Diocesan school system seeks AdvancED accreditation

Each diocesan school to take part in initiative that recognizes quality education programs around the country

By Sedonna Prater

Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, interacts with students at St. Mary School in Johnson City. The diocesan school system is working to become accredited through AdvancED Standards.

When Bishop Richard Stika appointed Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, as superintendent of diocesan schools in 2011, he instructed her to make unification of all 10 Catholic schools a priority.

Bishop Stika felt the schools operated as separate entities rather than as a cohesive group in the mission of Catholic education in the Diocese of Knoxville.

With this directive, Sister Mary Marta over the past four years has been working to achieve a greater sense of unity with all of the schools through numerous efforts involving Catholic identity, catechetical training, Catholic school leadership, curriculum development, instructional implementation, professional development, collaboration, teacher evaluation, and policy revision.

During the upcoming school year, each diocesan school will conduct an internal self-analysis and study linked to the AdvancED Standards for Quality Schools and the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. The 10 schools currently are accredited by the state of Tennessee Board of Education, and nine of the schools also are accredited by the international accrediting agency AdvancED.

With diocesan accreditation through AdvancED, the schools will be closer to achieving Bishop Stika’s goal of unity.

As a candidate for diocesan (District) accreditation, each school will review student performance data, stakeholder perceptions data, and operational and organizational structures and conduct an internal self-evaluation of that school’s alignment to both sets of standards.

Schools will identify strengths in performance, opportunities for improvement, and threats to achieving success.

Each school community will develop a school-level strategic improvement plan. After this has been thoroughly reviewed and analyzed, executive summaries will be completed, and the diocese’s Catholic Schools Office, along with the diocesan executive improvement team, will review trends and patterns to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement for all the schools.

This also will culminate in a unified strategic plan for schools across the diocese to go along with the individual school strategic improvement plans.

In the spring of 2017, the Catholic Schools Office will host a quality-assurance team of Catholic school educators largely consisting of superintendents or curriculum directors from Catholic school systems across the nation. An external review team will visit all the schools over a three-day period, review data submitted, conduct classroom observations, and analyze diocesan and school data to determine levels of compliance to the standards and whether the diocese should be granted accreditation through AdvancED as a Catholic school system.

If the team recommends diocesan accreditation for the diocese the Diocese of Knoxville will join 52 Catholic dioceses across the nation recognized as a Catholic school system accredited by AdvancED.

The state of Tennessee recognizes AdvancED as a higher accrediting agency, so the diocese will automatically maintain accreditation through the state Department of Education.

An internal quality assurance plan also will be established so that internal review teams can assess and evaluate each school for alignment to the Diocesan Assurances of Quality in years to come.

“I have asked Sedonna Prater, director of curriculum and instruction, to facilitate the process and internal work with the schools. She and I have been meeting with a representative of the diocesan steering team for the past year,” Sister Mary Marta said.

On July 27, 33 school leaders and teachers representing all diocesan schools participated in intensive training in the AdvancED technical protocol and training in the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools. They began work this year in collecting and analyzing the data. All of the schools will be seeking input and feedback from their respective communities later in the fall through surveys concerned with stakeholder perceptions on Catholic identity, student performance and organizational effectiveness. More information will be coming about the progress of diocesan accreditation in the months ahead.

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