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  • Mia Schlenker

The Ultimate Guide to Stevenson Accreditation

Stevenson is an “independent” school, meaning it decides what to teach and how to teach it. The school also belongs to various independent-school associations that set broad standards for excellence in schools like ours. This year the school is taking up this process.

Mission, governance, finance, program, community, administration, development, admissions, personnel, facilities, services, culture, and residential life: these are the collectivized effective criteria divided into categorical tiers determined by the National Association for Independent Schools that schools must meet in order to be accredited. Accreditation is the process by which an institution legitimizes itself through a 3rd party association through a self-study, a visiting committee report, and subsequently, a follow-up process that recommends a prescribed plan for improvement.

This tedious procedure evaluates all aspects of the school in a thorough survey of 135 questions answered by a team of around 24 or so faculty members and then some. As a prestigious independent school in the state of California, Stevenson undergoes this process every 7 years, though the process itself is ongoing as it requires lengthy preparation a year and a half in advance and completion of progress reports within a two-year benchmark.

This year, Dale Hinckley, a member of the history faculty, leads the WASC accreditation process. This responsibility is not a particularly easy endeavor, as Hinckley describes the process; “They have very specific criteria; there's something like 135 questions that we have to write answers to and we have about 35 or 40 documents that we have to submit.”

Essentially, these questions are divided into various categories, and there are specific indicators that guide the evaluation and determine whether or not a school has met the standard. Though it is not mandated for independent schools, most to all independent schools opt to receive accreditation, because as Hinckley describes it, “it’s an imprimatur from an objective larger organization that recognizes the value of what you do at your school. It proves that you are serious and professional.”

Dale Hinkley photographed in his office, courtesy of Mia Schlenker

Stevenson has developed a standardized procedure for the accreditation process in order to ensure maximum efficiency. Molly Bozzo, head of the lower division, breaks down the layers of accreditation; “Dale Hinckley is the head of the WASC accreditation process, so the president of the school has appointed him to do that. Then he assigns a team of people right beneath him, and usually, those people are the head of the divisions, all of the senior administrators, like the team leaders. And then we delegate various people within our respective responsibilities to collect data, do the research, and write these reports.” This process is one that reaches all corners of the Stevenson staff and faculty, and then once assembled, is sent off for assessment by Hinckley. Shortly following, an association review comes to the campus and conducts an on-site visit while the school is in session. The visiting team then observes the school's practices, programs, services, sustainability, and mission in alignment with the objective standards, and then composes a report that addresses any relevant feedback.

Photos of the WASC accreditation portal, courtesy of Dan Hinckley

Bozzo discloses, “Years ago at Stevenson, we went through the accreditation process, and of the three or four tiers there were a couple we got warnings about, which as a school you’re like, we don't want to have warnings, but it's good. It's really transparent; like these are the things you need to get better at.” Dan Griffiths recalls commentary that Stevenson received on the last report; “One area of focus for us was our equity and inclusion. We don't have a terribly diverse teaching faculty, so we've been working on hiring practices that broaden the pool search using different consultants to try to get different candidates.” Since their last accreditation, Stevenson made some drastic changes to certain elements of their curriculum and appointed two people as the heads of the equity and inclusion department to foster an accepting environment and community. In addition to this, Griffiths continues, “Another question that came up was the alignment between levels, so take the high school for example, what's the sequence of going from 9th to 10th to 11th to 12th grade in English and history- how are you building on skills progression?” Griffis uses the math curriculum as an example of concrete evidence that Stevenson has adopted practices that adheres to the suggestions of the committee report. He explains that the math department, has removed the algebra geometry class because, it created an atmoshphere where“kids weren't learning or retaining the material so when [students] moved on you were just sort of hanging on by your fingernails.” By doing this, the math department readjusted the trajectory of the curriculum but still managed to get students into higher-level classes by their junior and senior years. Griffiths summarizes, “It's a great exercise. It does make you stop and think and actually get down on paper why we do what we do. And sometimes you find that what you think you do isn't actually what you do.”

Photo of Re-Accreditation documents, courtesy of Mia Schlenker

The process of accreditation is not merely a formality, but a practice of reflection and reorientation for independent school leaders as they observe their practices through a holistic lens. With the initiation of Dan Griffiths as the new upper division head, the Stevenson administration is taking full advantage of this transitional period to establish a framework for Griffiths’ entry into office. Bozo adds “I think it's great that this is happening when Dr. Griffiths is coming in as the new president of the schools because it gives him this tool to totally audit what's happening at this school, and he has a system to do it for him. Now he has all this information, and it will help shape how we want the school to move forward.” The feedback provided by the reaccreditation report will guide Stevensons' progression, reaffirming its excellence but also bringing to light focus areas in administration and everyday school life. Griffiths discusses his experience with the accreditation process; “I had a really interesting conversation with the person who oversees the CIS, the executive director, and she said heads of schools who have been through it a few times, have learned how to use the accreditation to drive the[ir] [respecitve] school[s] forward.” The process of accreditation is one that will bring about tangible results in the coming years, and will compel the administration to address, in Griffiths’ words, “the questions that people are asking about Stevenson, and the questions that Stevenson school is asking itself.”


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