Accreditation Process - Independent Schools

Small-School Protocol

Small-School Protocol

The Accreditation Process - Scaled for smaller schools

All schools aspire to offer the highest quality education to their students and embrace a continuous process of rigorous self-improvement. The Small-School Protocol is designed for independent schools with fewer than 50 students. The protocol is ideal for intentionally small schools because of their mission, the kinds and needs of the students they serve, their curriculum and programming, or the nature of their location, campus, and facilities. 

Based on the NEASC Commission on Independent School’s accreditation process, complete with the same Standards, Indicators, and a similar peer-review process, it is equally thorough and forward-thinking. The scale of the process is small; the quality is NEASC.


For a school to be considered for Pre-Candidacy in the Commission on Independent Schools membership process and offered the opportunity to complete and submit a Small-School Candidacy Application:

  • It must be either a nonpublic school that is separately incorporated under the relevant laws of the state/province where it is located or its primary office is located or a member of a nonpublic school system in which the school leadership exercises direct authority over the educational program and its students’ learning.
  • It must have fewer than 50 full-time equivalent students in the three years prior to seeking accreditation. Schools that expect to increase enrollment beyond 50 full-time equivalent students during the five-year period of candidacy should not seek accreditation with the Small-School Protocol.
  • It must provide an academic curriculum that leads to one of the following: 1) a diploma, 2) the completion of an established, coherent, and pedagogically organized program of studies, or 3) for-credit coursework that contributes to another accredited school’s or educational program’s curriculum or elective course of studies.
  • It must have completed at least one year of operation with regular in-person attendance of the students with their instructors. (If the school offers entirely online instruction, explore NEASC Online Schools Accreditation.)
  • It must enroll most of its students for a minimum of an academic year, or an entire semester for semester-length school programs, or with therapeutic schools, for the duration of the student’s care. (If the education is a program, explore NEASC Educational Service Organization Accreditation.)
  • It must be in compliance in its admissions, retention, and employment practices and policies with all applicable state and federal civil rights laws and regulations. 
  • It must be in compliance with all local, county, state/provincial safety, health, and child protection codes and regulations.
  • In the case of a proprietary school, it must have a governing body that establishes and maintains policy-making processes with provisions for the participation of the school’s stakeholders. Generally, one-third of the members of a proprietary school’s governing body must represent the public interest, with no contractual, employment, or personal financial interest. 
  • It must have sufficient operational and financial resources or the capacity to generate adequate financial and operational resources to support and sustain its current students' continuous enrollment (Nine years of resources or capacity for a kindergarten to eighth-grade school, four years for a grade nine to twelve secondary school, etc.)
  • It must abide by required state/provincial childcare guidelines if it enrolls children under the age of three.
  • It must have the interest, capacity, and potential to enter and complete a comprehensive school improvement and quality assurance process


Candidacy is for eligible schools that seek to work toward full membership and accreditation by NEASC. Although candidate schools are charged annual membership dues, recognition as a Candidate for Accreditation is not the same as NEASC membership or conferral of accreditation status. Candidacy is a preliminary step toward membership and full accreditation by NEASC. 

Upon determination of eligibility, schools seeking candidacy complete a formal application with detailed information about the school's mission, governance, student experience, operational resources, professional staff, health and safety, curriculum and programming, and planning. Following the receipt of the application, the Director will schedule either an onsite visit to the school or a video conference with the head of school to review the application and ascertain evidence of the school's preparedness to enter candidacy. 

The Director writes a report of the visit or video conference and submits it to the Commission on Independent Schools for a decision. A copy of the Director's report is sent to the school. Schools that are granted recognition as Candidates for Accreditation by the Commission have five years to complete a self-study, host a Visiting Committee, and be granted Initial Accreditation by the Commission. Schools are encouraged to begin the self-study process promptly upon notification of candidacy. Except by a special vote of the Commission, schools may not remain in candidacy for more than five years.

Application Process
The application for candidacy is intended to help the school review its readiness for accreditation and provide background about the school for the Director of the Commission. It is not intended to be a full accreditation self-study and may be completed by the head of school with help from other persons in the school community. The narrative portion of the report should not exceed five pages.


Candidacy Visit or Virtual Candidacy Visit
Once a school has submitted its application for candidacy, a NEASC director will contact the head of school to schedule an onsite visit — ordinarily one-half day in length — or a virtual visit by video conference with the head of school. The purpose of both is to verify the information in the application and assess the school's readiness to begin preparations for a self-study process leading to initial NEASC accreditation. 

The candidacy visit and the virtual candidacy visit follow this schedule:

  • An initial meeting and discussion with the head of school and governing body
  • A tour of the school (virtual for the video conference; may be prerecorded and viewed in advance of the video call)
  • A visit to some classrooms (virtual for the video conference; may be prerecorded and viewed in advance of the video call)
  • Interviews with some faculty and staff
  • Interviews with other members of the school community (parents, students, etc.) concerning the mission and value of the school
  • A concluding discussion with the head of school about the school's apparent readiness to enter an accreditation self-study process

Candidacy Report and Director's Letter of Accreditation
After the visit, a written Candidacy Report is prepared by the Director of the Commission or the director who visited the school. The report follows the sections outlined below, based on the standards and indicators of the 20|20 Process, as applicable to the small school, with brief narratives and any commendations as appropriate. The report does not make a recommendation as to the school's suitability for candidacy. Instead, the director's recommendation is included in a separate letter that accompanies the Candidacy Report when submitted to the Chair of the Commission for the Commission's review, deliberation, and vote.

Sections of the Candidacy Report:

  1. Enrollment Data and Trends
  2. Evidence Indicates Students Align Appropriately with the Mission
  3. The Governing Body/Board Assures Sustainability and Authenticity of Mission
  4. The School's Resources Support its Present and Prospective Operation
  5. The Adult Community is Hired to Implement the School's Mission
  6. A Culture of Health and Safety Permeates the School
  7. (Optional) Proprietary Schools Ensure Leadership, Organization, and Resources for Mission
  8. The School's Commitment to Mission and Core Beliefs Inform, Guide, and Align with  Student Needs
  9. The School is Committed to Inspiration and Support for Each Student
  10. The School is Committed to Program Excellence
  11. The School is Committed to Continuous Professional Development
  12. The School is Committed to Student Engagement with the Greater Community
  13. (Optional) The School is Committed to Each Student's Needs in the Residential Program
  14. (Optional) The School is Committed to Each Student's Needs in the Homestay Program
  15. The School’s Commitment to Long-Term Viability and Innovation Guides Planning

After the Commission reviews the Candidacy Report and Director's Letter, the Commission will forward a copy of the Candidacy Report to the school with a notification letter of its decision. The Commission typically meets three times a year (in February, June, and November) to review reports. 
Schools that are granted candidacy status will be assessed annual dues. 


Once a school has achieved Candidacy Status, it has five years to gain initial accreditation. When it is ready to begin its self-study, typically a nine-month to one-year process, a school should contact the Commission. The small-school self-study follows a scaled version of the 20|20 Process standards and indicators with the same expectations. However, depending on the program and resources of the school, not all standards and indicators may apply to every school. In consultation with the head of school, the director will decide which standards apply. 

For each applicable standard, other than Standard 5 (Culture of Health and Safety), a small school must address no less than three of the indicators, selecting the ones it determines will be most beneficial to its improvement process. One of the three indicators, however, must be the last indicator for each standard: "The school aspires and plans to strengthen its alignment with this Standard." 

The "Small-School List of Required Materials" is required with its Self-Study. Administrators, faculty, and staff can prepare for the Self-Study process by attending a Small-School Self-Study Workshop and participating on a Visiting Team to participate in a peer review of a member school. 

Accreditation Visit

About one year in advance, the Commission, in collaboration with the school, sets a date for the onsite visit and invites a chair, assistant chair, and at least one other member who comprise the Visiting Team. The chair should be a head of a small school. In some cases, additional members may be needed at the discretion of the director. 

Depending on the size of the school, its enrollment, and the distance the members of the Visiting Team must travel, the visit will last approximately one day, either from morning to afternoon of one day or from midday on one school day to midday of the following. The Commission may also schedule an additional day for the Visiting Team. After the successful completion of the visit, the Visiting Team will prepare a report for the school and the Commission assessing fulfillment of the standards, formulating recommendations for school improvement, and making a recommendation to the Commission on accreditation status.

Follow-up Actions

A school that fails one or more standards at the time of the visit must document its compliance within one year. All schools must file a Two-Year Progress Report addressing the Major Recommendations and Standard-Specific Recommendations in the self-study and Visiting Team Report and providing information on the school's current enrollment, finances, and planning. All schools must file a Five-Year Progress Report addressing enrollment trends, the school’s financial outlook, improvements in governance, enhancements to the students’ experience, and strategic plans for the future.

A school must submit a Substantive Change Report if it is affected by a significant change in its purpose and objectives, educational programs, allocation of resources, tax status, or public identity. The Commission may request a Special Progress Report on any subject and timetable. The Commission may schedule a Focused Visit or Staff Visit to a school following a Special Progress Report. Yearly, each school will submit an Annual Report and pay membership dues. Heads of schools should be open to participating in Visiting Committees, and they should encourage their faculty and staff to do likewise.

A school whose enrollment exceeds 50 students consistently for two years may be required by the Commission to adopt the full 20|20 Process at its next decennial self-study. 

List of Small-School Requested Materials

Standard 1:
A. Current admissions materials and enrollment agreement/contract
B. Statement of Financial Aid policies and procedures
C. Non-discrimination policy
D. Parent and student handbooks

Standard 2:
A. Process or instrument for evaluating the Head of School
B. Current bylaws or policies documenting how the school is governed
C. If the school has a board, a roster of board officers and members with terms of service

Standard 3:
A. Annual Budget for most recently completed year
B. Evidence of liability insurance (An insurance policy declaration page is sufficient.)
C. List of employee benefits
D. If annual income exceeds $1 million, the school must provide ONE of the following at the time of the Accreditation Visit (presented in order of NEASC’s preference and depending on the school’s resources):

  • Opinion Audit
  • Reviewed Financial Statement with Management Letter
  • If a Catholic school, a Diocesan Review of School Finances (Contact NEASC for form)

Standard 4:
A. Current employee roster, including roles and responsibilities for each, length of service, professional qualifications, and date of most recent state-mandated criminal background checks
B. Faculty Handbook(s)
C. Faculty Code of Conduct or similar document (if separate from above)

Standard 5:    
A. Current Crisis Management Plan/Protocols, including up-to-date communications and contact information.
B. Compliance Documentation, including:

  • Current fire inspections for each facility
  • Food Service certification (i.e., cleanliness, safe handling, health inspection)
  • Medical facility inspection as required (state and local requirements vary)
  • As required by state or locale, any additional necessary testing: (i.e., water at tap, radon, asbestos, carbon monoxide)
  • Schedule of fire drills and lockdown/campus emergency and safety activity – both completed for the most recent year and planned for the current one
  • Documentation around individual activities where specialized health and safety considerations are necessary (i.e., waterfront and pool areas, sports practices and games, field trips and off-campus trips, international travel, and immunizations)
  • State compliance documentation for programs serving students under the age of three (if applicable)

Standard 6:
The school should have an outside third party (auditor) write a letter speaking specifically to the following two aspects of the school:
A. Reasonable assurance that the school has the assets available to sustain the operation of the school for the foreseeable future (including a current asset-to-liability ratio).
B. Assurances that the school has systems in place to manage its finances appropriately.

Standard 7:
A. Current Mission Statement
B. Other guiding documents, if applicable:

  • Statement of Core Values/Beliefs/Philosophy
  • Statement of Vision
  • Value Proposition

Standard 8:
A. Documentation describing specific services:

  • Learning Support service
  • Language Support services
  • Counseling and guidance support services

Standard 9:
A. Current written curriculum/curriculum guide

Standard 10:
A. List of effective and completed professional development opportunities provided to faculty and staff for the past three years
B. Evaluation/assessment documents/protocols for faculty and staff

Standard 11:
A. An example of a communication with parents

Standard 12:
A. Residential Student Handbook (if separate from Student Handbook)
B. Faculty or staff materials specific to the Residential Program

Standard 13:
A. Agency contract
B. International Student/Family Handbook

Standard 14:
A. Initial draft of a strategic plan (a final draft will be required at the time of the Two-Year Progress Report)

Attend a Self-Study Workshop

This one-day virtual workshop is designed to assist Self-Study Coordinators, Principals, Heads of School, and Steering Committee Members. Attendance should be scheduled prior to or immediately following a presentation or in-service to the entire faculty by Commission staff.