Cape Town Torah High (CTTH) has become the first Jewish High School in South Africa to receive full international accreditation.
The Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), a world-renowned accrediting association based in California, USA, has granted this prestigious status for the maximum six-year period after a week-long visit and thorough inspection of the school by three senior WASC commissioners in April. CTTH applied, and was granted this accreditation together with the Sinai Academy, under the umbrella name of Jewish International Schools of Cape Town.
ACS WASC is one of six nationally recognised accrediting boards in the USA, and accredits over five thousand schools, primarily on the West Coast of the USA, but all over the world as well.
“This is extremely exciting for us because it means that now a CTTH-issued High School Diploma will be recognised and accepted at basically any institution of higher learning in the world, all on its own merit”, says Senior Division Head, Mrs. Teresa Dennis. “Until now, our diplomas were issued by our online partner, the University of Nebraska High School (UNHS), which, of course, is also accredited, but that meant we were bound by their graduation requirements. Now, we can self-accredit our own courses, and create our own unique graduation requirements specifically aligned with our ethos. We will continue to work closely with UNHS as we love their course offerings and their AP courses, and our students thoroughly enjoy their teaching methodology.”
The WASC accreditation process was an arduous four-and-a-half-year process that began with an initial visit in 2014 by WASC Director of International Accreditation, Dr. David Ottaviano, Ed.D. who is based in Italy. After approval for candidacy, the schools embarked on this ambitious endeavour, which culminated in the compilation of an exhaustive “Self-Study”, a two-hundred-page manuscript, along with multiple folders of appendices, which examines every single aspect of the school. Dr. Ottaviano returned as a Self-Study commissioner, together with Mrs. Nancy Kroonenberg, Principal of the American International School in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Dr. Chris Mueller, Director of the Bonn International School of Germany.
The three commissioners spent a full week visiting the two schools, sitting in on lessons, meeting with the school boards, teachers, students, and parents, reviewing the self-study meticulously and writing their own report of their findings. This report was submitted to ACS WASC, whose thirty-two commissioners voted at their next meeting to grant this maximum accreditation.
The schools needed to crystallise their mission and seven core values, or, as WASC calls them, Expected Schoolwide Learner Outcomes (ESLRs). After much thought, debate, and discussion — including surveys to parents, students, and stakeholders — the core ideals the schools chose are: creating students who 1) possess midot tovot (good character), 2) love Torah and Israel, 3) will be leaders in their families and communities, 4) will pursue lifelong learning, 5) think critically and creatively to solve problems, 6) communicate effectively, and 7) lead healthy lifestyles.
The Self-Study broke the schools into four sections: 1) school governance, vision, and professionalism, 2) curriculum, instruction methodology, and assessment, 3) student support and development, and 4) school culture and environment.
The schools formed WASC focus groups from among their teaching and management staff to respond to a systematic series of prompts on every detail of their section, and to provide hundreds of evidences to back up their writings in the manuscript. Staff worked countless hours including overtime, public holidays, and weekends to complete the report.
“What is remarkable about WASC over other accrediting boards is that they are empowering and equipping, availing themselves to help schools improve according to their vision, rather than policing you”, says General Studies Principal, Mrs. Sheila Valentini. “Despite how much went into this process, at no point did we find this punitive, exaggerated, or unimportant. We experienced every step as enabling us to grow exponentially in a way that would’ve been impossible without their guiding accreditation. WASC supported us through webinars, by email, or phone counseling, and their forward-thinking approach to education was refreshing.”
“For WASC to grant six-year accreditation to a school not even five years old, is truly a remarkable achievement, and to be honest, even better than we could have expected. WASC grants either zero, one, three, or six year accreditations, and often stipulates probationary periods for issues they deem to be vital and urgent. For them to grant us the maximum six years without any probation is a testament to their high opinion of the quality of the product we are offering, and for that, we are very proud and grateful”, says Sheila Valentini.
“From a Kodesh (Judaic Studies) perspective, WASC is a game changer,” says Kodesh Principal, Rabbi Avi Shlomo. “It allows our Kodesh courses to be accredited and able to be include in our graduation requirements. We have already created accredited courses on Talmud, Chumash, Halacha, and Israel, and we will continue to build our resources. We are now in the process of developing three graduation streams; the first is an honours track that includes APs (“advanced placement” college-level courses) for those who wish to pursue the highest levels of tertiary education; another is a university-bound bachelors diploma; and lastly a fast-track option for those students who wish to sooner pursue the highest levels of Torah education. We already have graduates in universities in South Africa, Israel, and the USA, as well as alumni pursuing first, second, and even third year Yeshiva education.”
After attending a conference on school accreditation, Sheila Valentini and Zeesy Deren realised that accreditation by international accreditation bodies was a real possibility. At that time, the American International School in Tokai was becoming accredited by WASC. Together with Sinai Academy, CTTH decided to pursue this course, and now, four and a half years later, after countless hours of hard work, the dream has become a reality.