Diocese of Knoxville schools draw closer to accreditation review

System evaluation for AdvancED certification to take place during 2016-17 school year following four-year preparation

The culmination of the accreditation process will be a key theme during the 2016-17 academic year as Diocese of Knoxville schools are evaluated by AdvancED for certification as a system of excellence.

While the majority of the schools are currently accredited by AdvancED, schools’ Superintendent Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, said it is more viable for the school system as a whole to be accredited by AdvancED.

“We are moving from a system of schools to a school system, which will increase accountability and awareness of the schools’ mission in the greater Church of East Tennessee,” Sister Mary Marta said.

Sedonna Prater, director of curriculum and instruction for schools in the diocese, explained that AdvancED accredits schools throughout the United States and internationally and works in conjunction with its affiliate, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which has accredited diocesan schools on a regional basis.

Mrs. Prater believes it is important for the diocese to align itself with the AdvancED system standards, which include a wide spectrum of academic and organizational indicators including the National Standards and Benchmarks of Effective Catholic Schools.

AdvancED has been described as changing the way educators and policymakers think about accreditation and accountability by offering a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of schooling to ensure that schools and school systems don’t improve on one-shot measures, but rather progress across many indicators each year.

“It’s a great achievement to obtain system accreditation,” Sister Mary Marta said. “It’s important because it shows that our schools are meeting an international standard for excellence.”

Sister Mary Marta and Mrs. Prater said a team of education professionals in February will visit each of the 10 diocesan schools with the team’s lead evaluator, Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville, who will come for a pre-evaluation visit on Nov. 21. Mrs. Schulz will return in February with her entire team, consisting of superintendents, principals, and other central office personnel from various dioceses to evaluate the schools Feb. 21-22. A culminating exit report will be presented for Bishop Richard F. Stika, priests, school leaders, and other stakeholders on Feb. 23. Following the quality assurance review, the team will make the final accreditation recommendation, completing a process that began in 2013.

All Diocese of Knoxville schools have had faculty participate on accrediting teams for other schools. In order to gain knowledge of system accreditation, Mrs. Prater, Dickie Sompayrac, president of Knoxville Catholic High School, and Jamie Goodhard, principal of St. Jude School, have served as AdvancED system evaluators on teams assessing other dioceses.

Categories under which Diocese of Knoxville schools will be assessed include mission and Catholic identity, academic excellence, governance and leadership, and operational vitality.

“While reviewing the diocese, they’ll highlight the things we’re doing very well, and affirm powerful practices while identifying improvement opportunities. AdvancED requires the evaluating team to identify at least one area to focus on for greater improvement,” Mrs. Prater said.

Although Diocese of Knoxville schools have held state accreditation since conception, Mrs. Prater said, “AdvancED accreditation is about a systemic process of advancement and growth. It’s a quality-assurance exercise resulting in validation.”

Sister Mary Marta also noted that it is being better stewards to be accredited as a system. Formerly the accredited schools each hosted an evaluation team. Moving to system accreditation allows for a greater savings. She added “it fulfills the Bishop’s goal of moving our 10 individual schools into one unified system. I am grateful to have Sedonna chairing our effort in the district-wide accreditation process. This will strengthen our mission to create good citizens and get our students to heaven.” ■

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