SJA News

SJA Receives 13 Major Commendations from NEASC

St. Johnsbury Academy recently received formal recognition of its Continued Accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in the form of a letter from the organization. The letter verifies that SJA passed its accreditation visit and remains a NEASC-accredited school.

The school received 13 Major Commendations. According to the letter from NEASC,

The Visiting Committee Report identified many areas for commendation. The Commission particularly commends the entire school community for modeling a mindset of continuous improvement in every aspect of school life. In addition, the Commission commends St. Johnsbury for continuing to evolve service to the region. The Academy is a sterling example for other independent schools and town academies.

In addition, the Commission commends the Academy for:

1. The central role of the mission and core values in the life of the School.

2. Seriousness with which the Academy undertook the Self-Study process.

3. Dedication of faculty, staff, and administration, who commit themselves in many ways, and are unified in the desire to fulfill the mission of the School.

4. Harmony within a diverse community. Students appreciate the diversity within the community, the many opportunities available, and respect the many ways the School supports their growth.

5. Beautiful, inviting well-maintained campus, with buildings that support the many ways that students can experience the School.

6. Comprehensive, diverse programming designed to reach, inspire, and prepare all learners.

7. Community-wide commitment to the Academy's public purpose, with open admissions, broad programming, special services, and other supports designed so each student is known and has the opportunity to thrive.

8. The emphasis on relationships in the community, with meaningful connections expressed throughout the Self-Study and evident in every corner of campus.

9. HiII topper pride and optimism, which contribute to the enormously positive culture and climate, are combined with appropriate openness/aspiration/not complacent...for future growth. Semper discens!

10. Fiscal strength and management, with a strong balance sheet, healthy enrollment, effective fundraising, and spending that supports the program while maintaining fiscal balance.

11. Very supportive Board of Trustees, superb Board Chair-Headmaster relationship, and clear understanding by all Trustees of the distinction between governance and operations.

12. Vigilant protection of the Academy's independence, which is threatened by various political factions.

13. Widespread understanding that the Academy's well-being is inextricably linked to the welfare of the town and the region.

As the letter also states, "the Self-Study and hosting the Visiting Committee... are only the first steps in the school improvement process, which is at the heart of accreditation by NEASC. St. Johnsbury Academy is positioned to take full advantage of the accreditation process by engaging the school community in responding to the several recommendations." The Major Recommendations mentioned in the letter are:

1. Engage in a strategic planning process to shape a clear vision of pedagogical, technological, and infrastructure needs and aspirations linked to sustainable financial practices. In the course of this analysis, we recommend that you conduct a physical audit to review the use, quality and cleanliness of spaces, and consider how the Academy's small average class size, while having obvious benefits, contributes to challenges regarding physical spaces, scheduling, economic efficiency, and overall resources.

2. Find ways to simplify around key themes. The schedule is clear; classes are well organized; students know where to go; faculty and staff are organized into clear reporting relationships; improvisation takes place within structure and policy. We recommend that the School, to the degree possible, make a conceptual move away from the narrative of complexity.

3. Recognize the natural tension that occurs within a caring community when certain information must be kept confidential and seek to provide as much transparency as possible regarding decision-making processes. The Committee observed a tremendous commitment to the mission of the School exhibited by virtually every member of the community.

4. Continue the dialog regarding autonomy and consistency, paying particular attention to faculty portfolios, administrator evaluation process, technology integration, and dorm house model, among other topics.

5. Consider moving towards explicit programming that celebrates diversity. Examples may include the creation of formalized affinity groups during non-competitive programming time, expectation to explore global perspectives in all courses, and a deeper exploration of what students need to be successful.

Narrative responses to these recommendations are due as part of a Two-Year Interim Evaluation Report, due April 1, 2019. They are, however, already being addressed in a series of faculty/staff focus groups and an action plan for addressing them will be ready well before the April 2019 reporting deadline.

Headmaster Tom Lovett said, "The fact that we received 13 Major Commendations—a number that far surpasses any report I have ever seen in my over a decade on the NEASC Commission—speaks to the excellent work done by our entire community of Trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, partners, and benefactors. I am especially pleased to see that NEASC gave special mention to our mindset of continual improvement in every aspect of school life and our commitment to serving the larger region. These two traits are key to our identity."