By PAM SCHIFF
High school accreditation is an important part of any public school district. Cranston East is preparing for their visit from NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) on March 12-15, 2017.
According to Superintendent, Jeannine Nota-Masse, the district budgets about $18,000 for a visit year. “We have to pay for lodging and meals for the visiting committee, in addition to the time our staff spends on preparing,” she said. On top of the cost for the visit, the district pays more than $9,000 annually for both schools to belong to NEASC.
“Having accredited high schools in the district is critical to the continuous review and evolution of our schools. It brings in a respected, unbiased agency, NEASC, to review the high school schools in depth, based on standards that ensure a high quality education for students,” she added.
The seven standards that all schools must meet and hopefully exceed are core values and beliefs about learning; curriculum; instruction; assessment of and for student learning; school culture and leadership; school resources for learning and community resources for learning.
During an accreditation visit, 16 educators from all over New England review the school (and the district, to some extent), using the seven standards and multiple indicators as guidelines. It is a rigorous process that lasts about 18 months.
“While we know we have excellent high schools that provide a high quality education for our students, participating in the NEASC accreditation process validates what we do well and work towards improving other areas,” said Nota-Masse.
“If we are not providing services or academic opportunities for all of our students, or if there are policies and procedures that get in the way of us meeting the standards, this process will suggest changes. It enables people who aren’t here each and every day to look at us through a different lens,” she added.
The actual visit will have educators spending nearly four days dedicated to examining the school, talking to the staff, parents and other school community partners. “I have been on visiting teams for schools in and out of RI, and it is grueling for the committee members. However, it is also a tremendous opportunity to see how schools operate. I believe our schools will be lauded for all of our good work during these visits, and I look forward to see what recommendations they may make for improvement,” said Nota-Masse.
The NEASC visit for East is under the direction of East English teacher, Andrea DiCicco. DiCicco has been at East for 15 years and has been the chair of the steering committee since September 2015.
Several past and current experiences have served as her training for the position including: being on the NEASC steering committee in 2006; her class council advisory position; community projects; her current enrollment in a CAGS (certificate in advanced graduate studies) in educational leadership from the University of New England; serving as a SALT (School accountability for Learning and Teaching) visit member to East Greenwich HS; her former work on the school improvement team, and participating in a NEASC visit to North Attleboro High School this past May.
“This visit [to North Attleboro High] was by far the best professional development I’ve completed. It showed me the NEASC visit from the other side”, and it helped to bring a new understanding to the material I am studying through my CAGS certification,” DiCicco said.
East Principal Sean Kelly is very confident in the work DiCicco is doing.
“Andrea is highly respected by the faculty, staff and students, alike. She is highly organized, self-motivated and understands the field of education. She has been outstanding through the entire process and has taken to this role easily and with great enthusiasm. In short, she is the perfect person for the job,” he said.
“The accreditation is actually a sense of validation to the community that the school is performing up to the standards,” said DiCicco.
DiCicco stressed that the school is following the process, and moving in the right direction. They are not stagnant. In 2006 there were rubrics that set goals. While they want to keep the same positive attributes, DiCicco acknowledges there have been many changes to the population of CHSE. “The student population is very diverse, more so than 10 years ago. We need to continue to evolve and grow to meet all the needs of our students,” she said.
Kelly reiterated the importance of a NEASC evaluation.
“NEASC is very important to CHSE. It validates all of the good work completed by our faculty, staff and students. As stated on the NEASC web page, “NEASC accreditation is a system of accountability that is ongoing, voluntary, and comprehensive in scope. It respects differences in institutional populations, missions, and cultures, and fosters institutional change grounded in the judgment of practicing educators. It is based on standards which are developed and regularly reviewed by the members and which define the characteristics of good schools and colleges,” he said.
The number of hours spent in preparation for the visit is not really measurable. Each of the faculty members sits on a standard committee. They have a steering committee to set up the visit. They have standard chairs. Each person has put in numerous hours of meeting time and time outside of the committee to prepare for the visit in the self-study.
“Hundreds to thousands of hours when all is said and done. It is a massive undertaking but also an extremely valuable one. We have been working on the self-study for over a year at this point,” Kelly said.
While all of this is going on in East, Kelly is still performing teacher evaluations and all the other everyday business that needs to be done.
“Since I have already participated in a NEASC visit, I am confident we are on the right path. I’m excited about the work; we are going to be ready. I understand the whys of what the visit entails,” said Dicicco.
From the seven required reports three are already done, the final four will be done by the end of December.
“For the actual visit in March, we will hold a private reception for the team with 32 teachers from East, and the visitors will spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in East. They will shadow students for the day, in classrooms, the lunchroom, etc. We have been having monthly assemblies with every class, and will continue to do so,” she said.
The awarding of accreditation signifies that the school has met Commission Standards at an acceptable level and is willing to both maintain those standards and to improve its educational program by implementing the recommendations of the visiting committee and the Commission. Continued accreditation is dependent upon a school demonstrating ongoing, reflective progress to improve teaching and learning and the support of teaching and learning.
NEASC will send their report/findings directly to the school, and it is the responsibility of the school to disseminate the information to the community.
“From May to July 2017, Cranston Public Schools staff review the draft, the Chair sends a revised draft to the principal to review for factual accuracy. Then the Chair reviews and finalizes the report and sends the principal two copies. In August 2017, the principal distributes final copies to the school committee, central administration, faculty, and the public,” said DiCicco.
DiCicco has several students on the student survey committee.
“I am very proud of the work our school is doing. How many students we are able to help. We have open, honest conversations for ways to tackle the issues they are facing and shine light on any weaknesses within the school, and how to develop a plan to fix it,” she said.
DiCicco is looking for parents to participate and provide much needed feedback and input. To contact her, call 270-8126 or email email@example.com.
“While I believe Cranston East and West are high quality, excellent schools, it is important to have others validate the work we do. It is also a great resource to assist in recommendations or changes we need to make. The community should know that the purpose of a NEASC visit is not for the visiting committee members to criticize our district, nor is it the committee’s job to come here and tell us how to run our schools. They use the standards as guidelines and seek to examine evidence that proves we are meeting those standards. If we are, they will commend us and if we don’t meet the standard in a certain area, they will recommend that we improve on that specific standard,” Nota-Masse said.