For more than 130 years, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) has set the bar as a respected education accreditation body. Those in the know look for this important designation as a sign of a high-quality school.
Saint Raphael Academy is preparing for a visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) on October 24-25. A visiting team will meet with faculty, staff and students to discuss the Academy’s NEASC accreditation.
The visit is part of the decennial renewal process of SRA’s accreditation by NEASC. SRA earned its initial accreditation in 1991. Faculty and staff have been working on the self-evaluation piece for the last several months.
What is NEASC?
NEASC is a globally recognized standard of excellence for independent and public schools. Since 1885, its goal is to partner with schools to promote high quality education for all students through accreditation and best practices. NEASC membership is voluntary and rigorous.
So why take this process on? “It highlights Saints’ high expectation for all facets of the school, including academics, social and athletic opportunities for students, and it gives teachers the opportunity to explore self-reflection,” said Judy Baxter, vice principal of academics.
“If you’re going to show any credentials, you want to see NEASC. It’s the standard that tells others that you have high academic benchmarks.”
The Accreditation Process
The administration chose Sara Costanzo, chair of the science department, and Morgan Gallagher, chair of the English department, to lead SRA’s NEASC Steering Committee. Mrs. Gallagher has previously served on the visiting committee at Catholic schools in Connecticut and New Hampshire.
“I have been impressed by the faculty and staff’s commitment to the process, thoroughness of the committee work, and final products (the self-study reports),” said Mrs. Gallagher.
All faculty and staff began working on the self-study part of the accreditation in January. NEASC Standards range from leadership and academics to facilities and professional learning. Small groups of faculty and staff evaluated, substantiated, and rated the school’s progress on each standard. Finally, the chairs presented the groups’ findings to the entire faculty and staff for discussion and further evaluation. The final report is submitted to the Commission.
“It is important to conduct a collective self-reflection, identify strengths and areas that warrant attention, and outline aspirations for improvement,” explained Mrs. Gallagher. “The self-study process ensures that a school is mission-focused, fosters excellence in programs, and provides a high-quality education to students. The information gathered during the process celebrates the strengths of a school, and more importantly, leads to betterment; it provides a blueprint for school improvement.”
Evaluation by Peer Educators
Saint Raphael Academy completed and submitted the self-assessment to NEASC last month. Next, there is an in-person visit from a committee of fellow educators from other NEASC-member schools. They will evaluate Saint Raphael Academy next week on its Foundation Standards and again in the spring for its Program Standards. The visiting team then writes a report on its findings and makes recommendations for improvement. This report will help guide the school in areas of both strength and improvement.
SRA teachers and administrators have also served on visiting teams at other schools. Principal Dan Richard was away from campus this week on a NEASC visiting team for a school in Massachusetts. He also serves as a member of the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools.
Mrs. Baxter has done NEASC evaluations in curriculum at the university level and the secondary school level.
“You learn a lot,” she said. “It’s good because you bring back ideas [to your own school].”
She continued, “The focal point is talking to students. You find out, do they support what the faculty are saying? Most of the time, it is a positive experience. NEASC is good at getting things resolved and shining a spotlight on areas of need, which isn’t a bad thing.”
Students Have a Voice
In addition to input at peer educator visits, our students have been involved with NEASC in other ways.
Last year, then-senior Natalya Cabral and then-junior Sharbel Mikhail participated in a couple of NEASC professional learning opportunities. They joined seven other students who spoke on “Student Agency in Action” at a spring NEASC leadership conference for educators. That fall, Natalya and Sharbel sat on a panel at the annual NEASC conference in Boston, where they discussed engaging students in school change.
The Saints community fully embraces the NEASC accreditation process for the betterment of the school and is looking forward to working with the visiting team from NEASC.