by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Kylie Holley
Pataula Charter Academy (PCA), a Commission charter school serving five rural southwest Georgia counties, recently hosted its first AdvancEd (SACS CASI) accreditation external review. Not only did we receive recommendation from the review team for full accreditation, but PCA scored higher both on overall score and in each individual domain than the averages of more than 32,000 institutions in the AdvancEd network. It did not come as a surprise to us that the review team cited our school culture and climate as a “powerful practice” in all three domains assessed. In fact, during the exit report presentation, the lead evaluator said that our “Crew” initiative was the number one thing that sets our school apart because of the culture, known as “The PCA Way,” that it has helped build at our school.
Each morning from 8:00-8:30, every student at PCA is engaged in Crew. The purpose of Crew is to build relationships between among students and with their teachers, as well as developing strong, positive character traits. Crew consists of several components, such as every student being greeted by name, team building initiatives, and sharing time. Middle and high school teachers use Crew time as an academic advisement period as well. Middle and high school students remain with the same Crew teacher throughout his/her tenure at that level to build stronger bonds and ensure that every student has an adult advocate on campus. Crew is where “The PCA Way” (high expectations for character and behavior) is explicitly taught. The rest of the day is where it is lived.
Here’s the rub: Crew is not on the Georgia DOE approved list of “research/evidence-based” programs or practices for personalized climate. Personalized Climate is worth five points on the new School Climate Star rating. Losing these five points cost PCA a whole star on the rating scale. Even if Crew were to be added to the approved list, PCA likely would not receive those points because now a school must also use current data versus last year’s data to prove that the practice has improved culture. Discipline and attendance data at our school do not provide much room for growth, as both are already quite high.
Student perception data is the only thing we could improve, and that would require us to coach our students on the survey questions. You see, at PCA our kids think that any unkind word spoken is “bullying,” which inflates the bullying perception data. I don’t want to rob them of their innocence by teaching the State’s definition of bullying; severe, persistent, pervasive patterns of behavior which substantially affect another student. We rarely see bullying at PCA because our kids hold each other accountable for being kind and respectful to one another. Our score of 100 in the bullying data category proves that is true.
In this age of accountability, I wonder if data and formulas that the common person cannot understand (see also, School Climate School Wide Agreement variance formula) are not diluting and distorting the REAL story of strong school culture. How can data capture the warm feeling felt by visitors in a school or the compassion a child shows to a classmate struggling with a skill? School climate is much more than any hard and fast data can show. I am not a foe of accountability at all, but I wish that measures were proven reliable and valid over a reasonable time period before they are used to “judge” a school. I can assure you that anyone that has experienced the culture at PCA will tell you that a star rating of 3 proves there is a flaw somewhere in this measurement system.
Kylie Holley is Superintendent and Elementary Principal at Pataula Charter Academy. Ms. Kylie served on the original founding board and helped write the petition application for the school.
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