Friday, November 19, 2004
CCHS re-accreditation begins Teacher-school committee tensions surface immediately
Starting off the re-accreditation process, teachers and students from Concord-Carlisle High School gave an hour-long presentation to a team of sixteen evaluators on Sunday afternoon, November 14. The presentation began with strong, supportive descriptions of the educational atmosphere at CCHS, which began to unravel as some teachers spontaneously voiced their frustrations with the condition of the facility and particularly with budget cuts made, as guidance counselor Brad McGrath said, "by people who don't know what the school needs."
The accreditation review is being directed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). NEASC is a voluntary organization and membership is not required by the state of Massachusetts, according to Concord-Carlisle High School Principal Art Dulong. The team of evaluators will issue a report determining the level at which the high school meets the Standard for Accreditation.
The evaluators, made up of teachers and administrators from around New England, filed into the high school library, each carrying huge binders containing CCHS reports prepared over the last two years. The reports cover many areas including community resources, student evaluations, and curriculum plans.
English teacher Jennifer Greely began the presentations by describing CCHS' mission statement as a very long sentence, one that as an English teacher she should object to, but said the length is necessary to cover the excellence at CCHS. Social studies teacher Denis Cleary, speaking about the school community noted, "the heart of the school is the teaching staff," and "the keywords are pride and service."
Three CCHS students then gave short talks, including their likes and dislikes about the school. Junior Nikki Spencer complained that some classrooms are in danger of falling apart, and she regrets that students wanting to take both art and music must skip lunch to do so. But she praised the staff saying, "The teachers here are enthusiastic and it shows." Senior Charlotte Bemis discussed the sports offerings, and was pleased that many athletic activities are available for first-timers. "There are at least three sports that don't do cuts," she explained, allowing everyone who wanted to the opportunity to participate. Senior Jeff Pan ended the student presentation by describing the musical offerings at CCHS. "The climax of my musical experience was the trip the band took to Japan," he said. He also was enthusiastic about the variety of electives; a political science course he recently took was so interesting that he has decided to continue on in college next year.
McGrath, speaking about the staff and funding, began his portion by describing Concord and Carlisle as "not sidewalk schools," meaning social and educational opportunities after school were more difficult to arrange and maintain. While talking about cuts in programs, and the building issue, he said, "Never has there been a greater divide between teachers and the school committee" as there is now. The presentation finished up with a short talk by Alternative Program teacher Kathy Pendergast, speaking about assessments, and English teacher Victoria Moskowitz, summing up the "key themes that keep coming up."
Predictably, during the question and answer period, which Moskowitz facilitated, the first question dealt with the way teachers communicate with the school committee. When told Dulong acts as a liaison to the school committee, the evaluator asked if the method was effective. McGrath responded that there are leftover feelings from the lengthy contract negotiations.
On the question of what kind of professional development was allowed, Moskowitz responded that teachers are able to attend conferences. A whispered comment made by a CCHS staff member was heard to say, "Last year, no!" Moskowitz then explained professional development was put on hold last year due to budget problems.
The last question dealt with academic pressure. The evaluator, noting the affluence of the two communities, wondered if students were stressed, feeling pressured to aim for Ivy League colleges, and did the school experience cases of cheating and plagiarism. McGrath said, "We have not bought into the AP (Advance Placement) AP, AP." The staff constantly struggles to provide more programs, adding to the pressure, he added. "We have a lot of excellent and in-depth humanities programs." Greely, responding to the plagiarism question, explained that freshmen, after being taught what plagiarism is, are asked to sign a "contract" agreeing to not use other text as their own. Moskowitz added, "We certainly have a few incidents every year." They try to forestall it by talking about academic integrity, she added.
"It would behoove all groups to cooperate," said Regional School Committee member Michael Fitzgerald, discussing McGrath's comments after the meeting. Due to the difficult contract negotiating process it will take time to repair the relationship between the teachers and the RSC, he noted.
Harriet Stevens, President of the CCTA (Concord-Carlisle Teacher's Association), reached the next day by phone, said McGrath's comments were not a planned strategy by the executive committee, but were understandable given the difficult contract negotiations over the last two years. "Brad is a straightshooter," she explained. She cited the many turnovers in the school administration as an additional stress on the teachers. She expressed hope that the teacher's organization and the school committee would go forward working together.
The NEASC group will spend four days interviewing teachers, administrators, students and parents. The visitors will tour the school, observe classes, and examine samples of student work.
CCHS Mission Statement
The mission of the Concord Public Schools and the Concord-Carlisle High School District as partners with our families and communities, is to maximize each student's opportunities for intellectual and personal development, so as to perform effectively in and become productive citizens of a rapidly changing work, by providing a rigorous and varied educational experience as measured against best education practice, guided by highly competent and caring staff in a supportive and safe environment consistent with the communities' historic commitment to social consciousness, mutual respect, intellectualism, and public education.
© 2004 The