MARIETTA — A new accreditation model is challenging the Cobb County School District to ensure the various cultures of its student body are reflected in its staff, according to the accreditation company’s presentation to the school board on Thursday.
School board Chair David Chastain said the district does well in hiring a diverse staff, but that parent participation across cultures has been a challenge.
The school board is expected to adopt AdvancED’s new accreditation model, which will give the district ongoing accreditation as opposed to the traditional once-every-five-years model, as soon as this fall, Chastain said.
It is important for school districts to remain accredited, because accreditation gives worth in the eyes of employers and colleges to the diplomas of students who attend accredited schools.
The newly proposed accreditation model encourages the school board and superintendent to redirect their concerns from day-to-day operations to future planning, according to Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED.
Elgart said ongoing reflection on changing demographics and culture of the district will be one of the most important details.
The district should be aware of how the country’s growing minority population affects its schools and adjust its cultural sensitivity, awareness and representation accordingly, he said.
“The district is representative of how the country is changing,” Elgart said, adding that local curriculum can adjust with cultural changes without affecting the district’s ability to meet state or national standards. “When a kid goes to school and sees nobody that looks like (them) or has any understanding of where I come from, it’s harder for them to engage.”
About 37% of students in Cobb are white, about 30% are black and about 22% are Hispanic, according to data on the district’s website.
Among administrators in the district, 70% are white and 28% are black, according to the district data. Out of Cobb’s 113 principals, 30% are black, compared to 10% nationally.
There are no Hispanic administrators or principals in Cobb.
Chastain said, with respect to cultural representation and sensitivity, the district already does a great job, and that will continue.
“The average person may not know it or see it, but I think we’ve put out numbers before from last year where our diversity within our staff ... was higher than a lot of other places,” Chastain said.
The district’s challenge in including varying cultures remains that family participation in important school activities and leadership opportunities is lower than the district and board would like to see, he said.
“In a lot of our schools, we’ll have an international night where we’ll invite everybody to come and share a meal and share a part of their culture — everybody shows up, and it’s wonderful,” Chastain said. “But for the other opportunities to engage — PTA meetings and some other things — people don’t show up.”
He added that more families with varying cultures should participate in those functions and bring their experiences rooted in their ethnic backgrounds with them.
Chastain said while the board has not made its final decision yet, the “idea of continual improvement” seems better for the district than a five-year checkup.
“I think it would be good for us. Like was brought out in the discussion, it would be less pressure, less ‘test anxiety’ like students get,” he said.
Board member Jaha Howard said he is excited to hear that accreditation models are becoming more flexible, as well as focusing more on inclusion of various cultures.
Howard has been vocal in his calls for the district to be more sensitive to students of different cultures, including at the school board’s retreat in May, when he reviewed with academic planners the district’s programs for working with children of “marginalized groups.”
He identified those groups as students with language barriers, in poverty, in need of special education and minority children.
“We’re a unique county with a lot of different kids from a lot of different backgrounds, upbringings and cultures. We would be foolish to ignore that and doing things the way they’ve always been done,” Howard said.
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the ongoing accreditation model makes more sense for a district as large and diverse as Cobb’s. In response to Elgart’s notes of cultural awareness, Ragsdale said the district is already outperforming many others.
“It’s not a question of if we’re going to get accredited, because great things are going on in the district. It’s kind of a methodology to use to identify those areas where maybe you need to tweak, like he was talking about with the cultural diagnostics,” he said. “But I don’t think our culture has been any more positive than it is right now in our organization.”
Ragsdale said the district has “all but finalized” participation with the new model.
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said Elgart’s push for cultural inclusion is paramount for student success.
“Students need to see people that look like them. I think that’s one thing that, as educators, we have known,” she said. “You want to have teachers that represent who your student body is. Students relate to the teachers that look like them.”
Jackson added that teacher recruitment, in Cobb and throughout the metro Atlanta area, should focus on making sure minority student populations are equally represented with a minority population of school leaders.
She also said ongoing accreditation consultation will be more effective for the district than once every five years, because the district will be accountable to the model at all times.