The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 12, 2010

Minuteman accreditation comes with “reservations” about facility

Last fall Minuteman Career and Technical High School (MMCTHS) was informed that it retains accreditation as a result of a comprehensive review conducted by NEASC in March 2009. This review, in which a visiting team examines all aspects of the educational program, is conducted every ten years. The letter noted a need to address health and safety concerns, to work to recruit more students, and to improve integration between academic and vocational instructors. It also recommended funding and implementing a facility plan. Minuteman is Carlisle’s technical alternative to Concord-Carlisle High School, and the school has approached member communities, including Carlisle, regarding funding a feasibility study on renovating the school.

Accompanying the letter was an 86-page report analyzing each program, as well as the facilities, philosophy, community relations, staff, administration, operations and school atmosphere. The team that visited Minuteman consisted of 25 educators from technical high schools throughout New England. Over three days they met with teachers, administrators and students, observed classes and technical areas, and toured the facility. Says Superintendent Dr. Ed Bouquillon, who has spent many years in technical education, “This is one of the best accreditation reviews I’ve been involved with. The group was very in tune with what we’re doing here, and the report was fair and well balanced. They didn’t hold much back.”

The report contains many positive observations: “Students were friendly, energetic, and focused” . . . “these students were happy to be in school” . . . “The staff is enthusiastic and dedicated” . . . small class size is effective for student learning.” The NEASC letter also endorsed the leadership provided by the new administration in developing plans for a building project. However, it also noted optimism at the school was “tempered by a general dissatisfaction with the physical plant, continuing issues of student recruitment, enrollment, and a general feeling of anxiety about current economic conditions and the potential effect on the school.”

The NEASC report praises a new mission statement, which was the result of months of collaboration and input from teachers, students, and parents. It now calls for a global education that fosters life-long learning. Bouquillon says the process of forming the statement was as important as the statement itself. “We engaged the entire community,” he says. “This is no longer a traditional top-down kind of place.”

The report notes the school meets accreditation standards for facilities “with significant reservations.” Health and safety concerns cited include lack of door security, padlocks on egress doors, a hoist in need of removal, condemned bleachers, broken windows, unsecured abandoned water and gas lines, and drinking water coming through lead pipes. It lists other needs, including roofing replacement, equipment upgrades and improvements to HVAC, electrical, and fire alarms. Several areas of the building are cited for lack of ADA compliance.

The NEASC’s attention to facilities is “smart and spot-on,” says Bouquillon, adding, “A high-performing learning environment requires fresh air, comfortable seating, natural light and flexible learning areas.” He notes the most critical safety issues cited in the report have been addressed. A 95-foot smokestack at the center of the school was removed within three days when it was found to be rusted at the base and ready to fall.

He added that $5 million in HVAC work had already been completed using a funding mechanism that applies the $250,000 expected in energy savings each year toward retiring the cost. More needs to be done in the HVAC area, he says; currently there are 110 home air conditioners throughout the building. “It’s the most ridiculous system you’ve ever seen,” he says, noting the original open building has been subdivided in a way that blocks ventilation.

This and many other facilities issues, however, will require a major building project. The school has been approved for MSBA funding for a feasibility study. The 16 member towns are being asked this spring to vote on $725,000 for the study, less 40% from MSBA. Bouquillon notes that communities that do not place a Warrant on the Town Meeting agenda can be assumed to have approved under a special default-approval regulation.

Bouquillon notes the study would be a first step toward a project to “right size” the school which has lost population over the years. It would also offer an opportunity to rethink the structure of vocational education, perhaps expanding the ages and grades served, or offering part-time opportunities. In addition, programs have changed to respond to the technical demands of the workplace and the fact that 65% of students now pursue higher education. “We don’t have to be locked into the way its always been done,” he concludes. ∆

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