After a multi-year preparation effort and an 18-month intensive evaluation process, 31 elementary and secondary Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton have been re-accredited through Cognia, an international firm that evaluates and issues findings on all manner of education outlets.

Described as the “gold standard” in the field by Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, superintendent of Catholic schools, the Cognia re-accreditation of all parish and diocesan schools in the four counties of the Diocese is a seal of approval that has far-reaching implications. The confirmation was received by the Diocese Feb. 4.

Since 2015, diocesan and parish schools were previously accredited through AdvanceED, which later became Cognia. For this latest process, Cognia representatives met with school principals, staff, pastors, parents and students in 257 interviews. Schools also formed committees to help complete the evaluation process. Interviews with diocesan leaders and support from Chancery staff also contributed to the effort.

A key part of the process was the participation of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Before being named a bishop, Bishop O’Connell was president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., as well as other institutions of higher learning, dedicating much of his priestly ministry to Catholic education.

The Bishop was interviewed for the evaluation process and contributed to the Diocese’s report on which the accreditation was based. He said of the experience, “Many people contributed to this successful effort.  I congratulate and thank them, especially the excellent staff in our Department of Catholic Schools. We know the quality of our Catholic schools in the Diocese.  This external recognition is a wonderful confirmation!”

Dr. Schmidt was equally pleased with the results, sharing that, “it was very affirming and not just in terms of our curricular standards, but that it is clear the school system is working as intended, and Catholic mission-driven, to be sure.

“(Receiving) national accreditation by [this firm] speaks volumes about the fact, in my opinion, that we’re doing okay.”

Admittedly better than okay, as Dr. Schmidt said the score the Diocese of Trenton schools received was “clearly well above the national average in the evaluation.”

The work for reaccreditation is ever-present, Dr. Schmidt said, adding that while “the prep work was at least 18 months in the making, the accreditation process takes data from the years between reviews, and combines that data into longitudinal reports. So, we are always under the review cycle with yearly reporting and gathering of data.”

The Cognia review committee looked at communication, infrastructure, policy and procedures, as well as curriculum and academic performance. One characteristic stood out.

“The Catholic identity was alive in all of our schools, according to the review board in Cognia,” Dr. Schmidt affirmed. “It was the number one cited characteristic that came through loud and clear through all the interviews … The three common themes they heard were [that our schools are] truly Catholic, they become family centers, and they are critically important to the communities in which they reside.”

Tracy Kobrin, principal of St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, agreed, saying, “The Cognia evaluators said several times during their meetings with us that family and community are quite evident and a common theme among our Catholic schools. 

“What stands out about our school and schools in the Diocese of Trenton is that we are like a family,” she continued. “Our environment is loving, caring, nurturing and safe. We provide a rigorous, high-quality education in a Christ-centered environment. We are so proud to be part of Catholic education and to promote academic excellence while developing young people of character, faith and service to others.”

“While a rigorous process, the end result has shown that our Diocese comprises faith-filled, academically strong, service-oriented schools,” said Maureen Tuohy, principal of Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton. “I am proud to be a part of this Diocese, and of the faculty and staff ... We receive such wonderful support from our parents, and because of [our] common goals, our students … make a difference in our communities.”

Gregory J. Guito, principal of St. Rose Grammar School, and John Tonero, principal of St. Rose High School, Belmar, both found that the re-accreditation process gave them an opportunity for self-reflection on their schools’ academic and spiritual health, and to plan strategically for the years to come.

“As a result, we are proud of our Catholic school environment and the work our community is doing to provide the best opportunity for our students,” Guito said.

“I am extremely pleased with the re-accreditation from Cognia,” said Timothy O’Halloran, SRHS’s vice principal of academics and director of guidance. “It reaffirms [our] commitment in providing a challenging and robust academic program for all of our students. This designation clearly supports our mission of providing Catholic education based upon Gospel values and academic excellence.”