School officials gain public input on accreditation
Rockport — Residents of Five Town Community School District showed up in force March 18 to discuss the possibility of Camden Hills Regional High School's withdrawal from New England's only accrediting organization.
New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the local high school have a relationship going back to 1969. In order to retain accreditation, the school is required to have a site review every 10 years. The school must also submit interim two and five-year reports, as well as any other special reports requested. Currently, Camden Hills is in the middle of a 10-year cycle.
While school officials admit there is value in accreditation, there is a growing concern the price of that “stamp of approval” may soon outweigh its value. Currently, the cost of a site visit can cost upwards of $35,000; this does not include $3,200 per year to be a member of NEASC.
“Obviously, as you know, we are here because of concerns with the value of the NEASC accreditation process,” said Assistant Superintendent Maria Libby. “The meeting is designed to give the community information and get public feedback in return.”
Libby added there has been no decision made on withdrawal and school officials are just beginning the information gathering and research process.
“We recognize that are some concerns about dropping the NEASC accreditation and we will explore some of those tonight,” Libby said. “There are also concerns about the educational value of the process and we need to critically evaluate those as well.”
Libby said accreditation is voluntary in Maine and currently 89 out of 120 schools are accredited. She also explained that accreditation does not affect the schools ability to participate in foreign exchange programs or offer Advanced Placement and college credit courses through Syracuse University.
“There is some impact on college applications, but according to the colleges we talked with, coming from Camden Hills Regional High School and our long history with them, accreditation or lack there of would not really make a difference,” Libby said.
Although dropping NEASC accreditation would save the district money, Libby assured the audience that though the discussions coincide with budget talks, the move is by no means a way of cutting the budget.
“Yes, it is true that the district will save money, but as a way for us to cut the budget, it is very far from the truth,” she said. “That is not our motivation.”
Libby noted Camden Hills is not the only school district considering withdrawal from NEASC. The biggest flaw local school officials see is the time and energy spent on the process. Officials feel the time could be used in better ways.
Libby said a great deal of professional development time has been devoted to this process and withdrawing from NEASC could allow teachers to align professional development time to specific areas of priority. It takes approximately 6,000 hours to complete the self evaluation alone, she said.
Concerned residents, prior to the meeting, made calls to admissions departments of several colleges and received different answers to the same questions school officials had asked regarding the value of school accreditation.
Camden Hills Principal Dr. Nichola Ithomitis said he had spoken to several prestigious schools in and out of state and because Camden Hills has such a good reputation and history of sending graduates to those schools, accreditation would not hold as much value.
John Fitzgerald, a teacher at Camden Hills, said he personally called five colleges and was surprised to hear how little weight accreditation is given in the admittance process.
“I was very surprised with how little influence accreditation carried when it comes the application and selection process,” he said.
Conversely, residents reported that one university went as far as saying that if the high school was not accredited they should consider looking at another college.
Heather Forcillo said she had contacted the director of admissions at Bates College and during the meeting, she read a response received via email stating that a high school's accreditation would have an impact on a student being accepted.
“A high school's accreditation or lack there of could certainly influence a Bates admission decision,” she read. “We need to make sure that students are consistently challenged in the classroom and are prepared for a Bates education. The accreditation process is one of the measures of the quality of the education at a given school and is something we rely on when assessing applications.”
Some of the benefits of remaining with NEASC include self study which can help focus work as well as the public perception of quality and the assurance of a level playing field for any college application process in the country.
Potential negative implications if not being accredited could be that students may need to take two Scholastic Aptitude Tests on specific subjects or ACT, which is another standardized college entrance test, plus a writing test.
“We have explored the negative implications there doesn’t seem to be any, other than the value of having an external review for school improvement efforts, but there are other ways of doing that,” Libby said. “Colleges don't seem to pay much attention to whether a high school is accredited by NEASC, instead relying on the reputation of the school and the success of its students at the secondary level.”
With pros and cons about remaining affiliated with NEASC being laid out, the question was raised if there is another option to NEASC accreditation, such as a pilot program titled the League of Innovative Schools.
School officials said it is too early to tell if there are any other options to accreditation and said it is possible NEASC may take a look at the accreditation process to improve it and make it more user friendly.
“We are at the beginning of gaining the public's input, tonight was your first opportunity and I assure you that we have plenty of time and are not rushing to make any decisions,” Ithomitis said.
It is expected there will be additional public input meetings but no dates have been set.
Courier Publications reporter Dwight Collins can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
(207) 236-8511 ext. 303