29 Jun Accreditation: Easing the Process with Atlas
By Ashley Brown, Rubicon International
In our most recent Spark webinar, Judy Kent, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Academy at the Lakes (AATL) in Land O’Lakes, Florida, shared how Atlas and our team at Rubicon supported her as she led her school through a successful accreditation process with the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS).
The specifics of an accreditation process vary based on the school’s location and the accreditation organization. However, across the board, the process is often intense, rigorous, and—at times—painstaking. Schools seeking accreditation are required to complete a detailed self-study, and must also open themselves up to an external review by the accrediting organization. This process requires school leaders and educators to be simultaneously vulnerable and reflective, while also continuing the work of serving their students. It also involves strategically planning how to collect and organize the documentation required to satisfy the accrediting body.
Creating a Solid Plan: Customizing Atlas for Self-Study
The school self-study is often the first step of an accreditation process. To support this process, schools can customize Atlas to fit the exact components of their self-study. Judy worked closely with Graham Wilkins, her Rubicon consultant, to build a platform in Atlas that covered each required element.
Graham reached out to FCIS so he could work effectively with Judy to create an Atlas course and template based on the requirements AATL needed to fulfill. Once Graham constructed the initial templates, he showed them to an FCIS official to ensure the templates met all the requirements. Judy credits this three-way partnership between Graham, the school, and FCIS for getting the self-study process off the ground, as well as paving the way for a smooth future site visit from the FCIS.
Building Cohesion Among Educators
It was important to Judy and the administrative team that every staff member feel involved and invested in the accreditation process. Because Graham customized their Atlas site using FCIS’s accreditation requirements as the basis for each unit, each staff member could complete the units as a consistent shared experience. In her role, Judy supported staff as they worked in their units, monitored their progress, and controlled the editing rights for each section to limit mistakes.
According to Judy’s staff, it was especially helpful to list the self-study requirements as unit standards in Atlas as they wrote their narrative response into the Atlas course.
Putting the Pieces Together: Supporting the School Visit
After the self-study, the next—and perhaps most important—component of the accreditation process is the accreditation organization’s visit to the school site. Schools do many things to prepare for this visit, including organizing the numerous required accreditation documents, as well as any other documents that demonstrate the school is meeting the accrediting standards.
Although preparing for the site visit can be stressful and overwhelming, Judy noted that it was her favorite part of the accreditation process because she was able to use Atlas to keep things simple and organized.
Because Judy worked with Graham to design a straightforward, easy-to-navigate course based on FCIS’s requirements, preparing for the site visit was seamless. Judy simply sent Graham a complete list of the required site visit documentation, and Graham moved the necessary attachments into a template designed for the site visit.
This way, if someone from the site visit team asked for a specific document, school staff avoided frantically searching through hundreds of pieces of paper spread out over various files. Instead, staff simply searched within Atlas to easily find the document they needed. Just as with the self-study, Graham loaded each site visit documentation requirement into Atlas. Staff then worked within each unit to add a narrative response or attach additional supporting materials.
Judy knew the full site visit team may not be familiar with Atlas. To help ease their review process, Graham helped Judy create a detailed welcome letter with a step-by-step guide to using Atlas for the review. Judy has graciously made this guide available for anyone else using Atlas for their accreditation process. In their feedback, the FCIS team remarked on the ease of navigating through the Atlas course, accessing the documents, and reading through the narratives, all of which were right at their fingertips.
In five years, AATL will seek re-accreditation. Although FCIS’s accreditation requirements have recently changed, it is very likely that much of the work the team did for its first accreditation will be useful for the next process. However, as many of us in education also know all too-well, staff turnover is a very real challenge. It can be a struggle to preserve institutional knowledge and individuals’ work once they leave an organization. Because Judy and her team used Atlas to complete their accreditation, they can rest assured that their work is safe and easy to access in the future. Just as with any Atlas course, the team’s hard work will be archived at the end of the year, and anyone with access to the Atlas system can revisit the course material and even copy and paste it into a new course or document.
Judy, along with us here at Rubicon, encourage any organization that may be considering an accreditation process to avoid reinventing the wheel, but rather “mine for gold” by using Judy’s process for guidance and inspiration with your own accreditation work.