DHS receives NEASC accreditation, recommendations

Duxbury High School received the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) decennial report with high commendations and recommendations to improve the school’s overall success.

The visiting committee consisted of education professionals from Maine, Con- necticut and Massachusetts and the visit lasted from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 2012. The report reflected a comprehensive evaluation of both the school’s “self-study” and the findings of the visiting committee.

The report commended the high school on its creation of a set of core values, beliefs and learning expectations that is “clear, easily understood, and has become part of the fabric of the entire school community.” Under core values, the NEASC report recommended the schools develop a “consis tent review process to revisit and examine the effectiveness of the school-wide rubrics.”

One of the major issues the visiting committee had was with the school site and plant, which the report said provided “scattered support for the delivery of high quality school programs and services.” The report stated the current facility is “inadequate for the student population and for implementation of 21st century skills across the school.” The report goes on to say the construction of the new, co-located middle and high school will “resolve all of issues related to the deficiencies of the current physical plant and will create a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.”

Andrew Stephens, DHS principal, said there was nothing in the report that surprised him or the faculty at the school. After doing a comprehensive self-evaluation for over a year, the teachers, faculty and staff had a good idea of what they needed to improve upon.

“There were definitely no bombshells,” Stephens said. “The major issue was with the current building. They can only look at the building that is, not the building that might be or will be.”

The school system has recently implemented a five- year strategic plan that addresses many of the needs at the school, including enrollment changes, staffing needs and capital improvements. In the plan, it is proposed that all schools offer two academic enrichment activities each year that are of high interest to students. In addition, one of the financial goals is to encourage strategic planning between the superintendent and school committee members in order to enhance funding sources.

The NEASC report said the plan addresses the “critical needs of all schools in the district” which will “ensure the longterm success of all Duxbury students.”

Stephens said the NEASC report ten years ago was “a lot tougher,” and said the first few years he was in Duxbury was spent working on the recommendations from that report.

“I think we’ve come a very long way in upping our game in many critical areas, including curriculum, assessment, instruction and our mission,” he said. “We have been able to develop school-wide rubrics, core values and belief statements and the faculty has been very involved in working to improve our school in every way.”

Sixteen committee members spent three days at the school, and spent a combined 400 hours observing classroom procedures. Now that the report has been issued, the school has two years to work on and prioritize the issues that need to be addressed. After two years, the school will submit what Stephens called essentially a progress report to inform NEASC. The same will be done at the five-year mark.

“The goal is to not have to file yearly reports,” Stephens said. “I think we are in a posi- tion to improve greatly and not have to send in another report until they come back in ten years.”

With respect to the curriculum, NEASC commended the high school on a “purposefully designed curriculum which allows students to practice and achieve the 21st century learning expectations” as well as “the emphasis on depth of understanding and application of knowledge in the curriculum including opportunities for higher order thinking and authentic learning.”

Among commendations for the school system’s assessment of student learning was “the widespread commitment among faculty to encourage students to revise their work or revisit aspects of learning when students request more clarification and support.” Recommendations for student assessment included developing a formal method for collecting data, developing a formal process of collaborating on assessments, and ensuring teachers provide “specific, timely, and corrective feedback to students by using the X2 grading system consistently.”

With high commendations on the school culture and leadership, a recommendation for the school system was to “increase the communication between administration and teachers related to the proposal of new initiatives, professional development and decisionmaking within the school.”

The high school was recognized for its “overwhelming pride and academic focus of the DHS students despite financial and physical plant deficiencies,” as well as “enthusiastic support from parents and community groups.”

Stephens said he was proud of the work his faculty did in preparation for the report and observation and looks forward to the next visit in the new school.

“I was very pleased with how it went, on behalf of the faculty that worked very hard,” he said. “The critiques are very doable and very accurate and we will start working on improving immediately.”