MHS responds to NEASC recommendations

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Feb. 15, 2013
MHS Principal Matthew Geary explained the school's response to NEASC recommendations at a Board of Education meeting held Wednesday, Feb. 13. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
MHS Principal Matthew Geary explained the school's response to NEASC recommendations at a Board of Education meeting held Wednesday, Feb. 13. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

Manchester High School Principal Matthew Geary updated the Board of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 13, on how MHS is taking steps to address a warning status placed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

The association, or NEASC, is MHS's accrediting agency. Accreditation is based on seven areas: Mission and Expectations, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, Leadership and Organization, School Resources for Learning, and Community Resources for Learning. In May 2009, a NEASC committee visited MHS, and based on its assessment, issued 58 recommendations for the high school to improve based on those seven areas. The committee also placed MHS on warning for Leadership and Organization (a category now known as School Culture and Leadership).

“I want to let people know that Manchester High School is accredited,” Geary told the board. “A warning doesn't mean you're not accredited.”

MHS worked to address these issues, and submitted a Special Progress Report to NEASC in 2011 and a Two Year Report in 2012. Following the Two Year Report, NEASC asked for MHS to respond to five specific areas in a Second Special Progress Report, which the school submitted on Feb. 1. Geary briefed the board on those areas and MHS's responses.

The first of the five areas was “report specific progress on leadership provided to the school community to create and maintain a shared vision and focus on student learning.” Geary told the board that in their report, they highlighted the new high school leadership team, which began in September 2012. They also highlighted the School Improvement Plan, which seeks to transform the school's culture by implementing professional learning communities to help teachers develop student-centered instructional strategies, strengthening critical thinking, collaboration and communication among students, and articulating a referral process for accessing intervention for students in need it.

The second area was “report additional steps taken, including the results of these steps, to address the issues of respect in the school.” Geary said that the issues NEASC noted were not just between students and students, but also interaction between adults and students, and adults and adults. In response to this, the School Climate Committee worked on drafting a Working Agreement which looked into how staff treated each other in front of students and how they support each other.

The third area was “provide a sample of a recently developed curriculum which includes essential questions designed to increase the depth of understanding.” For this area, the report included the new English curriculum that has been implemented at MHS in compliance with the Common Core State Standards.

The fourth area was “re-evaluate and implement changes to the school's advisory program, citing specific changes made to enhance/improve the program, especially with regard to the personalization learning.”

“When NEASC added this 10 years ago, the concept behind it was that every student in the building would have an adult that they have a connection with,” said Geary. “I'll be honest with you; I've never seen that work well in this school.” What he saw was that some kids who were social enough to already have several adult connections now had an added one, whereas students who did not have any adult connections were randomly assigned one. “That doesn't always work,” said Geary. In response, the report explains how the school's Advisory Program will focus on pairing at-risk, struggling students with supportive adults. “We went out of our way to pick staff members with which the student would bond,” he said.

The last area was “report specific improvements made to the facility since the last report, including those that are part of the district's capital improvement plan.” For this, the report highlighted three primary improvements that were made at the high school facility since the 2012 report, including the weight room renovations, the improvements and repairs made to the pool, and the new furniture placed in eight classrooms during the summer of 2012.

MHS's goal is to remove its warning. It has a Five Year Report due March 1, 2014, and hopes to address more of the recommendations. “We have 12 that are complete, 45 in progress, and one planned that's being done,” said Geary. He said that while a tremendous amount of work has been done in the past months, there's much more to do. “We're locked in a ready to keep working,” he said.

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