By MEGHA TORPUNURI
A team of accreditors from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) presented their findings after their four-day visit to UHS after school on Wednesday. The WASC team was present on campus to supervise the ongoing process of self-monitoring and evaluation for UHS.
The accreditation team is responsible for selecting the number of years suitable for the future accreditation team to review the school. The results of this cycle will be posted in 4 to 6 weeks. UHS has received a 6-year cycle in the past years.
At the meeting, the accreditation team listed “areas to celebrate” and “areas to focus” that mirrored the topics that were written in the UHS WASC self-report. They clarified that their findings mirrored the school’s own report because it was able to successfully identify strengths and weaknesses at UHS.
“It seems that we’re going to be okay because they see that we are able to see our own weaknesses,” said Ms. Jeanne Jelnick (English Dept.) who organized and led the UHS WASC self-evaluation process. “And we’ve also evidenced that we are able to recognize our weaknesses and act on them.”
Notable UHS features such as office hours, zero period and homeroom all were the result of the WASC processes 6 years ago. Their visit is the culmination of more than a year of work for faculty, parents and students.
Schools undergo the WASC process in cycles accredited to schools, and by the end of each cycle, the school creates an action plan in order to address the problems noted during the self-study.
UHS faculty members met approximately a year and a half ago at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year to start the official preparation for the 2016 visit. They used data collected by student surveys to start the self-study and moved onto focus groups in order to evaluate their overall campus. The school also collected data by surveying staff and parents, interviewing students and having teachers shadow various students.
The focus group centered on the themes of assessment, instruction, school culture, organization and curriculum. Focus groups were comprised of students, faculty and parents. The groups met monthly throughout 2015.
Each focus group answered specific questions pertaining to their group’s topic in a report which was then combined into a 228 page booklet that profiled UHS and its community, reported on progress made since the last WASC visit in 2010, analyzed and summarized student data and detailed the self-study findings which came from the focus groups’ discussions.
The booklet was a way for both WASC accreditors and UHS staff alike to learn more about the school through this process. “It actually was a really cool time to come into the school because I’m joining halfway through this process where people are saying, ‘What do we know about Uni? What’s great about Uni? Where do we need to grow?’” said Dr. Kevin Astor (Principal). “Coming onto those conversations has really been an easy way for me to get caught up to speed on all the things that we do.”
“Then we get to sit down in the spring and figure out how we’re going to move forward,” continued Astor. “It’s not me saying we need to do this, it’s not any one or two people. It’s us coming together as a collective group, and it’s what the external team came in and said ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
“Each school is responsible for identifying strengths and areas of growth,” said Ryan Lewis, principal of Santiago High School and a member of the WASC accreditation team that observed UHS. “Our job is to come in and find evidence of what the school has self reported. So we’re not an evaluation committee. We’re not a committee that comes in to find or tell people how to do things.”
One consistent highlight within the WASC accreditation team was their praise for UHS and its student culture. Jonathan Orison, the assistant principal of Rubidoux High School and WASC member said, “We’ve seen an amazing campus of kids, teachers and support staff. We have enjoyed our time here. The community is a really supportive and amazing place to be.”