- Student Life
St. James Academy has been an accredited school since opening in 2005. Along with all other schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, SJA is dual accredited by the State of Kansas and by Advanc-Ed, an international school accrediting agency that serves over 32,000 institutions worldwide (advanc-ed.org). The Kansas State Department of Education grants accreditation to schools based on performance on state assessments and compliance with eleven measures of quality assurance (ksde.org); Advanc-Ed accredits through five-year cycles during which schools must demonstrate continuous improvement in five areas.
The five-year cycle for Advanc-Ed concludes with a two day “external review” conducted by volunteer administrators from other local high schools and/or Advanc-Ed personnel. At the end of every external review, at least one “Powerful Practice” (a uniquely strong element of the school) and at least one “Improvement Priority” (an area the school must focus on) are identified. After two years, the school must submit a progress report to Advanc-Ed on their efforts related to their improvement priorities. An “internal review” is conducted in the remaining years leading up to the visit, which includes a self-assessment and surveys.
Our entire staff participated in the self-assessment two school years ago during a staff development day, rating our school’s performance based on the Advanc-Ed standards. Additionally, two different surveys have been sent to parents, students, and staff through a variety of avenues over the last year. The first survey was related to the general operation of the school and the second was related specifically to Catholic identity. A total of 117 staff responses, 1163 student responses, and 630 parent responses were gathered.
The two-day external review included interviews with 99 stakeholders: 53 total volunteer students from all grade levels, 11 parents who volunteered through the link sent out in our Community Update, 5 support staff, 25 teachers, and 5 administrators. The team also visited and observed over thirty different classrooms and examined a variety of documents and evidence gathered by our staff over the last several months. All of these experiences factor into the accreditation results.
The improvement priorities from the 2011 SJA visit related to two areas: improved communication with stakeholders and meeting the benchmarks for college readiness as measured by the ACT. These were the areas of focus for St. James’ continuous improvement efforts over the last five years.
Below is a review of the progress towards the academic goals set in 2011. The numbers represent the percentage of all students demonstrating college and career readiness as measured by ACT scores. The first row is the goal set in 2011, the second is the percentage of SJA 2016 graduates who met the benchmark, and the third is the percentage of students state-wide who met the benchmark in 2016.
|SJA Class of 2016||77%||95%||74%||67%|
Three of the four goals were met or exceeded, and all four areas far exceeded state averages. Math and science were areas of particular strength.
The external review team identified two Powerful Practices from the past five years and two Improvement Priorities for the next five.
Not noted in the powerful practices or improvement priorities were the results of classroom observations by the team. The below chart shows the averages of the thirty-plus classroom visits made by the team. The first column is the area observed, the second is the average score from their SJA observations, and the third is the average scores from all institutions Advanc-Ed visited last school year. The teaching and learning observed were well above average in almost all areas, with the use of digital technology identified as a particular strength of our staff.
|Learning Environments||External Review||AEN|
|1||Equitable Learning Environment||2.76||2.69|
|2||High Expectations Environment||3.07||2.80|
|3||Supportive Learning Environment||3.12||3.05|
|4||Active Learning Environment||3.00||2.93|
|5||Progress Monitoring and Active Feedback Environment||2.70||2.76|
|6||Well-Managed Learning Environment||3.28||3.12|
|7||Digital Learning Environment||2.30||1.86|
First Powerful Practice: “Through the implementation of the Community System, St. James Academy faculty and staff are able to provide a strong learning and support system for all students. Therefore, students feel they are not ‘… at school, but at home.’”
Second Powerful Practice: “St. James Academy provides a sense of welcome into the community. The opportunities available for parents to become involved and the avenues of communication give parents the feeling of transparency that they are informed of what is happening at the school.”
As we have grown in size, we knew our number-one challenge would be to maintain the personal care and hospitality that have made this school special from its inception. That six members of the outside community spent two days in our building and repeatedly emphasized the sense of welcome and connection throughout the building indicates that we have been successful in this area.
Additionally, one of our improvement priorities from the last visit five years ago was improving communication with parents. This has moved from a deficit to a strength in the last five years.
First Improvement Priority: “Investigate the addition of norm-referenced data to the existing assessment program that provides a variety of data from multiple assessments and verifies individual student growth”
Second Improvement Priority: “Prioritize existing and future initiatives to ensure adequate time for systematic and systemic development, implementation, and evaluation to ensure successful completion in a timely manner.”
Both of these improvement priorities relate to strengthening the work we are doing in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). While PLCs have been widely identified as the strongest vehicle for improving student learning, we are only in our second year of PLC implementation with our staff. The purpose of PLCs is to carve out time in the school day for teachers to work in teams to examine student progress towards learning objectives. The external review team suggested that a norm-referenced testing program for progress monitoring could help our PLCs be even more effective, which is why the first priority is investigating potential tests. They also gave feedback that the priorities within the PLC process (i.e. writing curriculum, writing assessments, and looking at student data) should be clarified to enhance teacher effectiveness in their collaborative teams.
Overall, the team saw what we see on a consistent basis: we have an excellent school. The mission focus has remained steadfast, and the sense of community is as strong as ever. The academic program gets stronger every year, and the right mechanisms for continuous improvement are in place for the future.