Work to be Done for NEASC Evaluation

by Ann Needle  W NashobaColor
Most of last Wednesday’s Nashoba District School Committee was devoted to a report by Nashoba Regional High School on how well prepared it is for re-accreditation later this year. In preparing for its ten-year reevaluation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, high school staff, who self-rated the school, concluded there’s still work to be done.

According to Social Studies Teacher and NEASC Committee Co-Chair Leo Sakellarion,  “We rated ourselves more strictly than our visiting [NEASC] team would.”

Although NEASC has  changed its ratings system — replacing its lowest rating of “Deficient” with “Not Yet Meeting the Standard” — the NEASC Committee chose to keep the Deficient rating for the self-report, Sakellarion added.

Sakellarion reported that every high school staff member was assigned to help evaluate NRHS in one category. Other ratings NEASC could give in each category are “Limited,” “Acceptable,” and “Exemplary.” NRHS did not rate itself Exemplary in any categories.

In the category of Core Values, the school rated itself Acceptable. High marks were given on what its report termed a “dynamic, inclusive, collaborative process [that] created values/expectations, which are actively reflected in the school.” However, the reported cited a need for greater buy-in: While most staff and students surveyed said they were familiar with the school’s values, only 63% of staff agreed that these values guide the development of policies and procedures, and the allocation of resources.

Under the Curriculum standard and its Limited rating, NRHS lauded itself on areas such as preparing students well for post-secondary education, but found the staff was short on curriculum development time. Observing how much the district has trimmed back professional development time over the last several years, Lancaster Rep. Cathy Thiel remarked, “We have these expectations; we need to give them the time.”

Similarly, the school’s Acceptable rating in the Instruction category reflected a culture among staff of seeking out new ideas and sharing knowledge, but short on planning time. And, along with the school’s Deficient rating under Assessment came the call for more planning and assessment time. NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Graham said that one solution to eking out more planning time could be  asking the Calendar Committee to work on building in early starts and/or releases once every two weeks next school year.

The high school also rated itself Deficient under School Culture, citing strong school spirit, but a shortage of advisory options and programs for all levels of students. It also pointed to a need for more faculty; there was no growth in staff over the last 10 years, despite a 40% jump in the number of students.

With the final two categories of School Resources (Acceptable) and Community Resources (Limited), the call for shoring up the high school’s physical plant went out, despite the upbeat mention of clean buildings and renewed athletic facilities. And, while both categories stressed strong communications avenues with families and the community as pluses, the Community Resources report also cautioned that NRHS needs to develop a comprehensive plan to build infrastructure and install hardware to support 21st century learning.

Looking over the report, School Committee Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton asked if the number of Deficient ratings was normal for schools similar to NRHS. Thiel maintained, “I think this is what we need to hear – kudos to that. Let’s say, ‘What we can do?’”

Leo Sakellarion explained that the school is lining up a wide variety of staff, students, and parents — along with School Committee members — for interviews with NEASC when it arrives at the high school on Sunday, March 8. He said he will gather potential questions for these interviewees from recent NEASC visits in the area.

Budget Season Begins
Superintendent Michael Wood announced that the 2015/16 preliminary budget will be presented at the January 28 School Committee meeting. In preparation, Wood reported that he has asked district schools to submit their budgets by the December break. He cautioned that the biggest challenge to forming an accurate budget is that the governor probably won’t release numbers on potential district aid until March 4, the latest release date in recent memory. The School Committee must vote on the budget by March 11, he added.