READING - Being on the cutting edge of educational philosophy and implementation keeps Reading teachers very busy and challenged. Their priority: trying to do the right things for the center of their universe: the students. Recent decisions have been made to try to control the number of projects each teacher must undertake, and where staff development resources will be allocated, so that each project can be done effectively.
The October 7th School Committee Meeting addressed this issue, as recommended in the following letter from Superintendent John Doherty. Like other superintendents in neighboring communities, he recommended that the Reading Public Schools suspend the upcoming expensive and time consuming accreditation process with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) until the process is updated and improved. Under the heading of the Reading Public Schools: “Instilling a joy of learning and inspiring the innovative leaders of tomorrow,” he wrote:
“The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is an independent accrediting association that has been in existences since 1885. The NEASC accreditation process is currently used in 254 middle and high schools in Massachusetts and consists of a 12-18 month self-study based on the NEASC standards for accreditation, followed by a site visit by NEASC representatives. This process occurs approximately every 10 years. The last time Reading Memorial High School went through the NEASC process was in 2003, prior to the addition and renovation of the facility.
“Over the last several months, there has been significant discussion among school districts about the concerns over the NEASC process. These concerns include, but are not limited to the amount of time needed for the self-study process, the expense associated with the self-study and the site visit, and the value of such a process in improving schools. The approximate cost of conducting the self-study and hosting a site visit will be approximately $25,000.
“In March, 2013, several school districts, including Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Newton, Weston, and Winchester, submitted a letter to NEASC expressing their concerns about the process (see attached). Their concerns focus on the fact that the value of the NEASC process has declined over the last several years and NEASC has failed to adapt to the new expectations and demands that schools now need to function. This past summer, I attended a meeting with several Massachusetts Superintendents where the discussion was similar in scope and there are several school districts who are considering whether or not they will continue with the NEASC process.
“As a result of some of the conversations that I have been having with other school districts, I have been meeting with RMHS Principal Kevin Higginbottom, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Teaching Craig Martin, and Director of Guidance Lynna Williams as to what our future direction should be with NEASC. Reading Memorial High School is scheduled to begin the self-study process this fall with a site visit planned in the spring of 2015. While we appreciate the history of NEASC in the Reading Public Schools, there is a concern about the amount of time and expense that would be needed to implement the NEASC process at a time when we are implementing several initiatives at our high school including the Literacy and Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks, the new educator evaluation system, district determined measures, the A.L.I.C.E. enhanced lockdown system and the Massachusetts Tiered System of Support (MTSS). For example, this year over 70% of the available inservice and staff meeting time will be dedicated to the NEASC self-study process, limiting the amount of time necessary to properly implement the above initiatives.
In addition, Director of Guidance Lynna Williams contacted several colleges and universities to inquire if accreditation has an effect on a student’s acceptance to a college or university. Out of the 47 schools that responded, 40 indicated that a school’s accreditation status is not a determining factor in college acceptances and 4 schools (WPI, Holy Cross, UMass Dartmouth, and Westfield State) indicated that it may be a factor if other areas in the school profile were of concern. The 3 schools that expressed concern (Boston College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and UMass Boston) felt that not having accreditation may put students at a disadvantage when compared with students from accredited schools who have equal credentials. What is more of a factor in determining a student’s acceptance to a college is the quality of programming the high school has to offer, the rigorous curriculum and the student’s ability to reach the level of expectation through coursework and other indicators like the SAT.
“There are some school districts who have already decided to take a position on the process. Burlington Public Schools has completely withdrawn from NEASC and the Newton Public Schools has decided to suspend their self-study. Several other school districts are having similar conversations and I will be joining a steering committee of districts in working with NEASC to revise the process.
“Therefore, based on the above information, I am recommending that Reading Memorial High School suspend participation in the NEASC self-study process until innovative changes can be implemented into the NEASC system which will benefit our staff and students. Our high school administration and I are committed to working with NEASC and other school districts to develop a process that is less time consuming, less prescriptive, and more meaningful to our work in improving schools. Once that process is developed, our goal will be to resume the process. In the interim, we will maintain our membership for the 2013-2014 school year and look forward to working collaboratively to support the desired reforms and to help create an updated process that will benefit both the organization and all school districts in the organization. In addition, we will continue to participate in all other NEASC activities, including the Showcase workshop and site visits to other schools going through the process.
“If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
The October 7th School Committee Packet contained Dr. Doherty’s letter as well as a 12 page document signed by 10 other communities which explains in detail both the strengths and weaknesses of the current NEASC process.