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Administrators seek to quell fears of accreditation probation at HS

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TOWNSEND — North Middlesex Regional High School administrators sought to debunk fears about the status of the school’s New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation at a meeting Wednesday night.

In a presentation to some 200 parents, Superintendent Dr. Maureen Marshall, other administrators and school committee representatives addressed student performance in the wake of possible NEASC action and their efforts in the past, present and future to stay accredited.

The NEASC is a nationally recognized, nonprofit organization that acts as what Dr. Marshall called an external evaluation organization. Since January of 2010, NMRHS has been on warning from NEASC, which cited facilities issues as the problem, and is currently considering putting the school on probationary status.

Principal Christine Battye discussed that all accreditation concerns are strictly facilities-based, which, despite the bearing it has on the accreditation, has not been impacting student performance.

“Kids are doing incredibly well,” she said, while presenting testing data.

Since 2000, average AP test scores in the school have jumped from 3.3 to 3.8. MCAS and SAT scores both show higher state averages, save the last three years in SAT writing. Parents were given time for questions, which mostly concerned the bearing probationary status or loss of accreditation entirely would have on college acceptance.

Laurie Smith, guidance director, explained that many colleges begin by putting everyone in a pool and usually rate students using their own scale, tending to focus more on what classes have been taken and test scores received. The NEASC accreditation status one’s high school alma mater doesn’t tend to weigh in on it, added NM Headmaster Christopher Chew

“They don’t have two separate piles,” said Chew. “I have a son in eighth grade at Hawthorne (Brook Middle School) and even if we were to lose it, I know he’s going to get a stellar education here.”

School Committee Chair Sue Robbins added that she and the committee don’t plan on losing accreditation.

“Our facilities are not adequate to support what we teach,” Battye said.

Physical plant grievances that NEASC has outlined include poor air quality, caused in part by an outdated HVAC system; a boiler which is just as outmoded, asbestos still in some areas of the school and woeful science lab facilities including non-operational gas jets, poorly functioning ventilation hoods and overall limited opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in science experiments.

Several of their requests, Dr. Marshall explained, have been fixed including the intercom system and, just recently, new lighting upgrades. To get major renovations done or to build a new school takes assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, explained Marshall.

“Probation looking shows a sense of urgency within the MSBA,” Marshall said. “For me, intellectually, it makes us noticeable.”

Since 2006 when Dr. Marshall began as superintendent, she has been writing grants for projects pertaining to he high school, to no avail. The MSBA refunds around 50 to 60 percent of a project, depending on a points system.

As of November 2011, Dr. Marshall again requesting funding assistance from the MSBA and schools who have been awarded funding expected to be announced March 17.

“If everything goes perfectly from tonight,” she said. “The school is looking at about a three year process from start to finish.”

Currently, there are seven high schools in MA on NEASC probation.

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