WINONA – The Mississippi Association of Independent Schools AdvancED Accreditation Commission granted a five-year term of accreditation to Winona Christian School following a recent site visit and diagnostic review of the school.
According to the commission’s findings, Winona Christian School received 2.33 points out of a possible 4 points for purpose and direction of the school, 2.56 points for governance and leadership, 2.28 points for teaching and assessing learning, 2.71 points for resources and support systems, and 2.13 points for using results for continuous improvement.
“[MAIS representatives] were very complimentary of where we were in our standards,” Headmaster Jimmy Pittman said. “I was really pleased with this report. It validates that you are doing a good job.”
School leaders performed a self-evaluation on the same scoring system, and the school’s self-assessment was very close to the scores given by MAIS, all within a few tenths of a point.
“When we self-evaluation, we were where they thought we should be,” Pittman said. “We were honest about where we were.”
The commission found that the school’s “Powerful Practices” included the working relationship between the headmaster and the board of directors, the positive school culture, and the school’s ongoing effort to improve its facilities.
The commission commended the working relationship between the board and the headmaster.
“…The team found that the board recognizes its role in hiring a qualified head of school and giving him the autonomy to run the daily operations of the school.”
According to Pittman, who has served as headmaster at Winona Christian for the last four school years, during his tenure at the school, the majority of board members have remained on the board.
“If the board and administrator have constant longevity, then you are heading in the right direction,” Pittman said.
The commission also commended the board for “accepting its responsibility” for setting policies for the school and providing resources and support to help the headmaster meet the goals set forth in the school’s long-term plan.
Winona Christian’s positive school culture was also named as one of the school’s “Powerful Practices.”
According to the findings, “During classroom visits, the team found the elementary students to be very sweet and kind and secondary students to be orderly and respectful. While the [External Review Team] toured the hallways, students and faculty were courteous and gracious. Faculty and staff were warm and hospitable. Stakeholders constantly displayed a positive attitude about the school’s leadership and the current direction of the school.”
The school’s ongoing efforts to improve its facilities was also noted as a “Powerful Practice.”
“The team heard that the campus has undergone almost a half a million dollars of renovation and expansion in the recent years, demonstrating a strategic use of resources.”
The External Review Team also noted that it was impressed by the cleanliness of the halls, classrooms, gymnasium, cafeteria, field house, and grounds of the school.
According to Pittman, the school plans to make additional improvements this summer by replacing windows and doors in the main school building and work toward paving the back parking lot. He explained that the Winona Christian Education Foundation has committed to a total renovation of the school’s baseball facility, a $200,000-plus investment.
“This will be a total demolition and renovation of the baseball facility,” Pittman said. “The Athletic Foundation will fund the project, and it is important to note the funds will not be from school funds.”
The commission listed two areas the school needed to make an “Improvement Priority.”
First, the commission wants to school to clarify how the school’s operations reflect its mission statement.
“The WCS community embraced its identity as a ‘Christian school’ but had difficulty articulating what that means, and thus stakeholders did not agree on how the school lives up to its name.”
The findings asked the school to “investigate who makes a school ‘Christian’ and then determine policies to reflect the school’s identity.
The second “Improvement Priority” surrounded student and teacher assessment, and asked the school to “adopt a plan to collect, analyze, and apply data about student learning, instruction, program evaluation, and test scores.”
The commission stated, “Although there was a consistent agreement that the school is improving its academics, the team had difficulty discerning clear data that pointed to student improvement as it related to trends in ACT scores, other standardized test scores, and student grade point averages.”
The commission recommended ACT prep classes, staff development plans, and intervention plans for struggling students.
According to Pittman, Winona Christian School uses Aspire standardized tests to establish where Winona Christian’s students compare with other schools and students. He also said the school has already implemented ACT prep courses this year.
“Our [ACT] average is up,” Pittman said. “We have a 20.6 average.”
Pittman said every senior at Winona Christian takes the ACT each year, and this year, the highest score was a 30.
Pittman said “Improvement Priority” areas must be addressed within two years.
The commission also listed “Opportunities for Improvement,” which Pittman said are already being studied for implementation.
The commission found that the school should broaden the cultural exposure of students by having a well-developed fine arts program.
“We are looking at implementing art next year on the elementary level,” Pittman said. “We are certainly looking for ways to satisfy this finding.”
The commission also suggested the school develop a professional development plan for its teachers and a leadership development plan for students.
“[The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District] offered us the opportunity to participate in their professional development conference [this summer],” Pittman said. “We sure appreciate the opportunity.”
During the site visit, members of the commission interviewed Pittman, members of the school’s board of directors, an administrator, eight members of the faculty, nine parents and patrons, and 15 students.