Reaffirming Our Quaker Identity: The Quaker Self-Study and Membership Renewal Process
Friends Select School recently completed its first Quaker self-study and Membership Renewal Process (MRP) to affirm its Quaker identity. This process was conducted under the guidance and observation of the Friends Council on Education (FCE), a Philadelphia-based membership organization for Quaker schools considered to be the sole public voice for Friends education.
Friends Select is unique in its Quaker leadership in that it is overseen by two Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends: Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (Race Street) and the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia (Arch Street). Of the 22 members of Friends Select’s board of trustees, 12 are directly nominated by these Meetings; this ratio provides adequate representation of Quakers to model and advocate for the school’s continuing Quaker identity. (Previously, the MRP was only required of schools with Quaker board membership of less than 50%.) The MRP involves a year-long reflection period followed by a school visit from a team of Quaker-school representatives assigned by FCE. Quaker schools are expected to participate at least once every 10 years.
Both the self-reflection phase and MRP are designed to be rich learning and growth experiences for a school community. The first step of FCE’s prescribed self-study traditionally requires the formation of focus groups to reflect upon the six Principles of Good Practice for Friends Schools: Mission, Governance, Leadership, Worship, School Program and Community Life, and Continuing Revelation.These guiding principles include opportunities for schools to demonstrate confirmation of them and inspire dialogue within the community in order to produce a report to FCE. After a school visit by the assigned visiting team, FCE and its board of directors provide guiding recommendations and final approval for membership renewal.
Toni Graves Williamson, director of equity and inclusion, was tasked with leading the process as the self-study chair. With groundwork previously laid during the strategic planning process, Toni was able to harvest collected data and supplement with information from members within the community. “I depended on four groups of volunteers to ensure information was accurate and help answer the guiding questions for each of the six principles before administrative council helped prioritize the findings that, ultimately, compiled our report,” Toni explained. “Because members of our faculty and staff had already completed much of the reflective work through the strategic planning process, we were able to complete a thorough report that illustrated Friends Select’s commit- ment to Quakerism.”
The visiting team assigned by FCE—comprised of John Baird, former head of school at Westtown School and Carolina Friends School, Jane Fremon, founder of Princeton Friends School and its head for over 30 years, and Chris Kimberley, associate head of school and academic dean of Moorestown Friends School—spent two days at Friends Select in December to review the self-study report prepared by Toni and experience the school community first-hand. In addition to observing classrooms and meeting with administrators, the team spent time with Quaker-focused groups such as the upper school student group QUAKE, the Faculty Staff Quakerism committee, and Board Quaker Life committee. John, Jane, and Chris also attended Meeting for Worship at the Race Street Meetinghouse with the upper school.
John felt his two days at Friends Select and the self-study report provided a clear sense of the school’s Quaker identity. “All of the faculty and staff greeted us warmly and conveyed a sense of dedication to the Quaker philosophy, which was confirmed in all of our interactions; for example, upper school students we met with described Friends Select as inclusive and community-based, and they enthusiastically described social justice initiatives they have initiated with the support of the faculty,” he said. “Friends Select parents characterized Quakerism as ‘the core of everything that’s done,’ and said that the school is giving students a sense of self and their place in the world.”
Toni accompanied the visiting team during their two days at Friends Select, and had the opportunity to experience the school from their perspective. “I was able to sit in meetings and listen to members of our community talk about the school,” she said. “I had a bird’s-eye view of the process through collecting data and compiling the report. But, in sitting in on conversations between the visiting team and members of our community, it was easy to see that Friends Select is deeply engrossed in and committed to Quakerism.”