Long after the accreditation visiting team leaves the building, Catholic school educators recount stories about accreditation. Most of the storytellers seem to react to impending accreditation with "Oh, no. It can't be that time again!" Although accreditation is sought by both public and non-public schools for various reasons, maintaining credibility in the school improvement process seems especially important for Catholic schools (Taymans, 1999), whose mission of evangelization and education is provided to students with families who sacrifice to pay tuition for the school's services.
The importance of Catholic schools in the church's evangelizing ministry has been addressed extensively, with church documente specifically identifying the critical role and value of Catholic schools in the life of the church (e.g., Vatican II, 1965a; The [Sacred] Congregation for Catholic Education, 1977, 1982, 1988, 1997; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972). The importance of school efforts to address Catholic Identity as part of their mission has also been widely accepted. Buetow (1988) maintained that schools cannot remain Catholic without attention to Catholic Identity, and Shimabukuro (1998) described the challenge that educators have for clarification of Catholic Identity. Understandably, in studies on accreditation in Catholic elementary (Keeley, 2001} and high schools (Verges, 2003), Catholic Identity was addressed as an important aspect of the accreditation process, although differences about the specific nature of what constitutes Catholic Identity were evident. Therefore, it is with gratitude that we welcome the newly published "National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools," which provides schools with a valuable resource for continuous improvement.
As a consultant to many Catholic schools and a principal on the elementary, middle and secondary levels, my work with the accreditation process always began with the mission of the school as the foundation for examination of education practice. Likewise, as the superintendent of the Diocese of Baton Rouge involved in the district accreditation process, the mission of Catholic schools to evangelize hearts led us to agree on the strengthening of Catholic Identity as one of the areas of improvement. Without exception, it has been my experience through the years that the mission of Catholic schools has included catholicity; however, not having adequate tools for schools to recognize the specific direction for strengthening that area of the mission has been a challenge. Certainly, a better tool has been needed during the process of accreditation and school improvement for identifying the effectiveness of schools in developing Catholic Identity.
NSBECS provides a comprehensive tool for addressing the strength of Catholic Identity, and our district will utilize the document and associated survey tool to assess and inform our work. Usefulness of the tool is anticipated to be high because of the depth of background research, clarity of focus and varied levels of specificity.
We will utilize the nine defining characteristics in communication with school personnel, board members and other stakeholders in understanding the general goals of strengthening Catholic Identity in our district. Then, on a more practical level, the standards will serve our schools in the school improvement process by providing a description of accomplishment to which we can aspire within the four domains relating to mission, governance, academics and vitality. …