The evaluation is a form of quality assurance to make sure that everything at the school is going well. The evaluators check out the teachers, students, and community to see how everyone feels about the local education system.
Teresa Johnson was the lead evaluator in Petersburg. She is an education professor from the University of Alaska Anchorage and also works with the Alaska School Activities Association. She calls Petersburg High a “five star school”.
“I’ll tell you right up front we’ll recommend accreditation to your school,” Johnson says. “It’s a very fine school.”
Johnson works through AdvancED, an accreditation agency that evaluates schools all over the country.
Johnson along with school administrators from Juneau and Ketchikan conducted Petersburg’s evaluation. Dan Larson was a visiting administrator from Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau and says the accreditation is important and recognized internationally.
“Ultimately for a high school what it means is upon graduation when our students graduate and apply for university,” Larson says. “The university checks to see if the agency is or the sending school is accredited and who they’re accredited through.”
Larson, Johnson and others on the evaluation team interviewed 69 people in Petersburg including 42 students and 18 staff members.
“The kids, the parents, everybody talked about how tight knit a group you are,” Johnson says, “how important it is for the students to be able to get help from their teachers and the teachers always being available, the parents feeling comfortable coming into the school, dropping in to visit those kinds of things, very positive. We didn’t hear any negative about that.”
Johnson says for a small town of 3,000, Petersburg High School doesn’t take short cuts.
“When we would go around and observe classrooms we were really impressed by things like class size despite the smallness,” Johnson says. “The kids got lots of one on one attention. You may not have a lot of resources but the resources you have are used really well to help maintain good, sound instructional practice and that’s very impressive. Not everybody is doing that. A lot of smaller schools are cutting teachers and increasing class size or not having a variety of classes that you have. You have a large variety of classes for a small school. So, you should be very proud of that.”
The evaluation also highlighted areas that could be improved. The evaluation team suggested that the school focus on keeping the good that’s going on now. They said there could be formalized programs put into place in a few areas; one for information getting shared between the school and the community and another for the technology program.
“Everybody here is impressed with your technology program,” Johnson says, “but if teachers leave and new ones come in and they’re not tech savvy what are you going to do? How are you going to keep that program going?”
Keeping technology a vibrant part of Petersburg’s high school is something the evaluators stressed. They identified the technology department as “extremely exemplary”.
“I’ve been in a lot of schools and done quite a few accreditation visits and I’ve never seen a school as good and well designed as the technology program you have in place and how the kids and teachers are using it,” Johnson says. “It’s a model for the country and if somebody asked me about a program, I’d refer them to your school in a heartbeat to see how it can work and the positive impact it can have.”
The evaluators looked at three main categories: Impact of teaching and learning, capacity of leadership, and use of resources.
The evaluators said there was nothing wrong with the high school. However, there is one area that requires action within the next two years and that is implementing the Danielson Model. The model is a teacher appraisal system and student performance system that Petersburg school adopted when they got a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state mandates that it be implemented within two years.
“Those comments we’re making for your school really aren’t any different than we might make at any school right now because all the schools are working towards that,” Johnson says.
On Tuesday, the evaluation team gave the school board and school staff a brief review of what they found. A detailed written review of the evaluation will also be given to the school.