The journey from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) model of our past to recognition by AdvancED as a School District has been an evolving process for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Richmond, VA.

The journey from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) model of our past to recognition by AdvancED as a School District has been an evolving process for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Richmond, VA. Having the distinction of being the first Catholic diocese to be recognized as a school district by AdvancED began six years ago when the former Assistant Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Maureen McCabe, initiated the dialogue with AdvancED. Pursuing an exciting new path in the quest for continued improvement and excellence for the 26 schools in the diocese (two high schools, three unit schools, and 21 elementary schools) was embraced by an enthusiastic committee who worked with her on developing a new instrument: Design for Growth. Paramount in the transition to the District model was the formation of a Quality Assurance Board to both guide the process and to maintain oversight for the continued growth of the diocesan schools into the 21st century. The Quality Assurance Board is composed of the Superintendent of Catholic Schools and school administrators and is chaired by a master teacher.

Editor’s Note: In the AdvancED District Accreditation process, the school system is responsible for ensuring that individual schools meet the Standards for Accreditation. Each school system is charged with developing its own quality assurance process to achieve this.

Quality Assurance

Complementing the process the system experiences through AdvancED District Accreditation, the mission of the Quality Assurance Board focuses on two major areas of guidance and oversight:

  • the Self-Study conducted by the schools every five years, and
  • the Yearly Reports submitted by the schools in the other years.

The Quality Assurance Board (QAB) monitors the accreditation process of the individual schools and serves as an ongoing resource for them. Each QAB member is assigned two to three schools and assists them in complying with the preparedness and reporting required by the school system. The role of the liaison demands that contact with the school be maintained throughout the year, ready to answer questions or clarify any issues that might arise. In order to assure no conflict of interest exists, and the integrity of the process is maintained, the liaison may not review the Annual Report nor serve on a Visiting Team for their assigned schools.

Self Study Instrument and Process

The Self-Study instrument, Design for Growth, consists of the current seven Accreditation Standards required by AdvancED and the supporting Indicators, which expand the Standards. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond developed two additional standards:

  • Standard A, “Continuous Development of a Christ-Centered Environment,” and
  • Standard B, “Effectiveness of Catholic Identity”

These standards were incorporated into the instrument as a reflection of the uniqueness of being a Catholic school system. They are supported by numerous indicators that contribute to compliance with the standard(s).

The schools assign faculty and staff to serve on committees for the standards. They, in turn, devote themselves to investigating and evaluating the level of compliance with the indicators and standard. These individual committees are overseen by a Steering Committee made up of the chairs from each of the Standard committees. When all of the committees have completed their work, the entire faculty and staff meets to achieve consensus on approving the document they have produced.

An essential component of the final Self-Study report is the list of goals that evolve from the self-evaluation process. The school is challenged to stretch themselves and to recognize the specific areas where growth is needed in order to support continuous improvement. The result is assurance that their students are being provided with the opportunities necessary to achieve excellence.

Visiting Team

At the completion of the Self-Study, a team composed of Quality Assurance Board members, conducts a Team Visit to the school. Prior to the visit, the team scrutinizes the Self-Study with attention being given to the appropriateness of the evidence used to support compliance with the standards and the indicators. Each member is assigned one or two standards that he/she will be responsible for thoroughly reviewing during the three-day visit.

Essential to this process is classroom visitation and observation. The team carefully monitors the level of instruction and the display of active learning by the students. Numerous interviews are conducted with a variety of stakeholder groups affiliated with the school. A number of surveys also will have been completed and published in the Self-Study document. The wide range of stakeholders surveyed includes students, parents, faculty, staff, PTO members and school advisory board members. The results of the surveys are scrutinized by the Quality Assurance Board members in order to identify any patterns that might emerge relevant to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the continuous improvement goals of the school.

Throughout the three day visit, the team collaborates on their findings and affirms the work that the school staff and faculty have accomplished with the self-evaluation. At the conclusion of the visit, the team submits a report that includes commendations and required actions. The commendations affirm the positive aspects that the school is accomplishing. The required actions are areas that the team concludes are in need of inclusion in the school’s continuous improvement process or enhancement to what might already be in place. Any required actions must then be included with the school’s own list of goals for each standard.

Five-year Strategic Plan

The next step for the school is to develop a five-year Strategic Plan, which maps out the timeline for accomplishing the goals in the Self-Study, as well as the required actions submitted by the Visiting Team. Each year, along with the Yearly Report, the school will send goal sheets for the upcoming year, one for each goal, to the Quality Assurance Board for review. The information required on the goal sheets includes the specific goal, the person(s) responsible for completing the goal, the steps taken to complete the goal, budget implications, timeframe, and the process to measure completion. In the event a goal cannot be accomplished in the assigned year, an accounting is required in the report for either moving it to another year or eliminating it entirely as being impossible to accomplish for legitimate reasons. The most common reason, in this situation, concerns the budget implications of the goal.

Yearly Report

The submitted goals are a part of the very comprehensive Yearly Report that is submitted by the end of October each year. Because the goal of Catholic education in the diocese is continuous improvement, the compliance and oversight of this goal is an integral requirement of the schools. The Yearly Report is an updated and simplified version of the Self-Study. The Office of Catholic Schools reformats the Self-Study, returning it to the school. In the Yearly Report each standard now has three columns added: “New”, “Deleted”, and “Goals”. If the school is still maintaining and doing the items listed as evidence for a standard, nothing is changed in the report. If they have added something to the evidence for the reporting year, it is included at the end of the evidence list with the date put in the “New” column. If there is any listed evidence that is no longer valid, the date of deletion is put in the “Deleted” column. Any of the goals assigned to the year are listed in the “Goals” column.

Because the goal of Catholic education in the diocese is continuous improvement, the compliance and oversight of this goal is an integral requirement of the schools.

The requirement for the submission of a Yearly Report, during the years between Self-Studies, results in the school continually evaluating itself. The Quality Assurance Board then reviews each of the Yearly Reports and conveys to the school any omissions, errors or need for clarifications. The school then returns the corrections to the Quality Assurance Board.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement

The completion of the Self-Studies and the Yearly Reports does not complete the work of the schools or the Quality Assurance Board. The commitment to continuous improvement is a dynamic process that compels the Diocese of Richmond to continually search for the most recent innovations to provide excellence in education. The Catholic District of Richmond is currently preparing for its second Self-Study and hosting a visiting team. In doing so, we are transitioning to the use of the newest AdvancED Standards/Indicators and the use of web-based school improvement tool to file all reports electronically. Responding to this new format and developing our unique requirements will be a challenge, but one that will continue the journey into 21st century education.

Francine Conway serves as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. She has 35 years of experience in education in public schools, Department of Defense Schools, Europe and Catholic schools with 16 years in educational administration and supervision in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Ms. Conway received her B.S. from James Madison University and her M.A. from The George Washington University.
Mary Elizabeth Rhodes currently serves as the Social Studies Department Chairperson for Peninsula Catholic High School. She has 42 years of teaching experience in Department of Defense Schools, Europe and Catholic Schools. Ms. Rhodes served as Chair for the Quality Assurance Board when going through the District Accreditation process described herein. She received her B.A. from Santa Clara University and her M.S. from Michigan State University.