Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools visits Malvern


Tyler Pizzico

-Ben Yankelitis ’16, Tyler Pizzico ’17

The process behind the decennial accreditation and how Malvern prepared for the visit.

From Monday, Nov. 2 to Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Malvern campus hosted eight representatives from the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools who evaluated the school.

It was “a fairly uniform passion for the mission of the school in a profoundly personal way” that stood out to the PAIS committee, according to Kolia O’Connor, Director of PAIS and Head of School at Sewickley Academy.

This is the first PAIS evaluation of Malvern with Head of School Mr. Christian Talbot, who arrived in 2012, because the last one was in 2005.

Despite this being his first encounter with the organization, Talbot knew the process well.

“The accreditation takes place every ten years,” Talbot said. “However, there is a follow up midterm evaluation every five years.”

There were eight people on the visiting committee, each from other independent schools across the state.

“It’s a great professional development for the PAIS visiting committee to come out because they’ll take away things from us and apply them to their schools,” said English Teacher Mrs. Susan Giordani, who helped organize a large portion of the visit. “Where we have weakness they’ll say ‘Hey, why don’t you try doing this?’ and it becomes great dialogue.”

There was a lot of work done in preparation for the short, three-day period the representatives were at the school.

“The three day visit in a way is a little anti-climatic because there is a tremendous amount of work that’s done in the year leading up to the visit itself and then it’s over before you know it,” Talbot said. “But that’s not to discredit any of the prep work. Mrs. Giordani did a titanic amount of work that should certainly be appreciated.”

The planning began about a year and a half ago for Giordani and Assistant Head of School Mr. Steve Valyo.

Each school must prep for the PAIS evaluation thoroughly, drafting a document outlining its plans and goals for the ten year period. A document that, “with all of its appendices, adds up to over a thousand pages,” Talbot said.

“In the body of the ten year accreditation document, the organization highlights commendations and proposes recommendations,” Talbot said. “Then five years later, they return to see how we are living up to our own expectations and how we utilized their recommendations.”

According to Talbot, every category gets a one page narrative with these recommendations. The categories of the self-study are philosophy and mission, governance, administration, financial management, institutional advancement, school and community, programs, personnel, health and safety, and physical plant.

However, the recommendations are just that: recommendations.

“Malvern of course doesn’t have to accept every recommendation they make. However, they expect we will give them thoughtful consideration,” Talbot said. “If we decline a recommendation, PAIS operates under the assumption that we will do something else to fix the issue they pointed out. After all, we want to become the best school we can be.”

The document from PAIS is in draft form and the recommendations and commendations are unavailable to the school community. The review from the committee is complete but must be approved before it can be viewed by the Malvern community. Talbot is the only person at Malvern that has seen the review.

“PAIS will read the report and decide whether to give us our next ten year accreditation. I believe that meeting is in the middle of January so I don’t know if the final draft is something we can release before then,” Talbot said.

Despite the anxious anticipation and hard work required for the event, Talbot feels the experience was mutually enjoyable and beneficial.

“It was an extremely favorable outcome. The representatives were very pleased with what they saw and I was very pleased with their feedback,” he said.

According to Talbot, the PAIS team considered our self-study an exemplar of the genre. “With all of the changes over the past decade, they were extremely impressed with how adaptive we were in our style of learning.” Talbot said.

The accreditors saw that everyone was united in a search for a tight-knit community. “Jay Harvey, the Vice Chair of the visiting committee, touched on the oneness and saw that every member of campus is pushing in the same direction, towards the same goal,” Talbot said. “When everyone has the same mission and vision, you get very powerful results.”

To prepare for the trip, the Malvern faculty divided up into ten teams “to attack the ten different sections of a self study,” Mrs. Giordani said. The self study explained the different aspects and highlights of Malvern. Every Malvern employee was a part of the team. The study was officially called The Malvern 2015 PAIS Self Study. Including attachments to the document, the study totalled more than 1,000 pages.

In a November interview with The Blackfriar Chronicle, Valyo said “The self study is great because you’re assessing and evaluating what you’re doing. You’re looking at your strengths, your challenges, and your plans for the future.”

Giordani, in cooperation with Mr. Valyo, helped organize the event. Gift bags, transportation, hotel accommodations, and dinner were all organized for the PAIS representatives before the visit.

Students led tours to introduce the representatives to the campus.

Highlights of the trip for the visiting committee included attending a speech by Mr. Alex Haynie at Monday Morning Chapel, evaluating a fire drill, sitting in on classes, and eating lunch with students in Stewart Hall.

“The goal was to have each accreditor see each class,” Giordani said. “The committee sat in on each class for about five to ten minutes.”

The visit ended with a meeting between the visiting committee and the Malvern faculty that shared some high level overview of the visitors’ experiences.

O’Connor had glowing words about his experience. “People take very seriously the Augustinian and faith based mission of the school,” he said. “The boys are committed to one another and the faculty are committed to the boys. It makes for a really warm, self supporting community.”

He offered some advice on how to nurture our community even further.

“You all have a lot to be proud of and I hope that you appreciate what a special place you have here and you take good care of one another and your teachers,” O’Connor said.
The PAIS visitors seemed to enjoy the Malvern experience.

“One of the members of the visiting committee said ‘they asked me to come and I was really busy,’” said Giordani, “‘but because it was Malvern I came.’”