Melrose High School Warning Status Lifted for Curriculum
NEASC has kept the school on warning status for the building condition.
Melrose High School has been removed from warning status for curriculum by its accrediting agency, but remains on warning status for the building's condition, city and school officials announced in a press conference on Monday morning.
Last June, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) re-accredited the school in its decennial review, but placed the school on warning in two of the seven standards it uses to evaluate schools: Curriculum, and Community Resources for Learning, the latter of which refers to the building's condition.
The special report required Melrose High School officials, with regard to the curriculum standard, to submit the school's formal plan and timeline to align the curriculum with the academic expectations for learning, and to provide sufficient instructional materials, including textbooks, for the implementation of the curriculum.
Melrose High School Principal Dan Richards said that the formal plan essentially required the school to have a common curriculum template completed by May 1.
"We’ve gone above that," Richards said. "We have a common template, we're implementing it, we’re writing it and we're completing our curriculum, which is unheard of in the first year. Usually it takes several years."
On Track For Completed, Written Curriculum in June
The school's lack of a written curriculum meant, for instance, that two geometry teachers could have two classes moving at different paces, at different levels and with different 'essential questions,' which Richards said are the "big questions you ask" and form the backbone of what students are expected to learn.
"We’re in the final stages of completing our written curriculum," he said. "For the first time, this curriculum belongs to the institution of Melrose High School, as where before it just belonged to that really talented, crafty teacher and if that teacher left, it went with them."
With regard to sufficient instructional materials, the April 18 letter from NEASC informing school officials that the curriuculum warning status had been lifted noted the additional allocation of $45,000 to purchase textbooks and the $75,000 donation to the school matched by the city. Last year, Mayor Rob Dolan agreed to have the city provide $120,000 to the school department over the three years specifically to purchase textbooks.
Dolan said that the curriculum issue most affected students and lauded Richards' work.
"I'm very proud of him and his incredible hard work on delivering on every promise he made to the superintendent and to us," he said. "He's moving fast and furious."
Superintendent Joe Casey also commented on the alacrity with which Richards and the Melrose High School staff tackled the curriculum issue.
"It's really atypical, as Dan said," Casey said. "Typically it takes the first five years to get that done. To get that done under a year is just amazing."
Richards said creating the curriculum is a collective effort between assistant principals, department heads and staff, starting with a master plan he laid out to target where the school should be in June of this year and creating benchmarks for the department heads to accomplish.
"The department heads were really key in providing that time to write the curriculum," he said. "Part of it was also teaching some teachers how to write that curriculum. Once we showed them a common vision, they took off with it and did a fantastic job of writing it ... they crunched all those numbers, did all that writing, all those timelines and benchmarks. They have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this as well."
Building Condition Remains on Warning
While lifting the school's warning status for the curriculum standard, NEASC voted to keep Melrose High School on warning status for Community Resources for Learning standard, in this case because of the building's condition.
In its letter to Melrose school officials, NEASC did note the steps taken at the school, including replacement of the roof; detailed processes to ensure cleanliness of the school; revisions and training to faculty for evacuation procedures; and a proposed $5.5 million project, in terms of city money, to renovate Melrose High School. City officials previously told the aldermen that the renovations would take three years and could cost up to $7 million, with the city on the hook for $5 to $5.5 million of that.
While first noting he did not speak for Richards or Casey, Dolan took umbrage with NEASC keeping the school on warning status for the building's condition, despite the ongoing plans to address the facility's shortcomings and 10 months between NEASC's initial report and the follow-up special report.
"I don’t need to tell you how bad things are (fiscally), right? It's pretty bad out there," he said. "Yet this organization with no sense of times, of people's pocketbooks, because all these things translate into higher taxation or—in most cases—overrides or debt exclusions for citizens."
Dolan added that in tight fiscal times, "we had to defer certain things" to avoid faculty layoffs, not eliminate fine arts programs and not increase fees, "because once you lose something, when it comes to student-centered programming, you never get it back."
Over the past decade, Dolan said, the city has taken a "methodical approach" to school improvements, starting with the elementary schools such as addressing sewage backup at the Roosevelt School, building a new middle school and now moving on to the high school. He added that the superintendent and Richards are focused on educational issues.
"I want him to worry about that. The other stuff is my problem," he said. "We’re going to deliver on that ... trust me, we have a pretty good track record of delivering. Delivering on promises in a strong aggressive way."
Reporting back to NEASC isn't over for Melrose High School. In the fall, Richards must submit a two-year report on the progress the school has made or the plans to accomplish the goals set by NEASC, adding that "some of these things have already been accomplished."
"They’re looking for a timeline and a set plan," he said. "We're going to go above and beyond that. We’ve got the roof done and a few other things. I plan on preparing a report that doesn’t satisfy just the minimum, but goes above and beyond, and that’s what I think captures their attention to get schools off warning."
Dolan acknowledged that 10 years ago, NEASC had also warned Melrose High School about its curriculum standards, saying that it was an issue when he served on the School Committee in 1993 and 1994.
"The high school has always had that challenge," he said. "I think we've broken a window on that. It's been a tough one."
In making sure that the high school doesn't end up on warning status for curriculum again in 2021, Richards said that NEASC is "always in the conversation" at the school and faculty continues to work with the organization. He added that an advantage he has is that he has worked with NEASC on site visits, having recently completed on in Revere where he served as the co-chair of the school site visit team.
"I’ve been on five (site visits), I know what they want, I know what they’re looking for," he said. "It’s a matter of me now maintaining the standards, so that when we're around again, we're ready to go, and not doing catchup like we were this past year."
Casey added that Richards has also taken the step of sending Melrose High School staff and administrators out on NEASC site visits.
"The more people who understand the process will own the process and own results," he said.
Richards also said that the curriculum isn't done, but an ongoing process and living document that staff will continue to add to as technology increases and teaching methods evolve.
"But again, a really key point is it belongs to the school now and will remain here, so the school can keep on growing and flourishing off this curriculum," he said.