Monday November 12, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Mount Anthony Union High School received a number of commendations and recommendations in an evaluation report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

For nearly two years the high school faculty, administration, students and parents have been involved in the NEASC accreditation process that included a self-evaluation and then a week-long visit from the NEASC visiting committee to assess the school in terms of the NEASC accreditation standards.

Among the 81 pages in the visiting committee’s evaluation report are 33 commendations and 38 recommendations that Principal Sue Maguire summarized to the school board Monday.

Among the positive comments in the report are many regarding the high quality teachers.

"One you’ll see came up over and over again is saying our faulty is really strong and dedicated. The words they used over and over again are ‘committed, energized and resourceful,’" Maguire said. "That’s how I would say they are too."

The report states the NEASC visiting committee "found a remarkable commitment by all members of the school community to improving the educational experience of every student at the high school."

Another commendation Maguire said stood out to her was how many resources the school offers to at risk students.

"We really have a diverse socioeconomic population and they were so impressed with the different support systems from our health services, to our tutoring, to the High School Completion (program), to the Twilight program, to the Bridges program," Maguire said. "In fact, many of them wanted more information to bring back to their schools because this is a bunch of educators, administrators and teachers (doing the evaluation for NEASC)."

The school was also commended for taking proactive steps to prepare for the Common Core State Standards that will be implemented in 2013, and its assessment strategies used to drive instruction. "Notably they were talking about our formative assessment strategies, which every teacher has been trained in," Maguire said.

The report also outlines areas for improvement.

One of the recommendations Maguire said stood out to her is to do away "tracking," or offering classes based on academic level.

"The NEASC Commission does not believe there should be any tracking, so they are very firm in believing that students should be in heterogeneous classes across the board," Maguire said. "We have tracking. We have AP classes and we have kids that struggle, that are reading at a third grade level too, and we have everything in between."

While doing away with tracking would be a large, philosophical discussion that may occur down the road, Maguire said an idea that would begin to satisfy NEASC’s recommendation would be to offer one heterogeneous class, either civics or financial literacy, that every student would have to take.

"That’s something that we know we’re going to have to look at and that we’re already talking about," Maguire said.

The school does have some heterogeneous classes such as health or physical education, although NEASC is looking to also have heterogeneous offerings in the core subjects.

The report also recommends more rich, meaningful instruction at all levels. The report states that while the higher academic level classes do include more inquiry-based curriculum, lower level classes do not expect as much from the students.

"A small percentage of the curriculum emphasizes depth of knowledge and application of knowledge through inquiry, problem-solving, higher order thinking, and authentic learning opportunities. Most of these ideal situations took place in the higher level and advanced placement curricula. The majority of work witnessed in the college prep classroom and lower academic classrooms stresses skills building and mastery work. High expectations are not prevalent across all classes," the report states.

The report also recommends more collaboration time for teachers, which Maguire said is a recommendation every school receives but is difficult to do because it would require more non-instruction time for teachers.

Other recommendations Maguire mentioned include better utilizing data the school already has to improve student learning, creating a technology plan and adding more technology.

As a member of NEASC, Mount Anthony agrees to follow all of the recommendations, said Kristyn Harrington, an assistant principal who was chairwoman of the Steering Committee for the high school.

The report of the evaluation committee will be reviewed by NEASC this month and before the end of the year the high school will be notified about its accreditation status.

While the most time-consuming part of the accreditation process is complete, the school will still have to submit progress reports regarding the recommendations in two years and five years.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi