We’ve worked hard to learn as much as we can about the accreditation issues at the High School and we’ve learned a lot. Here is what we know.

1. What is the latest official news?

This week, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges downgraded the High School to “warning” status for accreditation. Last year, the NEASC had cited the High School for many concerns. However, the High School was forced to make more cuts in this current academic year. This week, the NEASC responded to those cuts and made the unexpected decision to put the High School “on warning for concerns regarding its adherence to the [standards for accreditation].”

Click here for the NEASC’s “warning” letter.

2. What were the NEASC’s Concerns?

NEASC chief concerns are curriculum issues, including the elimination of academic sections, the loss of teachers, the increase in class sizes, the lack of money to improve technology and our 100% user fees for sports. The NEASC is equally concerned about our lack of a permanent, reliable source of funding for our schools.

3. What is NEASC anyway?

NEASC is a widely recognized voluntary accrediting association. This country has no centralized, national control over schools. Instead, six private, non-profit regional accrediting associations monitor schools. NEASC is the New England accrediting association and accredits more than 2,000 public and independent schools, colleges and universities in the New England states and also in sixty nations. Although participation is voluntary, all public high schools in Massachusetts and 97% of public high schools in New England belong. The mission of the NEASC committee that reviews public secondary schools is “to maximize student learning and to promote the standards which articulate best practices about student learning and the support of learning.”

4. How Important is NEASC Accreditation?

Very important. NEASC is a strong and healthy peer review association and NEASC accreditation is an objective assessment that a school meets essential and widely accepted standards for learning.

5. How likely is it that we will lose our accreditation?

Extremely unlikely. But we still need to take the NEASC’s concerns very seriously.

6. If we eventually lost accreditation, would it affect college applications?

This is the big question we keep hearing, so we have called college admissions offices ourselves and we’ve spoken with many guidance counselors. Colleges do not have a blanket policy that they will not accept applications from non-accredited schools but applications from non-accredited schools may trigger stricter scrutiny. It’s clear that no college wants to penalize a qualified student for problems at the student’s high school and that the student’s own qualifications, such as SAT scores and class rank, are the big factors in any decision. However, one college admissions dean has told us that loss of accreditation may raise a “red flag” about the quality of a student’s education. Several people have told us that, if a college is interested in a candidate and has the time, the college would call the school directly to discuss these issues. However, the bigger risk is that a college may not have time or inclination to investigate the reason for the loss of accreditation and that loss of accreditation might hurt a student’s application. It’s also clear that a loss of accreditation for curriculum issues will be more concerning than an accreditation decision based on facilities issues.

How would a college even know that a school is not accredited? Each high school submits an official School Profile, which summarizes college matriculation rates, course offerings, grade distribution and SAT scores at each school. (The Regional’s School Profile is posted on its website.) A school’s accreditation status is usually noted on the School Profile. Colleges rely heavily on this School Profile to compare candidates. Colleges may or may not notice the accreditation issue on the School Profile.

7. Would loss of accreditation affect our ability to get funding from the state?

No.

8. But isn’t the timing of the NEASC “warning” letter awfully coincidental?

The NEASC had said that they were waiting for the results of the override to make its decision so the “warning” letter came as a surprise to everyone. NEASC seems to be on an annual cycle – the “citation” letter came out in April, 2007, and the “warning” letter came out in April, 2008.

9. What does “warning” status mean?

“Warning” status means that we are now one step away from “probationary” status, which precedes loss of accreditation.

10. Are other schools in this position?

We are not alone. Throughout Massachusetts, 10 schools (Athol, Beverly, Bridgewater-Rayham, Haverhill, Holbrook, Maynard, Randolph, Rockland, Southbridge and Uxbridge) are on probation. 53 Massachusetts schools are on “warning,” like us. NEASC does not publish a list of schools on warning but we know that we are keeping company with schools like Danvers, Sutton, Weymouth, Longmeadow, Worcester, Bedford, East Bridgewater, Norton and Northbridge.

11. How did we get here?

The High School’s accreditation problems are a funding issue, not a reflection on our teachers. For the past five years, our budget – even with overrides – has been insufficient to maintain the high school’s programs. We have made cuts every year for the past five years, slashing teachers, cutting deeply into course offerings and under-funding our facilities and infrastructure.

12. What will happen at the high school if the override fails?

If the override fails, we will see more drastic cuts at the high school.

  • We’ll see class size increase to an average of 26-28 in A-1, Honors and AP classes—exceeding the District’s own policy by 6 to 8 students. (Class sizes in skills classes is capped, by law, at 16 students.) And these projected class sizes are just an average—class size in some classes will increase to more than 40 in a class.
  • We’ll lose 9.2 full time teachers, including teachers in English, math, science, history and foreign language. The High School will not be able to restore French to the curriculum.
  • We’ll slash 47 more academic sections, including many electives. As a result, the high school will have far less flexibility in the schedule and students may not get the classes they need. Even if a child is recommended for an honors or AP class, they may not be able to get into that class because there will be fewer advanced classes running in each block. And because we will have far fewer upper level classes, we’ll lose depth in the curriculum that colleges consider essential.
  • Most students will not be fully scheduled. They will spend more time in study halls and study halls will be much, much larger than they are now.

The High School has already been downgraded to “warning” status and voting down the override can only make things worse.

13. Will these accreditation issues effect my property values?

The problems at the high school won’t improve the value of your home. Most buyers consider an unquestionably accredited high school an essential town service.

14. What can I do?

Vote for the full amount of the override at both town meeting and the ballot. Our high school may have already tipped past its tipping point. The override simply prevents more devastating cuts.

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