BRATTLEBORO -- On Nov. 17, a team of 16 educators will arrive in the area to visit Brattleboro Union High School. The team, a delegation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, will be responsible for evaluating whether the high school's long-range self-study matches the reality that they will observe during their visit, and whether BUHS has earned accreditation.
Their four-day visit is a comprehensive examination of all aspects of the school: they will observe classes; examine documents from budgets to curricula to student work; and meet with administrators, parents, school-board members, teachers and other staff, parents and students.
Doug Kroc, a co-chair of the steering committee for the NEASC self-study at BUHS, said that the visit is the culmination of a two-year process. Committees examined various areas of the school, analyzed strengths and needs in each area and gathered evidence to support their analysis. The visitors compare their first-hand observations to the self-study.
"That's the process," Kroc said. "We have engaged in a year-and-a-half of self-study, and the team comes in and compares the self-study to what they see evidence of taking place and existing."
Rick Lane, the other steering-committee co-chair, said that the process is an opportunity for BUHS.
"It's a chance for self-reflection and self-improvement based on that reflection, along with celebrating what we do well," he commented. "An outside agency is going to come in and look very closely at what we do, and recognize that publicly and celebrate that. That's a good thing, something we don't always get a chance to do, especially when it involves an independent third party."
He noted that the team represents most of the stakeholders at the school.
"There will be people who represent all the major academic disciplines. There will be principals, teachers, and guidance counselors," he said. "The majority of them will be from Vermont schools. They're volunteers -- they're not paid to do this."
Steve Perrin, principal of BUHS, emphasized the comprehensive scale of the process.
"The visit's going to focus on all of the operation here, including resources in the school, resources in the community, curriculum, instruction, assessment, the school culture and leadership, and our core values and learning expectations for students," he said.
"I've been a little surprised at how much the process has changed from 10 years ago, and how much more comprehensive it has become," he went on, noting that students, parents and staff were required to take a detailed anonymous survey, called the Endicott Survey, just as he was being named principal. "It was tough to begin the self-study when we were transitioning in leadership.
"The mission statement of the school has been replaced by something I think is much more user-friendly," Perrin concluded, "and I think that as we move into the Common Core, there will be a lot of overlap between the Common Core state standards and what we have established in our learning expectations."
Kroc also commented on the scale of the self-study.
"It's a huge undertaking," he said. "It's time-consuming, but we've taken this to heart, to make it as useful as possible."
Perrin noted the quantity of evidence required to support the self-study.
"Evidence is everything from student assessment and samples of student work to minutes from school board meetings that happened years ago," he said.
"... and curriculum documents and lesson plans," added Kroc.
He said that at the end of the visit, the team produces a report with a series of commendations and recommendations.
"Every school that goes through this process has both commendations and recommendations," Lane commented. "We all do things well, and we can all improve. We're not perfect."
Kroc said that a finalized report will be delivered to the school and available to the public in late March. For now, while the school is preparing for the visit, the co-chairs think that most of the preparation is done. Brian Beck, the principal of Hopkins Academy in Hadley, Mass., who will chair the visiting team, tried to reassure school leaders when he met with them recently.
"His take was, ‘You've done the hard part; now you just have to teach while we poke around and observe,'" Kroc said.
Perrin thinks that the school is ready for this next critical step in the accreditation process.
"We're pretty excited for the visit," he said. "Let's do this."
Maggie Cassidy teaches French at BUHS.