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SAIS Accreditation Process Helps Point the Way on the Road Ahead

By Scott Waybright, Assistant Head of School

Once a year, the state of North Carolina requires me to have my 20-year-old convertible inspected. The goal is to ensure that when I take my vehicle out on the road there is a reasonable expectation that it can carry out the basic task of getting me to where I am going safely.

They have a long list of items to inspect, which, when confirmed, should provide all of us with a little confidence. If anything on that list can’t be confirmed, the entire process grinds until the appropriate adjustments are made. Once completed, I am free to enjoy the roads again for a year.

All independent schools go through a similar process; however, it happens every five years. We get accredited” through The Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), which has oversight in establishing the standards that an educational institution should meet. Country Day has been participating in our “inspection” this past year. For a school, there are six standards and over 60 total indicators to be inspected. We completed this inspection in October during a visit from John Thorsen (Athens Academy, Head of School).  

Self-Reflection Confirms Excellence

Unlike the car inspection, however, the accreditation process asks deeper questions than a simple list. SAIS asks us to reflect on our work while fulfilling our mission and what we have learned in that process. It’s not enough to know that our windshield wipers are working; they want to help us evaluate our process and goals for the future. It’s as if the mechanic came to my house and spent time with me exploring my thinking around replacing the leaky canvas roof while I am googling sound system upgrades. Five educational leaders will spend three days with us at the end of March looking under the hood and asking us questions. 

As we await the final report from the visiting team, we are eager to hear their insights into our work that lies ahead. Their report will also serve to frontload the conversations as we enter strategic planning next year. 

As good as we think we may be, it’s critical to open ourselves up to feedback. SAIS provides us with a critical and constructive community to lean upon. These educational leaders help us stay on the road to improvement. While the process for schools is lengthy and time-consuming, the benefits are immense. 

The culture at Country Day makes the work much simpler. We have a strong Board of Trustees that is actively involved in collaborating with our Head of School. Our parents and the Parents’ Association are engaged with all facets of our program. And the faculty and staff are eager to create new ways to educate our primary clients, our students.

SAIS Accreditation Standards

Standard 1: Mission—Country Day commits to a mission that leads to continuous improvement for teaching and learning. Our mission guides decision-making, allocation of resources, and the building of community.

Standard 2: Governance & Leadership—Country Day provides a governance, leadership, and organizational structure that promotes its mission. Our trustees and administrators clearly understand their roles and are advocates for the school’s mission, vision, and continuous improvement. Leaders encourage collaboration and shared responsibility for school improvement among stakeholders.

SAIS Standard 3: Teaching & Learning—Country Day provides a curriculum and instructional methods that facilitate achievement of all students in support of its mission. Our school provides a curriculum that reflects best practices, strategies, and activities; and includes clearly defined expectations for student development that are subject to review and revision at regular intervals.

SAIS Standard 4: Stakeholder Communication & Relationships—Country Day develops and maintains effective communication and relationships to further its mission. We communicate clearly and accurately with our stakeholders and encourage collaboration to further our mission.

SAIS Standard 5: Resources & Support Systems—Country Day has the resources, services, and policies necessary to support its mission. Our school has sufficient human and material resources, employs qualified and competent staff, and provides ongoing professional development. We have well-defined and communicated policies and procedures to promote a safe, healthy, and orderly environment.

SAIS Standard 6: Virtual Learning—Country Day’s virtual learning, whether required by circumstance or offered outside of its regular in-person programming, aligns with its mission. Any virtual learning offered is provided with the same attention to mission and quality as the rest of the school’s program; we aim to offer courses and opportunities that reflect the school’s culture, care, vision, values, and mission in all programs we provide, using whichever delivery mechanisms serve the students participating in these opportunities.