The School of Education at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith was the first public university in the state to go through the accreditation process of the new accrediting agency, Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

They will be a hard act to follow after being granted accreditation for seven years with no areas for improvement, an indicator of the quality of the education program as well as the hard work of the administration, faculty and staff within the school.

“The chair of our on-site CAEP committee told us that he had completed 16 reviews, and we were his first ever to have zero areas for improvement,” said Dr. Shelli Henehan, associate professor of education and coordinator of assessment in the School of Education. “We’ve always known that we deliver these highly qualified graduates, and to have CAEP confirm that we are preparing our teachers well, provided strong affirmation for our various programs.”

CAEP reviewers assessed the university in five standards: content and pedagogical knowledge; clinical partnerships and practice; candidate quality, recruitment and selectivity; program impact; and quality assurance and continuous improvement.

That assessment included extensive documentation, which faculty and staff in the School of Education compiled beginning in 2015. Following submission of the many required documents, a site team – including the site visit chair, four site visit members, two state consultants from the Arkansas Department of Education and a CAEP staff representative – visited the campus, reviewed data, and conducted interviews with multiple stakeholders.

The School of Education has been nationally accredited since 2005 through the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE merged with another agency to become CAEP, an accrediting body that provided a more challenging process.

But the School of Education faculty and staff at UAFS faced them with a singular focus - that the university would receive national accreditation with no areas for improvement in order to serve as a model for other universities.

“CAEP didn’t look at inputs, they looked at outcomes,” said Dr. Glenda Ezell, former executive director of the School of Education who retired in June. “Where the previous accreditors had looked at faculty accomplishments, how many books we had in the library and things like that, CAEP was looking at how well we produce teachers and how can we demonstrate with evidence that they’re making a positive impact on students in the public schools.”

Ezell and the education faculty and staff worked tirelessly on the university’s self-study, which included 90 documents of assessments, evaluations, and agreements with area stakeholders that served as evidence of how the university met CAEP’s standards.

During the visit by the accrediting agency, reviewers met with UAFS administration and School of Education faculty and staff. They also spoke with school stakeholders, such as graduates and local public school officials, who discussed the impact of the program. Alumni and administrators from nearby partner schools gathered on campus for group interviews with the CAEP reviewers to discuss successful collaborative programs and internship field experiences. CAEP reviewers also met with Dr. Paul Beran, UAFS chancellor; Dr. Georgia Hale, provost; and Dr. Ron Darbeau, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; who provided administrative support for the accreditation process on campus.

“We are fortunate to have had the overwhelming support of area superintendents, principals, mentor teachers, and UAFS alumni who are currently teaching in the area,” said Dr. Donna Scoggins, assistant professor who was coordinator of middle level and elementary education programs. “The CAEP site visit chair commented that he had never seen so many stakeholders attend an interview in support of a teacher preparation program. The faculty and staff in the School of Education realize that our success is in part due to our continuous collaboration with our outstanding stakeholders.”

For Ezell, completing the accreditation process without areas for improvement gave her the peace of mind to retire.

“If we had areas for improvement, I would not have felt good about leaving. But because we had such a successful accreditation, I made the decision that I think this is it right now for me,” she said. “I feel really good about the people who are in place now in the School of Education. They’re the best faculty in the state, and they have the potential to do great things.”