King’s Academy, August 31, 2016 – This summer, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on International Education (NEASC-CIE) voted to continue King’s Academy in accredited status. King’s Academy was first awarded accreditation by the NEASC and the Council of International Schools (CIS) in 2011, only four years after the school had opened. Earlier this year, King’s conducted a self-analysis of its progress over the past five years, as well as its current and future plans, which it submitted in a report to the NEASC/CIS, who then sent a review committee to visit King’s. In their subsequent report, the two accreditation bodies praised and congratulated King’s Academy for its continued commitment to school improvement and high educational standards.
The Department of Communications and Publications caught up with Headmaster John Austin to learn more about this important achievement.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on International Education gave King’s Academy an incredibly positive report. Tell us more.
I was incredibly pleased with what they had to say about the spirit of the school and the community, and the strides and improvements made over the last five years at what is still a very young school. King’s is one of only a handful of schools in the world that get dual accreditation from NEASC and CIS. Such dual accreditation is much more challenging than single accreditation, reflecting the school’s major commitments and our identity as a boarding school in the tradition of New England boarding schools, but also our identity as an international school, because we try to be true to the spirit of both.
Was there anything in particular that stood out in the report?
I was particularly pleased that the report noted that we have – what they call - a caring belief in each child at the school. That is something that for me as headmaster is very important. I want King’s to be a place that recognizes and honors the individuality of each student and cares broadly for every child at the school.
Five years ago, the NEASC/CIS recommended ways to enhance the school. What has since been accomplished?
At King’s we are always thinking about ways in which we can improve the quality of the students’ education experience at this school, and I think there have been three broad areas that we have looked to focus on and improve. The first is just the student life experience at this school, I think we’ve made great tremendous strides there, putting more systems in places that allow us to have the kind of residential life and sense of culture and community that our mission asks us to give.
The second area is the curriculum and we try to be as innovative as we can. The Global Online Academy gives our students an amazing range of elective courses that they can take that allows them to pursue their interests and passions. The new Capstone program has been really transformative for the school, and we want to continue to deepen that and broaden that. We’ve also redesigned almost every classroom space in the school. The addition of the Harkness tables and the new, more flexible seating we have in math and science classrooms this year allows our teachers to teach in a different way and really requires that the kids be active and engaged learners who are shaping and controlling their own educations.
The third area and the core of what we do here is faculty and the kind of support that we provide them. We have a very generous professional learning program at this school. More important is the faculty appraisal program that we have developed, that has dramatically improved the quality of teaching and learning at the school. It’s designed to honor the strengths of our faculty, and it is growth oriented.
Why is the addition of the Middle School so important for the school’s future?
We’re not so much starting a middle school as redefining the journey of high school as a six-year experience. The Middle School allows us to admit more kids earlier, so we are going to be able to prepare them better academically but also to help them get ready for leadership. Because this is a values-based community, this longer runway is going to allow us to do more with the kids. So we’re giving more of King’s to more students.
How has the school culture evolved over the past five years?
As the school matures, the culture and sense of community just becomes stronger. What we have now is a program and a school where kids have more opportunities to lead and to take ownership of the ethos and culture of the school. Rather than have a teacher-directed school, what we want is a school where the kids are passing on the culture and values of the school to the younger students. This happened beautifully at the Middle School opening when the Big Brothers and Big Sisters – mentors to the younger students - were welcoming the younger kids, they totally ran the orientation. In my experience the very best schools have a student body that leads and passes on the culture of the school to the younger students. I think that’s the big change that we’ve witnessed.
The report emphasizes developing ‘more creative and authentic forms of performance and assessment’. What does that mean, and what are we doing to achieve that?
There is a lot of testing going on at King’s. Tests are important and our kids do exceptionally well on them. But we want to go beyond this kind of testing mentality and provide students with the kind of challenges and tasks and performances that they are actually going to encounter in the real world. Capstone is a great example. There are no multiple choice tests, it’s all about research, writing, presentation, working collaboratively in groups. It reflects the kind of work that people are asked to do in the real world. So what we want to do is create more opportunities for this kind of real-world, authentic work. I think King’s has an opportunity to do that.
What priorities does King’s want to focus on now?
Two of our most important priorities are financial sustainability and the school’s commitment to educational access through financial aid. We need to continue to work towards a sustainable financial model that will allow future generations of young people to come to King’s, even if their families don’t have the means to pay the tuition. We want King’s to be an engine of opportunity so that the next generation of leaders is not drawn from one narrow segment of society, but drawn more broadly across the entire kingdom. We have to work very hard to make sure that we have the resources to provide that kind of opportunity. We spend over US$ 6 million a year on financial aid, it’s our largest single budget item, and that’s one of the great challenges facing the school.