Thursday, May 25, 2006

NEASC Accreditation Review: Is the Monadnock High School/Middle School at Risk this Year?

This coming September, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) returns to review the Monadnock Regional School District’s accreditation. In its last visit in 1996, the NEASC put the district on warning due to facilities deficiencies at the Monadnock Regional Middle School/High School (View the verbatim list of deficiencies by clicking here). Ten year later, those deficiencies remain mostly unresolved.

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?
Smith: 1996

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.

That is the only thing that’s left over from the 1o years ago evaluation recommendations is the facilities.

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?
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.

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.

What else do parents need to know about accreditation?
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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Why some MRHS textbooks are older than your kids

Parents might be surprised to know that some Monadnock Regional High School (MRHS) textbooks are 15-17 years old.

Last fall MRHS principal Joe Smith came before the Budget Committee with a budget that included a line asking for $5,000. When asked what the money was for he explained that the high school’s math texts were 17 years old. The books have been out of print for some time, so the department had been buying used books on Ebay to replenish worn out copies. Smith said he was asking for new texts because copies were no longer available on Ebay.

The aging textbook issue isn’t limited to just math. Currently the high school English texts are 15 to 17 years old. Social studies books are no older than 10 years, according to Smith.

Five years ago biology texts were on a seven to eight year refresh. That has slipped. “We’ll have to look at the default budget to see what books we can buy for next year but I believe that’s going to bring up every one of our books at the high school to 10 years. I can tell you that I will buy biology books but I won’t buy all that I wanted to buy. It puts me back a year and its going to bump other texts,” says science department chair Jed Butterfield.

When voters fail to pass a budget, the school must work from a so-called “default” budget. When that happens, only contractual increases are allowed. These include increases for such items as salaries, insurance, and transportation as well as special education (which together make up the vast majority of the budget). Everything else remains budgeted at the prior year’s levels.

In the last five years, four school budgets have failed to pass. The exception was in the 2004 election, when the school board agreed to a budget that was less than the “default” level. It made this sacrifice in the hope that voters would approve a 22-classroom addition to address overcrowding at the high school. That budget passed. The building program did not. As a result, some budget lines have remained flat for five years.

“That’s how you start falling behind. Being on a default budget for however many years, you start slipping, you start getting behind,” Butterfield says.

That doesn’t mean that Butterfield has to wait to buy more biology books. Administrators can “shift” money from other areas by overspending on one budget item and underspending in another, as long as they keep total spending for the school within the budget, according to business manager Larry Biron.

What is the norm was for replacing texts? “I would certainly say every 10 years at the outside,” says Butterfield. That requires some maintenance. “We do spend a lot of time and effort to rebind our books and keep them in good service,” he says. “We can make a set of books last 10 years.”

But not 17 years. The English and math books are targeted for replacement this year, according to Smith.

What would be ideal? “In terms of content I’d love to replace books every five years, but I don’t know that financially [the district can do it],” Butterfield says.

Help build support for Monadnock schools. Please forward this blog to others concerned about education. Send your comments to 38kids@gilsumnh.org.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Will Surry School House MC2 Program?

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On April 18th the School Board found itself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one side of the room stood advocates for the Surry Village Charter School, whose supporters would like to lease the Surry Elementary School building. That building now stands empty after the district voted to close it last year due to declining enrollment.

On the other side were Superintendent Ken Dassau and the district’s principals, who proposed moving the Monadnock Community Connections School (MC2) into the Surry School.

Unfortunately, this lead to a debate that in some ways put the cart before the horse.

MC2 is an innovative, alternative high school program open to students in SAU 38 and SAU 29 that combines classroom study with experiential learning through local internships. It is the kind of program that could help the district decrease its dropout rate. “I see a vision where students have an alternative. It’s incredible that Monadnock has this,” said Sikunder Rashid, principal of the Cutler Elementary School in Swanzey.

MC2 is currently housed at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene. The school is partially funded by the Monadnock Region Public Schools of Choice (MRPSOC) grant as well as other grants. The MRPSOC grant, which pays $11,000 toward the school’s rent, ends in 17 months (October, 2007). Dassau first floated the idea of moving MC2 to Surry after being asked by the Budget Committee to come up with ways to cut the administration’s proposed budget last fall. “We anticipated move of MC2 to Surry would have a savings of approx $15,000,” he says. The Surry building offers MC2 comparable space and would move the school into a Monadnock Regional School District town from Keene, where it now resides. However, Keene is more central to the district’s member towns, MC2 principal Kim Carter acknowledged.

Frank Conroy spoke for the proposed Surry Village Charter School. “We think this is a wonderful opportunity to utilize this building. We’ll be handing over at the time of lease a check for $30,000 and all of the costs of running that school,” he said. “Surry village has always had an elementary school. This is an opportunity to bring a school back to the village.”

While the board knew a proposal was coming from the Surry Village Charter School, some members seemed taken by surprise by Dassau’s proposal. “The board received in December a request to move MC2 to Surry School.” But, Dassau acknowledged, “That did not come forward” as a formal proposal.

It was clear that some on the board felt they had insufficient information on potential district uses for the school to make a decision to lease it to a private organization. “Surry needs to figure out what they are going to do. MC2 needs to figure out what they are going to do. It’s unfortunate that this [MC2 proposal] didn’t come up earlier,” said Karen Cota.

“I’ve heard a lot about money and not a lot about education. My personal opinion is I would rather see our own program in that space,” said Board Chair Colline Dreyfuss.

So far, talk about MC2 has focused almost exclusively on budgets, to the disappointment of parent Wayne Imon, who has a child in the MC2 program. He thinks the board needs to get its priorities straight. “The focus is always on money, not educational issues. They spend all of their time debating motions like this,” he said.

In the end, the Board voted not to lease the school to Surry Village Charter School, thereby keeping its options open with regard to possibly moving the MC2 program. While it is unfortunate that the district could not help the Surry Village Charter School, it was also clear that the Board needed to debate its own options with regard to MC2 before it could take any action on leasing the Surry facility to a third party.

The real issue isn’t whether or not MC2 should be moved, however. It is whether the School Board will continue to actively support the program after grant support expires. Without making that commitment to MC2, there is little point debating where the program should be housed.

“My personal intention is to support the concept of MC2. It is the state standard. Everyone seems to be overlooking that point,” Dreyfuss said in a follow-up e-mail. With the grant coming to an end it’s a subject that’s long overdue for discussion.

“I'm not sure what MC2 looks like in the future without grant money... but those are questions that the board should have been discussing. And now we will have to discuss [them]. Look forward to seeing it on the agenda in the future,” Drefuss says. And if the grant is extended, will this school board support it?

Got kids? Think about attending a school board meeting, see what’s going on, and support your children’s education. The next meeting is next Tuesday, May 2nd, at the Emerson School in Fitzwilliam. MC2 will be on the agenda.

Click here for a list of upcoming school board meetings and locations.

Friday, April 28, 2006

MRHS accreditation warning: The NEASC letter that started it all

Ten years after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) placed Monadnock Regional Junior/Senior High School on warning status, the district still hasn’t resolved its facilities-related problems that threaten the accreditation status of the school. This fall the NEASC team returns for a full accreditation review. This time around, the district must meet a new set of Standards for Accreditation.

Why hasn’t the district lost its accreditation or been put on probation, the next step toward losing accreditation? At key junctures the school was able to report that plans had been made to address the problem. That included a plan for a new high school and a plan for a 22-classroom addition in 2004. Both were rejected by voters. Last year the district hired a consulting engineering firm to determine whether innovative scheduling could overcome a decade-long overcrowding problem. The report showed that to meet state and NEASC standards the district needed to come up with 22 more classrooms.

Below is a verbatim list of concerns that prompted the NEASC to put the Monadnock Regional High School/Middle School on warning status.
  • The 100% room utilization in the school that includes four modular classrooms.
  • The lack of specific classrooms for 95% of the teaching staff.
  • The limited size of most classrooms to support the school’s mission
  • The substandard science laboratories
  • The use of classrooms that were formally workrooms or closets and which lack windows and appropriate ventilation.
  • The over-crowded drafting classes in which the teacher at times teaches two classes simultaneously.
  • The lack of available time for junior high school students to use the computer room.
  • The lack of auditorium space to hold more than one third of the student population.
  • The high level of auditorium use which does not allow time for junior high school productions or performances.
  • The significant overcrowding of the music room with as many as 200 students during one period.
  • The lack of appropriate equipment for students enrolled in the tech ed class.
  • The lack of confidential areas to work with special education students.
  • The inadequate size of the locker rooms.
  • The sharing of locker rooms amongst junior high school and high school students.
  • The lack of available time for junior high school students to receive more than nine weeks a year or physical education.
  • The lack of space in the nurse’s office.
  • The use of closets as offices by the guidance specialist, the athletic director, and the special education supervisor.
  • The inability of guidance counselors to hold meetings with parents and students in their offices due to space limitations.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Concord Alert: House votes to use your tax dollars to help und private schools; Low-income child care assistance passed; Dropout law fails

E-mail news alert is a service of 38kids, an online initiative dedicated to building public support for the educational needs of children in New Hampshire School Administrative Unit 38 (The Monadnock Regional School District). Help build our list. Please forward this e-mail to others concerned about education. Send your comments to 38kids@gilsumnh.org. A copy of this information and other stories can be found in the 38kids blog.

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April 12: The New Hampshire House of Representatives today passed Senate Bill 131 by a vote of 183 to 167. The legislation, promoted under the banner of a “school choice certification program,” effectively takes money away from public schools to fund private institutions, says Rep. Barbara Hull Richardson, (D) Richmond.

“It would [support] religious schools or other private schools and would provide $500,000 in tax credits to businesses and people who donated to them,” she says. “But that takes it away from the general fund, which takes it away from general education.” SB131 has already passed in the Senate and now goes to the governor for a signature.

In a small state like New Hampshire even a small number of voter comments can make a difference. Make your voice heard. Contact the governor at this link.



Child care assistance bill passes

On a more positive note, the House did pass Senate Bill 306, which provides $500,000 to help low-income parents who can’t afford the services of a licensed, quality child care program. The program is available on a “first-served basis to families whose income is between 190 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.” If signed by Governor Lynch, the legislation would take effect on July 1. The official 2006 federal poverty level for a family of four is $20,000 a year in annual income. That would extend aid to such families with income up to $50,000. For a full description of poverty guidelines for various types of families, see THE 2006 HHS POVERTY GUIDELINES.

House deals blow to Governor’s bill raising legal dropout age to 18
Senate Bill 268, a bill would have raised the legal dropout age and forced children to remain in school until the age of 18, was voted down in the House today. The bill, An Act raising the age of required attendance of children in school and establishing a 2-year pilot program for increasing vocational education opportunities in the Manchester and Nashua school districts and making an appropriation therefore,” failed 134 to 219 (See the Concord Monitor story, Dropout Proposal Flunks Out of House.)

“One of the objections people had was the funding,” says Re. Barbara Hull Richardson, (D) Richmond, who voted for the bill. While the bill requires children to remain in school until the age of 18 it did little in the way of funding programs that could help these students graduate. Richardson notes that the bill would have used part of the $25 million in funding allocated to preventing dropouts and would have set up a $1.2 million vocational program in Nashua and Manchester, two areas with the highest dropout rates.

The bill isn’t dead, however. An amendment sent the bill back for “interim study.”

Richardson admits the bill doesn’t solve the problem of dropouts. “Kids don’t decide to drop out at age 16. They haven’t felt good about their education way prior to that.” She thinks that better preschool education and kindergarten opportunities are needed. And, she adds, “Some kids really need alternative ways of learning. The classroom isn’t necessarily what all kids need. [Some] need hands on or technical stuff or working with cars or learning to become electricians. I think they should have that opportunity.”

Richardson says Monadnock district kids are lucky to have Monadnock Community Connections School (MC2), an alternative high school that includes "experiential learning." “I think MC2 is great. I think it would help with the dropout issue. Some kids really need that type of education,” she says. The program is part of the MRPSOC school choice program, which is funded in part by a federal school choice grant.

It is not too late to let your governor and legislators know what you think about these bills.

Contact the governor at this link. Find and contact your legislators at this link.

Take the time to make a phone call or send an e-mail today. Legislators do pay attention.

You can make a difference.

A copy of this story is also posted on the 38kids blog site. For more stories visit us at http://38kids.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Obesity and our kids: what you can do about it

Diabetes in children is rampant: will your child be next? One study released this week shows a dramatic increase in childhood obesity - the primary risk factor for this life-threatening disease - while another shows the consequences: The results of a study of prescription claims for millions of U.S. children ages 5 to 19 over the last four years showed a doubling in those taking medications used to treat or prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Some 25 million American children are now overweight.

The first study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, was published in the Journal of of the American Medical Association. It has tracked height and weight measurements of 3958 children ages 2 to 19 years over time.

Children were considered overweight if their body mass index (BMI) was in the top 5% as defined by standard age/growth charts. (To calculate the BMI for your child, visit the National Institutes of Health's BMI calculator.)

Overall, one third (33.6%) of children and teens, ages 2 to 19, were overweight or at risk of becoming so in 2004, up from 28.2% in 2000, according to a summary of the study published in USA Today.

Type 2 diabetes, in which the body is unable to use insulin efficiently, is at an all-time high in children. Obesity is the primary cause. The highest risk age group: 10- to 14-year-olds where the prevalence of treatment grew 106% between 2002 and 2005. Ironically, type 2 diabetes has been labeled "adult onset diabetes" because until recently it didn't show up until later in life.

The problem is very serious, health officials warn. According to a press release from the Express Scripts study, "This trend is fueled by more sedentary lifestyles among children and the increased availability and intake of junk food, among multiple factors" (Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, funded this study).

"The increase in Type 2 diabetes carries enormous health care risks," according Ed Weisbart, MD, Express Scripts chief medical officer. "Diabetes is known to shorten life expectancy by about a decade, on average. Diabetics are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke, 10 times more likely to require amputations, and are far more likely to suffer nervous system damage, blindness, kidney disease and complications with pregnancy."

What can you do about it? Visit your pediatrician. Cut down on junk food and television watching and get your child involved in sports or other extracurricular activities. You can ensure the continuation of those activities by supporting physical education and sports programs in the schools and volunteering to help out with programs like T-ball or soccer. You can make a difference.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monadnock elections: Your vote could have made the difference

Here's a perfect example of why it's important for Monadnock parents to vote.

Article 3 on the Monadnock School District warrant this year asked voters to set aside $230,925 to put toward the building capital reserve fund. Not a dime of that money would have come from new taxes. All of it would have come from New Hampshire State School Building aid reimbursements from previous projects. It could have been used to help reduce costs for the construction that the district must do soon if the Middle/High School is to retain its accreditation.

The article lost by eight votes, 1403 to 1411.

The biggest problem in the Monadnock District is not the Monadnock Taxpayer's Association or the teacher contracts or even the embarrassing condition of our Middle/High School infrastructure.

The biggest problem is that few parents take the time to vote and to actively support their children's schools. The extent of the complacency is astounding. Yesterday I spoke with an elected official who was at the polls and took note of how many parents showed up in Swanzey on February 4th. The answer: very, very few. It's not just a Swanzey problem, however: the apathy extends district-wide.

Politicians talk about playing to their "base." In 2005 Monadnock children - your children - had no political base because parents weren't in the game. They didn't show up for School Board meetings. They didn't show up for Budget Committee meetings. Less than 200 showed up for the Deliberative Session prior to going to the election.

And they didn't vote. For want of eight votes this important article - and many others - failed.

Parents can change all of that. So next year go to the polls. Call your neighbors and friends and ask them to support your schools. Fight for the education your kids deserve rather than accepting the education that can be purchased for the least possible cost and still remain legal.

Next time around your vote could make all the difference for the election - and for your kids.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Senate passes dropout law

With the bill's passage in the NH Senate, it looks like the law to raise the legal high school dropout age from 16 to 18 will become law. According to the news story in the Concord Monitor (see Dropout bill gets $1.2 million), the Senate also added $1.2 million for pilot programs to create alternative programs to help those children stay in school. This was a response to criticism that simply forcing kids to say in school without any programs to help them would end up with them becoming a nuisance. Last year, 23,000 students dropped out in New Hampshire. The catch with this money is that this program is only targeted at Manchester and Nashua and is a one-time allocation.

In SAU 38 there is only one program I'm aware of that could possibly help channel kids that don't fit the regular mold in the right direction. That's the Monadnock Community Connections School, which is partially funded through a grant (MRPSOC) that runs out next year. It's innovative, it could help. Will voters support it? In March of 2005, amidst a raft of negative publicity from the Monadnock Taxpayer's Association, voters passed a measure saying that they did not support the program. The future of the program is in doubt, unless parents can organize and do more to build public support for the program. The grant runs out in 2007. The new law goes into effect in 2008.