Are We Who We Say We Are? – And How Do We Know?

By Kevin Ritchie

Everything has seasons – the programs of Lee Academy have seasons – as such, there are no more courses in shorthand, dictation, or agriculture.  Staffing has its season – Moult Pottle, Fred Dingley, Donna Dicker, Stephen Sawyer, and Vanessa Michaud no longer are no longer here.  Since 1955, there has been a recurring season of self-reflection and analysischere at Lee Academy, as there has been at many schools.  This season arrives every 10 years, is called “re-accreditation”, and it occurs through the procedures and authority of the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  We undergo this lengthy accreditation process to provide both “quality control” (see next paragraphs) and an opportunity for us to look deeply at who we are and where we need to go with LA’s mission and its supporting programs.

Next November, nine private school educators from schools around northern New England will visit us for four days here in Lee, Maine.  Their purpose is to assess where we have and have not seen ourselves accurately in our own self-examination, and to make a series of recommendations for improvement, as well as commendations that acknowledge the strengths of who we are and what we do well.

But that few days in November is the culmination of a much longer part of the overall process.  As you read the Spring/Summer 2015 edition of LA Now, we will have completed the 85% of this work which is ours alone – more than a year of intensive committee work here at school where we examine programs and documents, ask questions, interview people, research information, discuss, agree, disagree, and collaborate in a self-examination that has required nearly all of our faculty meeting and workshop time during this past year.  The outcomes of this process are: 1) a list of recommendations for improvement (distilled from the 100+ page Self-Study Report which we have written), 2) a big box full of research data, surveys, policies, handbooks, etc. and 3) many hours of voting, list-making, comparing and contrasting, analyzing, synthesizing, and talking.  So many discussions!

The list (#1, above) contains our recommendations for ourselves as we plan and implement improvements to LA.  The afore-mentioned visiting committee will carefully review our recommendations, and they will examine all areas of school life – they will interview faculty and staff – and many students, parents, trustees, and alums – and they will sit in on classes, analyze our policies and other documents, and determine for themselves to what degree we have accurately described our current status and own needs.  In addition to our list, they will provide their own list of recommendations – some mirroring ours, some different – as a means of “quality assurance” for us, our students, parents and agents, the local school districts from which many of our students enroll, and the Maine Department of Education.  Their recommendations, combined with our own, will constitute a significant part of our strategic plan as we move forward with improvements to Lee Academy, into the next 10 years.

It’s an exciting – and demanding – process, and it’s an essential one in enabling us to provide a quality education for today’s and tomorrow’s students.

As we continue through the process, we’ll keep you informed.