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MHS Earns Reaccreditation, Given Warning Status for Curriculum and Building Condition Standards

Melrose High School officials must submit a special progress report to NEASC by Dec. 1 that indicates how the school is addressing the warning areas.

Editor's note: Check back for updates and reactions from school officials. This article was updated at 1:50 p.m. with additional information regarding curriculum taken from the NEASC visiting committee's report.

has earned reaccreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), but has also been placed on warning due to concerns regarding the lack of a curriculum alignment plan, crowded classrooms and the aging building's condition.

NEASC evaluates schools based on seven standards:

  1. Core Values, Beliefs, and Learning Expectations
  2. Curriculum
  3. Instruction
  4. Assesment of and for Student Learning
  5. School Culture and Leadership
  6. School Resources for Learning
  7. Community Resources for Learning

The warning status applies to two of those standards: Curriculum, and Community Resources for Learning, the latter of which refers to the building's condition.

In a letter dated May 20, 2011 addressed to Principal Joe Dillon and provided to Melrose Patch by Superintendent Joe Casey (PDF attached), NEASC Director Janet Allison wrote that due to the school's warning status, school officials must submit a special progress report by Dec. 1, 2011 delineating how the school is addressing those areas of concern. The school's warning status will be reviewed at that time.

NEASC's Commission on Public Secondary Schools, which voted to grant Melrose High School continued accreditation, was "impressed with many of the programs and services" at the school, Allison wrote, and commended the school on a number of achievements, including:

  • Identification of responsibility for the school-wide academic expectations by each curriculum area
  • Core assignments and open-response questions adopted for all courses
  • The many opportunities offered to students to extend learning beyond normal course offerings and school campus
  • Expansion of technology equipment to support the curriculum
  • Expansion of a formal teacher mentoring program from one to two years
  • Use of late start school days to facilitate professional development for staff
  • Development of a to improve student learning and instruction

Regarding the areas of warning, Dillon has previously , which NEASC cited as a factor in placing the school on warning for the Curriculum standard. With an additional teacher already included in Melrose High School's initial budget for next year, the School Committee voted this spring to re-allocate additional at the school, which addresses the growing classroom sizes.

Among the problems cited with the building's condition, according to Allison's letter, is "the ongoing and serious issues caused by the leaking." Replacement for that 35-year-old roof is scheduled for this summer; the Board of Alderman and the city later that will cover a little more than half the cost of that project.

Other problems NEASC cited within the building include:

  • Inoperable hoods in some science labs that do not meet code and are labeled "Do Not Use"
  • An antiquated maintenance control system for which replacement parts are no longer available
  • The number of classrooms that have no windows
  • The student lockers that do not provide adequate storage for textbooks, coats and other belongings
  • Wide range in temperatures throughout the building
  • Noise distraction in some classrooms caused by the ventilation system
  • Delay in restroom renovations and replacement of carpeting due to fiscal constraints

"The lack of a plan to ensure the alignment of the curriculum with school-wide expectations for learning," as the letter puts it, led to some testy exchanges when the NEASC visiting committee's initial report was .

The visiting committee's report stated, in part, regarding Melrose High School's curriculum:

"Each curriculum area has also identified school-wide academic expectations for which it is primarily responsible, and some curriculum areas have also identified school-wide academic expectations for which they have secondary responsibility. School-wide academic expectations are clearly identified in all  curriculum areas. (teachers, curriculum guides, observations, self-study) There are inconsistent opportunities for students to practice and achieve the identified expectations. The curriculum materials are not expressed in a common format, making it difficult to determine if the curriculum is aligned with the school-wide expectations ...

The lack of a consistent written curriculum document in all content areas using a clear, balanced format prohibits the determination of appropriate integration, but it is clear that the provided materials do not require consistent depth of understanding over breadth of coverage in many classes. Teachers shared student work during the interviews, but the very small sample of student work in the evidence box did not provide sufficient evidence of reference and use of expectations so depth of understanding cannot be assessed although Melrose High School’s curriculum materials include essential questions for every course that could support critical thinking."

The special report due on Dec. 1 from school officials to NEASC should, the letter states, address a number of items including:

  • Submit the school's formal plan and timeline to align the curriculum with the academic expectations for learning
  • Provide  sufficient instructional materials, including textbooks, for the implementation of the curriculum (the city previously pledged for extra funding and the School Committee voted to reallocate funds )
  • Develop a plan to ensure an adequate and dependable source of revenue to provide and maintain a variety of areas for student learning
  • Provide a timeline to resolve all facilities issues identified in the evaluation report
  • Assess the facility for safety concerns, with particular attention given to hallways and exists for emergency evacuations and make appropriate adjustments
  • Evaluate the performance of the cleaning company to keep the school environment consistently clean and conducive to teaching and learning.

The school will retain its warning status until all the recommendations listed for the Dec. 1 are resolved, the letter states.

All schools accredited through NEASC must also submit a two-year progress report, which in the case of Melrose High School is due on Oct. 1, 2012. In addition to providing information on actions taken to address each evaluation report recommendation, the two-year progress report should also address recommendations that include:

  • Developing and implementing a plan to ensure the curriculum emphasizes depth over breath
  • Creating and implementing a formal, standardized curriculum template
  • Providing regular, formal opportunities for teachers to collaborate and reflect about instructional practices, and examine and discuss student work for the purpose of revising the curriculum and improving student learning.
  • Describe the school's plan to implement grouping patterns that foster geterogeneity, reflect current research and best practices, and support the achievement of the school's mission and expectations for students learning
  • Update the library print materials to a level that adequately supports all areas of the school's curriculum, the instructional needs of teachers and the learning needs of students

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