The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 12, 2010

CCHS still accredited, still at “warning”

Both the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) and Minuteman Career and Technical High School have been cited for deficiencies in their buildings when examined by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the independent accrediting agency for high schools. The schools received accreditation, but have been asked to make progress to resolve the identified facility issues (see related article below).

On March 1, a Special Progress Report for the Concord-Carlisle High School was sent to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the independent accrediting agency for high schools. “They wanted to know if our building project was moving forward and I was happy to report that it is,” said Principal Peter Badalament, noting that voters in Concord and Carlisle approved $250,000 for a CCHS Master Plan last spring. “This should be received as good news by NEASC,” he added. Within the next two months, Town Meetings in both towns will vote on whether to take the Master Plan into the schematic design phase.

Status tied to facility conditions

The Special Progress Report was requested by NEASC in a letter dated August 31, 2009, which said it had reviewed CCHS’s Five-Year Progress Report of March 1, 2009 and voted to continue accreditation, but also retain the school’s warning status regarding standards for curriculum and community resources for learning. In a July 10, 2008 letter, NEASC had placed the school on “warning” status in these two areas, citing curriculum problems that included overcrowded classrooms, lack of science lab time and inadequate numbers of physics and chemistry classes. It also pointed to space constraints on special education, shortfalls in restroom availability, electrical, storage and HVAC, roof leaks, and the abundance of roughly 80 doors “which present serious safety and security concerns.” The letter concluded that CCHS “will not be removed from warning until such time as all concerns have been fully resolved.” Resolving many of these would require a building project.

Accreditation process

Accreditation is a voluntary process in which “Member schools must undertake an exhaustive self-study involving the participation of faculty, administrators, staff, students, community members and board members,” according to the NEASC website ( CCHS underwent this review in 2004. NEASC officials, who must be certified teachers or administrators, look at curriculum, facilities and operations.

In 2005 a report was issued that praised the school in many areas, but cited 49 concerns. Since that report, NEASC has conducted periodic visits and reviews of progress. By 2007, the school reported that some critical issues had been addressed, including improved security, communications and ventilation. However, many, including overcrowded classrooms, inadequate science and computer labs and inadequate facilities for special education, could only be resolved with a substantial renovation or new building project.

The August 2009 NEASC letter noted a number of advances the school has made. These included a common curriculum template, improved review of academic progress, a new pilot program for freshmen, an expanded school day, programs for at-risk students, the initiation of a Library Learning Commons, addition of courses in forensics and meteorology and a lab program called “Hooked on Science.” It asked that the school review the standard on Leadership and Organization requiring a formal program for each student. Earlier, the NEASC had suggested the school implement a “formal plan to provide an adult member who serves to personalize each student’s educational experience.” Asked to comment, Badalament said, “Personalization of learning is important, and we’re instituting an advisory program for freshmen next year.”

Badalament said that continued CCHS accreditation relies on progress toward a new or renovated building. “If our building project stalled – if voters don’t approve design funds for the next phase this spring – we could be downgraded in our accreditation from warning to probation.” Accreditation status is posted publicly, and according to the NEASC website, ten schools are currently on probation.

In the July 2008 letter in which CCHS was demoted to warning status, the agency noted that concerns cited in the 2005 report should have been close to resolution, but “not only has little progress been made resolving these concerns, but there is no formal plan, including funding sources, nor a timeline to ensure their resolution.” Since then, the work on a master plan for a renovated school has satisfied the NEASC that things are starting to move ahead. Were progress to stop, Badalament said, it would take up to a year for the school’s status to be downgraded. “CCHS is still a fully accredited high school under NEASC,” he adds.

Goal of independent accreditation

According to Badalament, the reasons for pursuing accreditation have more to do with impartial evaluation and improvement than any other factor. Although there is no state or federal requirement, “99% of high schools in New England take part,” he said. As summarized on the NEASC website, “Accreditation ensures that through a mutually agreed-upon process there has been a third-party examination and evaluation by peers of the extent to which a school meets the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation. The results of that scrutiny are then made publicly available as an indication of the quality perceived and attested to by outside professional educators.”

Copies of NEASC reports on CCHS through 2008 are available on the Facilities Master Planning Committee website ∆

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