We are very proud of the work we do at Burroughs, but we must continually think about ways we can improve our program and our community. While much of that self analysis is intrinsic to who we are, some of it is done as part of our accreditation process required by Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS). Over the past two decades, the accreditation process has been a critical and useful opportunity to analyze our strengths and challenges as well as think creatively about the future.
The ISACS process works on a seven-year cycle: a school-wide self study every seven years and individual department evaluations in the intervening years. Currently, we are in the final stages of the school-wide self study. After gathering input from the Board, faculty/staff and parents (gleaned through annual surveys and biennial Parent Forums), we identified six major topics that span all departments and then conducted self studies on those topics. In October, a visiting team of educators from throughout the Midwest will come to campus to assess the work we have done and help us form priorities and action plans.
Our school-wide self study focused on the following:
- Balance: What should we do differently as a school community to help our students sustain schedules and commitments that support intellectual focus, pursuit of students' interests, healthy lifestyles, and meaningful personal interactions?
- Technology: In what ways are developments in technology affecting how our students can learn best? Given those developments, are there changes we should make in our Technology Acceptable Use Policy or our policies about academic integrity?
- Cultural Competency: What should we do as a school community to increase the cultural dexterity of our students, faculty and staff?
- Sustainability: How should we build on the enthusiasm for sustainability in the school community and begin to implement lasting changes?
- Innovation: What should be the next significant innovations in teaching and learning at Burroughs?
- Student Activities: What should we do to make our student activities program even more effective in supporting students’ interests while nurturing significant leadership development among our students?
By way of background, in spring 2014 we formed six faculty/staff committees that worked throughout the 2014-15 school year. They surveyed students, parents, alumni and faculty; they contacted our benchmark schools around the country to discuss how they have wrestled with these issues; they conducted other research, including reading books and scholarly articles on the topics. Finally, this fall, the committees published reports with their findings. In all, the six committees made more than 70 recommendations for improvement.
At this point, those recommendations have been divided into three categories.
- The first category consists of those recommendations that we recognize as useful and doable, and that we have already implemented! For example, as of this fall, 1) all 7th graders are learning coding in their computer classes; 2) the library has additional print stations; 3) more scheduled late days facilitate faculty collaboration, one-on-one help for students, and more flexibility/rest for students; and 4) the student environmental awareness club has been reorganized.
- The second category comprises those recommendations to which we are committed but that require extensive planning. Some of these include 1) revising exam schedules to spread out exams, 2) increasing the number of available sections for computer programming classes, 3) creating affinity groups, and 4) strengthening training for student leaders and faculty sponsors of student activities.
- The third category comprises those recommendations which require lengthier and greater consideration: 1) developing a six-year curriculum sequence in cultural competency and multicultural education; 2) coordinating eco-literacy lessons within and between departments; and 3) developing a center for student learning and research, creating more flexible student access to technology for independent academic work during the school day. All of these would require additional planning and in some cases funding, but they are certainly exciting ideas to consider.
The ISACS visiting team, chaired by Melissa Soderberg, head of school at Columbus Academy in Ohio, will be on campus October 25-28. As we go through the year, I will share updates from these six committees, their recommendations, and the input that we gather from the visiting team to help keep you all informed.
It is certainly a great time to be at Burroughs!