By ATHENA FOSLER-BRAZIL
Carmel High School has recently finalized the report to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the private organization that recommends schools’ renewed accreditation to the state of California through evaluation of a report as well as a three-day campus visit set to happen March 4-6.
“The WASC report is our statement and evaluation of all of our programs at Carmel High, including an extensive student and community profile, explanation and analysis of all aspects of our school program, organization, curriculum, instruction, assessment, school culture and student support,” says Barbara Steinberg, CHS English teacher and WASC self-study coordinator.
The process of conducting the self-study involves every member of faculty on campus collaborating in a series of meetings over the course of a year, a process that occurs every six years.
“In addition, each of the five focus groups has representation from classified [staff], administration, parents and students,” Steinberg explains.
Each focus group is led by a faculty member and deals with a specific aspect of CHS. Math teacher Juan Gomez was the focus group leader for curriculum.
“We looked at a list of questions that all have to do with curriculum, what the teachers use and how they know it’s the best thing out there to teach,” says Gomez of the topics addressed in his meetings. Gomez emphasizes the discussion of up-to-date teaching tools and methods and making sure there is overlap in course curriculum between departments, a process which requires collaboration of all CHS staff.
Not only are teachers, students and parents asked to evaluate school resources and curriculum, but they discuss the culture on campus as well, including data from drug- and alcohol-use surveys taken by students. Senior Clementine Chamberlain, a member of the assessment and accountability focus group, found that she was able to provide a valuable perspective on student culture.
“One of the things the staff was looking at were the reports on drug use…and I had a student perspective,” Chamberlain says. “That was an area where I was able to help out.”
There were a number of students involved in WASC committees, most of them seniors who have been in the Carmel Unified School District long enough to contribute insightful suggestions and solutions.
While it gets CHS accredited, the writing of the report is also an important and valuable process for CHS staff, giving them a chance to collaborate and evaluate their departments.
“We look at all the stuff we do as a school and figure out if it’s still a valid approach,” Gomez says.
Teachers agree that the WASC report allows for valuable self-reflection, making sure that their practices are the most effective.
Not only does the WASC report require extensive research and evaluation, the writing of the report itself is also an arduous task.
“I organized and oversaw the self-study, facilitated the leadership team and wrote about half of the report,” Steinberg says of her role in the WASC process, which she started working on in September 2017.
Art teacher Steven Russell, coordinator of the focus group for school organization, worked on Chapter Three of the report.
“It was a lot of coordination and pulling in a lot of information and then making sure that the chapter had a consistent tone and was clear, concise and included everything necessary for that section of the report,” Russell says.
Carmel High also reached out to parents to contribute, citing the necessity to include every perspective within the CHS community. Andy Sudol, a member of CHS Padre Parents, volunteered to be part of the WASC team.
“As a parent, you have a different perspective than other people in the community, so I wanted to learn about the process and share that with other parents…and make sure that parent voices were included in the final set of goals that were created,” says Sudol, who emphasizes aspects of student life that teachers and administrators are less exposed to, including high stress levels in students and long days due to extracurriculars.
Sudol emphasizes the need for parents to be involved in the WASC process and other district decisions in general.
“It was a good learning experience for me to learn how the school works and what the school takes into consideration before they make these major decisions,” Sudol says. “I encourage more parents to participate in these meetings so that their opinions can be included in the process.”
The report itself, which was submitted to WASC on Jan. 16, is the most time-intensive aspect of the accreditation process, but it goes hand-in-hand with a three-day, on-campus evaluation taking place in March. The visit, which will include WASC evaluators sitting in on classes, talking to teachers and students and exploring the campus, is the other half of the process that CHS teachers and administrators prepare for. There is also a midterm campus evaluation that happens at the three-year mark of the six-year cycle.