Kettering Schools Threw Away Its Historical Record — Decades Of Accreditation Self-Study Reports Now Lost

It’s hard to believe, but, according to Kettering’s Interim School Superintendent, Jim Schoenlein, the school district of Kettering has destroyed its entire historical record of North Central self-study reports.

Prior to recent times, school districts were accredited by accrediting agencies.  Every five years, school districts, in order to maintain their accredited status, conducted an in-depth self-study and made a detailed report.  These reports represent decades of community and school history. According to Dr. Schoenlein, this whole record of self-study in Kettering was thrown out a few years ago.

Kettering has always been known as a progressive, thoughtful community.  I believe the historical record of how Kettering community leaders and Kettering educators previously analyzed their system of public education is very relevant to understanding our system today. These self-study reports contained a wealth of data, and, so far as I can tell, none of this data was ever digitized.

I requested to see the historical record of these self-studies several weeks ago and reached a dead-end.  I telephoned Dr. Schoenlein and asked him to verify that these self-studies are actually gone — and not in some obscure file cabinet somewhere.  He confirmed they were gone and I made the observation that no secretary or custodian or principal would ever throw away such material without orders from someone in authority.  Dr. Schoenlein noted that these records were destroyed when Robert Mengerink was superintendent, but did not indicate whether he knew exactly how it came about that these self-study records were destroyed.

I particularly wanted to read in these old reports how previous generations in Kettering thought about the purpose of public education.  For every self-study report, a committee worked to write a statement of educational philosophy that should guide the actions and policies of the district.  The idea of the self-study was for the district to first clarify its purpose / philosophy and then show the plan by which it intended to fulfill that purpose.  It was a thoughtful process.  Have I mentioned that in Kettering the historical record of all of this was destroyed?

Kettering for decades was accredited by the group considered the gold standard for school districts — The North Central Accreditation Association.  Kettering dropped its North Central association five or six years ago.  Now Kettering simply uses the state report card system for its evaluation and, unlike North Central, the state system is almost 100% student academic tests based.

I’m wondering, and I will attempt to investigate, if maybe the North Central organization, itself, might have records of its member schools.

I wish I could take a time machine to West Carrollton about 1971 when I first started teaching.  I was a member of the “Philosophy Committee.”  I guess everyone in West Carrollton with strong opinions about school purpose got on that committee.  I remember we had intense discussions and debates.

What we were discussing in 1971, I don’t remember, but we were passionate about whatever it was. I would like to be refreshed as to what it was all about. The committee finally came to a consensus and made its written report, and then, as I recall, nothing happened.  The report languished in some file cabinet, and the school kept going pretty much as always.  But to read that report today would be valuable, because at least it would give a snapshot in time of how at least one group of young teachers and concerned citizens in West Carrollton in 1971 defined school purpose.

In my view, there is a huge need here in 2009 for public education to define its purpose / its aim.  If “local control” is to have any meaning, a local community, like Kettering, must periodically clarify its purpose and analyze how well its system of public education is doing in accomplishing its purpose.  I believe we need to bring back the whole concept of “self-study.”

In order to see clearly a path to the future, we need to be guided by some of the wisdom and thinking of the past.  I’m amazed that historical record — the work of thoughtful citizens and gifted educators in Kettering — was discarded.

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