USJ Successfully Achieves SAIS Reaccreditation

University School of Jackson is now a reaccredited member of the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). To earn accreditation from SAIS, USJ complied with quality standards, was evaluated by an outside group of peer professionals, and implemented a school plan focused on strategic improvement and student performance in accordance with the school’s mission.

A team representing SAIS conducted an on-site visit to review USJ’s self-study and standards compliance and its adherence to its mission. The team was comprised of diverse educational leaders from some of the finest institutions in the Southeast.

“SAIS accredited member schools are part of an international network of accredited schools that have demonstrated success in educating children,” said Head of School Stuart Hirstein. “As such, SAIS accreditation is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of quality in education for students and teachers.”

In today’s world of accountability in education, accreditation serves as a critical component of a school’s demonstrated effectiveness and ability to provide successful schooling for children. A school that is able to achieve accreditation demonstrates a commitment to a process that requires the school to meet a set of rigorous standards; to engage in a program of continuous school improvement; and to demonstrate quality assurance to its stakeholders through self-evaluation and peer-review. SAIS accreditation provides schools access to an integrated network of services and technical assistance that supports every school’s ability to identify and meet its goals for improving the teaching and learning process and mission-focused outcomes for students.

SAIS began its organizational life in 1903 as the Mid-South Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). In 1953, another organization began as the Southern Association of Independent Schools, providing a forum for independent school administrators to work with public schools through SACS and to contribute to the larger interest in accreditation in the Southeast. MAIS and SAIS merged in 1986 to form the present-day SAIS, which now works at the state, regional, and national levels, to serve and strengthen member schools through the promotion of the highest quality educational standards and ethical conduct. The mission of SAIS is to provide leadership, accreditation services, and professional development resources that will strengthen member schools as they fulfill their missions.

USJ’s current term of accreditation is July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2022. A reaccreditation visit is scheduled for the Spring of 2022, at which time it is anticipated that the school will be reaccredited for a five-year period.


USJ Receives SAIS Accreditation

After undergoing a rigorous review process with the Southern Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SAIS-SACS) in spring 2012, the University School of Jackson was unanimously approved for accreditation.

In February 2012, a team of five educators from independent schools across the Southeast spent the better part of four days on campus reviewing documents and talking with board members, parents, faculty, and students.

To earn accreditation, schools must meet quality standards, be evaluated by an outside group of peer professionals, and implement a school plan focused on strategic improvement and student performance.

Highlights of the accreditation report are below.


Commendations

The visiting team commended the school in many areas, including: Curriculum:

  • High expectations for students and excellence permeate all aspects of student life.
  • USJ provides an excellent academic, athletic, and fine arts program that includes a strong curriculum while balancing financial obligations. The school balances participation in athletics and the arts and appropriately celebrates all of these student accomplishments.
  • The school does a wonderful job providing individual support to students. There is a successful program in place providing tutorials, learning accommodations, and college advising.

Faculty and Administration

  • USJ maintains a highly dedicated and engaging faculty.
  • Faculty and administrators are highly motivated and have a passion for the school that translates into classroom instruction and student results.
  • USJ has developed a comprehensive Crisis Management Plan.
  • The administration displays strong evidence of stewardship, offering many amenities for the tuition dollars spent.
  • The faculty is given a great amount of freedom to try new things. There is a good evaluation and mentoring program in place for new teachers.

Students

  • Throughout the school year, students host a number of community events, making fundraising efforts on behalf of members of the community who are in need.
  • Efforts of students individually, within clubs, and as representatives within the community are instilling strong leadership and accountability traits
  • The student Honor Council ensures that consistently strong values are held throughout the student body.
  • The students express love for their school, pride in their accomplishments, love of their teachers and coaches, and satisfaction with their strong academic program.

Parents

  • There is strong parental support, readily involved in school life while actively supporting its mission.

Facilities

  • School facilities are well maintained and plans for growth in all areas of the campus are thoughtfully considered.

Recommendations

The visiting team agreed with the recommendations suggested by the administration and faculty in the self study USJ did before the SAIS team arrived on campus.

Curriculum

  • Continue the work with cross-divisional committees to promote discussions about academics and curriculum. The writing across the curriculum initiative is excellent. Consider a similar initiative in other core academic areas that can unite the curriculum from pre-K to grade 12.
  • After improving the infrastructure to allow for technology improvements, the school should examine its technological resources and determine how best to integrate more technology into the classroom experience, placing a priority on this within the available budget.

Students

  • Continue to use data to monitor student academic growth. Consider using the independent norms as a point of reference, including ERB testing in second and third grades, and analyzing middle and upper school non-honors data for continued improvement.

Communications

  • Continue to poll students, parents, and faculty and consider including alumni in surveys and/or committees to widen the perspective net.
  • Continue to provide relevant content on the school’s website. Consider ways to make the site more dynamic and interactive.
  • The school should consider enhancing its social media presence as a means of providing more effective communication with all constituencies, as well as messaging about the school’s strengths.

Development and Alumni

  • The school should continue to enhance its fundraising efforts and develop its alumni program, staffing and providing resources that are appropriate and affordable.
  • Consider using additional means of outreach to create opportunities for connection with alumni.
  • While affordability and value are strengths of USJ, the school should continue to benchmark tuition and fees against other institutions and balance this value with the need for additional resources in some areas.
  • Since endowment growth is a recognized priority, the school should develop a feasibility study and consider a capital campaign, planned giving, or other ways of increasing endowment.
  • Provide donor recognition beyond the annual donor report, such as spotlights in the magazine, the website, and/or at events.

Summary

The visiting team found University School of Jackson to be an excellent school with a dedicated, enthusiastic, and tenacious administration and faculty. The entire school community is dedicated to an inclusive process of continuous improvement. The members of the Board of Trustees are involved and committed, and all appear to understand and embrace the mission of the school.

It was very evident to the visiting team that a spirit of cooperation exists between the students, faculty, and administration. The result is a learning environment that students describe as both awesome and reflective of the world that they encounter. The school’s leadership is to be commended on developing an educational institution that so ideally reflects the mission and beliefs upon which it was founded.

The visiting team recommends that the school continue the work it has begun in implementation of the school’s strategic plan and to review the recommendations set forth in this report, beginning implementation of these recommendations over the next five years.