Catholic Schools and the Culture of Continuous School Improvement
Cecile Mantecon, WCEA Commissioner
Motorola has its Six Sigma certification; Toyota has its Kaizen philosophy and lean management, while still other organizations have various forms of Continuous Improvement Models (CIMs). Catholic schools, bound by tradition and by mission, guided by the USCCB’s pastoral message in “To Teach as Jesus Did,” and the declaration of the teaching function of the Church in Canon Law, have always sought to maintain a culture of continuous school improvement.
Canon Law dictates that “a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine” (Canon § 803.2) and that “the instruction which is given in them is at least as academically distinguished as that in the other schools of the area” (Canon § 806.2). It is with this awesome charge that the schools in the Diocese of San Jose commit to a culture of continuous school improvement by actively participating in the accreditation process under the Western Catholic Educational Association and its partner agency, ACS WASC (Accrediting Commission for Schools Western Association of Schools and Colleges).
THE ACCREDITING AGENCY: WCEA is a private agency under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops in its member (arch)dioceses in Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Each (arch)diocese appoints a Commissioner who guides and manages the process for each of the schools for which they are responsible. The Commissioner is the diocesan representative at Commission meetings and participates in approving recommendations for accreditation.
THE PROCESS & PROTOCOLS: Each of the thirty five Catholic schools in the Diocese of San Jose conducts a self-study of its programs using a specific protocol: elementary schoolsuse Improving Student Learning and secondary schools use Ensuring Educational Excellence. Both protocols focus on Catholic identity as it relates to the quality of the school program. The Commissioner facilitates the process by providing training and guidance to schools preparing the Self Study document. A visiting committee of educators, appointed by the Commissioner, spends three days at the school site to validate the school’s findings. The findings are then sent to the Commission for approval and eventually, accreditation.
THE SELF STUDY & ACTION PLAN: The Self Study is a narrative documenting the quality of the school program and its areas of strength and growth. After gathering, disaggregating, and triangulating data from formative and summative assessments, informal observations, and perception surveys, the school leads a discussion involving all shareholders. Discussions revolve around the evidence of learning and student engagement through participation in academic, spiritual, and co-curricular programs. From these discussions come the action plan goals and strategies that the school identifies as its priority. Each year, the school reports the following to the Commissioner: progress towards the achievement of action plan goals, the ongoing review of its Catholic identity, and an in-depth study of a curricular area.
CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT: Schools employ the Plan-Do-Study/Check-Act model during the six-year WCEA cycle as they update their action plans, implement programs to support student learning, and continue to gather, disaggregate, and triangulate data. This process ensures that schools are using research-based and data-driven instructional methods that engage ALL students. With support from the Department of Education and the Superintendent of Schools, teachers and administrators continually develop professional skills to provide students the necessary tools to achieve their fullest potential.
It is through this culture of continuous school improvement that our pastors and parish administrators, principals, teachers, staff, students, families, and parish communities work in partnership to ensure that our Catholic schools remain a vibrant and relevant mission of the Catholic Church—one that teaches the traditions of our faith, provides an academically rich, values-based education in a safe environment of care and accountability. It is at the very least, what our students deserve.
For more information on WCEA and the accreditation process, please visit: www.westwcea.org.