By Ashley Brown, Professional Development Specialist | Materials Prepared by Judy Kent, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Academy at the Lakes (AATL) in Land O’Lakes, Florida
**This blog is adapted from a webinar, which you can view here.
The accreditation process is often intense, rigorous, and—at times—painstaking. Schools seeking FCIS 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 FCIS accreditation requirements.
Judy Kent, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Academy at the Lakes, shared with us details from her school’s accreditation process with FCIS and the practices that helped support their work and elevate their success.
Customizing Atlas for Self-Study
The self-study is the first step of an FCIS accreditation process. To support this process, schools customize Atlas to fit the exact components of their self-study. AATL worked closely with their account manager to build a template in Atlas that covered each required element.
Our team reached out to FCIS to work effectively with AATL to create an Atlas course and template based on the requirements the school needed to fulfill. Once the initial templates were ready, we showed them to an FCIS official to ensure the templates met all the requirements. AATL credits this three-way partnership between Rubicon, 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 the team at AATL that every staff member feel involved and invested in the accreditation process. Because Rubicon customized the school’s Atlas site using the FCIS accreditation requirements as the basis for each unit, each staff member could complete the units as a consistent shared experience. The school supported staff as they worked in their units, monitored their progress, and controlled the editing rights for each section to limit mistakes.
According to the teachers, 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.
Simplify School Accreditation with Atlas
Learn how schools use Atlas to enhance their accreditation process from initial planning, evidence gathering, reporting to the site visit, and creating a plan for improvement.
Supporting the School Visit
After the self-study, the next—and perhaps most important—component of the accreditation process is the FCIS 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, AATL noted that it was their favorite part of the accreditation process because Atlas kept things simple and organized.
Because of Rubicon’s support in designing a straightforward, easy-to-navigate course with the necessary attachments based on FCIS accreditation requirements, preparing for the site visit was seamless.
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, Rubicon loaded each site visit documentation requirement into Atlas. Staff then worked within each unit to add a narrative response or attach additional supporting materials.
Knowing the full site visit team may not be familiar with Atlas, Rubicon helped AATL create a detailed welcome letter with a step-by-step guide to using Atlas for the review. 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.
Looking Ahead to the Next FCIS Accreditation
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 school 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 AATL used Atlas to complete their FCIS 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.
AATL, along with us here at Rubicon, encourage any organization that may be considering or approaching school accreditation to avoid reinventing the wheel, but rather “mine for gold” by using AATL’s process for guidance and inspiration with your own accreditation work.
Prior to her time as an educator, Ashley worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Education, partnering with schools in the turnaround process to support them with their school improvement efforts. Ashley also worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a program aimed at improving education, housing and health in low-income neighborhoods throughout the country.
Ashley applies all of her experience to her role on the Professional Development team, working with teachers and administrators to help them develop and maintain a successful, comprehensive curriculum process. Ashley has a deep respect for school teachers and leaders and is committed to providing them with high-quality professional development to make their incredible work sustainable.