ISAS Accreditation Part One
Last Sunday, April 10, we welcomed to campus an Accreditation Committee from the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS). As members of ISAS, we submit every ten years to having such a committee composed of administrators, faculty, and staff from peer schools around the region on campus to scrutinize our programs, to measure the connection of those programs to our mission, and then to articulate commendations and recommendations to assist us in our continuing efforts to improve. The ISAS accreditation process has been recognized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) for its thoroughness and its completeness. Achieving accreditation in ISAS is no small feat, and receiving their commendation should be a rallying point for any school community.
In preparation for this team’s visit, we entered into a critical and comprehensive self-study over the course of the last year and a half. This effort of institutional introspection involved the broadest possible cross-section of the School's constituencies, including faculty, students, trustees, administrators, parents, and alumni. Such a complete process afforded us the opportunity to arrive at a clearer understanding of our strengths while at the same time challenging us to acknowledge the opportunities for growth on our near horizon. With this sort of far-reaching exercise in our rear-view mirror, we were eager to welcome this team of colleagues and just as excited to receive their feedback about our school.
Immediately below are the general Commendations of the School by the Visiting Committee, in their own words. These represent the most general and overarching impressions the School has made on the Visiting Committee members. In looking over ours, I am struck by the fact that after only three days on our campus, this group of educators captured very succinctly and authentically the sorts of values and attitudes that I believe set us apart in Houston—characteristics like the visionary ideas surrounding the purchase and development of the OEC; the strategic and responsible leadership of our Board; the passion, energy, and joy of our teachers; the safe, nurturing, and risk-encouraging environment of our classrooms; and the enthusiasm, poise, and confidence of our students.
I encourage you to read these commendations with pride, as they comment directly on the work that our students and our teachers are doing every day.
1. The Outdoor Education Center is a stunning addition to the School, one that offers space for athletic endeavors, environmental studies, community outreach, and countless other uses. The Visiting Committee commends Presbyterian School for accomplishing the vision and encourages continuing creativity in working toward maximum utilization.
2. The Visiting Committee commends the leadership of the School. The Board of Trustees conscientiously pursues its appropriate role of strategic thinking and fiduciary responsibility. School leadership has initiated a culture of looking to the future through focus on essential questions surrounding teaching and learning in the twenty-first century.
3. The Visiting Committee found teachers who are passionate about teaching. The rapport between the faculty and students is exceptional. The Presbyterian School community is enlivened by the energy, collegiality, and joy of the faculty.
4. One of the founding objectives of Presbyterian School is “to help children develop a positive sense of self-confidence, self-worth, and security so that they will be able to stand up for what they believe and take risks throughout their lives.” The Visiting Committee found at the School an atmosphere of calm, a day that proceeds at the right pace, and a nurturing environment that encourages students to participate, to engage, and to take learning risks. The School community obviously seeks to live this founding objective.
5. Students love their school and feel they belong, yet they welcome students who join their community in higher grades. They are respectful of their teachers and of each other. The Visiting Committee greatly enjoyed interaction with students of all ages who are self-confident, enthusiastic about positive change, poised, engaging, and articulate.
Next are the general recommendations that the Visiting Committee has made, also in their own words. Again, these are more global in nature, but in order to remain in good standing with ISAS, we must respond to these as the focal point of our Interim Reports to ISAS over our next ten-year Accreditation Cycle. Again, I was pleased with these recommendations for much the same reason that I was with the commendations because, as you will see below, each is either already receiving attention by way of our Strategic Thinking or by way of targeted initiatives underway at the School.
1. Given the growth and prominence of Presbyterian School in the Houston independent school community, the School would benefit from additional signage that would distinguish its identity and provide additional advancement opportunities along with visibility for future families considering a school and church community. (Tied to Big Idea One: Mission and Identity in the Strategic Thinking)
2. The Board of Trustees may want to consider a more aggressive endowment goal that would support the continued growth in expenses of the School’s programs/operations by providing additional revenue to offset larger than desired tuition increases. (Tied to Big Idea Five: Financial Sustainability, Capital Giving Action Step in the Strategic Thinking)
3. The Visiting Committee observed the need for greater collaboration and communication within and across divisions. Initiatives which could lead to achievement of these goals would be: a requirement that teachers in a division stay until a uniform time, revision of the schedule with the need for teambuilding in mind, cross-curricular projects, and a department structure which would provide leadership in all subject areas, consistency of discipline-wide meetings and cross-division discussion and coordination. The Visiting Committee noted “lots of good dots but the need for more lines connecting those dots.” (Initiatives under way . . . Monday meetings, Summer Faculty Dinners, Plan Of Study Vertical Teams)
4. While the Church and the School are diligent in their efforts to provide security for the campus, it is recommended that additional focus be given to the needs of the School given the location of the campus and potential easy access both into and out of the facilities. (Tied to Big Idea One: Mission and Identity, Partnership with FPC Action Step in the Strategic Thinking)
5. While commending the School’s initiative toward teaching and learning for the twenty-first century and the commitment to providing technology hardware and software resources, the Visiting Committee recommends a shared vision for technology coordinated by a specialist who could promote the use of instructional technology through professional development proposals, technology resource research, consistent and judicious technology investment across the grades, and assurance of technical support throughout the school day. (Connected directly to the Learning Commons initiative described here; scroll beneath this post)
At the conclusion of this singularly important process in the life of our School, I will say as our Headmaster that I have never been prouder. A talented and accomplished team of our peers has come to our campus and used words like stunning, prominent, strategic, and nurturing to describe our School; words like passionate, exceptional, energetic, and joyful to describe our teachers; and words like self-confident, engaging, poised, and articulate to describe our students. What an exciting time to be at Presbyterian School with affirmation such as this!
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