St. Croix's John H. Woodson Jr. High School will be recommended for accreditation by the visiting team of inspectors from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and, if approved, will be the territory's first public junior high to reach that landmark, according to the Education Department.
“I went there over the weekend and it was just incredible,” Woodson Principal Vaughn Hewitt said in a statement from Education. "It was a great feeling, knowing what we had accomplished and worked so hard for, and I can’t wait to see the faces of the students, who can soon be the first in the district to say that they are at an accredited junior high,” Hewitt continued.
Woodson has been in the accreditation process for the past six years and Hewitt, who has been at the school since 1996, has been at the helm the whole time.
The school has had a number of challenges, from mold to concerns over air conditioning and flooding, that the school has had to overcome, Hewitt said, crediting the staff for the successful visit.
“It’s all brought us closer together. Everyone worked so hard to accomplish this goal,” Hewitt said. “A lot of hard work went into it, but everyone contributed, and it really gave us a chance to see what we have and what we need to improve on.”
“But we’re not just going to gain accreditation and leave it there,” he said. “We are accountable now and need to continue improving, and our main focus is high student achievement in every subject.”
The Middle States validation team began their work last Monday with a tour of the campus, and then sat down one-on-one with Education and Woodson’s administrators and staff that evening.
“I’m so pleased to offer congratulations to John H. Woodson Jr. High’s stellar administration and staff,” Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said Monday. “This is truly a milestone for the school, one that would not have been made possible without their hard work, dedication and true commitment to the students. There is nothing that the school has not been able to overcome, and we look forward to seeing and hearing about Woodson’s continued success.”
In its report, the Middle States team purportedly commended Woodson’s administrators and staff on balancing their resources in the midst of ongoing budget cuts; the selection of new textbooks and incorporation of the federal Common Core State Standards into the curriculum; and the innovative use of technology, according to the department.
Team members said they were most impressed by remarks from parents, students and staff, who all played a critical role in the accreditation process. A general love for the school, overall pride in the campus and its programs, and a deep affinity for the teachers were among some of the more “meaningful” comments noted in the report, according to Education.
“There is something here for every child,” one parent said, while others talked about staff members that often “go the extra mile” to provide information about a student’s progress. Meanwhile, Woodson’s students commented on everything from the number of activities the school offers to what being accredited would mean to them.
“This is the only school we want to go to,” the students said. “We have the most activities, the most fun and the smartest teachers.”
Team members also made recommendations to the school on how to proceed and solidify its gains over the next few years, such as developing and implementing a long-term facilities and financial plan for maintenance; continuing to use all assessments to analyze student achievement; reporting progress to the school and community; and using “creative problem solving” to address transportation issues that lead to absences among select students.
St. Croix Superintendent Gary Molloy said Monday that he is “confident” the school will be able to build on Middle States’ recommendations and, if it’s approved, maintain accreditation over the next five-to-seven years.
“This process has been a long one for Woodson over the past six years, but through all the different challenges, the staff held firm in the belief that they wanted Middle States to be able to come in and validate their work,” Molloy said. “Getting accredited as a junior high is more difficult than on the high school level, and this year was even more challenging in terms of the number of staff Woodson lost, but everyone fought and got the parents and children to rally around the spirit of the John Woodson Warriors. They really showcased what the school is all about.”
In about four to six weeks after the accreditation visit, Middle States will report back to Woodson with the outcome, according to Education officials.