The re-accreditation team visiting Charlotte Amalie High School "arrived as evaluators, and we are leaving as ‘Chickenhawks’," Dr. Doris Bello said Thursday. Bello is the chairperson of the prestigious Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Team (MSA).
That is not to say that becoming honorary Chickenhawks, the school’s mascot, affects the prestigious association’s judgment in assessing the school’s performance for its re-accreditation, Bello said, which is due in 2012.
The seven-member team will conclude an intense three-day visit Thursday, meeting with faculty, parents, and students to present their general impressions of the school and what they found, which will determine if CAHS has met the MSA’s criteria for re-accreditation.
The validation team will then submit a formal report and their recommendation to the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools within the next few weeks. The school will know the final determination before April next year.
CAHS principal, Carmen Howell, conducted a tour of the school’s updated facilities and ongoing programs, including a look at the Sociology lab, which has recently been renovated.
Teacher, Njnanya Boyd, showed off a dozen brand-new computers. "These computers cost $60,000 and were purchased from the school’s own resources," she proudly announced. The students can use them after school, during lunch hours, and to do research, Boyd added.
Boyd also pointed out the room’s Caribbean flags and the displays featuring African-American visionaries Sojourner Truth and Zora Neale Hurston, which the students had created at her suggestion.
Howell took pride showing off the school’s picnic area with freshly painted tables situated beneath shade trees. With the improvements, the number of students participating in the school lunch program has grown from approximately 350 to more than 1,000, Howell said.
After a brief stop at the Family and Consumer Science lab (don’t call it Home Ec!), Howell led a group of reporters to the tour’s pièce de résistance – the "evidence room" – which is actually the reconverted career lab.
The "evidence" is concentrated into a dozen or so boxes, containing the labors of nine months of exhaustive research and planning; the prize is a 600-page tome, "Self-Assessment of Adherence to the Middle States Accreditation Standards."
Howell discussed the individual boxes – ranging from Philosophy/Mission and School Climate and Organization to Finances, Facilities and Student Life and Activities – while MSA team members worked silently at another table, pouring over reams of papers.
Howell spoke of several improvements and ongoing programs, citing one in particular.
"We have the ninth-grade academy in a separate building," she said. "This is so important for the students, being all together and not having to negotiate the entire campus. It’s a huge place."
Howell said, "The students are divided into teams, and receive special attention. The ninth grade is critical.” She added, "It’s been our experience that if a student gets out of the ninth grade, we can get them to graduate."
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools is a voluntary, peer-based, not-for-profit association dedicated to educational excellence and improvement through peer evaluation and accreditation.
Bello spoke of her visit at CAHS in fond terms. "The spirit of this school is not typical in my experience," she said. "It’s more like a family, with dedicated teachers. It is a wonderful school."
Bello, headmistress of the American School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the Association’s members are volunteers. "We are not paid. We are educators and we love the work," she said.
"While the school has spent months preparing for our visit, we spend each night in our hotel, working until maybe eleven. It’s an intense process," said Bello.
"I truly anticipate a very positive review,” said Howell. “We have been consistent in our focus on improving student achievement. Our campus has never looked better, our educational program is sound and we are seeing the results of that in our academic performance. We have consistently shown an increase in the number of graduating seniors, and the number of students that move on to college."
"It takes extensively well-qualified leadership to get the work done in preparation for this process,” Bello concluded. “The whole school exposes itself to the committee, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience for us, so far, both for CAHS and our team."
Howell said she had been planning to retire at the end of the last school year. "But," she said, "I couldn’t do that with the accreditation coming up. Now, I don’t know when," she said rather wistfully. It doesn’t sound like it will be any time soon.