School in a Box
We are wrapping up preparations this week for a big event in the life of any school, our five year accreditation with SACS-CASI. Having completed a school wide look in the mirror over the past half a year which involved collecting evidence and answering questions in seven categories ranging from governance to “teaching and learning,” we will be visited by a team of three educators who will help assure that we are doing what we say we are doing.
All schools, public and private, go through this or a similar accreditation process. I myself went through the SACS process not too long ago as a member of the staff at Thomas Jefferson. Then, I confess, I tried to stand in the back row when they were handing out jobs. Not so in my current smaller pond. My recent experience with the process and administrative role landed me in the thick of it, and something unexpected happened. I liked it.
Over the past several months prior to this current final push, our small staff of forty divided into seven groups, and unlike at TJ, meetings did not disintegrate into bickering over when the next meeting would be and how much or little of lunch we would sacrifice to have it. My colleagues collected evidence and as they examined it engaged in honest conversations about how the school met, or in some cases, didn’t meet, the standards set by the accreditation body. I helped assemble the final report, which reflected both the unevenness and the breadth of vision of any group written document with over three dozen authors.
And this week, I am collecting “essential evidence,” a list of material the visiting team will want at their fingertips. The fascinating part for me is seeing the many facets of our school come together in one place: annual reports and health office stats and board bylaws, along with dozens of other substantial artifacts each of which is the product of many hands, and all of which together form a mosaic of who we are and how our school works.
There’s plenty of minutiae: colored hanging folders in a clear plastic box, a cardboard box cut into strips for dividers with the contents of each section glue-sticked to the top edge, a checklist of artifacts so annotated as to be nearly illegible at this point, each scrawled note reflecting a comment at a meeting or a quick check-in with another vacuole in the amoeba of the school.
But along with the endless printing and reprinting of schedules for the visiting team comes mind-melding with the leadership team around the big table, trying together to step back from this thing we’re all so deeply immersed in and imagine how it will be seen, or how we want it to be seen, by a group of outside educators.
There are the high-level reflections by the Head, who sees the school both as an evolving organism and as a business. Being privy to financials is completely foreign to my experience in mostly public schools over fifteen years. I find myself catapulted into a situation where I look at, talk about, think about annual budgets and sustainable models and the nuances of capitalization.
And there are the countless, constant contacts of collection, discovering each person in their job, each bringing forth documentation of how they sing at school: the facilities manager’s report, the executive assistant’s survey data, the director of curriculum’s school improvement plan. The interconnectedness of a hundred hands, all passing along a child who travels from the driveway up the steps to the hallway, from classroom to classroom to lunch to recess to the library to the gym to the nurse to the fields, and always, back to the classroom again.
I hear Congressional singing, each to each, the varied carols I hear. The multitudes are now all organized in a plastic box with multi-colored hanging folders waiting for the Quality Assurance Review Team to step in the door next Monday.