After nearly a year on the back burner, the time has come to bring accreditation front and center once again.
As I shared in a previous post, schools seeking re-accreditation are expected to host a visit by a team of peer educators charged with reviewing the school’s responses to a set of accreditation standards, as well as its self-study and five-year improvement plan. Cary Academy was originally slated to host a visiting team from the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) last April, but the pandemic caused that visit to be postponed, first to the fall, and then to the following spring. At long last, spring 2021 has arrived, and with that, we are all set for our visiting team to join us for a three-day visit from March 22-24.
Who are our distinguished guests?
Leading the team is Dr. Susan Banke, Executive Coach and Clinical Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Kennesaw State University. She will be joined by Ms. Alyssa Belcher, Assistant Director for College Guidance at Christ School in Asheville; Dr. Christopher Garran, Head of School at Cape Henry Collegiate in Virginia Beach; Ms. Carla Moyer, Head of Middle School at Cannon School in Concord; and Mr. David Welsher, Elementary Principal at The Epstein School in Atlanta.
The visiting team would normally spend all three days of the visit on our campus, but because of the pandemic, this year’s visit will be conducted in a new hybrid format developed by SAIS. Team members will visit our school in person on Monday, March 22nd, and then return home to carry out the remainder of the visit virtually on Tuesday the 23rd and Wednesday the 24th. In keeping with this new format, Monday will focus primarily on touring facilities and observing classes, while Tuesday and Wednesday will focus more on Zoom meetings with members of the Strategic Planning Committee and small groups of representatives from various constituencies (faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni). The visiting team will, of course, observe all of our established safety protocols while they are on campus, including wearing masks and maintaining social distance. It should also be noted that while we would normally have 20+ representatives participating in each of the constituent group meetings when held in person, SAIS has asked that we limit the number participating in this year’s virtual meetings to 10-12 in order to make the Zoom sessions easier to manage.
The visiting team typically explores school operations within five major areas of effective school practice: mission, governance and leadership, teaching and learning, stakeholder communications and relationships, and resources and support systems. In another change related to the pandemic, however, this year’s team will also be looking into our implementation of virtual learning as an additional category of effective practice. How did we plan and prepare for the shift to remote learning in Spring 2020 and hybrid learning during the current school year? How are we ensuring that our virtual learning components are designed and delivered in ways that support student-to-student and student-to-faculty interactions? How do we provide for safety and wellbeing specific to the virtual learning environment? How will we use our experiences with virtual learning to inform our practice moving forward? These are all new questions that we can expect to address during the team visit. We will also be discussing our strategic plan with the visiting team, as well as sharing how our commitment to and prioritization of anti-racism and equity work aligns with the wellbeing dimension of our strategic vision and supports the pursuit of our strategic goals.
Accreditation is designed to be a growth opportunity for schools anchored in reflective inquiry and meaningful feedback, and we greatly appreciate the willingness of our visiting team members to take time away from their own schools and families to be part of our accreditation process. Ultimately, visiting team members will use what they learn during their visit to develop a series of commendations and recommendations for our school, which they will capture in a written team report. The report will also include the visiting team’s recommendation to SAIS regarding our continued accreditation for the next five years.
Please join me in welcoming the team to campus on March 22nd for what is sure to be a thought-provoking and rewarding accreditation visit!