Later today the Canadian Educational Standards Institute (CESI) is putting up its new website, and we are one of the featured schools (http://www.cesi.edu/). The Canadian Educational Standards Institute was founded in the late 1980s as the accrediting body for Canadian Independent Schools. Until this year, when two other BC schools decided to join CESI, we were the only school in BC to have CESI accreditation. Since the late 1990s, we have had two accreditation visits, preceded in each case by a major self-study of all aspects of the school’s operation. The beauty of a CESI visit is that it looks at the entire operation of the school and evaluates it according to both its own Mission and accepted best practices. The visit looks at the classroom, the grounds, the athletic programme, boarding, admissions, the Board and everything in between. The visiting team consists of Heads, teachers, Division Heads, Business managers and Board members from other school across the country. They visit the school for three and a half days. One of their goals, for instance, is to make sure they speak to every staff member, either individually or in groups. They also speak with representative parents and alumni. They speak with groups of students. They then report back in a lengthy document, with recommendations that have to be acted upon within 18 months. Our last accreditation visit, 18 months ago, was very constructive and very positive. There were numerous recommendations, but the visiting team was very impressed; the Executive Director of CESI called us “CESI’s poster school.”
This is not to say everything’s perfect. On the contrary, the simple decision to undertake a CESI evaluation implies that you know that there are improvements lurking. It also expresses the notion that we are prepared to open ourselves up to the examination of our peers, and to the application of certain standards, in order to give us external, objective indications of where we need to do some work. Along with the recommendations that we received last time, was the commendation that the visiting team was impressed by the pervasive attitude of continuing improvement in our staff. This is a wonderful comment to receive.
A central pillar of the CESI visit is the extent to which decisions and planning at the school are Mission-driven, the principle being that a strong Mission is a solid reference point that prevents a school from meandering and fishtailing according to temporary pressures, fads and fashions in education. On this particular visit, the Chair of the Visiting Committee thought he would test this principle by questioning a boy and girl who were sitting together on one of the benches in the quad – perhaps sitting a little closer than they ought to have been. Imagine their surprise when this distinguished visitor interrupted to ask if either of them knew the School’s Mission. Then imagine the his surprise when the boy immediately jumped to his feet and recited the School’s Mission, perfectly, word for word. I had to tell him later that I make it a habit to tell the story of the School’s Mission every year to our Junior School, with the prize of a School pen to those who can memorize it. Nevertheless I am amazed by the extent to which phrases of the Mission permeate discussion at the school. I remember on the previous CESI visit, a parent said, “I love the Mission. I love it so much I have it taped to the dashboard of my car.” I hope and believe that future CESI visitors will get similar responses about the School’s Vision.
If you are interested in more information about CESI, do try their new website, which should be up later today : http://www.cesi.edu/ and look for our school.