Orange County, CA

Cognia’s expertise and flexibility help unify a private school with multiple campuses and international programs. Learn more about pathways to improvement with membership in the Cognia global network.


Fairmont Schools, a private school organization based in Orange County, California, operates multiple campuses within the state as well as partner programs across Asia. In the organization’s mission of education excellence, Fairmont sought ways to enhance continuous improvement efforts across its entire community.


In 2016, Fairmont Schools took up the Cognia accreditation process. Due to the nonprofit’s extensive national and international work, Cognia’s staff were familiar with Fairmont’s distinctive structure. Cognia’s Corporation System model allowed Fairmount to go through the accreditation process as one organization while also recognizing the individual campuses. Fairmont’s domestic and international teams began collecting data using the tools that came with Cognia membership, including the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool® (eleot®) as well as online surveys for students, families, and school staff. Later, in the 2021-22 school year, Fairmont implemented Cognia’s Teacher Observation Tool. With access to more system-wide data, they were better able to compare programs and levels of satisfaction across all the domestic and international campuses. That holistic perspective helped the school maintain a shared sense of culture, commitment, and belonging throughout its campuses and partner schools. Since Fairmont’s operations are dispersed throughout Orange County and Asia, staffers’ common understanding of the school’s identity, values, and mission keeps it running as an effective whole. Additionally, the practices have contributed to the sense of family and community shared by all stakeholders.


During 2020’s sudden and extraordinary changes, such as school closings and social distancing, Fairmont’s eleot scores continued to climb across all dimensions. For example, the school’s score for progress monitoring rose from 2.94 out of 4.0 in 2019 to 3.0 in 2020. Similarly, its score for active learning increased from 2.98 in 2019 to slightly above 3.10 in 2020. Fairmont reopened in August 2020 and performed benchmark testing for grades 3 through 8 on its domestic campuses that fall. While students across the nation were showing significant declines in reading and math, Fairmont’s benchmark tests found that their students were, on average, above the norm.

In addition, students in the Fairmont International School division earned a pass rate of 81% in their Advanced Placement® (AP) exams in 2020, only slightly lower than the previous year’s average pass rate of 85%. Domestically, the school offers AP courses at two campuses: Preparatory Academy and its new San Juan Capistrano campus (opened in 2020). San Juan Capistrano’s 2022 pass rate was 82% while Preparatory Academy’s 2022 AP pass rates surpassed the global averages for that year.

In addition to AP programs, Fairmont Schools is one of only 19 schools within the United States – and 500 schools worldwide – to offer its students all three International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Despite the pandemic, Fairmont’s pass rate for the 2020 IB Diploma examination was 83%, the same as in 2016. In 2022, only five Fairmont students sat for the IB Diploma exam, and they achieved a 100% pass rate.

Fairmont’s holistic and data-based approach to continuous improvement has enabled the school to grow in strength and size. Cognia’s support of the school’s comprehensive approach is a vital resource that helps Fairmont carry on its quest for excellence.

Create your optimal environment with improvement solutions.

Cognia’s data was incredibly helpful. It helped us understand how we needed to change.”
Rebecca Wood
Director of International Education
Fairmont Schools, Orange County, CA

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