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In 1984, the State Department of Education challenged the private education sector to find
an alternative method of accreditation other than through the state. The Design for Excellence accreditation process was developed as a response to this challenge.

The Virginia Catholic Education Association (VCEA) was formed with the primary responsibility of overseeing the formulation of the self-study process of the schools of the Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond. In 1993, the VCEA accepted the task of developing the Design for Excellence (DFE). The first year was spent in study, dialogue, and composition.

In 1994, the first draft of the Design for Excellence instrument was written. The format reflected a shifting paradigm of learning which demanded an integrated approach to the formation of a Christ-centered learning environment in a rapidly changing technological society. The transition of society into an era of interdependency challenged schools to recognize unique learning styles which necessitated the creation of environments that foster creative, challenging, and ever-changing responses to the ultimate goal of academic excellence in a distinctively Catholic environment.

During 1995-96, the Design for Excellence self-study was piloted by Holy Spirit School in the Diocese of Arlington and St. Edward-Epiphany School in the Diocese of Richmond. As a result of recommendations from the pilot schools and the visiting committees, revisions to the process were made in 1996-97.

The Design for Excellence instrument was updated in 2000, demonstrating VCEA’s commitment to promote excellence in education. In 2001, the National Board for SACS approved the DFE process for school improvement, with the addition of SACS standards.

In June 2006, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACSCASI) under the parent organization of AdvancEd officially recognized the school system of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond as a “district”. This is an important distinction for the Catholic schools of the Diocese and achieving this distinction is commendable. District accreditation underscores AdvancEd recognition of current levels of educational excellence within these Catholic schools. It also presents a comprehensive and unified vision for future excellence within this consortium of Catholic schools. By definition, each of the Catholic schools of the district is to be aligned and focused toward achieving goals, as defined by a set of “standards.”

Recognition of the school system as a district fosters innovative perspectives through which meaningful, as well as comprehensive school improvement is developed. School accreditation, maintained in accordance with the districtstandards emphasizes educational excellence. It also fosters a process based upon adherence to a unified set of standards substantiated through quantifiable data. Perhaps most innovatively, district accreditation requires continuous, rather than cyclical, evaluation of quality educational control. The AdvancEd  manual states: “the district articulates and implements a planning framework for district improvement that addresses four elements: a Vision describing the future direction and purpose for the school district and its schools; a Profile describing the current conditions of the school district and its schools focusing on student learning; a Plan designed specifically to address student learning needs and to build the capacity of the internal systems of the district to address such priorities; and the documentation of Results stemming from improvement efforts.”

In compliance with district accreditation, the District of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond is responsible for the design and implementation of a quality assurance review process. The Quality Assurance Board (QAB), comprised of Diocesan school representatives, was established in September 2005. It facilitated and gave oversight to the transition to district status and is responsible for assuring compliance with district standards by each school of the Diocese. The QAB is the quality assurance liaison between individual schools and the District. The QAB directs and validates the accreditation process for individual schools. An AdvancEd quality assurance review team will validate diocesan compliance of district standards every five years.

District accreditation through AdvancEd provides several benefits:


Supports and enhances a common language of school improvement across content areas and grade levels, as well as across individual schools, feeder schools, and district lines of responsibility


Ensures continuity and collaboration in planning for improvement that is anchored in a common vision for education among all its schools, because each school’s improvement goals must complement that of the district


Is cost effective for districts and schools


Provides the district and community with validation and recognition for improvement efforts as well as required actions that are designed to further the district’s effort to improve