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Hale reveals NEASC findings

Date: 5/1/2012

April 30, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS) Principal Stephen Hale presented the findings of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) visiting team's 2011 assessment to the School Committee at its April 24 meeting.

"According to the NEASC, we can expect to receive continued accreditation," Hale said.

MRHS received 53 commendations from the NEASC, specifically in the areas of teaching and learning, the school community and culture, as well as its curriculum.

The report stated, "The Minnechaug Regional High School community consciously and continuously builds a safe, positive, respectful and supportive culture that fosters student responsibility for learning and results in shared ownership, pride, and high expectations for all."

"This is a quote that puts things into perspective for us," Hale said. "This is what we do and it echoes through all of the schools in the district."

Hale explained that the NEASC visiting team was especially impressed with the commitment to quality education by the towns of Hampden and Wilbraham and that commitment was reflected in the building of the new MRHS, which will open in the fall.

The school was also lauded for its faculty's ability to maintain high expectations for its students while offering personalized learning and support and its expertise in the areas of study they teach,

The NEASC characterized the school's culture as one that fostered a safe, respectful and positive environment for students while maintaining those high levels of expectation.

"Students describe their relationship with the teachers as one of mutual respect and describe their school as a close and caring community," the report stated.

Hale pointed to a student study conducted that showed that when asked if there was an adult in the building they felt safe going to if they had a problem, 83 percent said yes in the spring of 2011 and by the fall of 2011, that number was up to 94 percent.

Scott Chapman, chair of the School committee, said that statistic was one that stuck out to him.

"For me, the survey focused on safety and caring means a lot," he said. "I'm happy to see we are continuing to make progress on this. That 94 percent statistic is amazing."

While overly positive, the visiting team did cite some issues that it felt needed to be addressed.

First and foremost, the current facility was deemed inadequate to deliver the intended curriculum.

"If we were not building the new building, this probably would have been a cause for probation," Hale said.

While the new building prevented a problem for the district, the visiting team also said it had concerns regarding custodial staffing and capital planning for future improvements to the new facility, which Hale reiterated the School Committee and the district were working on.

The NEASC also determined that the district's $11,508 per-pupil expenditure was not adequate.

"Our numbers fall well below the state average of $13,006, but those numbers can be skewed," Hale said. "What's more important is the fact that we are lagging behind our neighbors in this region."

The NEASC also pointed to a reduction in staffing of 131.2 in 2007 for 1,288 students, versus 119.6 staff members for 1251 students in 2012.

While utilizing new guidelines for student learning expectations, the NEASC suggested more time for teachers at different levels and different disciplines to collaborate, an assessment tool for constant evaluation, and clarity on expectations for students, parents and teachers.

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