By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 3, 2018
SMYRNA—The Archdiocese of Atlanta’s 18 Catholic schools have received re-accreditation from AdvancED following a February engagement review by the accrediting agency.
The archdiocese received its first district-wide accreditation in 2013. The nonprofit AdvancED follows a five-year term of accreditation. Its platform is based upon continuous improvement and educational quality.
Using a set of rigorous research-based standards, the accreditation process examines the whole institution—the program itself, the cultural context and the community of stakeholders—to determine how well the parts work together to meet needs of learners.
Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said the agency’s team spent three and a half days reviewing materials, visiting schools, interviewing key stakeholders and providing recommendations for the next five-year accreditation cycle.
Team members met with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, pastors and priests, school advisory council members, teachers, parents, students and school leaders. The team interviewed 230 key stakeholders, said Starkovich.
The superintendent said that prior to the AdvancED visit, the Office of Catholic Schools and the schools prepared for the review by surveying, completing diagnostics, responding to goals established for the last five years and collecting documentation of what has occurred in the schools. Staff reviewed in excess of 12,000 surveys to prepare for the visit and to establish priorities for the next accreditation cycle.
“Accreditation is a voluntary action; not generally required by schools and school systems. However, our schools have always embraced a format of continuous improvement and collaboration with key stakeholders,” said Starkovich. “Through accountability measures and consultation, we provide some of the best and strongest Catholic schools in this country. Our AdvancED final report affirms this, citing our strengths in being mission driven and integrating Catholic identity into all program areas while providing academic preparation second to none.”
AdvancED identifies three important components of a continuous improvement process and provides feedback using a rubric that identifies three areas to guide the advancement: commitment to continuous improvement, an AdvancED standards diagnostic and the effective learning environment observation tool. The standards diagnostic is further broken into three areas for review—the leadership capacity, learning capacity domain and resources capacity domains.
There are 31 ratings across the three domains. The archdiocesan schools scored in 22 ratings as “Exceeds Expectations,” seven as “Meets Expectations,” one as “Emerging” and one as “Needs Improvement.”
These scores lead to powerful practices or commendations, as well as required actions or areas that need improvement.
Archdiocesan schools earned five commendations including a demonstration of collaborative leadership by the Office of Catholic Schools, a highly effective continuous improvement process with measurable growth in student learning and professional practice, an effective process to meet needs of all learners, an embracing of the mission by integrating the Catholic faith and utilization of a viability index in promoting best practices.
The one improvement priority was to provide a formal structure as part of long-range planning to identify, recruit, enroll and retain students from populations underserved by Catholic schools.
Starkovich said that AdvancED provides an Index of Education Quality (IEQ) as a measure of overall performance based upon the standards and review criteria. Results are reported on a scale of 100 to 400. The Archdiocese of Atlanta scored 370.78 as its IEQ.
“The team noted that our students are achieving at high levels across all of our schools, where 75 percent of our grade schools have been recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education and our high schools have had a 100 percent graduation rate for several years,” said Starkovich.
She attributed the positive report to the daily hard work of the schools’ teachers and administrators.
For the AdvancED report, Archbishop Gregory emphasized the importance of Catholic education to the team.
“Catholic schools prepare students for tomorrow,” he said. “When there are struggles, religion has to help. It gives us strength and the courage to do the right thing.”