What is NEASC?

Alice Wanamaker, Editor-in-Chief

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This year, students at EHS have experienced some disruption in their schedules, lessons, and overall experiences of school. Changes have been implemented due to NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation process, which occurs once every decade and will be taking place this March. Accreditation, while voluntary, is the central way that schools in New England hold themselves and other organizations accountable for keeping their educational standards high. Although the process will culminate in March, teachers and administrators have been working to prepare for it for well over a year.

    Accreditation, as explained by Mr. Burke, the principal at EHS,  “assures that we are meeting a high standard in educating our students.” Going to an accredited school lets colleges know that you have been held to certain standards and taught certain skills by the time you graduate. In the past, going to an unaccredited school might have caused a college to deny a student admittance; although colleges are now more flexible, accreditation still tells a college or employer that your high school education has prepared you for a career or higher education.

    Mr. Orne says that EHS teachers have been working towards NEASC for two years; Mr. Burke puts the estimate at closer to three. Teachers, Mr. Orne says, have been “working together for the past two years in cross-disciplinary teams, working with paraprofessionals and other support staff and school counselors, and working in groups looking at several different indicators within each standards and doing research.” Each of these subcommittees has prepared a report for one of the seven NEASC standards which analyzes EHS’s progress in achieving that standard and makes recommendations for how we can improve in the next few years.

    Some of NEASC’s standards relate to school values (EAGLES NEST), whether curriculum matches what is being taught in class, how student progress is assessed, school administration, and school resources such as the library, special education services, and the nurse. EHS faculty has already surveyed the school on these standards, but in March, a group of educators from other schools will spent a week at EHS doing their own analysis on whether the standards are being met. The group will then write their own reports about the status at EHS, which will determine whether we receive accreditation. Mr. Burke believes that having an outside perspective is important to know how to move forward: “You think you’re doing this well but maybe you’re not, or you thought this was a need but maybe it isn’t… we get good feedback on our reflection and self-study.”

    Three years ago, the establishment of clear school values was the first step towards the NEASC process. “The beliefs on learning are what we want our graduates to have when they walk out of our doors,” Mr. Burke explains. EHS was actually due to be surveyed in 2016; due to Mr. Burke having just become the principal, Mr. Orne says that current superintendent Nancy Follansbee chose to postpone the process. During that time, says Mr. Burke, “we weren’t really keeping our core values and beliefs updated.” Both Mr. Burke and Mr. Orne agree that when it came time to write the core values down, teachers and administrators brainstormed them based on what they thought was already happening in the school. “We had been working on growth mindset for several years prior to it being put on a poster,” says Mr. Orne. Although the process of explicitly writing values down was for NEASC, both say that the values themselves are genuine reflections of what EHS staff believe is important for the school.

    Students have already begun using these core values in advisories in classrooms. However, the largest role students have in the NEASC process will come during the visit in March. This will begin on the Sunday afternoon before visiting week, where a welcome reception will be held featuring music and other demonstrations from EHS student groups. On Monday, says Mr. Orne, 12 students will be chosen as ‘hosts’, and a NEASC visitor will shadow those students in C block classes and then sit with them at lunch and discuss the school. During these classroom visits, they will ask students questions: “what you’re doing, how it relates to the EAGLES NEST, what objectives are you covering, how does your teacher know that you’re learning this, what feedback do your teachers give you.” Finally, a cross-section of students from all types of classes will be invited to sit on student panels and be interviewed about the school. “Interacting with them is what we’ll be asking,” says Mr. Orne.

    According to Mr. Burke, it is hard to predict what the next steps will be following NEASC accreditation. Despite all the self-analysis that has been done, “what we put in our self-study isn’t necessarily what the visiting team is going to put down in their report.” If EHS does not get accredited, there will be a shorter interval of two to five years in which we will have to show improvements on weaknesses. Mr Orne. says that this is a change from what NEASC would once have done: “NEASC has changed their mission, so instead of being out to get schools, they’re trying to make sure schools… are improving.”. In 2006, the district used NEASC analysis to prove the need for a new facility. The report will arrive in September or October; until then, it is hard to tell where EHS will need to improve, or whether we will need to prove it in 2021 or 2029.

    One aspect of NEASC that will continue to guide the school is the core values. “The EAGLES NEST will continue to guide all the decisions,” says Mr. Orne. Mr. Burke agrees, detailing how experiments with journaling progress on the standards in Career Cruising will continue. The standards themselves are strong, he says, but “we need to continue working on how we keep track of that as a school, and how students are aware of how they’re doing.” Although it is too early to say exactly what NEASC will discover about the school, it is a way for EHS to discover its strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.