From Great to Greater: Shore Earns AISNE Re-Accreditation

Bill Fisher
Accreditation by AISNE—the Association of Independent Schools of New England, to which Shore belongs—affirms that a school meets a rigorous set of standards related to mission, educational practice, governance, non-discrimination, and financial stability. AISNE accreditation, which Shore has held since 1979, follows a 10-year cycle of self-reflection, goal-setting, peer review, and accountability. Every 10 years, a school engages in a rigorous self-study that involves reflecting on, assessing, and affirming its practices in relation to its mission. Following the self-study, the school hosts a four-day peer-review onsite visit, with educators appointed by AISNE staff from other accredited schools in the AISNE network. Using the school’s self-study, the visiting team assesses the school’s compliance with the AISNE Standards of Accreditation, and the congruence of its educational program and practices to its mission. The visiting team produces a report commenting on their findings and highlighting commendations, recommendations, and suggestions to guide the school’s continuous improvement over the next 10 years of its AISNE accreditation term.

When Shore completed its 10-year re-accreditation process in fall 2018, it not only earned AISNE’s enthusiastic seal of approval, but it also found itself held up as a model for other schools to emulate during the self-study portion of their reaccreditation process. “This was very affirming for us,” says Head of School Clair Ward. What struck AISNE’s visiting team of educators, surmises Ward, was, “First, Shore demonstrated a willingness to articulate in its self-study not only its strengths but also its opportunities for growth. They could sense our eagerness to embrace the process in an authentic way. Second, the visiting team appreciated that every employee of the school had had a hand in authoring the self-study document—a clear indicator of the health of the institution and our shared culture.”

The team selected by AISNE to visit Shore in the fall was led by Jerry Ward, the revered former headmaster of the Fenn School. Ward and his fellow team members, respected educators from a number of other independent schools, produced a 58-page final report that detailed their observations and findings for the Shore community. The document, says Clair Ward, began with congratulations, affirming much of what she has come to believe about Shore since becoming Head of School in 2017:

Engaging the current cycle and process of re-accreditation by AISNE, the administration, faculty, staff, trustees, and parents of Shore Country Day School have fully embraced the endeavor from start to finish as a singular opportunity to assess and strengthen their vital and robust school across its rich and varied dimensions. Grounded by a clear and inspiring mission, sustained by a strong and evolving educational program, buoyed by excellent administrative and trustee leadership, supported by a cohesive community, and blessed with excellent campus facilities, the school is thriving and is positioned well to move successfully and with excellence into this next decade.

The visiting team, says Clair Ward, clearly identified the same strengths that Shore students, parents, faculty, and staff experience daily: the sense of community and culture of care, the expertise of the faculty, the schoolwide spirit of entrepreneurialism, and the support and vision of the Board of Trustees. “What commendations such as these tell us,” Ward explains, “is that we as a school are functioning at a high level in every area—we don’t have to ‘fix’ any deficiencies or weaknesses before we can be a great school. We’re already great, and poised to be greater.”

While praise from AISNE’s visitors may be gratifying, it’s the team’s recommendations that are most exciting, says Clair Ward. These are the areas for growth that the visiting team senses at the school, and they provide the foundation for strategic planning that will drive a vision for Shore over the next 5 to 10 years.

“The first area in which the team was able to provide us with valuable perspective for growth is the ways we are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion across the institution,” Ward explains. “We had already identified for ourselves a need to be strategic in this area before the accreditation process even began, and Jerry Ward’s visiting team affirmed that the best way for us to make real progress is developing a guiding vision at the governance level, with the Board of Trustees.”

Another affirmation the visiting team was able to offer was in the area of curriculum. Says Clair Ward, “One of the strengths of independent schools, especially one like Shore, is the autonomy we have to create exciting and nimble educational approaches that are responsive to current trends and new research, address the needs of the children in the building at the moment, and reinvent aspects of our program, all while meeting external standards and benchmarks.” The challenge with moving fast and constantly improving, however, is that there’s still a need to slow down to reflect and check for a curriculum structure that’s aligned across every grade level. “We were happy to see the visiting team emphasize the importance of this work.”

Health and wellness constitute another area the AISNE visitors challenged Shore to grow. “We as individual educators have many best practices in place in this area,” explains Ward, “but as a whole school we need to ensure a cohesive health and wellness curriculum stretches across every grade level in the way our writing or math programs do. It was helpful to have the visiting team clarify that as a goal for us.”

Identifying these key areas for growth is the real aim of re-accreditation, says Clair Ward. “When a school approaches this process right, it’s looking to use the visiting team’s report as the jumping-off point for the next 10 years of strategic planning. Shore is fortunate to have the luxury to do this—to now look ahead and as a community build our next vision for the school.” Developing a schoolwide approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion will play a central role in that vision for the future, as will aligning the curriculum, especially in the areas of health and wellness, across all grades. “In addition,” explains Ward, “we’ll turn to the entrepreneurial spirit the AISNE team identified at Shore as we look to take the next steps in integrating new technologies, emerging methodologies, and the latest research in our approach.”

As Clair Ward reflects on the completed re-accreditation process, the third of her career, she underscores the critical role in the success of the endeavor played by two individuals: Upper School Spanish teacher Gretchen Bowder and fifth grade homeroom teacher Louis Frank, who created the collaborative digital working structure that would allow every employee to contribute to the self-study document, and ultimately organized and authored the final product. “The very first impression that the visiting team gets is when they crack open the self-study; the caliber of that document determines whether the visit gets off on the right foot or the wrong. In my estimation, Gretchen and Louis’s willingness to dive into this work and to see it through to completion had much to do with the visiting team’s overwhelmingly positive experience at Shore. The self-study was simply perfect, putting our fine school in the best possible light in front of AISNE.”

Shore’s faculty ensured the visitors’ first impression was reaffirmed again and again, says Clair Ward. “The happiness and morale of a school’s faculty more than any other group on campus directly correlates to the student experience. And the fact that the visiting team in their three days at Shore were able to sense the deep commitment of our faculty says a lot about the quality of the experience our students are having.” In AISNE’s report, members of the visiting team summarized what they sensed:

Members of the school community across constituencies spoke with conviction and gratitude about community, care, character, and challenge. As the AISNE Visiting Team was warmly welcomed and hosted throughout its time on campus, observing school life and engaging in individual and group conversations, it was evident to us that these positive characterizations of the essence of Shore are indeed accurate.
    • Shore first earned accreditation from AISNE 40 years ago.

    • Shore faculty members met around the Harkness table.

    • Teachers worked in the Dining Hall.