Since 2002, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) has partnered with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to accredit and re-accredit eligible independent schools in the southern states. According to the SAIS website: "Accreditation is a voluntary process of self-evaluation and continuous improvement that reflects compliance with required standards/indicators; involves a self-study; and includes a peer review by educators from outside your school." The accreditation process is thorough and rigorous. So much so that many private schools either are unable to qualify for or choose not to apply for SAIS-SACS accreditation. SAIS-SACS has accredited Gaston Day for many years, and the school is currently involved in its 5-year re-accreditation. As I write this blog, the visiting team of educators is here on campus completing their peer review.
Gaston Day's practice is to complete a new strategic plan the year before re-accreditation and use that plan as the road map for our self-study. Those who are members of the Gaston Day community are well aware that Independent School Management (ISM) oversaw a strategic planning process here last year that resulted in our new and exciting strategic plan. We shared this plan with the community at an open forum last fall.
Also as a part of the process, each school must respond to a list of standards and indicators of institutional health and responsibility. The written responses are sent to the chair of the visiting team who then studies them and decides whether or not the school is in compliance.
This fall, J.P. Watson, Head of the Heritage School (Newnan, GA) and the Chair of our visiting team, made a preliminary visit to Gaston Day. He returned to campus this past Sunday (April 27) with his other team members: Michael Heath, Head of Heathwood Hall (Columbia, SC); Jason Ramsden, Technology Director at the Ravenscroft School (Raleigh); Pat Sams, Lower School Head at Westchester Country Day (High Point); and Carter Sturkie, Finance Director at the Summit School (Winston-Salem). Members of the visiting team inspect different areas of school life and meet with different school community representatives. The culmination of their visit and work is the writing of a report on Gaston Day School with commendations and recommendations. The visiting team also recommends whether or not Gaston Day School will be re-accredited. We are grateful to team members for their time and expertise. Their service is voluntary.
As noted above, the process of accreditation is continuous. Gaston Day is committed to improving those areas of weakness identified by the visiting team. We must submit an interim report to SAIS-SACS in two years that outlines ways in which we have done just that. Soon enough, another two-years of improvement will pass, and the School will begin another five-year cycle of strategic planning and re-accreditation.
Today we are eager to receive the visiting team's report and anticipate formal re-accreditation of Gaston Day School in the next several weeks. Later this afternoon, the visiting team will leave to return to their own schools. But their work in the form of the final report remains as a living document guiding our future efforts. Accreditation is more than an event. It is an expression of our determination constantly to work and to plan to be better.