Accreditation Process - Independent Schools

Small-School Protocol

Small-School Protocol

20|20 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. However, many small schools have neither the personnel nor the resources to undertake traditional accreditation. The Small-School Protocol is designed for independent schools with fewer than fifty students and limited personnel. The protocol is ideal for schools that are intentionally smaller in size because of their mission, the kinds and needs of the students they serve, their curriculum and program, or the nature of their location, campus, and facilities. Based on the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools esteemed 20|20 Accreditation Process, and completed using the same Standards, Indicators, and a similar peer-review process, it is equally thorough and forward-thinking but without the unmanageable demands that can make traditional accreditation so challenging. The scale of the process is small; the quality is NEASC.


For a school to be recognized as a Candidate for the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools 20|20 Process Small-School Protocol, it must meet the following criteria:

  • It must have the interest and capacity to enter a comprehensive school improvement and quality assurance process.
  • It must be a nonpublic school that is separately incorporated under the state's relevant laws in which it is located or a member of a system of private schools.
  • It must have completed at least one year of operation as a school or educational program.
  • It must have more than five and 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 be developing following the general Standards for Accreditation for independent schools in NEASC.
  • It must provide academic programs leading to a diploma, completion of a course of studies, or an appropriate certificate signifying accomplishment of specified educational objectives.
  • It must enroll most of its students for at least one academic year, an entire semester for semester-length programs, or a school's equivalent uniform period of instruction and assessment.
  • In the case of a proprietary school, it must have a governing body that meets the criteria set forth in the Commission Policy on Governing Bodies for Proprietary Schools.

The Director of the Commission on Independent Schools determines a school's eligibility to complete the candidacy application and begin the candidacy process.


Candidacy is designed for eligible schools that seek to work toward full membership and accreditation by the Association. 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 and its governing body (e.g., board chair) 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 gain Initial Accreditation. 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 following 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 Application for Small-Schools


Candidacy Visit or Video Conference
Once a school has submitted its application for candidacy, the Director requires either an onsite visit, ordinarily one-half day in length, or a video conference with the head of school and its governing body (e.g., board chair) with a Commission director. 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. 

Both a candidacy visit and a video conference follow this schedule:

  • An initial meeting with the head of school and governing body
  • A tour of the school (virtual for the video conference, and may be prerecorded and viewed in advance of the video call)
  • Classroom visits (virtual for the video conference, and 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 a self-study

Candidacy Report and Director's Letter of Accreditation
After the visit, a written Candidacy Report is prepared by the Director of the Commission. The report follows sections outlined below, based on the standards 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.

  • Enrollment Data and Trends
  • Evidence Indicates Students Align Appropriately with the Mission
  • The Governing Body/Board Assures Sustainability and Authenticity of Mission
  • The School's Resources Support Its Present and Prospective Operation
  • The Adult Community Is Qualified and Organized to Implement the School's Mission
  • A Culture of Health and Safety Permeate that School
  • (Optional) Proprietary Schools Ensure Leadership, Organization, and Resources for Mission
  • The School's Commitment to Mission and Core Beliefs Inform, Guide, and Align with Student Needs
  • The School Is Committed to Inspiration and Support for Each Student
  • The School Is Committed to Program Excellence
  • The School Is Committed to Continuous Professional Development
  • The School Is Committed to Student Engagement with the Greater Community
  • (Optional) The School Is Committed to Each Student's Needs in Residential Program
  • (Optional) The School Is Committed to Each Student's Needs in Homestay Program
  • The School Is 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 Foundation and Program Standards may apply to every school. In consultation with the head of school, the Director will decide which standards apply. For each applicable standard, a small school must address no less than two of the indicators, selecting the ones it determines will be most beneficial to its improvement process. In addition, a small school must always address the last indicator for each standard: "The school aspires and plans to strengthen its alignment with this Standard." The Director may also insist that a school address a particular 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 Committee 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 evaluation visit and invites a chair and assistant chair who together comprise the Visiting Committee. One member must be a  head of a small school. In some cases, an additional member 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 Committee 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. Under some circumstances, the Commission may schedule an additional day for the Visiting Committee. After successful completion of the visit, the Visiting Committee 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 Committee 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 to a school following a Special Progress Report
  • 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.

Yearly, each school will submit an Annual Report, pay dues, and, as available, participate in the NEASC Annual Conference.  Heads of schools should be open to participating in Visiting Committees, and they should encourage their faculty and staff to do likewise.

List of Small-School Requested Materials

NEASC recognizes that not all these requested materials may exist at the time of the school’s self-study.

Standard 1:
A. Current printed 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 policy on how 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 insurance coverage
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 Accrediation 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 Diocesean Review of School Finances (Contact NEASC for form)

Standard 4:
A. Current employee roster, including role and responsibilities, length of service and professional qualifications, date of most recent state mandated criminal background check
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)
  • Policy on acquisition of current student health records
  • Statement from the Head of School that the school’s Emergency Plan is complete and has been submitted to the appropriate local officials
  • 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 operation of the school for the foreseeable future (which include a current asset-to-liability ratio).
B. Assurances that the school has the 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, programs or activities such as:

  • 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 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. Current strategic plan, if the school has one

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.