CHARLESTON—It was an historic day for all the schools under the umbrella of the Diocese of Charleston’s Catholic Schools Office.
After several years of intense planning and hard work, the entire diocese was approved for accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
This means all of the 30 diocesan schools, plus private Catholic school St. Francis Xavier in Sumter, are accredited.
“Parents can feel comfortable that our schools meet national standards. It’s not just taking the word of the school,” said Sandra Leatherwood, assistant to the superintendent.
A loud round of cheers went up when the news was announced April 25 by Therese Williams, chairperson of the Accreditation Quality Assurance Review Team, which spent three days inspecting the school system.
“Now it’s time to celebrate,” said Jacqualine Kasprowski, interim superintendent and principal of Cardinal Newman.
Celebrate, yes, but then it will be back to work as the diocese addresses the recommendations set forth by the review team.
Williams said at the end of the review, they let the schools know their findings, which includes commendations for things they do well and recommendations in areas that need improvement.
Commendations were given for Catholic identity, a strong schools office under leadership of the bishop, collaborative efforts, and effective school boards.
One of the top areas that require action is identifying and hiring a superintendent, Williams said.
The diocese has two years to address recommendations from the accreditation team.
Other areas include creating a comprehensive professional development plan, evaluating and redeveloping technology programs, and creating a long-range financial plan that addresses marketing needs and fair salaries for all.
The process to earn diocesan-wide accreditation started around 2008, under then-Superintendent Sister Julia Hutchison, who said at the time that accreditation is a routine concern of parents.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone noted in a letter that SAC approval will be a great marketing tool to draw students who might otherwise go to public or charter schools.
“All of the public schools in our state are SACS accredited through the AdvancEd District Accreditation Process,” he wrote. “Having all of our diocesan Catholic schools accredited through this process will mean that our schools have not only met the same standards as the public schools in our state, but that they go beyond by also meeting the additional Catholic Identity Standard that the process demands of Catholic schools.”
In fact, the diocese more than met that particular standard, receiving the highest rating possible on the rubric.
Williams said one little boy gave the perfect answer on how he knew his school was Catholic.
“Because we know Jesus and God,” he said, looking at the team like they were daft.
In the course of the investigation, the review team visited seven schools and spoke to 327 people, including 77 students.
Williams had great things to say about the diocese as a whole and St. John School in North Charleston in particular.
“I have never experienced a place that was so ready,” she said of the diocese, noting that team members usually have to ask for some missing information, but not here.
The Diocese of Nashville superintendent has worked with accreditation for 25 years, and said she doesn’t usually point out one school, but was so enamored with St. John she wanted to use them as an example for all.
“They had one of the best instructions per child that I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “It’s really a confidence booster for each child. Each child felt so valued. It’s a great example of Catholic identity.”