Students and faculty participate in school-wide accreditation process

Julia Goldberg and Ryan Reiss

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Once a decade, the school is required to reflect upon itself not only to be accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) but also to discover aspects of the school community in need of further improvement and implement changes as deemed necessary.

“The school must first undergo a self-evaluation, which is what we’re currently in the middle of,” Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said.

“This ‘self-study’, as it is called, is a thorough review of what the school does and why, what they do well, and where they believe they can improve,” Director of Institutional Research and Enrollment Management Lisa Moreira said.

To complete the study, Moreira and Lower Division Psychologist Nicole Zissu divided every faculty member from all divisions, totaling almost 400, into 24 committees.

“While NYSAIS provides guidelines, every school makes the process their own,” Moreira said. “The guideline to ‘involve all members of the school community’ is a challenge in a school as large as HM.”

A few of the committees included parents and students, such as Student Body Presidents, Community Council members, and students who attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference. In all cases, there are a mix of people on each committee to ensure different perspectives, Moreira said.

That’s a part of the mission of NYSAIS – everyone participates in this. It isn’t just the administration; it’s the full school,” Levenstein said. “We have the opportunity to formally note what we still need to work on, and that’s the goal.”

It’s not just about jumping through a hoop, it’s about pausing to evaluate our systems, she said.

“An example of outgrowth is that 10 years ago [during the previous accreditation], the history department realized how much more global they wanted their curriculum to be,” Levenstein said. Ideally, the school will emerge from the process this year with better focus on how it can move forward in the next 10 years, she said.

“As you’d imagine, we have made a significant number of changes since our last 10 year review, not least of which are the significant campus changes, major curricular changes across all divisions, and expanding our work in the areas of diversity and inclusion, including the creation of ICIE,” Moreira said.

After all 24 committees complete their evaluation, Moreira and Zissu, among others, will write a report summarizing the school’s findings.

To end the process, NYSAIS will find colleagues from other NYSAIS-accredited schools to become the school’s visiting committee.

“The visiting committee is given a copy of our self-evaluation and supporting documents, which they then read in preparation for their visits,” Levenstein said. “They spend a few days here on campus with the idea that they’ll talk to all the relevant parties at this school. They don’t just sit and talk to Dr. Kelly; they talk to students, they visit classes, they speak to staff, they meet parents,” Levenstein said.

English Department Chair Vernon Wilson, a member of the Teaching Evaluations Committee, said he enjoyed the process. “It was nice to work with colleagues from every division of HM on understanding how and why we should evaluate teachers at every stage of their career,” he said.

“This is our chance to be honest with ourselves as a school,” Library Department Chair and co-chair for the Student Body Committee Caroline Bartels said. Though the school does many things well, there is always room to improve, she said.

In her committee specifically, faculty and students looked at how the mission of the school is reflected in the student body, Bartels said. NYSAIS provides the school with guiding questions and in return expects a narrative, she said.

Members of the Student Body Committee discussed whether the school’s activities, such as clubs, sports, or affinity groups, fit the needs of the student body, how disputes and confrontations between students are dealt with, and what the school sees as its strengths and goals for the next 10 years.

“Together, we talked about ways to promote student life and how we can better meet the needs of the students,” Charles Simmons (11), a member of the Student Body Committee, said.

One takeaway was how willing faculty were to listen, Simmons said. “The faculty treated all of the students’ ideas with respect, and they were receptive to the suggestions we made,” he said.

Bartels believed that students and faculty in the committee felt comfortable being honest and sharing their opinions, she said. “I think students felt empowered to talk about what they think we need to hear, and I don’t think anyone felt like they needed to censor themselves,” she said.

It was largely a discussion about students’ own personal experiences at the school, Taussia Boadi (11), who was on the Student Body Committee, said. However, what was most intriguing was hearing teachers talk about their own experiences, Boadi said.

“At the end of the day, high school isn’t just about the students; it’s also about the people who work there. Teachers want to advocate for students but also for themselves, because this is their workplace and they need to be happy here,” Boadi said.

To thoroughly evaluate every aspect of the school, each committee also met on February 25th, March 11th and May 6th after school, and for one full day on April 1st. The group also discussed what has changed since the past accreditation, Bartels said.

“For a lot of students, their scope of memory is two-three years. A student will say, ‘but it’s always been that way,’ but no, not really,” she said. Bartels feels as though it was good for students to hear from faculty, who have been here for a longer time, about how things have changed over the last ten years. “Though change sometimes feels really glacial, for a lot of the adults, we see real change and are heartened by it,” she said.

“That’s what it keeps it interesting as an adult in the community— knowing that nothing stays stagnant and that there’s always room for improvement,” Bartels said. “If we fight against the changes that need to happen, we’ll never improve.”