Celebrating academic excellence:10 year accreditation through VAIS

November 27, 2023 / Christine Coddington

Eastern Mennonite School has been working on the  10-year accreditation renewal process for over 18 months, culminating in a November weekend with a VAIS visiting team. Lila and Ana, 5th grade students, warmly welcomed the team to the school. Lila started, “I hope you get to know some of our wonderful teachers. They’re super caring and make learning so much fun.” Ana continued, “at EMS, we’re all about community and friendship.  We work together on projects, help each other out, and get to make friends from other grades, and even from middle and high school! Some days it feels like one big family, and I’m really proud to be a part of it. Thank you for coming to visit!”

Strengths commended

The visiting team  shared in a verbal report that “EMS is commended for its strong sense of community and for living its mission. The school truly sees and cares for each student and member of the community. Students feel seen, known, and supported.  Faculty are proud of their students for the way they support each other in the classroom, on the athletic field or on the stage.” 

Major strengths the team noticed during the accreditation process include the professional culture and collaboration among faculty and staff. The school was praised for the joy, engagement, and shared sense of purpose that permeate the working relationships, grounded in the mission and a genuine care for the students. The report emphasized the pride faculty takes in students’ support for each other in various contexts.

Student Focus

The accreditation team also recognized the school’s focus on individual student development. Students across the school are acknowledged, nurtured, and invited to fully engage and grow into their capacities. The care offered to students was noted by all constituencies, highlighting the human approach faculty and staff bring to their work in fulfilling the school’s mission.

“When the 3:00pm bell rings, that doesn’t mean a student’s day is done… It means that after school activities are ready to begin!” Andrew Gascho continued,  “EMS provides numerous opportunities for students to extend their day through clubs, music, drama and athletics. Experiences within these activities gives students the chance to try new things, develop enhanced skills and create lifelong memories within the context of deepening relationships with their classmates. Through the lens of athletics, developing these skills and memories rises above the focus of a win/loss record. Students are challenged to be part of something greater than just themselves and give their all for the good of the team. Coaches are committed to providing a safe space for students to learn, be challenged in hopes of each athlete learning how to be the best version of themselves.”


Eastern Mennonite School’s commitment to faith and values was underscored, particularly through its student-centered chapel program fostering spiritual and human development. Additionally, the school-wide programs in Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding were acknowledged for deepening cultural values within the institution.

Patsy Seitz, HS English teacher, reflected during the process that “Relationships truly are at the heart of an EMS education. Restorative practices, a chief building block in our educational philosophy, help us to make sure that each student is known, cared for and nurtured. I’ve been here long enough and watched hundreds of students come through our buildings, my own included. I trust that you will see this deep care and passion for relationships in your time with us.”

Leadership and Innovation

Strong leadership was identified as a key factor in the school’s success, with Head of School Paul Leaman earning trust for his steady leadership, especially during challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlighted the formation of a strong Strategic Leadership Team, working collaboratively with a focus on keeping students at the core of their efforts.

The spirit of innovation was recognized as a notable characteristic of the school. The entire institution demonstrated a readiness to embrace change, institutional responsiveness, and creative thinking in addressing the challenges faced by schools in the contemporary world. Overall, Eastern Mennonite School received praise for its holistic approach to education, fostering a supportive community, and its commitment to continuous improvement.

The official report will soon be released with expectation of Eastern Mennonite School’s successful accreditation renewal.  Faculty and staff also look forward to information in the report about ways to further enhance the EMS experience.  The current dynamic strategic plan focuses on ways to strengthen culture, community, curriculum, and capital in the next 3-5 years. Here’s to another decade of inspiring leadership, continued growth, and the ongoing success of Eastern Mennonite School. Well done!

Since 1973 the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) has been the leader in accreditation of Virginia’s independent schools. The VAIS evaluation and review process is authorized by the Virginia State Board of Education through its membership in the Virginia Council for Independent Schools (VCPE). Click here to visit online to learn about VAIS accreditation. 

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