The origin of the word accredit is from the Latin past participle accreditus, meaning “to give credence to, to believe, to put faith in.” That is the goal of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) when member schools such as ours undertake the accreditation process. Parents can put their faith in accredited schools, knowing that we must adhere to a rigorous set of standards for our operation and that our performance against these standards is routinely verified. Sonoma Country Day School has been fully accredited by CAIS and WASC since we could first apply in the mid-1980s.
CAIS and WASC take this process very seriously. Visiting Committee members receive extensive training and heads of school do not chair a team until they have been vetted as a team member by a veteran Chair. Schools up for accreditation or reaccreditation undergo a yearlong review process to prepare a report on all aspects of performance. A Visiting Committee devotes several weeks to reading and discussing a school’s report and its adherence to CAIS Standards before visiting the school for four days. After, the Visiting Committee prepares a report and makes a recommendation for accreditation status, which is approved by the CAIS Board of Standards at the association annual meeting, as well as the WASC Board of Standards in cases when a school is dual accredited.
CAIS recently conducted a major overhaul of its process and standards, one of the largest review processes by a regional association in the history of independent schools, now being emulated by other associations around the country. CAIS stated the goals were “to place teaching and learning at the center of the process,” “to promote deeper analysis and reflection,” and “an increased emphasis on the identification and appreciation of a school’s existing strengths, as well as a sharpened focus on the key challenges and opportunities that will become the targets of future institutional energy.”
Currently, the CAIS Standards encompass the following:
The Student Learning Experience
Faculty and Pedagogy
Climate and Community
Residential Life (for boarding schools)
Admissions and Enrollment
Facilities: Buildings and Grounds
Health, Safety, and Wellness
Self-Assessment, Decision-Making, and Change
We were very excited and proud to start the 2017-18 school year with our Self-Study ahead of schedule and prepared to host our Visiting Committee mid-year. In retrospect, we were fortunate we had invested the time we did the previous spring and summer. Given the challenges our community faced in October, the level of focus required in the Self-Study process would have been difficult to sustain. CAIS called to inquire in November whether we felt ready, and they offered a rare extension if we needed it. I declined, sharing that we were more than ready, thankfully, and our community would benefit from the positive energy I knew the visit would bring.
We hosted the Visiting Committee in January and received excellent initial feedback. Their approved report arrived in April with our school awarded “highly effective” in 13 out of 16 categories, a tremendous accomplishment, one that I have rarely seen in my experience as a Visiting Committee Chair. An excerpt from the Visiting Committee report provides strong evidence for our success:
“The school remains true to [their] founding principles today, and it is highly evident to the Visiting Committee that the faculty, staff, administration and trustees, take great pride in the various ways in which they live and breathe these principles… During our visit, the committee noted that classrooms are alive with active, joyful and purposeful learning. While not directly mentioned in the introduction, the school serves a wide range of learners and employs differentiated instructional methodologies to meet students where they are in the learning process. The Visiting Committee witnessed engaging instruction that clearly supports that fact that the mission is brought to life every day.”
We received our accreditation status from WASC in April and this summer from CAIS. We are thrilled to be accredited for a full seven years. I would like to thank our entire professional community and Board of Trustees for their efforts with preparing our Self-Study, and most importantly, our co-coordinators Laurie Prothro and Molly Hill for their leadership. I am also deeply appreciative to our students and parents for their feedback and participation in focus groups both during the Self-Study process and during our Visit. This broad participation was noted by our Visiting Committee.
The process does not end here and we are not resting on our laurels. Now that we have received our approved report and accreditation status, we have until December 2018 to prepare and submit our Future Planning Document. As we did after our last accreditation, we will use the rich data from our self-study and major recommendations of the Visiting Committee as a launching point for our next strategic plan. Our Board is currently working on the planning process, along with members of our administration and our self-study coordinators.
Based on recent parent survey results, community interviews, emergent themes in our Self-Study, and feedback from the Visiting Committee, our new strategic plan is coalescing around five areas of focus:
Enhancing Learning Opportunities
Increasing Financial Sustainability
Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ("DEI") in Our Community
Optimizing Our Learning Environment
We welcome your thoughts about these focus areas. Current parents, be on the lookout for a Parent Coffee this fall, and past parents and alumni, please contact me if you would like to provide input.
Congratulations to everyone in our community for a collaborative effort accomplished well. We have much of which to be proud!
Brad Weaver, EdD
Head of School