The Politz Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school in Northeast Philadelphia, learned last month that it received the coveted accreditation it had sought from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a more-than-100-year-old nonprofit organization. The accreditation process took more than two years and entailed extensive evaluations of the school by both insiders and outside experts.
"This is an excellent public-relations tool. It's a validation of the excellence the school claims it has," said Besie Katz, principal of Politz, which has about 300 students, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Politz was one of 60 schools in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C., that recently received accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools, a body within the larger association. In four decades, the commission has accredited 1,500 -- mostly private -- elementary schools.
No other Jewish day schools in the area currently have accreditation from the elementary school commission, but the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy has been recognized by the association's Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools, a separate body under the same umbrella organization, according to Jeanne Gallagher, manager of membership information for the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools.
Pennsylvania does not require that schools be accredit- ed with any organization; they must, however, be licensed by the state.
Gallagher said that the association doesn't rate schools or compare them but, instead, offers accreditation as a means to validate that the institution is meeting its own stated goals.
The Process Has Its Rewards
While the status is important, Gallagher said that the long application process can be even more valuable. Once a school is accepted as a candidate, faculty and administration must complete a thorough self-evaluation, at the end of which it must produce a 200-page book that essentially represents that school's story, explained Gallagher.
Then, volunteers from the association spend three to four days at the school observing and evaluating virtually everything that goes on there. Politz received its evaluation in February. Typically, there is at least a six-month gap between the evaluation and accreditation, according to Gallagher.
"It made us look at ourselves very honestly. It made us see where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are," said Katz, noting that, in the past, there hadn't been a formal parents group at Politz.
Recently, the school formed Parents Advocating for Greater Excellence, or PAGE.
Founded in 1982, Politz is on the site of a former Philadelphia public school. The oldest part of the building dates back to 1864 and is designated a landmark.