Lumen Accreditation for schools focuses on best practices and Catholic faith

By Barb Umberger | OSV News

Accreditation is a major way Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis show their commitment to providing an excellent education, said Emily Dahdah, director of educational quality and excellence in the archdiocese’s Office for the Mission of Catholic Education.

Maddie Leet, center, prays with other students at Unity Catholic High School in Burnsville, Minn., during Mass May 16, 2023, at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, where the school is located. Leet will be a junior this year. (OSV News photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

But the only accreditors available to Catholic schools have been agencies focused on nonpublic or private education, and not specifically Catholic, she said. That’s about to change.

Last school year, the archdiocese piloted a renewed version of its accreditation process called the Catholic School Study in eight schools, while in conversation with Lumen Accreditation about a potential partnership.

Lumen is offered through The Catholic University of America in Washington. This year, the archdiocese has a formal agreement and partnership with Lumen, which has recognized the archdiocese’s Catholic School Study process as a valid quality assurance process. The Catholic School Study will be the core component in the archdiocese of the Lumen Accreditation process.

The Catholic School Study includes a “self-study” used by school leaders and teams to answer questions and show evidence describing how they provide high quality Catholic education through a school’s entire educational program, Dahdah told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper.

A team of six to 10 school leaders in the archdiocese review each school’s submission and make on-site visits, including to classrooms, talking with teachers and parents “to see where and how the church’s vision for excellence comes to life and where there are opportunities to grow,” she said.

Then, visiting team members collaborate with school leadership to identify areas of recommendation and commendation, followed by development of a plan for excellence with strategic goals and initiatives, which Dahdah said is meant to be “a living document.”

Every Catholic school in the archdiocese will complete the Catholic School Study, but with 91 schools, they will do so on a rotating basis.

Now Catholic schools will have “the best of the church’s transformative vision for education as a light and guide in their pursuit of excellence,” Dahdah said.

The archdiocese and two Catholic high schools, Cathedral in Indianapolis and St. John Paul the Great in Denver, are the first in the nation to seek national accreditation from Lumen.

When the Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education at The Catholic University of America announced the Lumen Accreditation program in February 2023, it described it as one of its four strategic priorities to address “the most critical components of Catholic school renewal.” The other three are teacher formation, leader formation and research on Catholic education.

Catholic schools have a distinctive and essential mission so “it’s important that we have an accreditation process that’s aligned with our mission and what’s unique and great about Catholic education,” Dahdah said. “We want to be excellent Catholic schools in every sense of the word, not just excellent private schools.”

The archdiocese seeks “total integration of the spirit of Catholic education” in everything, from the way it hires teachers to how it teaches math, to how “they work with students in their growth of virtue or student discipline,” she said. And “we want all of that illuminated by the light of the Gospel.”

“The changing landscape of educational policy and school accreditation limits the freedom of Catholic schools and dioceses to educate students according to our religious mission and tradition,” said Jason Slattery, director of Catholic education for the archdiocese. “By partnering with Lumen Accreditation, we’re confident we’ll be able to advance the vision of educational quality and excellence across our 91 archdiocesan schools in a way that is consistent with our mission and tradition.”

Lumen accreditation also is consistent with, and complementary to, the archdiocese’s 2019 Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education, Dahdah said.

“The goal of the Roadmap is to advance excellence, and this is one of those key ways we could do that.” In fact, this accreditation emerged as a priority out of the Roadmap, she said. The Roadmap focuses on five areas: governance of Catholic schools, talent management, curriculum and metrics, access and sustainability, and mission schools.

“For the first time, we have a holistic process, a quality assurance process that helps strengthen educational quality from the vision of excellence in Catholic schools,” Dahdah said.

One of the things Lumen accreditation will offer is “a holy, Catholic, integrated analysis and understanding of the mission of Catholic education and how it’s realized at the school level,” said David Sorkin, head of school at St. Hubert Catholic School in Chanhassen.

Fundamentally, all schools are responsible for academic excellence, governance, leadership and sustainability, but Catholic schools “uniquely have a mission that says we do all that through the lens of our faith, with the eye of forming students as an integrated person who understands the spiritual side as well as the human side, and how those two interact to lead toward a life of service,” he said.

That’s where Lumen is different, Sorkin said. “It’s about best practices, but it’s also about the Catholic faith.”

A group of archdiocesan teachers and principals from across the archdiocese will conduct a site visit at St. Hubert in March 2024 to interview administrators, teachers, parents and students; review survey analysis conducted by the school and how it is trending; and look at “the work product,” visit classrooms and look at facilities. The school provides a self-study report that says “we are a Catholic school and this is how St. Hubert … operates,” Sorkin said.

The archdiocese had required that its schools be accredited, but did not mandate a specific accreditor, Sorkin said. They can continue maintaining accreditations from other organizations, if desired, Sorkin said, but Lumen is required by the archdiocese.

Parents are the primary educators, “and they’re entrusting to us their most precious gifts,” Sorkin said. “So, they need authenticity and verification that we are honestly acting in the best interest of their child, wholly from a Catholic lens, but also focused on excellence of the institution,” he said.

“I think this (Lumen accreditation) is a great way for the archdiocese to be a leader and participate in a process that … honors and values and sets the expectations for what it means to be an authentically Catholic school,” Sorkin said. “I think it’s a wonderful achievement to have an accreditation process that is first and foremost honestly and authentically a Catholic, integrated analysis of the school.”

The main purpose of Catholic schools is evangelization, “to help children know and love the Lord, to … enter into relationship with Jesus Christ, and that’s the relationship that gives life to all of their work in the world,” Dahdah said. Everything Catholic schools do is rooted in “that larger effort of helping children come to know the Lord, to find meaning in their life and be happy.”

For example, this evangelizing mission means that Catholic schools do not look at classroom discipline only to manage or control a child’s behavior, Dahdah said. Rather, Catholic schools are at their best when they draw from the uniqueness of “a virtue curriculum” which is a part of the Church’s “core tradition on how we help raise young men and women in freedom to become the person God has created them to be.”

“This is just one example from Catholic school life that points to the value of Catholic school accreditation,” Dahdah said. “Catholic school accreditation looks at every aspect of the school from this vantage point of preparing our students for the important work that God has given each of them to do in the world.”

With so much renewal happening in Catholic education today, Dahdah said, it is “a great gift for the archdiocese to have a national accreditation partner that is looking at the whole of the school from our tradition of excellence in Catholic education.”
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Barb Umberger is a reporter for The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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