Every seven years, educator preparation programs in the state of Georgia go through re-accreditation by the GaPSC, explained Dr. Judi Wilson, dean of the College of Education.
The purpose of GaPSC is to build the best prepared, most qualified and most ethical education workforce in the country.
“Basically, we submit a self-study to show how we’ve met the standards for each of our 19 programs here at the College of Education,” Wilson said, adding the GaPSC reviews the self-study and provides feedback to the educator preparation program. “Based on the feedback, we submit an addendum with additional evidence and then they come for a site visit.”
Site visits are typically done in person, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the site visit was held virtually this year, Wilson said.
“When we had our off-site preparation visit, the visitors had no questions at all after we presented our addendum. That rarely happens,” Wilson said. “The fact that they had no questions gave us a reason to quietly celebrate.”
Wilson, who frequently serves as a site visitor and sits on the second highest committee in Georgia for accreditation, felt confident about the virtual site visit and the reaccreditation process.
“At the two-day virtual visit, they interviewed faculty, staff and program coordinators,” Wilson said. “They also interviewed our teachers that work out in the field with our students, as well as our building coordinators, students and alumni.
“I felt extremely good about our visit, but it’s not until you have that exit interview do you know for sure.”
Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD, participated in the exit interview this spring with Wilson along with Provost Neil J. MacKinnon, PhD, Dr. Zach Kelehear, the vice provost for instruction, and Dr. Kristy Brown, the director of assessment and accreditation in the College of Education.
“During that exit interview, GaPSC said that we had basically a perfect visit, which rarely occurs,” Wilson said. “So, it was really exciting and just a good feeling and a validation of the hard work that our faculty, staff, students and alumni have been doing for years.”
To have Keel, MacKinnon and Kelehear celebrating this tremendous accomplishment meant a great deal to the College of Education, Wilson said.
“I believe one of my jobs as a dean is to ensure the success of others,” Wilson said. “So, it was just a joy, an honor and a privilege to be able to give them that gift of a perfect accreditation.”
In fact, the College of Education’s accreditation exit conference was MacKinnon’s first one since joining Augusta University at the beginning of this year.
“Dr. MacKinnon will probably remember that one forever as the brand new provost,” Wilson said, smiling. “His comment afterwards was, ‘Well, Dean Wilson has really set the bar high for future accreditation visits.’ But it wasn’t me. It was our entire team.”
Brown, the director of assessment and accreditation in the College of Education, was particularly instrumental in helping the program receive a flawless accreditation review, Wilson said.
“I absolutely have to give her credit,” Wilson said, adding Brown previously worked for the GaPSC. “She did a phenomenal job leading this effort. Honestly, I don’t know of anyone in the state that knows as much about the Georgia Professional Standards than she does.
“I knew when we got her here at Augusta University, we were getting a really special gift in terms of the knowledge base that she would bring to us. She does everything with excellence, she has a positive attitude and she plans well ahead of time, so she had prepared our team well.”
In addition, Bill Gray, manager of educational technology for the College of Education, was also masterful at collecting and disaggregating all of the assessment data for the accreditation review, Wilson said.
“Bill Gray and Dr. Brown were an accreditation dream team,” Wilson said.
The College of Education also has worked tremendously hard to develop close partnerships with the surrounding local school systems in order to constantly improve its program, Wilson said.
“Our partner schools are amazing and they provide incredible support,” she said. “I don’t know of another university in the state that has stronger partnerships than we do. By that, I mean I can text or call a superintendent at any time. They trust us and our relationship is truly a reciprocal partnership, in that we listen to them very deeply and intently.”
In fact, Wilson meets with the area school superintendents at least once a month.
“The site visitors specifically cited our powerful partnerships as a strength,” Wilson said. “They usually only do that when there’s just overwhelming compelling evidence to point to the fact that an educator preparation program has really gone above and beyond. So, it’s actually pretty rare that they give those strengths, but ours was in the area of partnerships, which really made me happy as a dean.”
Growing and leveraging those partnerships has been a major goal over the past decade, Wilson said.
“We can do so much more together than we can do apart and so those partnerships have just become stronger and stronger every single year with not just our school partners, but also other partners that work with the College of Education,” she said. “Therefore, to be commended and recognized publicly for that was just a validation of the work that all of us have done as a community to prepare highly qualified and highly effective educators.”
Receiving a flawless accreditation will only help the College of Education continue to grow and attract quality students, staff and faculty in the future, Wilson said.
“There still is a national and local shortage of teachers,” she said. “We’re hoping that this perfect accreditation will be like a magnet to help attract additional people into the classroom, especially career changers, who might feel compelled or called to really make a difference in the lives of students.
“We already have a great reputation, but this perfect accreditation can do nothing but strengthen that reputation.”