By Marina Renton
From Sunday, Dec. 9, until Wednesday, Dec. 12, AHS will host a team from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) sent to determine whether the school should be reaccredited. Accreditation visits occur once every 10 years. This one was originally scheduled to take place at the end of October but was rescheduled due to Superstorm Sandy.
“The NEASC validates the quality of learning, teaching and support in over 2,000 schools across New England,” said AHS principal Dr. Lord, who has helped to prepare the school for the process and educated the community on its purpose and importance. “All of our student transcripts say ‘Fully Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.’ This assures colleges and employers that the students who graduate from Andover High have had a quality education.”
“This process ensures students are being well-prepared academically, socially, and civically, in a safe, nurturing environment,” said English teacher Mr. Waters, who chairs the Steering Committee that oversaw the school’s self-reflection and coordinated the accreditation team’s visit.
The AHS community has been hard at work preparing for the visit. “Last year the faculty researched and wrote reports on the seven standards we will be rated on,” explaineds Mr. Waters. “The standards are: Core Values, Beliefs and Learning Expectations, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, School Resources for Learning, School Culture and Leadership, Community Resources for Learning. After the reports were written, the staff voted on how we rate ourselves in each area. The visiting team will read our reports, do their own research, and write their own reports based on what they saw during their four days at AHS.”
On Dec. 9, a presentation held in the Dunn Gym welcomed the visiting team to AHS, introduced its members to the town and school community, and detailed some of AHS’s unique and admirable aspects, as well as some of the school’s needs. The show choirs, the cast of Urinetown, and the marching band performed.
Both Dr. Lord and Mr. Waters see this visit as an opportunity not only to showcase AHS’s strengths but also to receive recommendations and advice. “A visit by the NEASC team will allow the AHS community to reflect on what we do well and areas in which we need improvement,” said Mr. Waters. “By having an outside group assess our school, it helps us plan for the coming years and helps direct our self-improvement – all for the benefit of our students.” According to Dr. Lord, a goal of the visit is “to give the accreditation team the data they need to make sound judgments about our school with respect to the seven standards of the NEASC.”
Students are not advised to behave any differently while the visiting team is at school.
“To receive an accurate report, we want all students, staff, administrators and teachers to go about their business like it is any other day at AHS,” said Mr. Waters. “’If you are approached by a visiting team member to answer a question, answer it honestly. That is the only way our school can benefit from the visit.”
During the visit, “students are shadowed, [and] teachers, administrators, parents and school committee members are all interviewed,” said Dr. Lord. “Each visiting team member shadows a student though all of their classes for a day. Then, students are randomly selected with special passes by the visiting team to interview with them, privately.”
Mr. Waters particularly wishes to highlight AHS’ students. “We are so lucky to have such a great bunch of young people,” he said. “We want to show the visiting team what a typical day in the life of an Andover High student entails – they will be impressed. The teaching staff will also be a focus of the visit – what are classrooms like? What goes on in the classrooms? Are students challenged? Are students engaged? Are students learning? To me, the highlights of AHS start and end with our teachers and the students that fill our classrooms.” He added, “Students are the focus. Student voices will permeate the visiting team’s conclusions about our school – and rightly so – if it wasn’t for the students, we wouldn’t have a school!”
“There is a lot that needs to be highlighted,” said Dr. Lord. “Everyone needs to memorize our core values, beliefs and learning expectations (now posted in all classrooms) and what that means for our school. This is the first of the seven standards and if we do not connect deeply with our core values, beliefs and learning expectations, the other six standards will suffer.”
According, to Mr. Waters, it is “highly unlikely” that AHS won’t be reaccredited. However, “I’m sure we will have areas to improve upon but every school does,” he said. “NEASC will highlight what they feel we need to work on and give us a specific amount of time to show that we are focusing on the areas we need to improve.”
While “not concerned” about AHS losing its accreditation, Dr. Lord warns that losing it could cause “a nightmare of political and long-reaching issues for our school, our students and our community. Transcripts would no longer be valued by colleges and universities to which our students apply. The accreditation team and NEASC commission could put us on probation [or] warning, or [AHS could] lose accreditation entirely. We may be required to meet certain parts of the seven standards in order to maintain our accreditation.”
“We should be ourselves,” Dr. Lord concluded. “This school has been on warning with the NEASC for the last several years [due to a lack of a modern language program advisor] and we just got off warning [recently]. I do not want to go there again and I hope no one else does either. We have all the pieces in place for an international high school success story for the education of our students. We just need to study the seven NEASC standards and exceed the rubrics used to measure us!”
“Accreditation verifies a professional organization is doing what it says it is doing,” said Mr. Waters. “It is an arduous process to prepare for, but it is in the best interest of AHS to reflect on what we do and how we do it…. We want to be the best we can be – we want to celebrate what we do well and reflect on areas we can improve upon…. I look forward to the visit – as should everyone at AHS. It can only make us better.”