A group of Catholic school officials spent three days conducting an extensive review of Central High for possible accreditation with an agency that covers much of the western U.S.
The group of six officials — from Butte, Great Falls and St. Labre in Montana and from California, Washington and Colorado — were in Billings reviewing Central’s application to the Western Association of Catholic Schools from Sunday through Wednesday.
“It’s a rather extensive process,” said John Collins, the review group’s chairman and a WCEA representative from the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif. “We’re doing interviews, data analysis and gathering.”
The WCEA, along with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, accredits all Catholic high schools in California and Hawaii, as well as seven other states, including Montana.
The process starts with a review document created by Central officials.
“You’re basically going over the strengths of your schools, and through that process, you try to also identify some areas of growth for your school,” Central High Principal Shel Hanser said.
Hanser and other school officials have been preparing for the accreditation for nearly two years. During that time, they’ve taken a look at just about every aspect of the school, which are included in the report and are being evaluated by the WCEA team this week.
Collins said the team works to verify what the school provides in its report. That includes looking at the school’s Catholic identity, organizational structure, curriculum and assessment, support systems in place for students, and financial viability.
“It’s not simply a checklist,” Collins said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the group held a final meeting with officials from Central and Billings Catholic Schools.
Now, it will present its report and findings to a board of WCEA commissioners for a final determination, which is expected near the end of January.
While Collins didn’t provide specifics of the group’s visit to Central, he did offer a bit of encouragement.
“The school can afford to be very hopeful about the accreditation process,” he said.
Central is accredited by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction and the Northwest Association of Schools. Collins and Hanser said WCEA accreditation likely wouldn’t affect either one.
However, earning the WCEA accreditation “would be a feather in the cap” for Central, Hanser said, because it would put the school on par with some of the top Catholic schools in the western U.S.
“This is an organization that focuses on Catholic schools, doing peer reviews on other Catholic schools,” he said. “We’re pretty optimistic about where we sit. We have a lot of very good things going on here at the school.”