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BOE Considers Renewing High School Accreditation

At the first board of education meeting of the year, the Garden City School District is weighing whether or not to keep its high school accreditation from the Commission on Secondary Schools of the Middle School Association of Colleges and Schools, which will expire next May of 2012.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen introduced the topic for discussion to the board of education and the community at its Sept. 20 meeting. Garden City High School Principal Nanine Cuttitta offered insight into the steps that must be taken in order for the district to prepare for accreditation renewals for its schools.

The Middle States Accreditation is a process that affirms that a school provides a quality education. “It also evaluates the goals we set for ourselves (we, meaning the community); it measures the progress, you know, to which they feel we achieve those goals,” Cuttitta said.

According to Cuttitta, the final purpose of accreditation is a group of impartial outsiders come into the school and community to validate a yearlong self-evaluation that the school community conducts. “The goal is to seek remedies for inadequacies and they claim that the accreditation provides a systematic process that asks a school to think about why it exists,” she explained.

In 2005, Garden City High School hosted a visit and satisfactorily met all the requirements to continue its accreditation status. The visit cost the district $9576.19. In 2008, the high school administration submitted a five-year report to continue the accreditation but Middle States did not accept it. Due to a variety of factors, the district was granted an extension, Cuttitta said.

Dr. Feirsen asked Cuttitta what would be involved to reaccredit the high school at this time. She explained that the steps are significant. There is an annual renewal fee between $900 and $1,000 and a steering committee would have to be created quickly and a planning committee to oversee the self-study.

“We would have to pay an additional $500 evaluation preparation fee just to even enter this process in addition to the membership fee. Then this year we would have to conduct a yearlong self-study… That would be the responsibility of the planning team. We’d also need to appoint two internal coordinators who would be on the planning team, on the Steering Committee, and really the two people in charge of making sure that all of this happens when it’s supposed to happen and the way we want it to happen,” she added.

To maintain the accreditation, the internal coordinators would be required to attend workshops in Philadelphia and 14 subcommittees of faculty members would need to be formed. The final self-study report would need to be submitted to Middle States by May 2012. A visit would be hosted somewhere between spring and fall of 2012.

Dr. Feirsen asked if similar school districts were still participating in the accreditation process. “Once upon a time every high school participated in this process; that’s not the case any longer,” Cuttitta explained. She personally contacted the following school districts: Bronxville, Great Neck North, Great Neck South, Herricks, Jericho, Manhasset, Roslyn, Rockville Centre and Syosset.     

“The only school that is currently maintaining its accreditation is Manhasset. I believe, to the best of my knowledge, that many Catholic or private high schools still do this and colleges definitely do it… It’s not common any longer with high schools of our caliber,” she added.

Dr. Feirsen asked what the return on the investment would be in terms of the district’s overall standing, ranking or college admissions. “To be honest, the only place you even see it any longer is on the school’s letterhead or the profile. It’s a very nice process. It’s extraordinarily time consuming and it doesn’t have the clout it used to have,” Cuttitta explained. “It would be a nice thing to have, but honestly I just don’t see that it would help our students,” she said.

School Board President Colleen Foley and School Board Vice President Barbara Trapasso participated in the accreditation process in 2005. “At the time, I don’t think Middle States really gave us the direction we were looking to have. I think that it was something we wanted to have, we wanted to be able to say we had a title, but I don’t believe it steered where we were going,” Foley said.

Vice President Barbara Trapasso commented, “I also don’t think it gives any other insight in any areas that we don’t already look into and that’s the key. If they were asking us to look into something or do something that we don’t already do, it might be a worthwhile process.”

In a period of citizens’ comments, PTA high school director Beth Kramer shared her point of view regarding the accreditation process. “It’s interesting to me that 2005, we had the accreditation and we are such a different place here today in 2011. And what we have in place now to me is so far beyond what was in place in 2005. So here what we’ve accomplished, procedures and systems in place without the accreditation process,” she said.

“I am not so sure from a parent point of view how meaningful that whole audit process really is when we clearly set standards far greater than what, you know, was in place in 2005,” Kramer added.

Dr. Feirsen said the administration would make a recommendation on the issue to the board within the coming weeks.