By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 5, 2012
The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools plans to seek district-wide accreditation for the 18 Catholic educational institutions in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Superintendent Dr. Diane Starkovich said 2012 would be a big year for the schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta as the process of converting the accreditation begins.
“Our current model is a secular accreditation model,” said Starkovich. “While it is a strong model of accreditation, it does not allow for a review of our schools’ Catholic identity—the reason we exist as a system of schools.”
The Office of Catholic Schools began seeking options for accreditation models that would include a Catholic component that would be the core of the expanded accreditation process.
Therefore, the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta will be seeking diocesan-wide accreditation through AdvancED, one of the largest education communities, serving more that 27,000 public and private schools in the U.S. and in 69 countries across the world.
AdvancED currently has a model for diocesan education accreditation. Starkovich believes this will ensure a systematic look at the school system’s Catholic identity and provide an ongoing effort for continued excellence in both religious and secular program offerings. This process allows for a systematic look at improvement in all the schools, Starkovich said.
According to AdvancED, the diocesan accreditation model is a new system level accreditation process available to qualified Catholic school systems throughout the country. Using the same district accreditation protocol and procedures for public school systems, diocesan accreditation has been modified to reflect the unique governance structure of Catholic school systems and to fully integrate Catholic identity into the accreditation process at both the individual school and system level.
Diocesan school systems already accredited by this AdvancED model include Savannah, Charlotte, N.C., Baton Rouge, La., and Baltimore. The Diocese of Charleston, S.C., like Atlanta, is in the process of becoming accredited via the AdvancED diocesan model.
“What people have to understand is we are not changing our accreditation,” said Starkovich, noting that AdvancED is the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Currently, all schools in the archdiocese hold dual accreditation with SACS and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS).
There are 18 archdiocesan schools in Atlanta, 11 of which have received the national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award. The school system, which ministers to more than 11,000 students, prides itself on rigorous academics and strong faith-based education, though Starkovich realizes there is always room for improvement.
The official process for the expanded accreditation began last year as the Archdiocese of Atlanta began a relationship with AdvancED. “We have applied and have been approved as a candidate,” Starkovich added.
Over the next 15 months, the process will move forward, as representatives from AdvancED will be visiting, interviewing members and reviewing the programs and policies of the Office of Catholic Schools in Atlanta to “make sure we are doing what we say we are doing,” said Starkovich. This will begin with a written description and history of the school system as well as its goals.
Two principals from archdiocesan schools, Patty Childs, of St. Jude the Apostle, and Dr. Kathy Wood, of Queen of Angels, will co-chair the local accreditation process. Starkovich also said assistant superintendent Tom Campbell will coordinate all efforts from the Office of Catholic Schools.
A team from the accreditation arm of AdvancED will visit the chancery and selected schools in March of 2013. The team will create a report on what they view and review. “The end result being commendations, what we do well, and recommendations, where we can improve,” said Starkovich. This report will be sent to AdvancED, who will then decide on the level of accreditation.
Starkovich is already being asked by council members and others involved with Catholic education here in Atlanta: Why are you doing this?
“To make sure our schools have that outside look at our Catholic identity,” Starkovich responded. “We must have strong faith formation along with the outstanding academics we offer in our schools.”
“If those two fruits of Catholic education are in harmony, we have excellent Catholic schools,” she added.
“It’s going to be a lot of work for the next 15 to 18 months,” said Starkovich. But “we are eager to receive and welcome suggestions for continuous improvements in our Catholic schools. Our schools are excellent institutions; we want to insure that they remain that way.”