FLORENCESC – Florence 1 School District continues its journey up the stairway to excellence.
The district earned an Index of Education Quality score of 350 from Cognia, a worldwide nonprofit organization that reviews a school district’s education processes to ensure students receive a high-quality education.
The accreditation process is an important measure of a school district’s leadership, learning and resource capabilities.
Florence 1 School Superintendent Richard O’Malley said the Cognia accreditation process takes about a year.
“It’s a national accreditation that we go through every five years. We really like this because it puts our standards on a national stage – not just South Carolina, not just here in Florence – but it compares ourselves to other places all across the country,” O’Malley said, adding the evaluators are located across the United States as well.
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The Cognia accreditation means Florence 1 School students can take their diplomas and attend higher education institutions anywhere in the world, the district’s Chief Accountability Officer Hayley Gainey said.
The district’s score of 350 is up from its 300 score in the 2014 Cognia evaluation. The average score for all school districts evaluated by Cognia is 278 to 283, Gainey said.
“We are at 350 and that’s an amazing place to be,” she said.
A majority of the public schools in South Carolina use Cognia for the accreditation process, Gainey said.
Gainey provided details about the Cognia accreditation process at Thursday’s F1S Board of Trustees meeting in the West Florence High School auditorium.
The evaluation lets the district monitor the quality of education in the school district. It looks at three areas, Leadership Capacity, Learning Capacity and Resource Capacity.
Cognia had five evaluators examining the Florence 1 School District, Gainey said. Interviews were conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gainey said. The evaluators interviewed 221 people in 2½ days. All the interviews were conducted via Zoom.
Here’s the breakdown of people interviewed.
23 students from various grade levels
8 community partners – pastors, business leaders, Realtors, counselors, bankers.
65 certified staff – teachers, guidance counselors, media specialists, curriculum coaches.
12 Classified staff – bookkeepers and others, etc.
45 District office staff – human resources, curriculum, maintenance transportation
26 Building leaders – principals, assistant principals
4 Board of Trustees members
“For a total of 221 community stakeholders, which I felt like was a good representation to our group to let them see what we are all about,” Gainey said.
Cognia rates school districts in four areas. Each area has 31 standards, and there are five parts to each standard, she said.
“They rate each one of the five parts of the 31 standards on a scale of red being insufficient, yellow — initiating, green — improving and blue — impacting. We want to be at impact where we are demonstrating noteworthy practices that produce clear results that positively impact the institution,” Gainey said.
Florence 1 School District only had blue and green, Gainey said. Two-thirds of the district’s scores landed in the impacting column.
“That’s an amazing place to be,” she said.
The Cognia results also show room for improvement, she said. The district will continue to improve and grow to provide students with the finest education possible, she said.
The district, Gainey said, wants all its standards to be blue. That’s the goal in the next five years.
“We are growing. We are in the process of moving forward. … We are not done. We are just getting started. We are forging ahead. We are all at this high speed. We are moving, moving and moving. Sometimes, we forget where we were. Where were we just five, six, seven years ago. Look where we are now,” Gainey said. “We may not have arrived, but we are certainly on the train.”
Board member Barry Townsend was one of the 221 interviewed by Cognia evaluators.
The district, Townsend said, has focused on improving academic outcomes for all students in the past four years.
“As I participated in interviews as part of the Cognia accreditation process, it was both exciting and gratifying to discuss the changes we have made and the initial results of this hard work,” Townsend said in a press release from the Florence 1 School District.
The district has set records with graduation rates in the past two years. The Cognia Education Quality Score shows the district is on the right path to create academic excellence for all F1S students, he said.
Ebenezer Baptist Church Youth Pastor Nathan Neighbors was one of the community partners interviewed by the Cognia evaluators. He also is a Florence 1 School District graduate.
“I’ve seen more progress and unity in our school district in the last four years than the last 40 years. My wife and I are so grateful our sons get to experience the very best public education in South Carolina. Thank you, Dr. O’Malley and Florence 1,” Neighbors said in the press release.
Florence 1 School Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Trisha Caulder has been a board member for 10 years.
“I’ve read through all of these pages and I was amazed,” Caulder said. “I truly know and realize how far we have come. … It is truly amazing to have read the comments that this team had to say about our people. I’m just really thrilled.”
The Florence 1 School District, Caulder said, is forging a path for other school districts in South Carolina to follow.
“We haven’t finished, yet,” he said.
Board of Trustees Chairman S. Porter Stewart said the district’s standard is excellence — not average or adequate.
“I think we just need to double down and get at it. I’m not going to offer congratulations. I’m going to offer a challenge — stay the course,” Stewart said.