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Public Schools to be reviewed by North Central Association (NCA)

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 13, 2012) - After years of being affiliated with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Public School System (PSS) has ended its accreditation ties with the organization and has aligned itself with another accrediting group that has already accepted all CNMI public schools into its fold.

Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan disclosed yesterday that public schools' accreditation with WASC will end in June this year and that PSS has already been accepted by the North Central Association (NCA) as its newest member.

The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, or NCA, also known as the North Central Association, is a membership organization consisting of colleges, universities, and schools in 19 U.S. states that is engaged in educational accreditation. It is one of six regional accreditation bodies in the U.S. and its Higher Learning Commission is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the transfer from WASC to NCA is in line with the system's goal to "transition from school level to a district level" accreditation process.

Accreditation work under WASC focuses and centers on individual schools, which is why schools have different accreditation terms and statuses despite being under a single accrediting body. In contrast, Sablan said that NCA covers in its accreditation process the entire school system, including its central offices and the education board.

"We're now looking at a bigger picture of the system, which includes our central office and the governing body, which is the Board of Education. I think the benefit is to see the consistency, whether or not the regulations are being implemented, whether policies are consistent and fair across the board, and this will allow the staff of the central office to participate equally in a quality assurance review on the things we set to do for our children," Sablan said.

At yesterday's board meeting, Sablan awarded each school principal a certificate of accreditation from NCA that is valid through June 30, 2015. Because WASC's accreditation of public schools is valid up to June 2012, this means that all public schools are now accredited by the two organizations. Sablan said that WASC has already acknowledged PSS' decision to transition to the NCA.

With PSS now accredited by NCA, Sablan said this makes the CNMI the first in the Pacific area to achieve this district-wide accreditation.

Under the terms of the NCA accreditation, PSS will electronically submit a report to NCA every year detailing improvements made in schools, the central office, and the board. NCA reviewers will visit the CNMI every five years. The first visit will be in 2015.

For the annual report, each school, board, and department will do their own report that will be compiled together as a state-level report to NCA.

Board chair Marylou Ada described the transition from WASC to NCA as a "good move" for the system as it will deal now with only one accreditation term for all schools and central office.

Principals present in yesterday's meeting also expressed support for the transition to NCA, believing it will bring more progress to the school system as a whole.

According to Kagman High School principal Alfred Ada, there are five standards outlined under the NCA process and each standard includes a "checklist" of things that need to be achieved. WASC, he said, has four categories.

Kagman Elementary School principal Ignacia Demapan also favors the transfer, citing the inclusion of other PSS programs and offices-all vital to the overall performance of the system. She said the previous process was tedious in that each individual school had to meet its own accreditation requirements and conditions.

Also supporting the transition are Special Education director Suzanne Lizama and Hopwood Junior High School principal Jonas Barcinas, who both agreed that PSS-as a system-has to have one general accreditation status.

"Now, in terms of accreditation process we are going to work as one big team and that's our goal," Barcinas said.

NCA accredits over 10,000 public and private educational institutions in its service area, including more than 1,000 higher education institutions. The service area includes the states of Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and many others. The association was organized in 1895.

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