The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese was presented with an award for its system-wide accreditation at the fall conference of AdvancEd, held in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.
AdvancEd is the accreditation organization that includes the North Central Association on Accreditation and School Improvement. Superintendent of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Marsha Jordan accepted the award on behalf of the Catholic Schools of the diocese.
In 2009 all schools in the diocese went through individual accreditation. Jordan explained that this entailed a lot of effort and expense on the part of each school. So in 2012, the diocese decided to join a consortium of the other four dioceses in Indiana. The Indiana Catholic Schools Consortium meets quarterly to support and collaborate with each other and assist with going through the accreditation process.
Members of the consortium decided to seek accreditation as school systems rather than individually.
Jordan said accreditation through AdvancEd includes National Catholic Standards and benchmarks. Unlike a state accreditation, for instance, in addition to governing structures and educational standards, AdvancED also looks at Catholic standards.
In order to do the system-wide accreditation, each school had to conduct a self-assessment and send a survey to parents and teachers. The data collected gave a pretty good picture of the diocese, according to Jordan.
A team of 10 administrators was formed that worked together to compile all the data needed for the accreditation process. In April, AdvancEd sent seven reviewers from around the country and a few from different Indiana dioceses to be a part of the external review team. They arrived on a Sunday night, and on Monday were presented with evidence collected from all over the diocese. They then interviewed over 230 people, including Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, parents, teachers and students. On Tuesday they split up and visited eight elementary schools and two high schools. Wednesday, they delivered the preliminary report.
The reviewers focused on the impact of teaching and learning, the capacity of leadership and use of resources. The report showed areas where the schools had ‘powerful practices’ — one of which was a “clearly defined and established grading and report criteria utilized at all grade levels and schools,” and three others noted the strength of Catholic identity and focus within diocesan schools consistent with the rich traditions of the Catholic faith — opportunities for improvement and improvement priorities. Improvement priorities are areas that need to be improved within two years.
Jordan said one of the benefits of the system-wide accreditation was that it unified all 42 schools so everyone was working on the same path. Even though they are still autonomous, they are working together for a common goal and standard and are learning from one another through the process.
The diocese received notice of the accreditation in June, and Jordan presented the certificates to the principals at the first principals’ meeting. Then, just a few weeks ago, she received notice to attend the conference to receive an award for the system-wide accreditation.
“It’s not as common to do it this way,” she said. “They were impressed with how we pulled together all the data for the large number of schools. It was an incredible amount of work from mid-February to mid-April,” she said, noting that information had to be verified with artifacts and documentation from each school.
Despite the work, Jordan said it was “well worth it, and our schools feel it was worth it. It was a very affirming process for everyone.”
Accreditation raises the bar and holds schools to a higher standard. It’s also a continuous process.
“We have to keep striving to keep our levels of academics and Catholic standards high and make sure we’re engaging our students in a way that they’re prepared for the 21st Century, but also to be future leaders in the Church” she said.
The system-wide accreditation is also a cost savings for schools. Before, the entire cost of accreditation fell on each school. That cost could be up to $1,000. This year, knowing the number of external review team members it would have to have, the diocese came up with a ‘ball park figure and divided it by 42 schools — so each school paid $150.”
It will be necessary to go through the process of accreditation again in five years; in the meantime, schools will go through internal reviews to maintain focus on continuous improvement and remain ready for the next accreditation visit.
“It’s great to have people from other dioceses around the country — New York, Atlanta, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Louisiana, Ohio and other Indiana dioceses — take a look at you and say, ‘Wow, you’re doing great things here — I’m taking this back to my diocese,’” she said.
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