Accreditations affirm success for local schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NATCHEZ — For schools, the equivalent of getting a medal or a trophy can often come in the form of an accreditation. But, like awards, different accreditations can mean different things, especially for private schools.

Understanding what school accreditations mean can be difficult for parents.

All public schools are operated under the guidelines of the Mississippi Department of Education.

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But for private and parochial schools, accreditations are important.

Independent schools are often smaller, with less institutional mass, school leaders say.

This gives them a simpler path to making changes for accreditations such as the one Trinity Episcopal Day School received from the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), an international independent school accrediting entity.

“It is a big affirmation of recognition and success,” Trinity Interim Head of School Rev. Paul Andersen said.

During the SAIS accreditation process, the SAIS organization looked at everything from financial viability to academic success.

As a result the school came up with a five-year plan with initiatives that concerned enrollment management, fundraising, strengthening the school’s Episcopal identity and the global studies program.

Trinity is one of 29 schools in Mississippi that have received SAIS accreditation.

But SAIS isn’t the only accreditation the school has. The Mississippi Association of Independent Schools also accredits Trinity.

Adams County Christian School and Cathedral School are also accredited by MAIS,

Cathedral and Trinity are also accredited by the Mississippi Department of Education. The accreditation from MDE isn’t necessary to operate a private school in the state, but it comes with its own perk, allowing the school to get textbook money based on the amount of students and average daily attendance.

Cathedral Principal Pat Sanguinetti said the school receives approximately $200,000 to $250,000 over the period of five years. Trinity, a smaller school, receives approximately $10,000 to $15,000.

The MDE accreditation is also recognized by Mississippi colleges, but sometimes students want to go to college out of state.

“That’s where AdvancEd comes in,” Sanguinetti said.

All three independent schools in Natchez are accredited by AdvancEd, formerly known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). It’s a widely recognized accreditation, one that helps students who want to venture out of state for higher education.

But, even after the accreditation is awarded to the school, evaluators come every few years to see if the school is keeping up with the standards set by the accrediting agency.

The result is that, as soon as one evaluation begins, so does the preparation for the next year.

“It’s a continual process,” ACCS Elementary Principal Cynthia Smith said. “You don’t just wait five years and do it all.”

The schools set up different committees to see if they’re ready for evaluation. During this time, the school has to figure out whether or not it’s meeting standards set out by the accrediting entity.

“You find your own weaknesses and then decide what you’re going to do with them,” Smith said.

It’s a long process but, ultimately, whether the school is earning extra accreditations or maintaining its old ones, the goal remains the same — creating a stronger school.