Head Search and Accreditation: How Accreditation Can Support Schools and HOS Candidates
The head search process is an intense time for a school. Leadership transitions are accompanied by a range of feelings from each constituency. Without exception, some will be happy to see a new leader take the helm, while others will remain in a grieving state for the departing head, sometimes long after they have left the position. For faculty, staff, and administrators, a new leader means disruptions to established routines and potential job insecurity. For parents, a new leader often brings strong emotions to the forefront, including both enthusiasm and anxiety. When done well, a head transition allows the school community to appropriately honor the departing head while also providing the new leader (and their family) with an intentional and thoughtful transition into the school community. Regardless of how smooth the transition, a head of school change is always accompanied by large shifts in all areas from routine practices to strategic priorities. The accreditation process can provide a measure of stability during a time of rapid and intense change.
WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO
A school can set itself up for success throughout a leadership transition by incorporating accreditation lessons into the search process. With good reason, search committees play a large role in the search for a new head. Most importantly, this committee is responsible for outlining the expectations and the qualities that are desired in the next leader. Search committees also offer input regarding the current context for the school and the opportunities available to the next leader; this input is then incorporated into the position statement. It can be extremely helpful to refer to the school’s most recent accreditation report when developing the position statement. The accreditation report will highlight areas of strength and challenge for the school. Schools that take a transparent approach to developing the position statement are better positioned to attract the most suitable candidates to lead the school into its next stage of development. Accreditation reports offer candid appraisals of the school and its challenges and incorporating these insights into the search process will yield positive results. A search committee can greatly improve its chances for a successful transition by referring to and incorporating themes from the most recent accreditation report.
WHAT CANDIDATES CAN DO
Head of school candidates can also rely on the accreditation process to support their search efforts. It is often said that serving on an accreditation visiting team is the best type of professional development. No other opportunity affords participants with a broader and deeper look into a specific school’s culture, community, policies, and practices. This type of organizational assessment experience provides a chance to stand out from the candidate pool. Participation on an accreditation visiting team allows candidates to get out of their comfort zones and explore how other schools achieves their missions. The insights gleaned from serving on an accreditation team are numerous and limitless; it is the gift that keeps on giving.
A second way that head of school candidates can benefit from the accreditation process is by asking to see a copy of the school’s most recent accreditation report. This request should only be made by finalist candidates and towards the end of the search process. Understandably, a school will be reluctant to share the accreditation report with candidates unless there is a strong likelihood that the person will become the next leader. If a school is reluctant to share the entire accreditation report, they might be willing to share the major commendations and recommendations that are provided within the report. Having the chance to read a school’s recent accreditation report will offer the candidate an unbiased account of the potential challenges and opportunities facing the school.
The accreditation process is built around a set of standards created by the accrediting agency. These standards reflect the core elements of effective schools, and a head of school candidate can use these standards as a de facto checklist to assess the strengths and challenges of a particular school. Accreditation standards can offer topics for inquiry during the interview process. For example, a typical governance standard will outline the board’s responsibility to support the head of school and also to delegate management of school operations to the head. A candidate might reference this standard and ask members of the school’s board to share an example of how they have actively supported the current head of school and/or how they keep their board discussions focused on strategic, rather than operational, matters.
KNOW YOUR ACCREDITORS
In the search process, it’s important for finalist candidates to know which agency accredits the school. They might also want to know the association's standards, and how they might differ from other accreditors. What professional development programs does the association offer? Does the association offer any pooled services such as a health care or buying consortium, or lobbying efforts? How could the school benefit from these, and how do they affect the candidate’s emerging vision for the school? Once the head is selected, developing a relationship with the accrediting agency is a helpful step in a transition plan. Reaching out to the association’s executive director, accreditation director, or the volunteers who lead the board or accreditation efforts can initiate a mutually supportive relationship based on a shared commitment to school improvement across the association’s membership.
Who accredits the accreditors? The International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation (ICAISA) is a non-profit organization committed to advancing excellence and upholding standards to ensure quality and accountability in independent schools across the globe. As a membership organization, ICAISA supports accrediting associations by offering a peer review process to assess the standards and accreditation practices offered by the association. The 21 accrediting associations that are members of ICAISA have had their accreditation program reviewed and recognized by ICAISA. As part of this review process, associations demonstrate compliance with ICAISA’s 26 Criteria for Effective Independent School Accreditation Practices.
Accreditation agencies are not created equal, and schools and head of school candidates can count on ICAISA member associations to offer rigorous and supportive accreditation processes that ensure school growth and transformation.
Read more about the value of accreditation by an ICAISA member association.