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Nashoba Escapes NEASC Warning… Dec. 23, 2015

 By Ann Needle

With the Nashoba District’s interim superintendent in place, the School Committee selected a search partner for a permanent leader at its Dec. 16 meeting. Nashoba Regional High School administration outlined how it intends to address a major concern that arose in its recent re-accreditation process.

Search Process for Permanent Superintendent

Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates signed his contract with the district in an Executive Session held before the regular SC meeting. The contract calls for Bates to start on Jan. 4, staying in the job until at least June 30. Until Jan. 4, Acting Superintendent George King remains in charge.

If Nashoba has not found a permanent superintendent by June 1, then the SC will work with Bates—the retired superintendent of the Boxborough Public Schools—about extending the contract, if desired. Bates is contracted to be paid $650 per day.

Meanwhile, the SC chose the MA Association of School Committees to lead the search for a permanent superintendent. After presentations from MASC and the New England School Development Council, the SC agreed that each of the trade groups charged about the same for similar services, but that the SC had worked with the MASC before and knew the people who will conduct the search.

The MASC estimated a cost of about $10,000 for the approximately 6-month search. MASC Search Consultant Dorothy Presser explained that her firm will work with the SC on tasks that include surveying the Nashoba community on what it wants from a superintendent, preparing advertising materials for print and the web, gathering applications for the job from across the country, and putting together a search committee.

Nashoba Escapes a Warning

The good news for NRHS earlier in December was that it received full re-accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Praise for the high school was lengthy, with NEASC citing factors such as school culture that supports NRHS’s values and the development of several interdisciplinary classes as exceptional. Still, the accolades came with a caveat.

“They seriously considered putting us on warning [status],” reported SC Chair Lorraine Romasco. According to NEASC’s final report regarding the rigorous re-accreditation process of last spring, the organization explained that its Committee on Public Secondary Schools “expressed significant concern over issues reported in the Standard on School Culture and Leadership, specifically the principal being provided with sufficient decision-making authority to lead the school and the opportunities for teachers to have meaningful and defined roles in decision-making at both the school and district level.”

Instead of a warning, NEASC said it has asked Nashoba to submit a report in one year, detailing how it is addressing these concerns. Bolton SC Rep. Neal Darcy stressed that a warning status could have, at its worst, affected the quality of employees attracted to Nashoba, and even real estate values.

NRHS Principal Dr. Graham summed up the NEASC critique with, “Programs should be there because I decided, with my staff, that they should be there.”

Graham told the SC he already has formed a committee at the school to work on addressing the 1-year update, along with the subsequent 2- and 5-year reports required of any NEASC-accredited school. (NEASC conducts the full accreditation process on each school every 10 years.)

Graham said the NRHS committee and administrators are focusing on building autonomy among the staff, including more leadership responsibilities for the department heads. NEASC’s concern that professional development has not focused specifically on the high school’s needs already is being addressed with school-based Professional Development, which began last year, he said. And, some late starts to several of the school days at the high school throughout the year—something that began in September—are helping with teacher autonomy by giving instructors more time to collaborate with each other, noted Graham.

Graham also remarked that he would like to see the roles of the principal, superintendent, and SC more clearly defined, giving him what he termed “more clarity on what rests with me, what rests with the high school, and what rests elsewhere.”

Outside of digesting the news on NEASC, the SC voted unanimously to authorize $8,740 in spending by the Nashoba Space Task Force for a demographic study designed to predict district enrollment in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 over the next decade.

Charged with recommending to the SC how overcrowding at NRHS could be alleviated, the Task Force will contract the New England School Development Council for the study. Task Force Chair Bob Czekanski of Bolton explained that the firm will work with those in Nashoba’s towns who can identify population trends, such as real estate agents and town administrators and planners.

Acting Superintendent George King said he still must pinpoint where the money for the study will come from in the budget, but is confident it can be covered.

Members Needed for Safety Task Force

Elsewhere in district news, Lorraine Romasco announced that Nashoba Coordinator of Health and Wellness Donna Linstrom is seeking community members from Nashoba’s three towns to join the new Safety Task Force. Designed to look at measures through the schools for keeping students safe from violence and other dangers, Romasco said Linstrom is aiming to bring in at least one parent from each Nashoba town. The Safety Force should complement the Emergency Response Task Force of first responders that Linstrom launched about a year ago, Romasco said. SC Lancaster Rep. Cathy Thier volunteered to serve from the SC, with Neal Darcy as her alternate.

New Policy on Posting Correspondence

Romasco reported that, after the flood of letters received over former Superintendent Michael Wood’s resignation, the SC is taking a different approach to posting the correspondence it receives. Instead of putting entire letters up on the Nashoba web site, she explained that the SC will instead post a description of the topic each piece of correspondence covers. Entire letters are available from Aleta Masterson, at [email protected], and any community feedback on the change can be directed to [email protected]