CORDOVA—Valentine’s Day 2017 was one to remember for Evangelical Christian School, which worked years to achieve a national honor. That’s when ECS announced it had earned Exemplary School Accreditation from the Association of Christian Schools International. It is one of only 11 such schools out of 3,300+ ACSI-member schools in the U.S.
The accreditation applies for both the ECS lower school in Germantown and the ECS middle and upper grades on the Cordova campus.
The honor is significant because it means that ECS went through its regular five-year accreditation process this year and also completed a higher accreditation tier that had about 48 extra criteria. The school had to meet at least 90 percent of these additional criteria.
Gay Edge, academic dean and the educator who spearheaded the school’s exemplary accreditation process, said, “They are much more rigorous than just the regular accreditation process.”
The school had to demonstrate highly successful operations in areas of board governance, executive leadership, school viability, student learning, spiritual formation and school culture.
The work included showing external validation of academic achievements, showing that students had a pattern of doing well on the ACT or as National Merit Scholars, Advanced Placement Scholars, and other academic achievements. After ECS submitted an application with data to support claims of operational excellence, financial viability, student performance, steadfast leadership and a healthy professional culture, an ACSI evaluator did a site visit and spoke with administrators, faculty, teachers, students and parents to validate what the school had noted.
“This Exemplary Accreditation status is a public acknowledgement of the excellence that we practice and expect every day at Evangelical Christian School,” said Dr. Dan Peterson, head of school at ECS. “Our faculty, staff and board of trustees strive to exceed the highest standards in all that we do, and this status speaks to their hard work and commitment to our school and our students.”
Edge said working toward exemplary accreditation took years of work.
“This is not just something that just happens,” she said. “This is a validation of all the people who have come and built this school. We stand on the shoulders of giants. This is affirmation that our founders and all the people who have laid the foundation for ECS have taken us in the right direction.”
She continued, “Being named an Exemplary School sets ECS apart,” Edge said. “It shows that we are a vibrant, healthy school that will continue to influence the community for years to come.”
A benefit to being named an exemplary school is that ECS will now be among other U.S. schools at the same level who will meet and brainstorm. Edge said, “It extends our professional learning community. What it provides for us is another group of schools that are seeing excellence.”
Other schools will be studying how ECS fully integrates the Christian world view into every program. The school doesn’t treat Bible study as a course or something done in chapel, Edge said. Instead, it is on the athletic field, in the classroom and throughout the school.
“We are looking at everything through the lens of a Christian world view,” she said. “How should we play sports to honor God? How should we draw? Doing to the best of our ability, honoring God in everything we do.”
Board Chairman Dave Morris similarly attributed the success to the school’s focus.
“I think a lot of it is just the way that we have been very dedicated to sticking to the mission of the school,” he said. “… What we do is we really try no matter what area of the school is to stay close to the mission, which is to provide a Christian education that is Christ-centered and Biblically directed for our students, and we take that very seriously.”
He also has a personal stake in seeing that the school keeps aspiring to those ideals, because he is the parent of three ECS students. One has graduated from college with a master’s degree, inspired by her ECS Spanish teacher, and she now teaches high school Spanish herself in Millington. His second daughter was highly influenced by her ECS art teacher and is now in her third year of architecture studies at the University of Arkansas. His son is currently in the 10th grade at ECS and still has the blessing of being greatly affected by the ECS faculty, Morris said.
Now in its 52nd year, ECS currently educates about 730 students in grades K-12.
According to the ACSI website, there are 12 ACSI member schools in the Memphis area. Only two schools in the area, including ECS, have earned the first tier of ACSI accreditation. ECS is now the only school in the state of Tennessee to have earned the higher title of ACSI Exemplary Accredited School and is one of only two schools in the southeastern U.S. with this honor.