By Lucia Ponader
This week will determine the future of University High School.
Over the course of three days, an accreditation team full of teachers and administrators from other schools will assess the school and its mission statement and will ultimately decide whether or not University High School will remain a part of ISACS, the The Independent Schools Association of the Central States.
ISACS is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) membership organization of more than 230 independent schools from 13 states of the Midwest region incorporated by the state of Indiana. Schools can apply for membership to become recognized by and affiliated with ISACS. ISACS works to “pursue exemplary independent education” and to “empower students to contribute and thrive in a diverse and changing world.”
Teachers, trustees, and administrators from schools within ISACS can be elected to serve on the Board of Trustees. According to ISACS, they “plan services, review and oversee the accreditation program, supervise financial accountability, plan activities for faculty and trustees, and address timely issues of concern to schools.”
One does not need to be on the Board of Trustees in order to be on an accreditation team. Accreditation teams are usually made up of teachers and heads of school from other ISAC schools. They are the team responsible for traveling to each school and evaluating them through their accreditation process.
English teacher Wes Priest has been on the board of ISACS for two years. Each person on the board is nominated and then personally interviewed by the ISACS president. Each board member can serve for three years per term and serve for up to two terms. Priest has completed two site visits to other schools on accreditation teams.
Priest states that he has “learned a lot about independent schools and the depth and variety of independent schools.”
“I wanted to join the board because I wanted an opportunity where I could learn more about my job and things I’m passionate about,” Priest continues. “Being on an accreditation team is extremely rewarding because you go into that school and you read all about that school and get to know it really well, and it makes you think about your own school and ask, ‘What do we do well?’ and ‘What are areas that challenge us?’ One of the best things a teacher could do is to serve on an accrediting team at a different school.”
The accreditation process contains three key components. The first is compliance with all of ISACS standards for membership. The second is disclosure of the school’s mission statement, philosophy, program, qualification of all teachers and services/procedures, and a notable congruence between the disclosed mission statement and the practices of the school. The third requirement is a self-study and analysis of all areas of the school.
University has been preparing for the accreditation process in numerous ways. “We are always doing it,” says Assistant Head of School Dave Vesper. “This site visit has been two years in preparation.”
Vesper says that in previous years the school has conducted constituent surveys asking all the parents, alumni, faculty, and students what they thought about the school. The survey was then taken into consideration when making the self-study, as it gave valuable information on various systems in the school. “This site visit is a team validating our report,” Vesper continues.
The ISACS accreditation requires complete engagement and involvement of all staff and teachers. History teacher Chris Bradley is feeling good about the accreditation because, as he says, a year and a half prior, faculty “identified their strengths and things they want to plan for the future.” Bradley views the accreditation process as collaborative. He states, “It feels like it’s us working together to make the school better.”
And it seems like the school is on the right path.
Luke Felker, the head of University’s ISACS accreditation team and current Head of School at the Bay School in San Francisco, has seen similar core values that ISACS values within the University community.
“The type of community and warmth of community was so clear from the first day, and it’s come through with everybody we’ve talked with,” says Felker. “You walk in and it’s like a sigh of relief.”