By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY – You’re in, St. Gregory of Maryville.
So are you Bishop Hogan Memorial of Chillicothe, Holy Rosary of Clinton and Holy Cross of Kansas City.
Same with all three St. Mary’s – Montrose and Nevada, and St. Mary’s High School in Independence, along with Bishop LeBlond in St. Joseph, and Archbishop O’Hara and St. Pius X high schools in Kansas City.
Visitation? St. Peter? Christ the King? Our Lady of Guadalupe? You all made the grade. So did you, Presentation in Lee’s Summit, St. John LaLande in Blue Springs, and Cathedral in St. Joseph.
In fact, every school and early childhood education center in the diocesan system received word April 6 that the entire system will receive a recommendation for full accreditation from AdvancED, the world’s premier school accreditation system.
When, not if, that happens formally, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will be one of just 30 U.S. dioceses that have received full, district-wide accreditation from the agency that reviews and grades more than 27,000 public and private school systems worldwide.
And one person the school community can thank is an anonymous seventh-grader at St. John Francis Regis School in Kansas City.
Mary Keefer, principal of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., said the youngster gave her an honest answer during an interview when she explored the Catholicity of his school as one of a nine-member AdvancED visiting team of outside professionals.
“He told me, “Theress a whole lot of religion floating around this place,”” Keefer told The Catholic Key. “We were so impressed by the love and care that was shown in these schools.”
Diocesan School Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters beamed like a proud papa.
“We got an awful lot of accolades,” Peters said. “It was very reassuring and edifying to hear.”
In fact, the visiting Quality Assurance Review (QAR) Team – made up of six associate superintendents of schools, two principals and a university professor – issued four “commendations” to the diocese following its three-day investigation.
One was for the clearly articulated and practiced vision and mission statement.
“Your work and dedication in this area has contributed results that will trickle into other dioceses,” Dr. Cameron Carlson, professor of educational administration at Southern Illinois University, told the assembled Kansas City-St. Joseph princpals and school officials during the QAR Team’s oral report April 6 at the Catholic Center in downtown Kansas City.
Another commendation was for the strong sense of community, built through a sense of “servant leadership.”
“Pastors, principals, teachers, parents and students are all proud of their Catholic schools,” Carlson said.
A third commendation was for striking a balance between central diocesan authority and local, school and parish-based authority over each school.
That is a rare achievement, Carlson said.
“This delicate balance resonates throughout,” he said. “I don’t know how you struck that balance, but it is so important to have it.”
The fourth commendation was for the diocesan-wide commitment to educate all students though such programs as the Strong City School Fund, the Bright Futures Fund, the Honoring Families Fund, and the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education (F.I.R.E.).
“You are expanding the mission,” Carlson said. “You have developed the capacity to do that in ways that are truly Christ-inspired.”
The commendations were especially pleasing to Pat Burbach, diocesan associate superintendent who led the local accreditation process for two years.
Burbach said she herself has served on three visiting QAR teams, and multiple commendations are almost unheard of.
“We had a tough team here,” Burbach said. “That commendation for the balance of authority was huge. I heard them talk about the need to re-create that in other dioceses. It means that we are all working together, and that we are all buying into the mission of “teachings for life” and “distinctly Catholic”.”
Burbach shifted credit to the core team of principals who had been working to assemble data on the seven standards by which AdvancED judges school systems.
That team included Judy Marsh of St. Gabriel School, Janet Spallo of St. Peter School and Julie Hess of St. Patrick School in Kansas City; Sue Scalard of St. James School in St. Joseph; Jeff Lynch of St. Mary High School in Independence; Charlotte Davis of St. Mark’s Small Wonder Pre-school in Independence, and diocesan school board member Dan Grelinger.
“I am really proud of the principals in this diocese,” Burbach said. “They worked through a lot to get this.”
The visiting QAR team did issue some “requires action” recommendations as well.
One was to develop a diocesan-wide and systematic method of documenting and using student results to continue to improve instruction throughout the diocesan system.
Another was to provide a more diocesan-wide approach to the continued professional development of teachers, which is now being done primarily at the building level.
“The amazing thing about the professional development piece is that it is your teachers who are asking for it,” Carlson said.
Peters not only said “Can do,” to those items, he said, “Will do.”
Though resources are always tight in a Catholic school system and this school system covers 27 counties in northwest Missouri, “that only makes it more of a challenge. It doesn’t make it insurmountable,” Peters said.
“With careful planning, we can do it, and we are already working on options to do it,” he said.
Burbach said the true value of the accreditation process was to point to areas in which the school system can grow.
“It’s all about quality education and keeping that quality,” she said.
“This diocese has a long history of making sure we have academically excellent Catholic schools,” Burbach said. “We stand on the shoulders of a lot of giants.”