We have an accreditation visit in about a week. Our current term expires in June, and it's time for us to share what our students are learning, how we know they are learning, and what we do for those students who are struggling.
Accreditation is a process, a challenging but very worthwhile process. Seven years ago when we applied to be accredited with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, our staff was unsure whether the extra work was worth it. By the end of our first full self-study six years ago, everyone was invested in the process, and the resulting 6-year term with a mid-year review was a reason to celebrate. We are proud to be an accredited school because that status validated that we provide a quality education for our students.
Since that first self-study and visit by the 6-member committee, so much has changed within our Department as well as at our school. The other day at a Leadership Team meeting, we reflected on where we were and where we are now, and the pride in our staff was noticeable. Our Focus Groups were led by new co-chairs who stepped up to take a leadership role for the school. As we went through the challenging self-study process, I saw our co-chairs grow in confidence and successfully guide their members to closely examine and respond to the questions. This was a team effort, and everyone contributed to the final product. Our WASC co-chairs were also new to the process, and they kept everyone on-task and on-time. They were really the glue that held everything together.
This has been a challenging time for our school. Not only have there been new initiatives that are mandated for all Hawaii public schools (e.g. Educator Effectiveness System, Smarter Balanced Assessments), but our school has faced a substantial budget shortfall due to not meeting our enrollment projections for two years in a row. The result is that we have no substitute or professional development funds for teachers to articulate, to examine student data, or to discuss issues related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. But rather than complain or take a 'woe-is-me' attitude, our teachers found ways to collaborate, often through the use of social media (Google+) or Google Drive. Despite having funds to purchase only the essentials, our teachers nevertheless found ways to engage their students and share resources, learn from each other, and search for lessons and activities on the Internet. I am also proud that so many of our teachers are willing to share a new tech tool, app, or other resources during after-school sessions, and their colleagues look forward to attending and learning something new which they can apply in their classroom. I believe we are on the cusp of becoming a true blended learning school where students and teachers use technology seamlessly throughout the day.
I am a proud principal! As our Focus on Learning self-study indicates, we still have challenges to address. However, we also have numerous reasons to celebrate. Hopefully, the Visiting Committee will agree!