Islamic School Becomes First to Gain Accreditation in New
By Lisa Kocian
located on 2.8 leafy acres in Shrewsbury, complete with a
basketball court, small playground, and the traditional classes
that can be found in any public school. But Al-Hamra Academy
in Shrewsbury, a private school housed in a simple two-story
brick building under an American flag, also teaches Arabic,
Islamic studies, and the Koran. There are prayers during the
Now, the academy has become the first Islamic school in New
England to win accreditation, a milestone for the region's
"Accreditation is really a sign of maturity of the school,"
said Bill Bennett, director of the commission on independent
schools at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges,
the accrediting body. "Accreditation really comes when
a school feels like it's time to join the mainstream of other
independent schools in New England. . . . Islamic schools
also want to be a part of the mainstream."
There are only 10 Islamic schools in New England, and Al-Hamra
was the first to seek accreditation, a voluntary evaluation
process, Bennett said. Two other schools are in the pipeline.
Accreditation took 2 1/2 years, and the academy's success
was announced late last month.
The school, founded in 1994, has 152 students, male and female,
preschool through eighth grade. The academy used to draw students
from both New Hampshire and Connecticut, said Sadia Khan,
the principal, but with a growing number of Islamic schools,
students no longer have to travel so far. Still, the school
in Shrewsbury draws students from Newton, Milford, Chelmsford,
and other communities.
Accreditation ensures that students from the academy will
not have difficulty transferring to high schools, Khan said.
"By being accredited, that makes us more credible, in
a sense," she said. "This will give the parents
more peace of mind."
Louis Cristillo, a research assistant professor of anthropology
and education at Columbia University's Teachers College, studies
Muslim students in both private and public schools. He said
he expects more Islamic schools, particularly high schools,
to seek accreditation, because the latest generation of parents
care about academic validation.
"They tend to have less of the cultural baggage that
their parents came with as immigrants," said Cristillo.
"They're more motivated to encourage their children to
excel academically and to really integrate socially, economically,
and culturally in mainstream America, yet maintaining their
Also, after Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim schools were perceived
as isolated from the rest of society. To combat that image,
he said, the schools adopted interfaith exchange programs
and made other changes.
"They wanted to counteract that perception, not only
in terms of the way they are perceived by the mainstream,
but also the way students see themselves," Cristillo
The Islamic Schools League of America encourages schools to
seek accreditation, said Karen Keyworth, director of education
for the group.
"We urge schools to always connect with their community,"
she said. "The schools all have some sort of a community
project. That's part of our faith, to always contribute to
There are about 235 Islamic schools across the country, Keyworth
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges develops
the standards used to assess the educational effectiveness
of public and private schools seeking accreditation. Self-evaluation,
as well as peer review, are used to enforce the standards.
Most high schools seek accreditation, but it is more rarely
sought by elementary or middle schools.
The accreditation process helped the school create a roadmap
for maintaining its standards and making improvements, Khan
"We knew that we were doing what we were supposed to
be doing, but getting approval from a third party makes it
more sweet," she said.
One goal that grew from the self-evaluation is the desire
to create more extracurricular opportunities for students,
Khan said, particularly in arts and in sports.
The academy has exchange programs with area schools, both
public and private, she said. And that is in part to combat
misconceptions about Islam.
"People's ignorance about the religion - that's what
makes them be afraid of it," she said.
Bushra Khalid is president of the academy's parent-teacher
organization and has a preschooler and second-grader at the
"I wanted my children growing up with a modern-day education,
but also an Islamic background," she said.
"The one thing I really want people to know is that we're
not just teaching Islam. We're teaching the real-world education
with just the Islamic philosophy interspersed there."
(Lisa Kocian can be reached at email@example.com. Courtesy