Ten diocesan schools achieve stamps of excellence - Catholic Courier

Ten diocesan schools achieve stamps of excellence

Katie Wozniak and Morgan Crisco feel well-prepared for the academic rigors of their high-school years, thanks to having attended Corning’s All Saints Academy most of their lives.

"We’re required to take honors classes, and it really makes you work to the best of your abilities. You really have to learn how to manage your time, too," said Katie, an eighth-grader. "I think it’s great to get ahead."

"I think the education has prepared us for the rest of our lives and given us a running start to high school," added Morgan, a fellow eighth-grader.

Recently, All Saints earned official recognition of the high quality of its educational program. The prekindergarten-through-grade-8 facility has earned national accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools, becoming one of 10 diocesan-operated Catholic schools to attain this prestigious designation.

The Rochester Diocese announced in November that All Saints has been accredited along with Our Mother of Sorrows, Greece (K-8); St. Joseph, Penfield (pre-K-6); St. Joseph, Auburn (pre-K-8); St. Louis, Pittsford (pre-K-6); St. Pius Tenth, Chili (pre-K-6); St. Rita, Webster (pre-K-6); Seton Catholic, Brighton (pre-K-6); and Siena Catholic Academy, Brighton (7-8).

St. Mary, Canandaigua (pre-K-8) was the first diocesan school to earn this distinction, having become accredited in the spring of 2008. (A feature article on St. Mary appeared in the July 2008 Finger Lakes edition of the Catholic Courier, and a feature on St. Joseph in Auburn ran in the January 2009 Finger Lakes edition.)

All areas assessed

MSCES is part of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which was established in 1887 to set standards for American education. In 2004 Sister Elizabeth Meegan, OP, former superintendent of Rochester diocesan schools, urged all schools to take part in the accreditation process. Anne Willkens Leach, the current superintendent, noted that in addition to those newly accredited, several more of the 25 diocesan-operated schools are currently working toward accreditation.

"The goal is that they will all be doing this," Willkens Leach said.

Each school began the process with a rigorous self-study of as long as two years by committees and subcommittees involving the principal, faculty, parents, students and/or community members. Strict MSCES criteria were examined in such areas as mission and goals; leadership and governance; integrity; educational effectiveness; school-improvement planning; finances; facilities; climate and organization; health and safety; and student services and activities.

Each school summarized its self-study findings in a lengthy report of up to 200 pages. Once a given school’s study was filed with MSCES, a team of evaluators made a thorough on-site visit lasting a few days to weigh whether their observations were consistent with the self-study. Accreditation status was then determined based on the self-study summary and evaluators’ report.

Several principals said incorporation of technology into curriculum was a top priority of the self-study phase. Other areas specified were creating inspirational prayer services (Mother of Sorrows); appropriating more practice time for chorus and band (Seton Catholic); updating textbooks (All Saints); and upgrading math (Mother of Sorrows and St. Louis), literacy and reading (St. Pius Tenth), and catechesis (St. Joseph, Auburn) programs.

The accreditation process also drew out schools’ existing strengths. For instance, Rose Ann Ewanyk, principal of All Saints, said the self-study reaffirmed the value of her school’s many social and charitable efforts in the parish and community.

Kathleen Carroll, principal of St. Louis, said the process helped committee members feel "that they have an ownership of the school." Sister Katherine Ann Rappl, RSM, principal of St. Rita, observed that it gave participants a unique chance to become more familiar with all areas of curriculum.

At St. Pius Tenth, the process has already paid off — literally. Steve Oberst, principal, explained that a need to upgrade the playground was identified during the self-study, and the school was able to secure $75,000 in public funding by moving quickly while monies were available. Just before Christmas, Oberst added, a frequent donor asked about some of the school’s other long-term needs, and the principal was able to quickly articulate them, having just completed the accreditation process.

The donor then wrote a check — an anonymous gift of $100,000.

Stamps of success

The MSCES accreditation is good for seven years. During that time schools will issue progress reports, work on strategic plans that also were a required part of the accreditation process, and submit to periodic checks and field visits by MSCES.

"The process has not ended," Sister Rappl observed. "We need to report each year on how we are doing."

Completing the accreditation phase has been cause for celebration at several schools. At St. Mary, a special ceremony took place during a Mass last spring followed by a flag-raising at the Canandaigua school. And at All Saints, a school celebration was held last month as well as a special luncheon for the faculty to celebrate its efforts during the process.

"It was not an easy task. You had to set aside extra time," said Ewanyk, whose school is the first in the Southern Tier to become accredited. She noted that All Saints students’ standardized test scores were already consistently higher than those at public schools, yet the process was still highly worthwhile.

"Every so often you have to go back to, ‘Are you achieving your mission statement, your vision statement?’" she said.

"No matter how good a job you’re doing, you can always do better," agreed Timothy Leahy, principal of Siena Catholic Academy, adding that the process "really gave us a chance to delve. You don’t always hear what you need to hear."

"Every organization should do that periodically," remarked Martin Swenson, principal of Seton Catholic.

Swenson said the accreditation confirms for his students "that what they’re receiving beyond the Catholic faith environment is an exceptionally strong academic program." Sam Zalacca, principal of Mother of Sorrows, added that the designation marks his school as "a learning community moving into the 21st century while maintaining its Catholic identity."

For Carroll, becoming accredited "just affirmed what I had seen or thought myself," saying the process "helped us continue on that path."

Willkens Leach said she was thrilled that so many diocesan schools became accredited, but "we were not surprised because of the quality of education and the climate we provide." She added that achieving this status is a great advertisement for Catholic schools — concrete evidence of excellence, not a slick sales pitch.

"This is official," she emphasized.

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