Making the grade

St. Joseph’s school awaits formal accreditation

After years of revamping itself, St. Joseph of the Palisades Elementary School in West New York was rewarded for its efforts with an informally announced accreditation last week, and is anxiously awaiting formal recognition.
Educational accreditation is a process designed to improve coordination between different educational levels (for example, elementary school to high school) by standardizing requirements among schools.
In America, this process is conducted by private peer review commissions, rather than a government ministry of education, as is common in the rest of the world.
The accrediting agency for St. Joseph of the Palisades Elementary School was the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, which serves education institutions in the northeast, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with some schools in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

“It was a very positive process.” – Rev. Msgr. Gregory J. Studerus.
If, after evaluation, a school is found to meet or exceed the minimum educational standards, the school becomes accredited.
St. Joseph’s is a Catholic school that serves almost 200 students, grades pre-K through 8th grade, from all over Hudson County. It is part of the Archdiocese of Newark.

Recent changes

For some time, the future of the elementary school was shaky. Although the school offers academically challenging instruction with special assistance for children with special needs, enrollment was not as high as the administration would have liked, and financial problems surfaced.
With a goal of moving toward the future, the administration took a hard look at their situation and took steps to add new programs to the school curriculum while enhancing existing extracurricular programs.
The school offers clubs such as Student Council, Choir, and a Chess Club, as well as intramural and league sports and after-care programs.
According to the school’s website, “a variety of [extracurricular] choices is offered to reflect the uniqueness of each student, to generate a healthy sense of competition, to create a spirit of cooperation, and to foster both leadership and creativity.”
The school also focused on the active recruitment of new students.
“We’re doing a lot of recruiting, so we’re looking forward to the future,” Principal Eileen Donovan-Ferrando said of the school’s trajectory.
One area of particular focus was incorporating technology into the classrooms.
SMART Boards are in all of the classrooms, and laptops are available to all students. The school also has a separate reading lab where teachers can bring students to work on different reading activities.
The process for accreditation was also started about two years ago, leading up to a peer review assessment this month.

The accreditation process

Accreditation is a voluntary process, but the status serves to give a school a degree of credibility that it may not have otherwise.
“You don’t have to [be accredited], but it’s a plus for us,” Donovan-Ferrando said.
To prepare for its peer review by the Middle States Association, the elementary school engaged in a two-year self study for presentation.
“It was a very positive process,” Rev. Msgr. Gregory J. Studerus said of the school’s push for accreditation.

The visit

From April 5 through April 8, a peer review team visited the school to observe and verify that the appropriate standards were being upheld.
The visit was kicked off with a presentation of the school’s mission statement by the school choir, followed by dinner. Then, over the next several days, the team visited classrooms and met with administration, teachers, advisory board members, and students for a glimpse into the daily life at St. Joseph of the Palisades. The visit ended with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Donato.
At the conclusion of the visit, Donovan-Ferando said, the peer review team informed the school that it had met the required standards for accreditation.
Anxiously awaited is the formal announcement from the Middle States Association.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at

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