MONROE, Conn. — Masuk High School students learn inquiry, problem solving and higher order thinking skills in a school community that takes collective responsibility for their intellectual, physical, social and emotional well-being.
These were just two of many commendations the high school received from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc., Commission of Public Schools following a visit there on Oct. 10 and 11.
Masuk must apply for reaccreditation every 10 years and with two years left on its current accreditation, Principal Jacob Greenwood said his school is on track to retain its status in 2021.
“We’re in excellent shape,” Greenwood said. “There were no surprises from the visit. They agreed with our self-assessment of what’s needed for growth. Their areas of growth are the same areas for growth any comprehensive high school in Connecticut would have.”
Masuk’s accreditation effort is led by veteran teachers Nancy Zukowski and Bonnie Waring, who have experience with the process.
“I work with them,” Greenwood said. “They are awesome.”
He said Masuk has a eight department leaders on its committee for the Collaborative Conference.
“All the teachers and the principal, everyone in the school is part of a group that’s led by the eight and we do a self study leading up to the 10 years,” Greenwood said.
The visiting team was led by NEASC Executive Director Alyson Geary, who was accompanied by three people from other NEASC schools.
Greenwood said the team reviewed tons of data provided by Masuk, including parent, student and teacher surveys, to prepare for the visit.
He said the team set up “kind of a war room” at high school and showed up early and left late, while putting in 48 hours of work in writing its report.
“They visit classes. They meet with every group you can think of,” Greenwood said. “They meet with parents, kids, teachers and support staff.”
The team tries to determine whether feedback from the interviews match up with what school administrators and teachers are saying and whether or not work is being done on the priority areas, according Greenwood.
The Collaborative Conference visiting team concurs with Goal No. 1, to define the vision of the graduate. When each Masuk student graduates, Greenwood said this will outline what skills and knowledge they should have.
Goal No. 2 is to implement student-centered teaching strategies by shifting the focus away from the teacher.
Goal No. 3 is for teachers to perform informal peer-to-peer assessments as part of their professional development.
Goal No. 4 is to adopt social-emotional learning curriculum and programming. “The school community takes collective responsibility for the intellectual physical, social, and emotional well-being of every student and can demonstrate how each student is known, valued, and connected to the school community,” according to the report.
“Educating the whole child is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic,” Greenwood said. “It’s how they interact with each other and handle stress and how they’re feeling, which certainly affects their ability to learn.”
The visiting team suggested a fifth priority area of growth, regarding school culture.
“Conversations with students revealed a lack of emotional safety for some students,” the report said. “Students report that teachers do not always intervene when inappropriate comments are made by students related to race, gender, and issues of diversity.”
“More appreciation of diversity in all its forms seems to be needed in the school,” the report continues. “Additional training for staff and an ongoing conversation for all students and faculty around these issues will provide a safer learning environment for students.”
For Goal No. 5, the visiting team wrote: “Ensure the school community provides a safe, positive, respectful, and inclusive school culture that ensures equity and honors diversity in identifying and thought.”
Greenwood said the fact that they agreed with Masuk’s four priority areas and added one is “extremely positive.”
“The fifth one is something we identified, but they want us to take a deeper look at it, so that’s great,” he said.
The visiting team made several recommendations, including:
For Monroe public schools to develop a district-wide technology plan.
To investigate a schedule that would better meet the instructional needs of students and the collaboration needs of teachers.
Ensure all students are active learners who have opportunities to lead their own learning and regularly engage in inquiry, problem solving and higher-order thinking skills.
Ensure that the wireless network is reliable to eliminate the disruptions to classes when teachers are planning to use technology in their lessons.
Focus on all teachers’ designing lessons to meet the learning needs of each student at the right level of challenge for each.
Expand the acknowledgement and celebration of students’ post-graduate plans that are not college-bound to be commensurate with the support for those planning to attend college.
Ensure that resources for the arts are supported in the budget equitably as compared to the school’s other curricular and co-curricular areas.
The team said the district should produce a school improvement plan that constructs action plans for each priority area, collects data to document growth in priority areas and develops plans to address its recommendations.
NEASC’s decennial visit will be Oct. 17, 2021.
“Over the next two years we will be working on the five priority areas and their recommendations,” Greenwood said. “We need to show growth on all of these things.”
Of 22 commendations in the NEASC report, Greenwood said he is most proud of the work done by Masuk’s instructional leaders.
“They work so closely with teachers,” he said. “I really feel our administrators know our students and teachers so well, which puts us at an advantage with accreditation. They are among our greatest assets. They do curriculum instruction, teacher supervision and they deal with a lot of student behavior. They are a huge part of the glue that keeps our district moving forward.”