From Sunday, April 24 through Wednesday, April 27, our school will be visited by an accrediting team of six educators from the Association of Independent Maryland Schools (AIMS). The visit comes as the culmination of an 18 month self-study process which marked the end of our last accreditation cycle and the start of a new one.
At the start of the self-study process, the faculty, administration, Board of Trustees, and I considered our philosophy statement and refined it. This was an involved and important first step, since everything we do at the school has its genesis in this statement of our mission and purpose. We then launched into an examination of every aspect of our operation – from the curriculum and co-curricular programs to our physical plant and how we see to the safety of our students. AIMS prescribes a comprehensive and exhaustive set of questions that a school must answer in completing its self-study, in addition to requiring submission of the entire curriculum and voluminous documentation of all matters covered. Throughout this analysis and in every area, we were asked to consider the degree to which our practices are consistent with our stated philosophy. We also were asked to identify our strengths, our weaknesses, and our future directions. The completion of the self-study was a considerable undertaking, compiled by committees of faculty, administrators, trustees, and parents, and led by librarian Cindy Orban, who is completing her third accreditation cycle as chair of our internal accreditation steering committee.
In March, the AIMS team came to school for an orientation visit, to receive the self-study, to hear a presentation on the school, and to get organized. During the upcoming accreditation visit, the team’s task will be to assess the degree to which our practices are consistent with our stated philosophy and to weigh in on the extent to which our self-study accurately reflects our school. They will also ascertain whether or not we meet all of the nearly one hundred standards that AIMS and the State of Maryland prescribe in order for a school to be accredited.
The team will observe every teacher, talk with every administrator, and meet with groups of trustees, students, and parents. They will write a report covering every area of the self-study, focusing on commendations and recommendations. Assuming that no glaring problems arise, later in the spring the chairman of the visiting committee (the recently retired head of several independent schools) will present the team’s findings to the AIMS accreditation committee. We will then receive a report sometime in the summer.
Once we receive the accreditation report, we will have one year to create what AIMS calls an “Action Plan.” In the Action Plan, we will be asked to state how we will respond to each recommendation, when we will respond to each recommendation, who will be responsible for each action, and what metrics will reflect successful implementation of each goal. The Action Plan will then be reviewed by the visiting committee chair and the AIMS Accreditation Committee, and if they feel our response is reasonable and responsive, our accreditation will be continued. Four years later, a mini-team will come in to monitor our progress on the Action Plan. They, too, will issue a report. We will then have a few years to finish up any pending actions before beginning the whole process again.
Having served on the AIMS Accreditation Committee and as its chair for a number of years, I am quite familiar with the process and feel confident that our school will do well in its review. Still, the ten year visit is a considerable milestone in our school’s history and will likely lead us to new directions. Ultimately, though, the goal of the AIMS accreditation process is to help an already strong school become even stronger.