February 5, 2015 by
In keeping with our mission and values as an institution that is reflective and forward-looking, JPDS-NC is embarking on the AIMS re-accreditation process, a process that occurs in a 10-year cycle. We have been accredited by the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools since 2007 and it is now time to start the cycle again. The purpose of accreditation is to ensure that member schools meet certain quality standards and stay true to delivering their own mission in the best possible way. School accreditation is based on a peer-review process that examines the totality of systems at the school and their interconnectedness, and provides school leaders, faculty, and the board of trustees with an opportunity to reflect internally as well as receive feedback about the big picture and the small details, along with recommendations on ways to improve the school.
This voluntary process starts with a 15- to 18-month period in which we will write a comprehensive self-study, one that will include all areas of the school, from mission and philosophy to teaching and learning; from governance to finances; from school climate and community to plant safety and transportation – and more. The process reaches its peak with a three-and-a-half day visit by a team of approximately ten independent school leaders, teachers, and business managers who will observe and verify all the information we gave them in our self-study, as well as form their own impressions about our school. They will observe classes, and meet with teachers, administrators, board members and parents. They will conduct a fire drill, inspect our safety records, read our audits, and go through all the documents we need to be in compliance with the AIMS standards and the local DC ones. At the conclusion of the visit, the team will write a report to be presented to the AIMS Accreditation Committee and subsequently to us. This report will commend the school for what it is doing well, and will make recommendations for improvement in all areas of the program covered by the self-study. Upon receipt of the team report, we will have a few months to create an Action Plan that will respond to each recommendation. The process ends with the approval of the Action Plan by the AIMS Board, at which point we will be re-accredited for the next ten years, with a review at the five-year mark.
The accreditation process is an intense one, but one that is full of possibilities for furthering our reflection and understanding of the school in all its areas. We have been selected to be one of the first two AIMS schools to pilot the use of a revised accreditation protocol, recently approved by the AIMS Board, of which I am a trustee. We are particularly excited about this new tool that emphasizes not just data-gathering and documentation, but reflection and thoughtfulness as well. As member and chair of several visiting teams, a former member of the accreditation committee and a current trustee of AIMS, I am both in awe and excited to start the process. I know this process will require a great deal of work on the part of some staff members, but I also know we will be a better school after the process. In addition to my experiences with AIMS board and committees, several of our administrators and teachers have also been members of visiting teams or are joining teams this spring and fall. We can all say without hesitation that the experience, both for the school and for the visiting team, is one of the best professional development opportunities at our disposal.
As you can imagine, the accreditation process, especially the self-study and the preparation for the visit of the team, requires much work, time and dedication. We will take advantage of the professional work days at the end of the school year and before school starts to get much of the work done. We have also scheduled a few professional days and half-days during the 2015-2016 school year for the faculty and staff to work on the self-study – they will all be included in the calendar and we will offer JAS during those times. Please note that the total number of days of school remains the same – 173 days – as required by the AIMS standards (DC does not require a minimum number of school days).
As noted before, accreditation is a voluntary process, not required by anyone. We believe strongly that going through the process of learning and reflection at the school, getting thoughtful feedback from our peers in other independent schools, writing an action plan and being held accountable for its implementation are all hallmarks of strong and reflective schools. Accreditation and re-accreditation are by no means automatic – AIMS prides itself of the strict standards it espouses and we all see gaining and maintaining accreditation as an important seal of approval from our peers in the independent school world and a validation of the quality of the educational experience we provide, and we look forward to it.
I will be keeping you abreast of our progress over the course of the next 18 months. We will be sending surveys and other data-gathering materials in the coming months. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in partnering with us during this process.