The accreditation process, Patterson said in an interview, is "a very thorough review of all school operations from governance, to curriculum, to maintenance, to fundraising all the different aspects of the school's functioning and then running the findings through the mission statement to find congruence."
TMS's mission statement aims high, stressing not just academic excellence but "aesthetic expression and ethical behavior," a "commitment to community service," "global citizenship," and "engagement with the natural environment." The school identifies as its core values respect, love of learning, responsibility, and integrity.
Patterson said that what the visiting team of professionals from peer schools found when they visited his school in early 2005, as part of the ACIS accreditation process, was "a nurturing school environment…a tight, respectful, responsive, and accountable community." As impressed as the team may have been, they had concerns as well. Primary among them was doubt about the school's long-term sustainability. With Patterson effectively the sole administrator, the school occupying confined rented quarters and operating in a small isolated community, the experts saw challenge writ large across the school's future.
Patterson and the school's trustees, parents and friends wasted no time in addressing that challenge. Launching a major capital campaign, they were able to raise sufficient development monies to purchase the former Scott Fly Rod headquarters in Lawson Hill as a permanent facility and to add three key members to the administrative staff.
ACIS Executive Director Lee Quinby said he had never seen "such significant work in a single year." He also said that the team of six professionals who visited TMS for four days in February of last year were, "very, very impressed with the school and all the hard work they've done." During that visit, Quinby said, the peer group of experts was primarily looking for mission-program congruence, that is, whether the school "is doing what it says it's doing."
"They're looking for evidence," he said. "They want to see that the mission statement's not just lip service, not just marketing language."
"It's all focused on evaluating whether the school is fulfilling its own premise," Quinby said of the overall process of accreditation. What it does for anyone interested in supporting the school, whether as parent, teacher or donor, he said, is "provide quality assurance."
"Once that stamp of approval is given, it has tremendous value for the school and the community," Quinby said. "It is a commitment to continuous school improvements."
Such commitment is assured by on-going tasks and assessments, both internal and external, that are undertaken yearly through a seven-year cycle and that are fundamental to remaining an accredited member of ACIS.
"The whole purpose of the accreditation process is about school improvement," said Patterson. The combination of self-assessment involving ongoing internal review of policies and curriculum, including anonymous surveys by parents, with external review by independent professionals with specific areas of expertise ranging from governance to individual academic subjects, provides a continuous "cycle of school improvement," he said
The standards set by ACIS are rigorous and "based on accumulated wisdom," according to Quinby. They are founded, he said, on "what it takes to be a successful, sustainable and high-quality school."
On one front, TMS has gone well above even ACIS's high standards. The school utilizes the Educational Resource Board's standardized testing as a tool to evaluate its academic quality. Noting that only 1,500 schools worldwide subscribe to ERB's service, Patterson called the tests "a challenging measure of academic success."
On the community service and global citizenship fronts, a three-week service learning expedition currently being undertaken by five TMS students to Ladakh, India, epitomizes the school's goals. And the planned opening of its new building in August, in time for the 2006-2007 academic year, will allow the school, for the first time, to house all of its 97 students, including Montessori preschoolers, in one custom-fitted facility.
It is an exciting and rewarding time for everyone involved, said Patterson, adding that "lots of things are coming together in very special ways."