VILONIA — A review team for AdvanceED, a school district rating organization, told officials with the Vilonia School District they are a "cut above" — especially when it comes to "everybody wrapping their arms around the students and showing they care."

Vicki DeMao of Indiana, Ann Gentry of Hot Springs, Toni Stivender of Florida, Roger Loper of Magnolia and Ralph Morrow of Corning made up the review team that spent three days examining the school district. Speaking on behalf of the review team in an exit report, this week, DeMao said the school district is a "quality, quality institution."

We affirm and applaud you, DeMao told the administrators, teachers and school board in attendance. The district, she said, has voluntarily "taken a risk" and brought in an outside organization allowing the members to "take a microscope" and examine the school district.

Regarding findings, she said, "You have dedicated people working in your schools." A 30-page review will be forthcoming in about 30 days, she also said. "We know you are working really hard."

DeMao said 132 people, including 14 administrators, 27 teachers, 14 support staff, 54 students and 23 parents, were interviewed. They also visited 38 classrooms, DeMao said, "watching students learning," rather than evaluating teachers.

The same standards, DeMao said, are used worldwide for the accreditation process. The district’s learning environment ratings, she said, are above average. Based on a 1 to 4 scale, the ratings include: equitable learning environment, 2.76; supportive learning environment, 3.22; active learning environment, 3.08; progress monitoring and feedback environment, 2.69; well-managed learning environment, 3.28, and digital learning environment, 2.28.

With digital learning environment being the lowest ranking, DeMao said, "We did see pockets of excellence in technology but not throughout the system."

Under required actions, DeMao said the district should design a monitoring system for the "current, well-developed technology plans."

Also, she said, a professional development plan should be created with an emphasis on the application of knowledge and skills in order to lead students into the digital world of college and workplace readiness. "Target job embedded training and hands-on learning experiences for the staff in order to support students’ use of digital tools," she said. "I’m leaving a blueprint with you. Now, your work is going to start."

The Vilonia Board of Education also received an attaboy from the team. The board, she said, is a "cohesive unit," making decisions in the best interest of students. They have elected to go above and beyond state requirements for training and board development, she added.

DeMao concluded by saying, "Once again, the external review team reaffirms that the Vilonia School District is one of the best kept secrets in the state of Arkansas, as stated in the 2009 accreditation report."

The accreditation process, she said, stimulates and improves effectiveness and efficiency throughout the district. The Vilonia School District has been participating in the process for more than 28 years, being reviewed about every five years.