The Listening Tour: Thoughts on Accreditation
The PAIS Listening Tour continues! The invitation extended in the opening issue of Connections yielded many requests for schools visits. The focus of these tours is for me to learn about the needs of our PAIS schools and how the association can better serve the needs of our schools and to open a discussion on the PAIS accreditation process.
School Heads positively affirm their experiences with the PAIS accreditation process. However, while most view the PAIS accreditation process as important and necessary, few see the accreditation process as transformative or strategic. So, in discussions with Heads, there have been suggestions for improvement.
How can the accreditation process be adaptable to the different types of schools in the association? PAIS has a remarkable variation of schools. We have religious schools and non-sectarian schools; we have very large and very small schools; we have schools that are blessed with magnificent resources and those that are modestly resourced. We have inner city, suburban and rural schools; we have boarding schools, day school, and schools with both boarding and day school education; we have single-gender and coed schools. We have schools for learning disabled and schools for the gifted and talented. We have schools that include nursery programs and schools with grades PK through 5, PK through 8, 9 through 12 and PK through 12. With such a heterogeneous landscape of schools, some of my discussions with Heads have been about imagining whether the accreditation process should be more adaptable to the types and nature of each school.
Similarly, schools are in significantly different stages in their evolution and overall health (i.e. fiscal, enrollment, programmatic, etc.). Could the accreditation processes also be adapted so as to address schools in their different places on a continuum of development? For example, one process might be foundational in that it prompts a school to assess its foundational health (i.e. curricular, program, enrollment, and fiscal); while another process might be tailored to a school that is well resourced, but seeks an exemplary status in an area of specialization (i.e. faculty professional development, technology as a learning instrument, or equity and inclusion). So, could a school’s excellence in some arena be so exemplary that it results in a type-of Blue Ribbon designation. Some have referred to this type of recognition of a specialized excellence as a “micro-credential.” And, interestingly, could that school be available to mentor other schools in that area?
Additionally, how can the accreditation process be a more effective tool to the development of a school’s strategic plan? One Head reported that the scheduling of the PAIS accreditation required him to set aside the development of their strategic plan in order to prepare for the accreditation. How can the accreditation process not only coexist with but also support strategic planning?
Finally, with regards to areas identified for recommendations to a school in the accreditation process, in what way can PAIS play more of an ongoing role in supporting improvement in that area?
These are just a few of the thoughts that have been raised. Of course, any adaptations to our current system would need to be sanctioned by the State Board of Education. Nonetheless, the questions are building momentum. Early plans are underway for an Accreditation Summit to take place in June, when a team of PAIS associates will begin to delve into these questions to begin to shape our processes.