North Port's CAPRA Accreditation Journey

March 26, 2020, Department, by Tricia Wisner

2020 April We Are Parks and Rec CAPRA 410

The decision to undertake the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) accreditation process is not a light one. Employees who have been a part of the team here at the city of North Port, Florida, recalled a previous attempt that ended with just the beginning of the framework completed. This attempt had to be different.

Prior to embarking on the journey to accreditation, we asked the accredited agencies around us a number of questions, such as “Why did you take on accreditation?” “How did you tackle it?” “What did your organization learn from the process?” — and above all, “Was it worth the work it takes to gain accreditation?”

Why Accreditation?
Since its inception, North Port Parks and Recreation had been a division in a broader department within the city’s government. However, with growth in our region booming, the city’s population surpassed 70,000 residents — with more than 10,000 under the age of 18. What’s more, current projects, like the construction of a new aquatic center, spurred increases to our scope of work. The City Commission realized the need to meet the growing demand and supported the transition of our division into a new parks and recreation department.

As proposed budgeting and organizational charts for the new department were still under consideration by city administration and the city commission, a team of managers and supervisors gathered to craft the department’s vision and mission statements. The team realized that the new department designation came with a great deal of change, and that change was a great opportunity to set standards and guidelines for our new department. The team carefully worded the department’s vision statement, which made it clear that the department’s first major task was to become a recognized leader; and the CAPRA accreditation process was the path to achieve this designation.

Our Process
Each member of the team had varying levels of familiarity with the accreditation process and the management team knew that this time, the efforts had to have full staff support, clear goals and deadlines to achieve the long-reaching change needed to meet the first task of our new department’s vision.

Weekly meeting invitations for the next year went out to all park and recreation managers, supervisors and program coordinators, inviting them to the “CAPRA Book Club.” At the first meeting, all attendees received a gleaming binder with a copy of the 2014 CAPRA Standards, 5th edition, an overview of the accreditation process and examples of other agencies’ self-assessments.

As parks and recreation became a department on October 1, 2018, the team was busy working through the framework of accreditation and bookmarking pages throughout the Management of Park and Recreation Agencies, 4th Edition. Week after week, CAPRA goals competed with the team’s daily tasks for prioritization and during each CAPRA Book Club meeting, the team worked to focus efforts, discuss potential issues and outline solutions.

The Accreditation Ripple Effect
At first, the team believed that accreditation was solely a park and recreation industry goal. CAPRA is, after all, from a national organization that focuses on park and recreation services. However, one resounding benefit from this process is learning that no department can be a leader in its field without support throughout the overall agency. Successful completion of the CAPRA accreditation process requires staff to seek ways to break down departmental silos. To obtain needed evidence of compliance and ensure the documents were up-to-date with expectations, CAPRA Book Club team members spurred conversations with department leaders throughout the city. Such discussions with the city’s human resources department helped drive needed changes to the personnel policy and onboarding procedures. Discussions with the finance department aided in clarity on procedures and documentation within both teams and meetings with the police department helped outline a stronger partnership.

After submitting the self-assessment form, we saw the true impact of CAPRA begin to take effect. The team was no longer focused just on gathering evidence to check off a list; now it was time for these items to really live within our organization. In addition, changes started to show up everywhere. Meeting agendas now always include the department’s mission and vision stated proudly at the top and a standing CAPRA item to discuss updates and ensure all members of the team are fully versed on the standards. Also, using park metrics helps us provide statistics to the data-driven public and decision makers.

The CAPRA visit, made by the visit team, really solidified our efforts. The visit team, comprised of Visit Chair Rod Tarullo and visitors LeAnn Williams and Scott Knox, brought the CAPRA fundamentals to life. Discussions with this team increased our department’s understanding of the driving goals behind each CAPRA section and outlined a path for continued implementation.

Is It Worth the Work?
Receiving recognition as a highly performing agency with only about 2 percent of other agencies nationwide has been a great motivator for our team and, ultimately, the result of accreditation has been that it outlines a format for true success. It is worth every second of effort.

Tricia Wisner is Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation at the city of North Port, Florida.