Southern Association of Independent Schools

The Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), founded in 1953, is a U.S.-based voluntary regional accrediting association of more than 380 independent elementary and secondary schools with a combined enrollment of more than 220,000 students throughout the South. It establishes accreditation criteria and evaluation procedures by which private schools are reviewed.

Southern Association of Independent Schools
TypeNon-profit organization
PurposeK–12 Accreditation
Southern United States
Key people
Debra Wilson, President Edit this at Wikidata



Southern Association of Independent Schools is an association of schools in 14 Southeastern states, as well as the Caribbean and Latin America, making it the largest regional independent school association in the country.[1] SAIS oversees a voluntary process of self-evaluation and continuous improvement, the accreditation review of educational quality provided by each member school.[1]

SAIS is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools[2] and the National Council for Private School Accreditation.[3]

Although the United States Department of Education (ED) does not recognize accreditation by SAIS, SAIS works both independently and also in conjunction with other associations, partnering with the following ED-recognized associations to co-accredit schools: Cognia (formerly AdvancED and SACS),[4] Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools,[5] Western Association of Schools and Colleges, American Montessori Society,[6] Association of Waldorf Schools of North America,[7] Association of Christian Schools International, and Christian Schools International.[8] According to the SAIS website, "The federal government recognizes SAIS accreditation for the purposes of issuing student exchange documentation through the Department of Homeland Security. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recognizes SAIS accreditation in determining athletic eligibility for incoming student-athletes."[9]

According to Jennifer Oliver of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), "Accreditation can play a role in where a child can go to college after graduation.... and the child's ability to get scholarships."[10] Additionally, "'There are many other good accrediting organizations,' Oliver said. Some are state-based accrediting agencies, others are for religious schools or private schools, she said, citing the Southern Association of Independent Schools as an example."[10]

A 2010 dissertation described the leadership qualities of independent school headmasters affiliated with three independent school accrediting associations, including the Southern Association of Independent Schools.[11] Heads of independent schools were also the subject of a 2022 NAIS article in Independent School, including a sidebar describing a new SAIS Head of School Database,[12] funded by the E.E. Ford Foundation, that "provides information and visible reports on school head histories, search timing, consulting assignments, immediate prior job appointments, school basics..." The database is available for member school trustees and head of school candidates, to help them "gain a better understanding of the search and transition process".[13]



Southern Association of Independent Schools was formed in 1953 to offer accreditation.[14] In the 1950s, SAIS represented 138 schools in 11 southern states.[15] SAIS began accrediting schools outside the United States with the acceptance of Escola Graduada Sao Paulo in Brazil in 1954.[16]

The organization began considering the idea of moderate mixing of the races in 1959.[17] The number of private schools was increasing rapidly, due to the desire of White parents to maintain a system of education which kept their children segregated from Black children. As a result, the SAIS issued a proclamation welcoming good new schools, but condemning attempts "to make financial profit out of the present emergency by the opening of sub-standard private schools".[18]

The organization argued before the Supreme Court in 1976 for the right of independent schools to discriminate based on race.[19] SAIS filed a Friend of the Court brief. Thurgood Marshall responded to an argument advanced by the attorney representing SAIS:

Justice Marshall became noticeably angry later, during Mr. Leonard's argument on behalf of the Southern Independent School Association. The attorney remarked that 250,000 black children attend private schools. The Justice asked him if he knew any that excluded whites. The attorney named one; then, pressed by the Justice, said he did not know it actually excluded whites. Then he suggested schools run by Black Muslims. "You're wrong," Justice Marshall shot back. The lawyer suggested school in Mississippi. "Can you imagine," the Justice asked, "a white student applying to an all‐black school in Mississippi?" The exchange continued; finally, Justice Marshall said, loudly, "All I'm objecting to, sir, is your comparing your schools to the average Negro school. There's no comparison."

—Lesley Oelsner, New York Times[19]

A 1986 merger with Mid-South Association of Independent Schools (founded in 1903) retained the name, "Southern Association of Independent Schools."[14]

SAIS was described in 2005 as "a nongovernmental, voluntary organization that today accredits more than 13,000 public and nonpublic institutions from early childhood through university."[20]

The organization added "Diversity, equity, and inclusion" to its training in 2021.[1] SAIS hosted the 2023 DEI institute in 2023.[21]

SAIS had 2023 a data breach that exposed an estimated 700,000 records online including student and teacher data.[22]

Accreditation history


SAIS has been offering dual accreditation since 1953. In 2004, SAIS began offering a dual accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), now known as Cognia, for accreditation of K–12 schools.[20]

SAIS developed standards and self-study processes for independent schools with SACS. Schools participating in the dual accreditation process communicate and work with SAIS in preparation for the accreditation cycle. Participating schools must meet standards listed in the SAIS Accreditation Guidebook, responding in writing to each indicator.[23] When evidence of an indicator is not shown, the school must explain how the standard is met in the absence of the indicator. The chair and visiting team report to the SAIS Accreditation Committee, evaluating whether the school has met the standards and performed a thorough and adequate self-study. The SAIS Accreditation Committee has final approval of the school's report for accreditation.[23]


  1. ^ a b c Pointer, Savannah Hulsey (August 31, 2021). "Critical Race Theory Invades Private Schools Across the Nation | The nation's largest private school certifying body begins anti-racist training". Archived from the original on March 30, 2023. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  2. ^ "NAIS - Approved Accreditors for NAIS Membership". Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  3. ^ "Accreditation | NCPSA". November 1, 2019. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  4. ^ "Accredited - WAY Program". Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  5. ^ "Cooperative Accreditation – MSA-CESS". Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  6. ^ "Director of Development at Montessori School of Columbia - Columbia, SC". American Montessori Society. Retrieved April 6, 2023. We are dually accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the American Montessori Society (AMS).
  7. ^ "Affiliations". Emerson Waldorf School. Retrieved April 6, 2023. EWS is accredited by both AWSNA and SAIS.
  8. ^ "Recognition". Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  9. ^ "What is Accreditation?". Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  10. ^ a b Payne, Melanie (June 6, 2011). "Edison Prep's accreditor a factor in students' future choices". The News Press. Fort Myers, Florida. p. A.11 – via EBSCO.
  11. ^ Roddy, Troy (August 2010). Frame Analysis of the Self-Perceived Leadership Orientations of Headmasters of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, Southern Association of Independent Schools, and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington Member Schools (PhD dissertation). University of New Orleans.
  12. ^ "Head of School Database (HSDB)". Head of School Database (HSDB). Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  13. ^ Chandler, Carolyn; Gulla, John; Jorgenson, Olaf (July 1, 2022). "Critical Syncing, see sidebar, 'New Resource: Head of School Database'". Independent School: 56–62 – via EBSCO.
  14. ^ a b "History of SAIS Accreditation". Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  15. ^ "Independent Schools Group Reelects Sager". Nashville Banner. Nashville, Tennessee. December 6, 1952. p. 3. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  16. ^ "Brazil Educator at Meeting". Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. November 30, 1954. p. 5.
  17. ^ "Moderate mixing urged by Virginian". Knoxville News-Sentinel. December 1, 1959. p. 15.
  18. ^ Sullivan, Joseph W. (October 16, 1960). "Private Schools Mushrooming in the South". York Daily Record. York, Pennsylvania. p. 19. Retrieved April 5, 2023. Private schools are multiplying fast in the South, spurred by the fear of white adults that their children will be integrated with Negro pupils in the public schools. From Virginia to Texas, new independently-supported private schools are popping up with accelerating frequency and enrollments and applications for admission at longer-established private Dixie schools are increasing sharply. For the most part, these gains date back to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public schools must be integrated with all deliberate speed. But integration's role in the growth of private schools in the South is decried by many educators, who believe hasty setting up of private schools may result in low standards and poor facilities. The Southern Association of Independent Schools, for instance, passed a resolution declaring it welcomes good new schools, but condemns the attempts of individuals or groups to make financial profit out of the present emergency by the opening of sub-standard private schools. Dr. Raymond G. Wilson, scholarly executive secretary of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, based here in Atlanta, says that in recent months he has received numerous letters from retired Northern school teachers requesting information on the best place in the South to set up new private schools. Dr. Wilson refers to these teachers as second-generation Yankee carpet-baggers, and warns the South to be prepared for their invasion.
  19. ^ a b Oelsner, Lesley (April 27, 1976). "Private School Segregation Is Defended in High Court". The New York Times. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  20. ^ a b Stanton, Laurie Fraser (October 23, 2005). "Team recommends dual accreditation for Hutchison". The Commercial Appeal. pp. EM-6. ProQuest 394181769. Retrieved April 4, 2023 – via Proquest. In December, Hutchison School will be unanimously recommended for SAIS-SACS dual accreditation through a new joint accreditation process of the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), making Hutchison the first independent school in Memphis to receive dual accreditation. Hutchison received its first accreditation in 1923 from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a nongovernmental, voluntary organization that today accredits more than 13,000 public and nonpublic institutions from early childhood through university. Hutchison has maintained its accreditation through the years by complying with SACS standards, one of which is demonstrating to a visiting team every five years our continual efforts toward school improvement. This year, a newly formed partnership between SACS and the Southern Association of Independent Schools offers the school dual accreditation.
  21. ^ "2023 DEI Institute". Retrieved April 4, 2023.
  22. ^ "School Accreditation Organization Data Breach Exposed Sensitive Information on Students, Parents, and Teachers Online". July 27, 2023.
  23. ^ a b "Accreditation Guidebook" (PDF). 2021. Retrieved April 8, 2023.