Catholic school principals discuss accreditation

MYRTLE BEACH — Eddie Krenson, senior vice president for Non-public School Services, gave the principals from the Diocese of Charles ton a lot to think about during a discussion on Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation.
Krenson was the final speaker at the principal’s seminar in Myrtle Beach Sept. 8-10 and spoke for over an hour on the advantages and disadvantages of the new accreditation system, which looks at the whole diocese rather than individual schools.
Sister Julia Hutchison, superintendent of Catholic schools, said at the beginning of the year that accreditation was one of their top goals. She planned to spend a lot of time answering principals’ questions and addressing their concerns on the matter.
After Krenson spoke, however, the principals were overwhelmingly positive in their response and most urged that the diocese move forward right away.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Carole Anne White, principal of St. John in North Charleston. “We’re ready for it.”
Sister Julia said three schools that had applied for SACS accreditation earlier all decided to hold off and apply under the diocesan system.
Under the new system, schools are not looked at on an individual basis. Instead, the diocese creates a system-wide plan for all the schools that includes the religious criteria essential to a Catholic school plus SACS criteria.
A national quality assurance review team will analyze the finalized diocesan plan and assess a number of schools chosen at random to make sure everyone meets SACS standards.
Krenson said the diocese will then be responsible for making sure all 31 schools continue to meet standards, engage in continuous improvements and practice quality assurance to hold each school accountable. Diocesan officials will be accountable to SACS at the regional level, he said.
He noted that it is not an easy process, but said a system-wide approach has the advantage of unifying all the schools to work toward a common goal.
“It’s a very desirable approach and can be nothing but good for all of us,” said Molly Halasz, principal of St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach.
Krenson said a common concern of principals is that they will lose their autonomy by operating under a system-wide plan.
Sister Roberta Fulton, principal of St. Martin de Porres in Columbia, said it is important that schools be able to stand on their own and not just be carried by the diocese.
“On the whole I think it’s a good process,” Sister Roberta said. “It would be a challenge, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”  
Sister Julia said she hopes to move forward with a plan by November, but said it is essential that all questions and concerns are addressed first.
“This system enables all of us to work together through a community approach. It is a very Catholic concept,” she said.
Krenson said there are 28 Catholic dioceses across the country looking at the system program. One of them is the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., which is led by Bishop Robert J. Baker, formerly of the Diocese of Charleston.
The Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., has also applied and will be scrutinized by a national review team that includes Sister Julia. Krenson said it is the perfect way for her to learn how the system works.  
“Nothing in this world is challenge free,” he said. “Every diocese has schools that are high-flyers and others that have challenges. I think they would be a strong system and I’m looking  forward to working with them.”
Schools that already have SACS accreditation are St. Peter, St. John Neumann and Cardinal Newman in Columbia; St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken; and Bishop England High School in Charleston.