020 with the intent of implementing the new plan in the fall of 2021.

If you have any questions concerning the accreditation process, our results, or how we plan to utilize the results please feel free to reach out to me.  A special thanks to all that participated in both the strategic planning sessions in 2017 and to those that were part of the Cognia review in February of this year.

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