December 11, 2013

Cony, CATC to drop accreditation

Augusta school board votes to drop costly stamp of approval from regional agency.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to drop Cony High School’s accreditation in favor of a less expensive review.

They also voted unanimously to seek accreditation for Capital Area Technical Center through the state rather than the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that also has provided the stamp of approval to Cony and most other Maine high schools.

Cony and CATC administrators asked last month that the school board discontinue NEASC accreditation because they thought it provided little value for the time and expense involved.

The school board voiced support for the proposals last month, but it postponed the decision to provide an opportunity to public input.

There was no public comment or discussion before the votes at a school board meeting Wednesday night, but Ward 3 board member Nicole Desjardins said a few people voiced concerns to her about dropping the accreditation.

Desjardins said administrators had vetted the proposals thoroughly and found no evidence that lacking accreditation for the schools would harm either students or the city.

“This by no means will affect our students in going on to college or any other endeavors,” Desjardins said. “This is not negative; this is a very positive thing moving forward.”

NEASC accreditation is voluntary for high schools and indicates that a school’s curriculum, instruction, culture, physical space and equipment, testing and reporting meet standards set by NEASC based on research.

It works on a 10-year cycle, with a visit by peer evaluators once per decade and a series of self-study reports prepared by the school staff in between.

Career and technical schools such as CATC must be accredited to receive federal Perkins funding. Most of Maine’s career and technical schools are accredited through a state review process that’s free to schools, and that’s what CATC will use from now on.

Annual NEASC membership dues, the cost of hosting the peer evaluators, staff time needed to prepare self-study reports and other expenses add up to tens of thousands of dollars for each 10-year cycle. CATC Director Peter Gagnon calculated the total at $67,317 for his school, and the cost for Cony is similar.

Augusta is not alone in looking for alternatives to NEASC because of the cost. Regional School Unit 11’s Gardiner Area High School cut its ties with NEASC in the spring because of the cost of the review and membership and the rigidity of the association’s standards.

Cony administrators say it’s still important to engage in self-evaluation and receive outside input, but now they’ll get it through the League of Innovative Schools instead of NEASC.

Cony joined the league two years ago. It’s a network of New England high schools that share ideas of improvement, coordinated by the Portland-based Great Schools Partnership.

Cony staff members said many of the initiatives that they think have made the greatest positive effect in the last two years – such as a schedule with longer class periods, greater coordination between the junior high and high school, intensive SAT preparation and strategies for helping struggling students – have emerged from their work with the League of Innovative Schools.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board:

• heard a presentation about the school district’s participation in the Maine Autism Leaders Team, in which staff are learning techniques to help students manage their behavior.

• recognized outgoing Ward 1 board member Willie Emerson. Jennifer Day won the seat in an uncontested race in November.

• advanced several new or revised policies, including the one that now allows groups to distribute information about children’s activities in through the schools.

• approved the Bowling Club as an official club.

• accepted the retirements of French teacher Priscille Michaud, fourth-grade teacher Ann Clark, psychologist Janet Whitfield, first-grade teacher Deborah Gagne and resource teacher Vicki Stanchfield.

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