This article originally appeared in the winter 2019 issue of Harker Magazine.
The fall season is an especially eventful time for two groups in our community: the seniors, who are working eagerly to find the next destination in their educational journey, and, conversely, the group of prospective students and families who are visiting Harker with the hopes that they can join the Harker community.
It is a time of excitement, anticipation, and – as all seniors and their parents know – no small amount of anxiety. While understandable, we know that this last emotion fades quickly at the conclusion of the college admissions process, as all of our students will end up at institutions where they will thrive and grow. Year after year, our young alumni return to school with stories of gratitude for their Harker experience and the preparation they had here, and they affirm our efforts to meet our mission’s call to “prepare our students for success in college – and beyond.”
For both our seniors and our prospective families, this admissions season is a period of assessment, both internal and external.
Last year, all of us in the Harker community engaged in a process that had many parallels to the admissions process: our accreditation review by CAIS/ WASC (the California Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges). The experience, which involved every staff member and a host of parent and student volunteers, and which was overseen with incredible aplomb by Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school for academic affairs, started in spring 2017 as groups were formed to begin our self-study. Our yearlong self-review resulted in a document of more than 150 pages in length, which we presented to CAIS/WASC in fall 2018.
The purpose of the self-study was for us to assess everything about ourselves, and, in so doing, to identify how well we are or are not meeting our goals, and the efficacy of the processes we are employing.
In March 2019, a visiting team of educators from CAIS member schools spent four days at Harker. They made sure that we are meeting the expectations o CAIS member schools, and they explored how well we had identified our own strengths, challenges and opportunities.
At the end of the visit, the team was tasked with penning its own report to present to the board of directors of CAIS/WASC. A significant portion of the report is dedicated to providing commendations and recommendations to member schools. Though they are instructed to provide no more than 15-20 commendations to a school, they gave Harker 38.
The ideal outcome of the process is that a school receives a reaccreditation status valid for seven years, and that the report from the visiting committee affirms the work of the self-study, in that both the commendations and recommendations are aligned with our own analysis. To a remarkable degree, and thanks entirely to the engaged and earnest effort of the Harker community, we experienced an ideal outcome from this reaccreditation process, and have, as expected, been granted another seven years accreditation status.
In addition to providing numerous commendations and minor recommendations, the visiting committee is tasked with producing a smaller number of major recommendations that reflect items it deems of significant importance to the school, and which we are required to address and report on during the course of the next seven years. It was affirming that each of these followed from our own assessment, and were consistent with our expectations entering the reaccreditation process.
These five recommendations will serve as focal points for our efforts in the coming years. Not surprisingly, one of the recommendations focused on our upcoming middle school move. It reads:
“The Visiting Team recommends that the school remain strongly focused on preparing, coordinating, communicating about, and effecting the move of the middle school program onto the Union Avenue campus, giving particular attention to the preschool faculty who remain so professionally and selflessly focused on delivering one of the finest preschool educations in the city.”
In addition to the team’s acknowledgement of the importance of this effort to move the middle school, it was especially noteworthy that they embedded a much-deserved mention of support and praise for the amazing educators who have overseen our preschool program.
Two other major recommendations focused on aspects of our existing efforts to provide an impactful educational environment in the arena of wellness and in our efforts related to diversity, equity and inclusion. These have been areas of focus since the previous accreditation, and the visiting committee encouraged us to sustain our efforts.
The visiting team’s fourth recommendation is hat we look to data to help us assess our efficacy and opportunities “to inform areas of growth, measure the effectiveness of change initiatives, and validate the delivery of the mission.”
We are grateful for our membership in and accreditation by CAIS/WASC, and as is true of any good growth processes, the reaccreditation cycle required us to reflect deeply and work hard. Yet, the resulting benefits to our community and our educational program will be long-lasting and significant. The final element of the process is for us to create a strategic plan that incorporates the major recommendations. Our work to make this plan a productive and forward-looking one is well underway, with various groups already refining themes and initiatives. The plan should take its final form this spring, and we will present it to the community then, just around the same time our seniors are deciding which colleges they will attend, and when our new families will be welcomed into the Harker community.