|Sherry Woodman, principal of Christ the King School, shows Janet Donato from the Diocese of Memphis materials that the school prepared for the accreditation visit as Don Boehm, assistant principal, and Gina St. Charles, a teacher, welcome Sandra Leatherwood from the Diocese of Charleston. Donato and Leatherwood were part of the team from AdvancedEd reviewing Christ the King School as part of the diocesan school accreditation visit. Photo by Rick Musacchio
The accreditation of the Diocese of Nashville school system will be recommended for renewal for five more years after a team of educators from other dioceses found the performance of Catholic schools in Middle Tennessee exceeded national averages.
“What that says to us first and foremost, is you have excellent leadership,” said Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville and the leader of the external review team from AdvancED, the accrediting agency. “Overall, it was very impressive.”
“I was blown out of the water by how well our teachers did,” said Dr. Therese Williams, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville. “I’m just very proud of them.”
The accreditation process focuses on three areas of evaluation: impact of teaching and learning, capacity of leadership, and use of resources, Schulz told principals from the diocesan schools in a meeting at the conclusion of the external review team’s visit to the diocese on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
AdvancEd has developed an Index of Education Quality to provide a measure of a school or system’s overall performance based on a comprehensive set of indicators and evaluative criteria, including the impact of teaching and learning on student performance; the capacity of school leadership to guide and ensure effectiveness in carrying out the strategic direction of an institution; the utilization of resources to meet the diverse needs of students and institution; the use of data as an analytical tool to guide continuous improvement; and connecting the conditions, processes and practices in schools to evidence.
The diocese’s overall score on the Index of Education Quality was 317.99 compared to the AdvancED average of Catholic Schools across the nation of 282.45. The other scores were: 307.74 for teaching and learning impact, compared to the average of 272.37; 359.38 for leadership capacity, compared to the average of 294.44; and 282.81 for resource utilization, compared to the average of 282.93.
The external review team members also visited 77 classes across the system to evaluate whether students were engaged. They used the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool to rate the level of student engagement. In all seven areas of evaluation, including the environments for equitable learning, high expectations, supportive learning, active learning, progress monitoring and feedback, well-managed learning and digital learning, the diocesan schools rated higher than the national average.
“I thought it was awesome,” Christ the King School Principal Sherry Woodman said of the scores. “I knew we were good, but I didn’t really expect to see us rated (so highly) with regard to other Catholic schools in the nation.”
“I felt very good” about the external review team’s scores for the diocesan schools, said Sister Marie Hannah, O.P., principal of St. Rose of Lima School in Murfreesboro. “And I felt it was a true picture of the things happening in the diocese.”
The external review team identified several “powerful practices” in the diocesan schools, including the diocesan wide social justice curriculum for use in religion classes. The curriculum “developed by the Diocese of Nashville and implemented uniquely by each school, permeates all aspects of school culture and calls students to serve others in response to the Gospel,” the team’s report stated.
“This came up over and over again as a strength of your system,” Schulz said.
Team members first learned about the Social Justice Curriculum in the diocesan schools self-assessment, Schulz said. “All of us are experienced in Catholic Education. It was something none of us had seen as well developed as here. All of us had it on our list of things we wanted to check out.”
Under the curriculum, which was developed and implemented several years ago, students at every grade level complete projects and service activities that illustrate Catholic social justice teachings. Even the pre-school students participate in the curriculum. St. Rose’s pre-school students recently participated in a drive to collect diapers and wipes for the local crisis pregnancy center, Sister Marie Hannah said.
After completing service projects, students are asked to write a reflection about not only what they did, “but why they think they did it and how it made them feel,” Williams said. “It’s made a huge difference. We want them to understand this is not something you do for your class, service is something that you do for your lifetime.”
“When the diocese … established that program it sort of helped everybody see how it all fits together into other parts of the religion curriculum,” Woodman said. “This is how you take all the things you learn in religion class and live it.”
In talking with adults and students about the program, Schulz said, the comments she heard were “profound.”
The curriculum “really helps us to articulate in a forceful way through our teaching and curriculum what we’re about,” Schulz said.
The external review committee identified another powerful practice. “Diocesan and school leaders’ proactive and persistent efforts through collaboration result in measurable, active stakeholder participation, positive engagement with Catholic schools, and a strong sense of community and ownership,” according to the report.
The committee also identified several improvement priorities, including providing professional development for principals and teachers about how to use data to inform the decision-making process. That was a need the diocese identified in its self-assessment, Schulz noted. “You already have a very effective professional development system,” she added. “You are in a position to take it up a notch.”
Other improvement priorities included: using student achievement data to evaluate effectiveness and developing a technology plan to provide direction to schools.
The committee also cited as an improvement priority the ongoing work of an education task force that has been established by Bishop David Choby to review the quality, affordability and sustainability of Catholic schools in the diocese.
“I think the diocese is asking the right questions,” Schulz said: what kind of resources and support are needed for the program the diocese wants, and “are we doing a good job with what we have.”
“For a system to take a look at that is exactly where we need to be,” Schulz said.
“This is about marketing our schools better, keeping tuition affordable for parents,” Williams said of the work of the task force, which is chaired by Father Mike Johnston, pastor of St. Henry Church.
The diocese has two years to address the improvement priorities, Schulz said.
The external review team’s visit was the culmination of several years of work by principals, teachers and the diocesan schools office staff in evaluating the schools and preparing an exhaustive report for the review team to consider, Williams said.
The diocesan internal review committee meets regularly to monitor schools’ progress in meeting the accreditation standards and addressing areas of improvement, Williams said.
The AdvancED’s board will consider the external review team’s recommendation to renew accreditation for the diocesan school system for five more years when it meets in January, Schulz said. And the diocese will receive a detailed report on the external team’s review of the system within 30 businesses days of the AdvancED board’s vote, she added.