NEASC Accreditation Review: Is the Monadnock High School/Middle School at Risk this Year?
38Kids asked the administration what parents should expect as the review team returns this Fall. The full interview follows, but for those that just want the summary, here it is:
- Although the NEASC team visits in September, we won’t know the outcome of the visit and our accreditation status until at least April of 2007.
- The district didn’t lose its accreditation over the last 10 years because the district was able to report at key junctures that proposals to solve the problem had been made and were being put before voters. Those proposals failed, however.
- The criteria have changed in the 10 years since the last review occurred so it’s hard to say exactly what will happen this time around.
- The school could receive its accreditation, be put on warning again or could be put on probation – the last step before losing its accreditation. No one knows for sure what will happen. However, it is highly unlikely that the MRHS and Middle School will lose its accreditation as a result of this visit. Full accreditation, warning, or probation are the more likely scenarios.
- Should the district fall short in the facilities area again, which would seem likely, it’s possible that it might face continuation of its warning status or escalation to probation. Because it has already been on warning for 10 years, Monadnock also might be asked to report on progress sooner than the two- and five-year intervals given last time around.
THE INTERVIEW: JOE SMITH AND JED BUTTERFIELD ON THE ACCREDITATION SITUATION
Joe Smith, is Principal of Monadnock Regional High School. Jed Butterfield is the MRHS Science Department chair and serves as chair of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) steering committee, which is preparing for a site visit this Fall. 38Kids asked Smith and Butterfield about the process, whether the school’s accreditation is in jeopardy
Who accredits the schools?
Smith: It’s an independent agency called the New England Association of Schools and Colleges [NEASC]. It’s a voluntary accreditation process, although most high schools do go through the process.
Butterfield: We are members of the association and as member you agree to certain obligations. One of them is you go through a decennial review. Once every 10 years your accreditation will be evaluated.
When was their last visit?
What will they they look for when they return this fall?
Smith: The process looks a whole lot different than it did 10 years ago.
Butterfield: There are seven standards (see the NEASC Standards for Accreditation). We have a mission statement and as part or the mission we have defined academic expectations, civic and social expectations for our students. [The NEASC examines] the quality of the mission statement, how well is it defined, is it embedded in our school community and how well do we do in measuring ourselves against that mission statement.
Secondly, do we have a curriculum that aligns with that mission statement? How well do we inform the students and connect with what we do in the classroom day-to-day, both with the curriculum and the mission statement? All of this is about aligning what happens inside the classroom and outside of the classroom.
The third standard is on instruction. It measures how well we subscribe to accepted practices of instruction. For example, are we student centered? How involved are our students in their own education?
The fourth standard is on assessment. Technically it’s an assessment of student learning and addresses how well we track our progress across the school in meeting our own academic expectations and our own standards for the students.
Five is leadership in school organization. Asking such questions as to what degree do the principals have autonomy to run the buildings and make educational decisions? Are they instructional leaders? How effective is the building leadership in aligning us with these standards and showing educational progress? The second part of that is the organizational structure and such issues as personalization, how well do we know our students. They do look for ways we work directly with kids in one-on-one situations and how many adults in the building really know the kids.
The sixth standard is on what’s called school resources for learning. That addresses our guidance program, special education, the library and our health services.
The last one is the one that seems to get the most attention. Community resources for learning is where we deal with facility issues. The essential question is: does the facility support the program? In other words, are you able to do the things you want to do or need to do or is the facility limiting you? It’s going to address not only classroom space but equipment, your gymnasium, your locker rooms, the available technology to support the programs.
We’re currently on warning from the association, primarily for limitations in our [High School/Middle School] facility.Why are we on warning?
Butterfield: That came about as a result of the last visit in 1996. At that point the visiting team gave us some recommendations and [and] we had to do a two-year and a five-year follow-up report. At the end of the five-year report, when we had not satisfied all of the recommendations, that’s when the warning came about.
What does a warning mean for the school’s accreditation?
Butterfield: It’s a whole new ball game starting on September 24th, when that visiting team comes here. So regardless of what our warning status is at this moment in time, that status will change one way or another. What they see when they come for this three-day visit in September will determine our status.
Smith: Four things can happen as a result of the visit. One is you have continued full accreditation without warning. Understand that at all levels there will be recommendations and there will be accommodations. Even at full accreditation there will still be work you have to do.
The next level is you receive full accreditation, [but are] placed on warning for deficiencies in one of more of the standard areas. The designation of being on warning, there would be specfic recommendations in the areas that you’re deficient… and they will require a two-year report and a five-year report. They could also ask for special reports every six months. Depending on their judgment, the level of work, the quantity of work that needs to be done, they can make you jump though a lot of hoops.
How does that process unfold?
Butterfield: The process is that we write our self study, the visiting team comes, they review our self study while they’re here. They do their own evaluation, they meet with staff members, they meet with parents, with board members, they meet with students during their three-day visit and … then the chairman will write a report.When will the district know its status?
Butterfield: The report will come out probably next January, give or take. We were told that we will not have an actual decision on our accreditation status until probably April of 2007.
Could we lose our accreditation?
Butterfield: I do not know what their decision will be but having done this for a while I can tell you that my opinion is we will not lose our accreditation as a result of this visit. I don’t think anything like that would even be talked about until the five-year mark. If we did nothing in the next 2-5 years on these recommendations they would notify us in writing that we need to do something or else.
If we’ve been on warning for five years, why didn’t the school lose its accreditation already?
Smith: One of the things that saved us over the last five years is that we’ve been able to tell the commission that the facilities committee had a proposal out to voters. So that saved us at that juncture. When the next request for information came out were were able to say that one [proposal] was defeated but we’ve prepared another one for voters. So they gave us several opportunities to improve the facility.
Butterfield: It’s certainly a serious matter and one we need to address. In my opinion we will not lose our accreditation. It will be one of the first three levels of accreditation [which are full accreditation, accreditation with a warning or probation].
How have the standards changed since the last visit?
Butterfield: I don’t think that they’re more strict, it’s just that they’re measuring different things. The whole emphasis is on student achievement. Everything should be aligning around your mission statement. In the past a lot of it was checklists. How often you weed out your library collection, do you have enough desks, that kind of thing.
What have we done to address their concerns from a facilities standpoint?
Butterfield: What we have done over the course of the past 10 years is chip away at that list of recommendations…. Some of them may have been like putting an exhaust system in the home economics lab or doing something with the kiln in the art room.What happens if we fall short and we’re on warning again this time around? How long does it take from the time of first warning to the point where you lose your accreditation. Are we talking at least five years?
That is the only thing that’s left over from the 1o years ago evaluation recommendations is the facilities.
Butterfield: That’s our understanding. They have the power to do anything they want in any of those four levels. But I believe that they will give us time. They may give us a little less time than the average school since we have known about this for the last ten years.What else do parents need to know about accreditation?
Smith: They can give us a window at will. They could say in six months’ time we want to know what you are doing to address the facility needs. Or they may give us two or five years.
Butterfield: I had a mother stop me last week and say if the school loses its accreditation how is my kid going to go to college? In essence that process, the college selection process, continues and certainly it’s not going to be helpful to be on a lower accreditation status but colleges, they will make judgments on kids based on school performance and SAT scores and that’s why they use a wide range of data to make those decisions. I don’t want to say [accreditation] is not important. It is important. But I have two children in the building myself and I’m not overly concerned about accreditation and their future.
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