school audit points to problems
• Officials plan challenge, response
By SUE WATSON
A recent audit of the Holly Springs
School District by the State Department of Education on 36 selected
accreditation standards found compliance with six and cited non-compliance
The audit, based on 2006 Mississippi
Public Schools Accountability Standards, was released April 27 in a
comprehensive report that found non-compliance at the school board level
as well as administrative levels.
The school district has 30 days to respond
to the entire audit, said Beth Sewell, executive to the state superintendent
over instructional programs and services.
The school district may challenge the
findings of the audit, provide more information or ask the state department
of education to send a representative back to discuss the audit further,
Retired educators served as consultants
for the purpose of the audit. The state department no longer does routine
audits of each school district every five years, but audits districts
by “random sampling,” Sewell said.
The audit of the Holly Springs School
District consisted of a leadership accountability (accreditation) audit.
Holly Springs High School and Intermediate
Schools are rated as a level 2. The primary school is not assigned a
level, but these performance levels relate to student test scores, not
leadership or facilities.
Standards met in audit
The school district was found in compliance
on six standards:
- meets the required 180 teaching days and meets 27.5 hours a week
- employs a licensed, full-time principal at each school;
- employs a business officer;
- meets standards for alternative education and GED programs;
- implements basic elementary curriculum in K-8.
Standards not met
Auditors cited noncompliance with 24
state and/or federal standards.
The auditors found there to be a blurring
of roles of the board of trustees and the administration and lack of
clarity of the legal roles of the two in the district.
This finding was attributed to inadequate
and outdated written school board policies. Some job descriptions of
licensed employees and staffing were not on file. And some student records
were not maintained as required by law.
Review of employee performance did not
meet state standards. Communication lines between the district, parents
and business groups was found insufficient.
The following findings or corrective
actions were cited:
the school board did not
restrict its role and function to setting policy and assessing results.
Standards require the board of trustees
to delegate executive, supervisory and instructional authority to its
employees to meet goals set by the district.
The superintendent’s role is to
implement the policies of the board so as to meet the goals it sets
and to conduct the daily operations of the school district.
The auditors cited a history of conflict
between the school board and its appointed superintendents and a high
rate of turnover of superintendents.
The audit called for corrective action
to include establishing positive working relationships between the board
and the superintendent so the focus is put on student achievement, school
improvement and putting students first.
“Putting the needs of the
students first and working together in a positive manner must become
priorities for the school district,” the report stated.
the school district, with
few exceptions, had current copies of school board policies available
for public review. The last revision of the policies was in 1995.
stability in personnel
is needed. The district was found in compliance with requirements for
a full-time principal at each school. But auditors noted that all assistant
principals and most of the central office staff are new to their positions.
“This constant change in
leadership provides evidence of lack of the consistency necessary to
develop and implement effective programs to ensure quality schools,” the report concluded.
The audit also noted that there was often
a lack of logic or consideration of training or preference used in advancing
educators to leadership positions within the district.
“Stability in personnel within
the schools and central office must become a priority for this district
so that administrators and central office personnel can become effective
instructional leaders,” the report said.
The district was also asked to develop
and publish in the employee handbook a systematic procedure for formal
personnel appraisal (in class observation of teachers) of licensed staff.
some permanent records
and cumulative folders at the high school were found to be incomplete.
Records of attendance, course enrollment or withdrawal and grades, and
records of diplomas or certificates of graduation were incomplete at
the high school.
a current strategic plan
and review of the educational status of each school in the district
relative to accreditation and performance was not found. The strategic
plan on file has not been reviewed or revised since it was filed in
a professional development
plan approved by the board of trustees was not found; however, the school
district does implement a comprehensive professional development plan.
the requirements that each
school have organized collections of materials and equipment and provide
access to these materials was not fully met. The intermediate and primary
school libraries were cited as deficient in technology but offering
a systematic program of service to students and staff.
nine specific deficiencies
in the instructional management system were found.
the district facilities
were found in compliance on standards of cleanliness, instructional
equipment, and air conditioning.
However, the auditors noted 22 specific
corrections needed to meet school safety requirements.
School district superintendent Irene
Walton said last week that the district plans to address and challenge
many of the audit findings, by providing more information to the department
The district has 30 days to challenge
findings with documentation and can ask for an extension if necessary,
“We’re going through
the report point by point,” Walton said.
A team of five consultants hired by the
state department of education spent about five days in the school district
conducting the audit, she said.
School board trustee Michael Crittle
also noted that the board will look at the validity of the citations.
“And if we need to provide
them more information, we will to give a sound answer,” he said.
He added, “If an auditor doesn’t
find anything, he is not doing his job.”
Walton added that many of the problems
mentioned in the audit relate to circumstances that justified termination
proceedings with the prior superintendent, Cynthia Gentry, and her subsequent
Walton said the audit found that as current
superintendent, she has a good working relationship with the current
board of trustees.
“As superintendent, I am
in the process of producing a written response that will describe how
we are improving on issues like documentation,” she said. “Some
items will be challenged. The board has already begun working with me,
the staff and the school board attorney to respond to items where there
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