Lawrence High School Principal Brad Tate has been breathing a little easier for the last several weeks.
Last month, LHS was re-accredited following a four-year accreditation process. Although LHS has been through accreditation several times, this was the first time in LHS history that the process was outcomes-based.
"It's kind of a gut-wrencher when you're among the first schools through," Tate said. "You're not sure exactly what they want. You never know what they're going to put emphasis on."
Not only did LHS earn full accreditation from the North Central Assn., but members of an external team that monitored the process gave the school high marks for its efforts.
NORTH CENTRAL is one of six non-governmental, not-for-profit associations across the country that accredit public schools, universities and colleges. The association has headquarters in Tempe, Ariz., and Chicago.
North Central first endorsed the outcomes-based accreditation process in 1988 as a means to make schools more accountable for correcting weaknesses.
Under the traditional procedure, LHS administrators worked on a report that included details on almost every aspect of the school, from how many teachers had master's degrees to how many books were in the library.
But in outcomes-based accreditation, school staff members identify areas they would like to improve, and the staff then works on programs to reach those goals.
Nona Tollefson, professor of educational psychology and research at Kansas University and a member of the external team that monitored progress at LHS, said she was impressed with the school's efforts.
"I think they made a very concerted effort to have it be a building-wide process and to involve all the teachers in deciding on the goals they were striving to achieve," Tollefson said. "Total building involvement is really a goal of North Central."
THE SCHOOL created a committee for each of its six outcome goals, Tate said, and every LHS staff member served on a committee of his or her choice.
Four of the six goals call for all students to demonstrate at least minimum competency in math, reading, writing and social studies.
For students who need help in those areas, LHS started the directed studies program in the fall. About 30 students are now enrolled in one of three directed studies classes, which offer a student-teacher ratio of no more than 10-1. Other students visit the directed studies classroom throughout the day for tutuoring.
Another of the LHS accreditation goals calls for improvement in student conduct and in student attitudes toward school.
Tom Trigg, assistant superintendent with the Gardner school district and another member of the external team, said there already are signs of progress in that area.
"I think the two things that stood out in terms of their data is that they significantly decreased their number of suspensions and their number of absences," Trigg said. "Obviously, those are two things that all schools are trying to do."
During the first semester of 1991-92, 16.5 percent of all student absences were unexcused. During the first semester of this school year, only 1.2 percent of all student absences were unexcused.
ALSO, THE number of student suspensions for fighting dropped from 37 to six between the first quarter of 1991-92 and the first quarter of this year.
Another LHS accreditation goal is for all students to acquire study skills. Starting next fall, LHS will offer a semester-long elective course on study skills. The course will be geared toward incoming sophomores.
The school also is putting together a study skills booklet for students that includes tips from teachers.
LHS will begin a new North Central accreditation cycle in the fall and tie it into Quality Performance Accreditation, the state's new outcomes-based accreditation process.