At a special called meeting of the Dawson County Board of Education held on Thursday, Feb. 4, board members heard the first positive results of an accreditation study by Cognia, an organization that recently completed an evaluation of the Dawson County School System.
According to Cognia representatives, Cognia is a non-profit organization aimed at improving educational opportunities for students throughout the country. Through in-depth interviews about the school system, representatives said that they were able to put together a list of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the schools in Dawson County.
In a preview of their findings, Cognia Lead Evaluator Virginia Massey said that they were able to interview Superintendent Damon Gibbs, all five Board of Education members, 30 administrators, 54 faculty and staff, seven parents, seven community and business partners and 31 students during the study.
Massey said that through the interviews, she and her team were able to identify six themes and values that the school system does well. According to Massey, these themes include; community and stakeholder involvement, fostering a supportive culture for students, taking into account data from multiple sources when making decisions, addressing students’ individual needs, supporting a learning culture and making use of digital resources and technology.
According to Massey, the involvement of community members and stakeholders in Dawson County shows the shared pride and support of the school system’s goals and vision.
“You all have tremendous community support, and the buy-in from everyone that is a part of the school district community is tremendous,” Massey said. “There’s support district-wide for the processes and the programs that you have going on and there’s tremendous support for the strategic plan and what you’re working towards.”
A second strength area the school system displays, according to Massey, is a supportive culture that continuously tries to improve.
“You have a tremendous school board; you obviously work very hard together and you are dedicated,” Massey said. “The district staff provides support and direction, and we found strong leadership at the schools are very supportive, from teachers all the way down.”
The third strength area Massey said her team identified, was the system’s incorporation of data analysis into decisions that they make.
Massey said they found that the system, “consistently and continuously” collects data to improve instruction and day to day operations, which is huge for a school system.
“All of those things are data-driven,” she said. “And the fact that you are a data-driven system is a plus; you are very conscious of looking at data that is available, what has worked and feedback from your constituents to determine what needs to change.”
Another area where the school system shows strength, according to the evaluation, is in how it addresses the individual needs of its students.
“You have students from different walks of life and different socio-economic situations and students have different goals in mind and achievement levels,” Massey said. “You have some great programs related to social and emotional identification processes and to offering assistance for those students.”
The system shows its fifth strength area with its learning culture of creativity, innovation and problem-solving, Massey said.
“We found that there is a high level of participation and activity by students in creativity projects, innovation and collaborative problem-solving in the classroom,” Massey said. “In discussions with students groups and teacher groups, we found that there were things like the development of their own podcast and sharing with other people in the student body in the school
The final strength area, according to Massey, is the system’s use of digital resources and technology.
“You certainly incorporate digital resources and technology into teaching and learning the daily operations to improve student performance, to enhance organizational effectiveness and to support the strategic plan,” Massey said. “The vision of digital involvement and technology in learning certainly permeates the district.”
Following the preview of the evaluation at the board meeting, Cognia will be returning a complete final assessment to the school system within the next 30 business days.
“If the dates run correctly we may get that report prior to our March meeting, so we’ll share that with you at that time,” Gibbs said to the board. “We take this very seriously and we’re going to use the feedback they’re going to provide to continue to grow the district.”