HARVARD - A commission report is due shortly. In the meantime, Bromfield School Principal James O'Shea briefed the Harvard School Committee on Nov. 26 about findings of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Visiting Committee's preliminary findings.
NEASC accredits participating schools once a decade. To prepare for the process, Bromfield assembled an in-house self-evaluation team in advance of the 16-member Visiting Committee's April 29 through May 2 school visit.
The resulting 95-page report can be viewed under the Bromfield School tab of the school district's website www.psharvard.org. The touring committee's report is shared with the NEASC Commission on Public Secondary Schools. The commission votes this winter season on the state of Bromfield's accreditation.
"This really has been a long time in the making," said O'Shea.
There are seven NEASC standards of review. Under the heading of "teaching and learning standards," the commission reviews the school's: core values, beliefs, and learning expectations, curriculum, instruction, and student assessment processes. Under the heading of "support of teaching and learning standards," NEASC also reviews: school culture and leadership, school resources for learning and community resources for learning.
The Bromfield self-study team mapped out two- and five-year plans to address identified needs, including: updated classroom computers, maximum class sizes of 25 students (especially in science labs), more and 'meaningful' professional development for curriculum and technology, and extra space for teachers without dedicated classrooms.
The Bromfield team also suggested the need for: hiring an adjustment counselor to help with students with Asperger's Syndrome, the establishment of parental involvement and communication guidelines, and improved air and temperature control in the building.
O'Shea said the Visiting Committee then began its tour and "really took a microscope to our school, our teachers and our students." The NEASC Commission considers the Visiting Committee's report to decide whether to continue accreditation: with a progress report due two years out, with a special progress report due as soon as possible, with a two year warning (not expected, said O'Shea), or place the school on show/cause probationary standing.
Till then, Bromfield remains "in a holding pattern," said O'Shea.
The committee lauded Bromfield for engendering a culture that promotes "achievement of social and civic competencies" and "high academic expectations for all students."
However, the committee recommended the development of a metric for measuring the school's 21st century learning objectives "for all students and identify targeted high levels of achievement."
"That will be a priority," said O'Shea, who later made recommendations specifically to this point. "It's a huge job - a collaborative process."
The Visiting Committee recommended a plan to "re-examines the schools' core values, beliefs, and learning expectations" with a data- and research- driven approach with buy-in from all stakeholders. "We did that," said O'Shea. "But this should be an ongoing process."
On curriculum, the committee recommended widespread use of higher order thinking and problem solving strategies across many curriculums. The committee suggested using testing data to drive curriculum review.
Not just MCAS and PSAT results, said O'Shea. "They're looking for us to develop other forms of data inside to shape our curriculum."
The committee recommended the development and implementation of a school-wide format for shared 21st century learning expectations, and also recommended the development and implementation of classroom and other assessment tools to help modify the curriculum.
"They're looking for something more formal and that's something we'll have to tease out," said O'Shea.
On instruction, the committee commended Bromfield on its emphasis on critical thinking- and problem solving- skills. The committee noted that there are a number of opportunities for students to apply these skill sets to tasks both inside and outside the classroom.
While Bromfield uses a variety of assessment tools to revise the curriculum, the committee recommended the school develop processes to: measure student's progress in learning, ensure that teachers use assessment tools to adapt their instruction, and ensure data gathered through such tools are woven into instructional practices.
The committee lauded Bromfield's climate of mutual professional respect between faculty and administration "resulting in a positive school culture." The Visiting Committee noted the district financially supports professional development for teachers, offers curricular and co-curricular enhancements, and that there's a marked "a sense of pride" in student achievement rates.
The committee recommended that each Bromfield student be partnered with an adult "with whom he/she has an connection beyond the guidance counselor who knows the student well and assists the student in achieving the schools' 21st century learning expectations."
Assistant Principal Scott Hoffman said a Visiting Committee member commented that it appears there's a similar but informal system already in place at Bromfield, and asked "How do you put that in place without it seeming fake?"
Hoffman said districts with "canned" programs can lack meaningful connection. "We want kids to make those connections formally and informally."
The committee recommended formal protocols to ensure professional development results in practices that target the learning needs of all. The committee recommended supervision and timely evaluation of each teacher to ensure continued improvement of teaching and learning.
In terms of school resources, the Visiting Committee commended Bromfield's "high degree of collaboration between support services and teachers", the use of teams to identify and intervene on behalf of students needing support, and the availability and use of supportive service technologies. However, the report flagged the sufficiency and relevance of materials within the library-media center.
The committee suggested the development and implementation of a written developmental guidance curriculum, and to evaluate the need for an adjustment counselor.
Community wide support for funding the schools was reflected in the report, with specific reference to support from the school superintendent, school administrators, Finance Committee, Harvard Educational Trust, and parent and community groups. The committee noted quick attendance to school maintenance issues, diligence in using enrollment data to drive new program offerings, and great parental involvement.
But staff buy-in on budgetary concerns is lagging, reported the committee. And it was noted that Bromfield needs a better method for storing supplies and containing chemicals.
The NEASC recommendations and response come when staff is gearing up for the incoming Common Core curriculum. "There's a lot on the table," said O'Shea. "It's a huge undertaking."
To develop the requested school-wide rubrics, O'Shea suggested paid summer work for staff. School Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger asked if such rubrics could be 'cribbed' from other districts. Not if they're to "reflect your own culture," answered O'Shea.
Teachers "want it to be precise," said O'Shea. "And maybe different for each discipline. That takes time. We want to be able to use it in an honest and a valuable way."
"All of our teachers, they're work horses," seconded Hoffman. "Our department heads ask 'how much more do you want of us?' and 'How is it going to help the kids?'" That's all they care about. Prove to me that these rubrics are going help the kids and I'm all in.
"It's absolutely a ton - a ton - of work," agreed School Committee member Kirsten Wright. "I don't see anywhere else to put it but in the summer." Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly projected a 4-5 week summer session for the project.
"The message I got is you're doing alot of things that are really good," said Wright. "These rubrics are a way to start assessing in measureable terms what is intangible."
Was the MassDevelopment contract to educate Devens children in Harvard mentioned, asked Devens Education Advisory Committee representative Maureen Babcock.
It helps Harvard financially, said O'Shea, but "Beyond that, in terms of students, there's no difference between one student and another."
"They're all our kids," seconded Hoffman.
School Committee member Keith Cheveralls said the importance of NEASC has been "pounded" into him over his 5 years on the committee. As such, Cheveralls sought a report back to the full school committee by June 30. The motion was unanimously passed, and bullet points were added to the School Committee's and superintendent's goals for the present year.
Cheveralls counted 37 commendations but 44 recommendations in the Visiting Committee's report. "That is not what I would have expected to see on a school that prides itself at this level.... There are some quantum shifts in thinking imbedded in this report. The rubric will get us part of the way there but to only focus on that is to miss the point."
Cheveralls said a follow up report would "to hold everybody's feet to the fire, including our own and let the community know we're paying attention and take the report seriously."
"We take it very seriously," said O'Shea, who offered that he, Hoffman and department heads would formulate a formal response for the school committee.
"I have issues with a few of the recommendations," said School Committee member Patricia Wenger, like the call to beef up technology in the classrooms. "It's a problem across the country. I'm unclear how they can impose that on us."
"Somewhere along the line [during the visit] there was a conversation with someone ... every recommendation isn't based on a deficiency," said O'Shea. "It's hard to know exactly on the ambiguous ones what led to that recommendation. They come here with their own lens and perspective."
"We looked at those surveys long and hard," said Hoffman. "Yes, there's some good stuff and yes [some are] a punch to the gut...There were one or two we said 'we reject.' I think that's healthy."
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