While Victoria was buffeted by wind and rain last weekend, I, my wife, Joan, and our Board Chair, Blair Hagkull, attended the annual Heads and Chairs Conference in Ottawa, Ontario. It was sunnier than Victoria, and no cooler, despite Ottawa’s reputation as a less temperate city. Next weekend, the Executive Director of CAIS, Anne Marie Kee, will be visiting SMUS, outlining the expectations for our school’s next accreditation, in November 2018. Between now and then, our staff, Board, Alumni and Parents’ Auxiliary will be preparing and producing a self-study based on the 12 standards at the core of the accreditation process. It is the most comprehensive and searching accreditation process available to independent schools in Canada, covering every aspect of school operations, from academics, to athletics, to the arts, the Health Centre, governance, community relations and more. No stone is unturned.
Why bother? Our school was the first B.C. school to undertake this accreditation by our national body 16 years ago. The fundamental reason is that any self-respecting institution ought to be prepared to expose itself to the scrutiny of outside expertise (there will be a visiting team of 12 or 13 educators from across Canada) who will assess the school’s performance in the fulfillment of its mission, within the framework of the 12 standards. This spirit of evaluation, of self-examination, of continual improvement is one of the healthiest impulses in a school that strives for excellence. After our last accreditation, in 2007, one of the central comments from the visiting team was that “the school is pervaded by an exceptional spirit of self-improvement.” Sometimes people outside the school will question why we do this, isn’t it expensive? Depending on your perspective, I suppose it could be considered expensive, but it is more expensive in the long run not to do it. One can’t be excellent without subjecting yourself to something rigorous. When people ask me the question, I give them the simple answer, “It’s part of our excellence budget.”
I myself have the very worthwhile experience of serving as Chair of a Visiting Committee to other schools every 18 to 24 months. It is genuinely edifying. In recent years I have chaired Visiting Committees to Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, St. John’s Ravenscourt in Winnipeg, Appleby College in Oakville, and St. George’s School in Vancouver. This spring I will be returning to Toronto for another. Other staff at the school also serve as members of visiting committees, in a variety of areas of expertise. Our school is highly sought after as a source of visiting committee members across the country; our reputation is strong. In addition, several of our staff have served on committees for the national organization, CAIS, in recent years: Denise Lamarche, Director of Academics, is one of the organizing committee for the National Leaders’ Conference; Laura Authier, Director of Marketing and Communications, has worked with the Canadian Boarding Collective; Keith Driscoll, Director of Boarding and Student Life, has just undertaken the leadership of a study of excellence; there are more examples but I think you get the idea: we do believe in the excellence in all of us – not just in our school, but across the country.