Head of Watershed School Leads Accreditation Committee
"The accreditation process serves as a meaningful and effective catalyst for school improvement," according to Will Galloway, Head of Watershed School in Camden, who recently served as chair of an accreditation team visiting another small, independent school in New England.
“When schools engage in the process of accreditation through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, they participate in a culture of self-study, benefit from an external review by educational professionals, and engage in an innovative process for positive change,” says Galloway. The accreditation process begins with a self-study based on 15 standards that focus on the academic programs, faculty, and the experience of the students. In addition, all members of the school community participate in dialogue to reflect on the school’s mission, identify what is working well, and seek out areas for improvement and planning for the future.
The second phase of accreditation and the most exciting, according to Galloway, includes a three-day visit from the committee, made up of education professionals from schools throughout New England. As chair of the committee, Galloway considers it an honor to work with colleagues to support a school other than one's own in its effort to improve. “Serving as chair of the committee provides a rare and invigorating opportunity for professional growth because we work so closely and intensely with colleagues on the committee and in the schools who are deeply committed to school improvement," say Galloway.
The final report- all 80 pages of it- can certainly exhaust a few committee members. But in the end, the value of the process and final report serve the school well as a platform for strategic planning for the future. Watershed was accredited by NEASC in 2008 and used the experience to launch its own capacity building initiative, strategic plan, and most recently, its Foundational Skills program using performance-based assessment.
“The beauty of the process is that it judges the school on its own stated mission, and not one externally imposed,” says Galloway. This means that the school is judged on its own terms- do they walk their talk? Do they have the resources in place to fulfill their own stated goals? And what recommendations can other colleagues share to support the school in fulfilling its potential?
The integrity of this approach lies in its inherent design to honor the diversity of schools that exist. One size does not fit all, and the NEASC accreditation process supports this underlying premise through its practice and policy.
“Accreditation doesn’t end," says Galloway, “rather it is a process for continual improvement and growth over time.” That all schools could participate in such a process, so much the better for our students!