A new flag now flutters in the breeze beneath the American flag at St. Mary School in Canandaigua. While the latter flag proudly proclaims the school’s American pride, the new flag just as proudly proclaims the school’s newfound status as an institution accredited through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
This accreditation certifies that St. Mary has met the Middle States Association’s standards in 12 areas: philosophy and mission; governance and leadership; school-improvement planning; finances; facilities; school climate and organization; health and safety; educational program; assessment and evidence of student learning; student services; student life and student activities; and information resources and technology.
St. Mary is the first Catholic elementary school in the Diocese of Rochester to be accredited with the association, although more than a dozen others are currently pursuing accreditation, according to the association’s Web site, www.middlestates.org.
“It sets us apart from other schools,” Principal Ann Marie Deutsch said.
Deutsch had been interested in pursuing accreditation for some time and was spurred to action when Dominican Sister Elizabeth Meegan, who was superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools until June 2006, urged diocesan principals to look into getting their schools accredited. St. Mary formally started the process in February 2006.
The first step for the school, Deutsch said, was to form a steering committee, which included parents and teachers as well as Deutsch and St. Mary Parish’s pastor, Father Thomas Mull. Subcommittees were then formed and filled with parents, parishioners, teachers and even Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni, Deutsch said.
The next step entailed putting together an extremely detailed self-study about the school. Deutsch and committee members solicited information and input from parents, teachers, parishioners and members of the community about everything from the school’s mission statement to its curriculum.
“All the teachers have to review what they teach, how they teach and what determines the curriculum they use,” Deutsch said.
The curriculum in diocesan schools is determined by New York state and Rochester diocesan standards, and at St. Mary the curriculum part of the study covered everything from religion, Spanish and the core subjects to the school’s lunch program, she added.
“The curriculum was the biggest part of the study because it encompassed so many areas,” she said.
After 18 months the self-study was completed and the final product, which was more than 200 pages long, was sent to the Middle States Association. The association approved the self-study, and in November 2007 sent a team to Canandaigua for a three-day visit to make sure the self-study was an accurate reflection of the school.
“They practically lived at the school. They had the freedom of the building. Every facet that you can imagine in a school is evaluated,” Deutsch said. “They had to observe each class twice. They stood around watching dismissal to make sure that’s how we described it in the self-study.”
In late April 2008 Deutsch learned St. Mary would be accredited as of May 1, and the accreditation will continue through May 1, 2015. Six years from now the school will have to put together another self-study, although this one won’t be quite as extensive, and another team of evaluators will visit the school before it is reaccredited.
The certificate of accreditation arrived at the school in late May, and the steering committee presented the certificate to Father Mull in a special ceremony during First Friday Mass June 6. Father Mull took part in every meeting the steering committee held during the two-year accreditation process, and the school community is extremely grateful to him for his unwavering support, Deutsch said.
“It says to everyone who sees him that here is a priest who believes that this is a ministry of the church, that the school isn’t independent from the church. The church’s mission is to teach as Jesus did, and this is what the school does,” she said.
After the Mass, the school held a flag-raising ceremony at the flag pole, and the children received special treats.
“It was very exciting when this went through. There was a lot of pride in the work that all these people did. Overall it was definitely a great experience,” Deutsch said.