By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Yeah, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.
“This says you are who you say you are and you are doing what you say you are doing,” said Dr. Lamar Hicks, director of AdvancEd-Missouri, as he presented a plaque Sept. 23 that marked the district-wide accreditation of every diocesan school in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
The diocese is the first diocesan school district in Missouri to receive such system-wide accreditation, although individual private and diocesan schools in the state are accredited by AdvancEd.
And that is the really big deal, Hicks said.
“This not only means that all schools in the system are accredited, it means that all are using the same protocol for improvement,” he said.
In other words, all the schools are singing the same hymn from the same hymnal, and that has taken years of work and dedication said Associate Superintendent Pat Burbach, who has spearheaded the accreditation effort.
“We now have a razor focus on improving our schools, not only academically, but as Catholic schools,” she said.
AdvancEd, formerly known as the North Central Association, is the world’s largest accreditation agency for both public and private schools, involving some 23,000 school districts in 30 states and 71 countries.
Burbach and Diocesan School Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters said the accreditation process not only provides a stamp of approval on what a school district is doing now, it also provides a clear and centralized system for continued improvement that all schools can use.
And that represents a sea change for a diocesan school system that was largely founded on individually managed, parochial schools.
The more centralized approach does not mean that the diocesan office will say “Jump,” and principals can only ask, “How high?”
In fact, the impetus for a more systematic, diocesan-wide approach to improvement came from the principals themselves, who are also working on a variety of committees that will form ongoing plans for keeping diocesan schools academically excellent, Catholic and affordable, Peters said.
“These are the things we are challenging ourselves to do as a diocesan system,” he said.
Burbach said principals are not only on board, they are enthusiastic. Without their efforts, any systematic approach to improvement would be impossible, she said.
“I am proud about how everybody is pulling together to be a system,” she said.
Hicks said that comes as no surprise to him. He has observed diocesan schools for years, both in his capacity with AdvancEd and as a former principal of North Kansas City High School.
“What I see here are educators who are totally committed to the task of educating every student,” Hicks said.
“They work hard. They want to be the best they can be, they want their schools to be the best they can be, and they want their students to be the best they can be,” he said.
“These schools are good, and we expect them to get even better,” Hicks said.