With Head of School Tom Dillow starting his new position this past July, Kingswood Oxford was bound to be changed as he stepped into a new role. Not only did the school undergo a major change, but KO has just finished an accreditation process by NEASC, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which judges the school on a variety of things.
NEASC just approved KO for accreditation at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. While not a surprise by any means, it means a lot to Mr. Dillow and faculty that the accreditation agency believes that KO has made lots of beneficial changes, and gives suggestions on how it can be better. A stamp of approval from NEASC “attests to a school’s high quality and integrity,” according to their website.
According to the NEASC website, “an accredited school is one which has available the necessary resources to achieve its stated purposes through appropriate educational programs, is substantially doing so, and gives reasonable evidence that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Institutional integrity is also addressed through accreditation.”
In order for a school to become accredited, they must submit an assessment of what the school thinks are their strengths and weaknesses. The school split into multiple committees run by different faculty members, and created a to-do list. Some of the items on the list were revamping the technology plan, make changes in the international students program to fit the needs of the students better, develop a better and more reliable way to store files, and several new recommendations and suggestions for the athletic department.
The school is currently working on these things. There was also talk about making the transition from Form 2 to Form 3 easier, changing the budget (it was not stated what the changes will consist of), increasing diversity, and renovating the library.
According to Mr. Dillow, the NEASC committee judges the school based on 15 different standards. Those include mission and purpose, planning and evaluation, organization and governance, the academic program, students, teaching, learning, and scholarship, institutional resources, educational effectiveness, and integrity, transparency, and public disclosure.
The process of being reaccredited happens every 10 years, and Associate Director of the Middle School Kathy Dunn has now been in charge twice. Aside from Mrs. Dunn, other key players in the process were Mr. Dillow and Executive Assistant to Head of School Sherri Malinoski.
The people from NEASC talked to these three people extensively, as well as every single faculty member at KO which is quite a feat, according to Mr. Dillow.
“When I heard we were going through accreditation on my first year, I think I stayed up that night,” Mr. Dillow said. “It’s a very laborious process, but I was impressed by the work that had already been done”
NEASC’s first Major Recommendation (recommendations that they give KO based off of the self study) was to increase diversity. In their response to the school, they wrote “In response to Kingswood Oxford School’s goals around equity and inclusion, the Visiting Team recommends that Kingswood Oxford take deliberate steps to create an educational program, faculty, staff, administration, board and approach that are as diverse and inclusive as Kingswood Oxford’s student body.”
Students at KO agree with the statement that the faculty needs to be more diverse, but they also mentioned that the student body should be too.
“There are less than a handful of teachers of color and for me I have never had a teacher of color and my sister never did in her seven years,” freshman Ely Alleyne said. “The students are more diverse but not as diverse as I like, by looking at the fact that I can name all of the students of color.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Caruso agreed, but said that there are other types of diversity that need to be addressed as well. “I think we have many ethnic backgrounds, but the economic diversity isn’t as plentiful,” she said.
A big recommendation that was given by the Visiting Team was to make changes to the schedule, something that has been talked about for a while by both faculty and students.
The visiting team wrote “that Kingswood Oxford explore sensible alternatives to the existing daily, weekly and yearly schedules. Time at Kingswood Oxford is especially precious. The Visiting Team is astonished at what the students and teachers and staff members are able to accomplish given the existing schedule. Without sacrificing what makes Kingswood Oxford so special, many thoughtful voices on campus would like time to meet more frequently as classes, move major programmatic initiatives forward, meet as departments and grade level teachers for curriculum strengthening and support of students, offer more courses, try to create time in the academic year for faculty to stay abreast of current educational trends, and create and deliver signature programs.”
Both students and teachers agree with these statements, although many had varying opinions on what the schedule should be changed to. However, one almost unanimous decision was that KO should not go to a schedule where students have every period of every day, with 96.9% of students agreeing. Mr. Dillow also believes that a schedule like that would be going in a backward direction.
“I can comfortably say that we would not be going back to an eight periods a day schedule. That kind of schedule is more confining and the research bears out that it’s not good for students’ learning, and not good for their social and emotional health,” Mr. Dillow said, “the trend is to move in the direction more like a college, so you have space and time for students to work more deeply on projects.”
While it’s very clear that students do not want a schedule like that, plenty of students have things to say in terms of what they want their schedule to look like.
Freshman Avery Schiff wants “more options for classes,” she said. She also enjoys the block schedule, and said that “it’s helpful when it comes to work completion and studying.”
A common answer among students was that they like the Monday/Tuesday schedule the most, because that added in times for clubs and a time to meet with a teacher, which may be lacking if students don’t have frees in common.
“I like how on Monday and Tuesday we have time to eat lunch, meet with teachers, have club meetings and hang out or do homework and wish it was like that every day,” senior Molly Jones said.
Students also had lots to say about the athletic requirements and changes that could be made to the athletic program, with varying opinions. 62.5% of students think that there needs to be a change made.
“Let seniors have one season off no matter what they do the other two seasons,” senior Alyssa Pilecki said. The concept of getting seasons off, whether it be because of school work or outside sports, was a popular one.“I believe that if a student does a sport outside of school no matter if it is at KO already, they should be able to get an independent,” Elyana said. “This is because trying to balance a sport outside of school and in school it can be very difficult.”
Sophomore Lucia Volin agreed, saying that she cannot do martial arts this year because the school will not count it as an independant.
A common feeling among students is that it is unfair to make cuts on teams when a sports requirement is present.
“It is unfair to require a person to take a sport when there are sports that make cuts (even for the JV team) and when that happens a person has to look for another sport and most of the time, when the tryouts are over, it has already been a few weeks and is extremely difficult for a person to join another sport,” freshman Yiqing Cao said. “So they should either allow everyone to practice on the JV team, have a thirds team, or not have such strict rules regarding sports.”
Molly, however, likes the athletics the way they are now. “I think right now there is a good balance between sports and other extracurriculars available for students to do. I do however believe being a part of a team is a very important thing that everyone should encounter in their high school years,” she said.
Despite having lots of recommendations for the school to take into consideration, the NEASC visiting team gave overall a very good report of the school, according to Mr. Dillow. “Almost all of the recommendations were consistent with things that we identified for our growth,” he said.
Some of the commendations that NEASC gave the school were the quality of KO students, the lengths that faculty members go to make sure that students are supported, leadership, comments on the educational program, and the beautiful campus.
“They spoke particularly about our students and the quality of our faculty,” Mr. Dillow said.
After all of the recommendations and commendations from NEASC, the next step for Mr. Dillow and the rest of the faculty is to come up with what they call a strategic plan. The strategic plan outlines everything that KO is planning on doing before the next accreditation in 10 years. The strategic plan outlines a common plan that all students and teachers have to follow.
“As we build a more strategic plan, a lot of that is around what we want to do for students in the classroom,” Mr. Dillow said. “A lot of that is for students to pursue their own academic interests. We want to think about what our current schedule looks like, and we want to create a schedule in the future that allows for more creativity, more freedom.”
Mr. Dillow wants commonality between students: things that everyone should, and has to know.
“We are going to be thinking deliberately about learning outcomes: what is it that we want all the students to know and be able to do by the time they walk on the stage at graduation,” he said.
Overall, the NEASC visiting team loved KO and the things that the school stands for. In a letter to the school, they wrote “The visiting team was effusive in their praise of the KO culture and climate. [KO is] an extremely productive and happy place, where energy and enthusiasm fill the campus.
The committee was appreciative of the joyful spirit the visiting team encountered, and the interwoven relationships that are notable even for an independent school.”
Mr. Dillow said that even though independent schools are lauded for their relationships between students, the team admitted that KO stands out even by those standards.
KO has a bright future ahead of it, according to the NEASC team. “KO faces the future from a position of strength, and stands on a long and deep tradition of exceptionally positive relationships,” they wrote.
It is evident from their reviews that though there was a lot of things to work on, KO is capable of handling it.