By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsSeptember 6, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Sept. 6, 2012) -- Zama American High School is on the right track in regard to the numerous improvements that have been made there since its accreditation was put on probationary status last April, the school's principal said here Wednesday.
ZAHS administrators hosted an open forum during which they offered updates on school improvement efforts, including leadership and faculty changes and other strategies aimed to advance their accreditation rating and provide students there with a first-class education.
"We're certainly not sitting around doing nothing; we are actively working to correct anything that was criticized here," said Principal Bruce Derr, referring to "required actions" outlined by AdvancED -- an independent accreditation agency -- following an evaluation conducted in February.
ZAHS remains accredited but must address the required actions before the accreditation agency returns for a follow-up review next spring. According to Derr, if the school is successful in addressing the required actions they will be eligible to advance to a higher accreditation level.
Those corrective actions have included, most significantly, the addition of 20 new teachers who were brought on during the summer break, as well as the forming of a School Improvement Team whose aim it will be to enhance lesson plans and foster more open communication between the faculty, students and their parents.
The current academic year has been in session for less than two weeks, but Derr said he has already seen numerous improvements throughout the school.
"We are in a state of change right now, and it is positive change," said Derr. "I feel there is a more positive atmosphere, a more positive school climate this year. Part of that is due to personnel, but I also think our leadership team has done a wonderful job of getting all the teachers involved."
That assessment of the improved environment throughout the school was echoed by Assistant Principal Heather Rhine, who co-moderated the forum along with Derr. As one of the members of the School Improvement Team, Rhine said she has seen definitive evidence that steps are being taken at Zama to ensure "Continuous Improvement," one of the standards the school failed to meet in the AdvancED evaluation.
"What you're seeing here is a process that has been cranked up," said Rhine. "[For] normal organizations, it is a three- to five-year process to achieve what is considered 'sustainable change.' There are things that can affect that, one of them being a sense of urgency. This school has a sense of urgency.
"Change is happening fast and furious," Rhine added, "and it's only going to go up from here."
Janet Montoya, whose son is a sophomore at ZAHS, said she wanted to attend the forum for a current update on the school's accreditation status, and for confirmation that positive changes have been put in place to ensure ZAHS remains accredited when the school is re-evaluated next April. The information she received made her feel confident that will happen, said Montoya.
"I do feel hope for this situation," said Montoya. "My son feels like it is different this year, and a few other students we know feel like it is different this year."
Lt. Col. Joe Orenstein, whose son also attends ZAHS as a sophomore, said he wants "to be part of the solution" the school has put in place. That entails staying informed, working together with the administration and faculty, and listening to feedback from the students, he said.
"I believe it is my responsibility to ultimately ensure [my son's] education," said Orenstein, the deputy staff judge advocate for U.S. Army Japan at Camp Zama. "I need to make sure that he is developing into the type of person I want him to be, and also that he wants to be.
"I think the school is doing things the right way," Orenstein added. "I think the administration has the right attitude, [and] they seem to understand what the concerns of the parents are."
Derr said he is extremely confident in how the school will perform during its next evaluation, with the obvious goal being to advance their accreditation rating to the next level. However, the positive changes being made at Zama American High School must not simply stop there, he added.
"We can never rest on our laurels," said Derr. "If you're playing a sport, you need to keep practicing and fine-tune your game. I think we have to just keep working to improve the school to make it a better place for children so they get a great education here."