Lenox ready to host school accreditation evaluators

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LENOX — It only happens once every 10 years, so, the school district is prepping big-time for the upcoming evaluation visit by accreditation educators from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Students, faculty, parents and members of the Lenox community will host the evaluators with events designed to show off the strengths of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and of Morris Elementary School, as well as areas that need improvement.

During a recent presentation to the School Committee, LMMHS world languages teacher Ann-Marie Rodriguez explained that a rigorous "self-study" by the entire faculty is a key aspect of the accreditation. Rodriguez also is chairwoman of the district's steering committee preparing for the evaluation during the past 18 months,

The accreditation association's four-day visit begins Dec. 8, with a goal to determine whether the schools meet seven standards at an acceptable or exemplary level.

Teaching and Learning Standards include: core values, beliefs and learning expectations; curriculum; instruction; and assessment.

Support Standards include: school culture and leadership; school resources for learning; and community resources for learning.

"None of this happens without the community, our resources and our leadership," Rodriguez said.

Seven committees were formed in spring 2018 involving faculty in all departments with a mission of "not just collecting evidence of what's happening in our classrooms, but having conversations with students, colleagues, other faculty and staff," she said.

In order to involve different talents, disciplines and departments, every teacher served on a committee, LMMHS Principal Michael Knybel said. LMMHS and Morris teachers were involved equally in every weekly committee meeting.

During the entire 2018-19 academic year, information on instructional practices was gathered in collaboration with colleagues "coming out of our classrooms to understand what's happening throughout the buildings," Rodriguez said. "We get so into our trenches that we don't always know what's going on outside the classroom. It was very reflective, incredibly collaborative, because maybe for the first time in their tenure, someone in humanities was working with someone in the middle school art room."

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Reports were written by each committee, with evidence to support conclusions "to identify some strengths and some things we could improve upon as a school, how we could collectively work together to improve student outcomes," Rodriguez said.

That work paved the way for a focus this fall on creating a strengths and needs list while preparing for the accreditation team's visit. NEASC's evaluation categories range from exemplary, acceptable, limited, or not yet meeting the standards.

"We had to determine as a faculty what are our most critical strengths and what are the things we need to think about to improve upon," Rodriguez said.

"It's very thorough, and representative of our entire faculty," Knybel added.

The results pinpointed one of the district's greatest strengths as community support for curriculum and instruction, including annual budget approvals by voters. Rodriguez also emphasized the staff of faculty members highly qualified in their subject areas.

She emphasized that there's no need for anxiety ahead of the accreditation visit because evaluators are "kind, gentle and here to support what we're doing in the schools, to help us capitalize on what we do well and help us in areas we can improve on."

On Dec. 8, after a 1 p.m. panel presentation, evaluators will meet with School Committee members and parents at 2:15, followed by sessions with teachers at 3:10, and a welcoming reception from 4:15 to 5 open to students and families, faculty and staff, as well as community members.

During the following three days of its visit, the NEASC team will tour the school, shadow students, meet with students, teachers and staff in small groups and hold a faculty meeting after school. The Dec. 11 wrap-up includes closing remarks by the evaluators' chairwoman, Jaya Vijayasekar, of the world languages and cultures department at Eastern Connecticut State University and volunteer team members.

Next spring, the team of 12 evaluators will compile a draft report for presentation to school officials, send a final report to the state Department of Education and seek a progress report two years later.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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