BELLOWS FALLS -- Members of the Bellows Falls Union High School Board convened in the school’s library Monday evening to vocalize their reactions to a New England Association of Schools and Colleges report released in March.
Eight of the board’s 10 members, as well as Principal Chris Hodsden and Assistant Principal John Broadley, took the opportunity to explain which parts of the report resonated most with them and what steps need to be taken moving forward. It was a meeting of the board’s instruction and educational effectiveness committee, though it was attended by more than just committee members.
Most members of the board said the report highlighted some accommodations but also had plenty of recommendations for needed improvement.
Hodsden said one of the recommendations is for funding for upgrades to the school science laboratories.
"That’s going to have a price tag with it," he said in his office Tuesday morning. "That’s why we have these conversations in advance of budgets to say, ‘Here are the kinds of things we need to attend to earlier than some others. So, all board members, don’t be surprised to see something related to the science lab folded into the next year’s budget.’"
He said the board will have to speak to each one of the report’s recommendations.
Jim McAuliffe, of the board’s five representatives from Rockingham, told the
"Needless to say, as a board member I was embarrassed by the report. I don’t think it was very flattering," he said, adding it discouraged him that expectations are as low as they are and there are problems integrating students that have academic challenges.
McAuliffe and Matt Guild, another representative from Rockingham, said the meeting went well and it was good to get all the feedback out in the open.
"To expect any school to be perfect is just not reasonable," Guild said.
Hodsden also thought the meeting went smoothly.
"I expect that the board and the superintendent [Chris Kibbe] are going to have high expectations for what we do here. I wouldn’t expect anything else," he said in his office. "I have high expectations for our teachers, they have high expectations for their students and anytime anyone in that loop establishes a ‘That’s good enough’ mentality, we’re never going to do the best that we possibly can."
He said he believes all schools should strive for higher expectations and always look for ways to improve.
"You can say if the Patriots win the Super Bowl, they’ve (reached their limit). You can’t do any better than that," he said. "But there’s never that kind of experience or event within education, because there’s not a school in the country that gets 100 percent on its graduation rate, there’s not a school in the country that 100 percent on their performance on standardized tests. So there’s always a place to improve."
Administrative priorities relative to the NEASC report were also set. The board will aim to make reasonable progress on the items listed as requirements for a special report due in February. Such requirements include identifying schoolwide standards of performance to be employed in the second semester and at the start of the next one as well as starting an analysis of the school’s science labs.
The board also must make progress toward the completion and implementation of updated curricular in each of the four core subject areas.
At a meeting in late March, the Committee on Public Secondary Schools voted to award Bellows Falls Union High School with initial accreditation in NEASC.
The decision was made after the committee reviewed the initial evaluation report from a visit to the school, which now has NEASC accreditation for the first time since the mid-1990s.
Hodsden told the Reformer in June that schools must repeat the process to become accredited every 10 years and that his school dropped its accreditation in the mid-1990s. He stressed that accreditation was dropped and not stripped.
It takes a two-year process to become accredited. Each school must pay a $10,000 fee during the course of this process. The next two-year process will begin in 2019.
He said the school decided to seek renewed accreditation after about 15 years for multiple reasons, including having an unbiased evaluation and issues of public relations.
"As a school community, we are really happy about how this came out," Hodsden said in June.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.