Accreditation validates HCAVoucher bill welcomed
After years of planning, Blake Stanbery can finally hang up the accreditation certificate he’s been working toward since he became headmaster of Haywood Christian Academy.
“I’ll tell you right up front, I've always been telling everyone that this is a great school, but now it’s not just the head of school saying that,” Stanbery said. “I have a global accreditation telling that.”
Stanbery said the academy, which has been open for six years, had been seeking accreditation since day one.
“After we opened, our next goal was be accredited to lend credit to the product we have,” Stanbery said.
A collaboration of school families, parents, students, staff and the community contributed to the process, Stanbery said.
“I thought accreditation was going to be that they scrutinize our curriculum — that that was the bulk of it,” Stanbery said. “But I found out going through process it’s about the culture, vision mission, and what you're giving back to community.”
This past spring an accreditation team visited to the school to observe the school’s environment.
“They want to see, ‘Are all the things you say that you are true?’” Stanbery said. “A lot of that has to do leadership and the environment have students to be successful in. It wasn't an instruction program; it’s about the entire student community life.”
The academy received accreditation through the Association of Christian Schools International, which evaluates a school or program based on academic ideas and thinking, skills for life and living, biblical worldview grounding, personal character, values, and spiritual formation.
“The accreditation team — they practically live with you,” Stanbery said. “They really just find out if everything you say is factual.”
Stanbery said accreditation meant parents could feel good about sending their children to HCA.
“It means that families can have assurance that their kids can have a quality education here,” Stanbery said. “It’s been scrutinized, tested and proven.”
Stanbery said the school was accredited by ACSI because of its Christian elements. However, he said he said his next step was to pursue accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which accredits the public schools in Haywood County.
Stanbery said the only difference in receiving accreditation from ACSI rather than SACS was being evaluated on the element of Christian education.
A high quality choice
HCA offers the only accredited K-12 Christian education in North Carolina, west of Asheville.
Stanbery said he hoped the accreditation would clarify misconceptions about private schools.
“Private schools are not prevalent in this part of state except in Asheville, so the perception is off here in Haywood County,” Stanbery said. “We have a 100 percent college admission rate. We have AP (advanced placement), we have honors — it's all there, it's just not known very well.”
Stanbery said accreditation meant HCA finally was becoming more established in the community.
“We’ve gone from an infant to becoming a quality established education,” Stanbery said. “One size doesn't fit all. The district may not be giving your child the best education, but now after six years, I can say we're as quality a product as other schools.”
HCA currently has 16 certified teachers and five administrators/staff members. Stanbery said the accreditation would not only increase scholarship opportunities for students, but it would also add weight to the diploma.
“I'm just proud for Haywood County,” Stanbery said. “We do have public schools in Haywood County, but we have a private school, too. Those families who want to pursue private school, they know now it’s not the not only choice, it's a high quality choice.”
With a total of eight accredited private schools in Asheville, Stanbery said he was glad children could enroll in private school in Haywood.
“I'm so happy that families looking for that don't have to drive to Asheville,” Stanbery said. “We’ve got it right here.”
HCA will have to report on school improvements and programs annually to maintain accreditation.
“We’re going to continue to improve our staff and programs, and that comes with growth,” Stanbery said. “I am hoping to grow a long with the program.”
Changing the curriculum
Stanbery said HCA classes had become more comprehensive and collaborative while working toward accreditation.
“It caused us to go ahead and completely move in that direction, and look more across subject levels and collaborate the teachers,” Stanbery said. “Now we're teaching together where it meshes together. It causes us to do more teamwork.”
Technology also has been incorporated into the curriculum to meet accreditation standards. HCA currently utilizes a laptop program, which is working toward issuing every student a laptop in grades seven through 12.
“We were already moving in the direction, but we’re embracing it now,” Stanbery said. “We’re really moving on from an traditional lecture based classroom. That’s a thing of the past. Accreditation forced us to embrace it. That change benefits the students at the end of the day.”
In addition to incorporating technology, HCA classrooms also had to emphasize religious studies in every subject.
“ In every grade level there is bible instruction,” Stanbery said. “Christian school is not simply being able to pray before class. We look at scientific theory, math theory, history, through they eyes of God. But all the way through, we’re seeing that through the lens of scripture. So accreditation caused us to be more true to what we said we were doing and we integrated it into all subjects.”
Stanbery said even evolution was studied in HCA classes.
“We'll teach the theory and study (Charles) Darwin and his writings, but we teach creationism instead of evolution,” Stanbery said. “Ultimately we want a student that finishes school with not just have a diploma — we want to change their way of thinking so that they see God in everything.”
A positive future for private schools
The state currently is proposing to give vouchers to qualified families so more students can attend private or charter schools.
House Bill 944, known as the private school voucher bill, passed the House education committee last month by a 27-21 margin, and advanced to the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill would provide up to $4,200 a year for low-income students, or those who come from families that qualify for free and reduced lunch.
To qualify for a voucher, a family of three can make no more than $36,131 per year. After the first year, eligibility would expand to families at 133 percent of the national lunch program.
North Carolina has 698 private schools, with religious schools attracting more than two-thirds of the private-school enrollment.
Stanbery said he fully supported the school voucher bill, adding that it likely would draw more students to HCA. A $4,200 voucher from the state would make the annual $6,500 tuition at HCA much more affordable.
“This is going to allow families who might not be able to consider private schools to be able to afford it,” Stanbery said. “Something that maybe was not attainable for the average family suddenly becomes available. So it's huge for us.”
Stanbery said he understood why public school officials were worried about the bill.
“When a student moves from a public school to private, they're losing a pupil,” Stanbery said. “It looks like a win-win for families. From a family standpoint, why couldn't this be looked at as a positive? Parents have more choices and it takes a little load of the other schools.”