When parents first tour an LCMS school in the Missouri District, they know something is different, even though they can’t quite articulate what it is. Sometimes, with education, it’s hard to explain what’s all around you—what makes one school truly distinctive and such a special experience for students and teachers alike. This is true for parents, students, educators and administrators.
The National Lutheran School Accreditation (NLSA) offers educators the chance to take a step back and objectively evaluate where they stand. In addition to offering another layer of credibility to parents, this process brings the entire school community together for a collective assessment of what’s going well and what could be improved.
How the Process Works
Self-evaluation is one of the cornerstones of the NLSA process, as is celebrating each schools’ individual strengths. The entire process usually takes approximately 18 months, starts off with intense introspection, with the school’s accreditation team collecting evidence to give itself a score on a scale from one to four on 41 indicators of a strong school. On this scale, a three would be considered like an A, and a four would be even higher (fours are somewhat rare). Any item earning a one or two would require the school to develop an action plan for improvement in that specific area.
After this process, a validation team of NLSA accreditors reviews the school’s self-study and then visits the school in person for two days of intense examination. After their visit, they write a report and make a recommendation to the Missouri District and the National Lutheran School Accreditation Commission. To earn accreditation, the school must meet expectations in the appropriate indicators.
During the year-long self-study, and the validation team visit the school is examined for its success in the following seven distinct areas:
- Professional Personnel
- Teaching and Learning
- Student Services
Yes, the process is designed to pinpoint areas for improvement. However, Diana Meers, a principal at Immanuel Lutheran School in St. Charles, MO, believes accreditation can be a “joy-filled process.” Meers has been on both sides of accreditation—on NLSA validation teams as well as a participant in her school. You can read her article, Loving Accreditation, here.
Finding the Joy in Accreditation
Meers says one of the most important ingredients to a successful accreditation is the attitude of the school leadership—something she has seen become contagious. When the leaders look at this process as an opportunity to celebrate what’s going well and openly seek opportunities for improvement, everyone else in the community will follow. Conversely, if the leadership feel closed off to the process and see it as an opportunity only for criticism, Meers has seen that attitude permeate the process so much it almost flavors the final report.
Meers has seen many schools celebrate the start of accreditation with a dinner, with stakeholders such as teachers, board members and parents attending. This gives everyone the chance to learn about the process, the standards, and sets a positive, open-minded tone before getting started.
Michelle Fischer, a principal at Calvary Lutheran Church, has been involved with many different accreditation teams. She says, “You can be a good school without being accredited, assuming you’re in a state that doesn’t require it. Missouri doesn’t, for example. However, accreditation keeps you from becoming stagnant.”
Fischer believes the evidence-based approach is a significant strength of the NLSA approach. “The biggest thing is data. Don’t just tell me the number, tell me why,” she explains. One key benefit of accreditation is also one of its challenges: it’s time-consuming. It requires educators to carve out time for reflection that includes the entire community, a luxury that simply isn’t possible very often.
The Validation Teams Look for the Positive in Every School
Both Fischer and Meers emphasize that the validations teams and the entire accreditation process is designed to help schools earn accreditation and celebrate what they do well. Meers has observed that people tend to be more nervous at the start of the process. She says, “It feels a little like preparing for a big test in school. There’s this sense of, ‘I hope I pass.’” She almost always sees people relax by the time the process wraps up.
Fischer says her favorite part of being on accreditation teams is meeting new people and learning from all the schools she visits, because she always gets ideas for things she can adapt and try in her school.
To learn more about NLSA accreditation, contact Al Freeman at email@example.com or (314) 590-6209.