Watertown High School received the seal of approval from the re-accreditation team visited the high school last spring, but there are still some areas in glaring need of improvement, the report said.
The school has received notice from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Public Schools, WHS Principal Shirley Lundberg told School Committee members last week.
The school not only received re-accreditation but got a large number of commendations, Lundberg said.
“When the process started I went to a conference where they say to expect to get about 12 commendations,” Lundberg said. Watertown received 26 accreditations, she added.
The commendations came in a number of areas, including the collaboration among staff, the culture of the high school which encourages students to take educational and social risks, personalized instruction across different subjects, integration of technology into education, a large number of co-curricular activities and the school’s Maker Space. (Click here to see the complete list).
On the flipside, the school was put on warning in 19 areas.
“All are about the facility,” Lundberg said. “We will be required to submit a report in September this year giving an update of what we will be doing to address these areas.”
The first warning reads “The school site and plant do not support the delivery of high quality school programs and services.”
The areas the report points out include:
- lack of sufficiently sized classrooms to fit all classes
- need to upgrade science labs
- lack of a classroom big enough for all the students who want to participate in music classes
- lack of spaces for teachers to have conferences
- need to upgrade Victory Field – the track, tennis courts, locker rooms, trainer’s room and parking lot; and
- insufficient parking for teachers
School Committee member Eileen Hsu Balzer noted that to make improvements in a couple of the areas – Victory Field and parking – school officials must work with the town.
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who is also a School Committee member, said he has discussed Victory Field with Town Manager Michael Driscoll, and that process will soon begin.
The parking problem is challenging because the school has limited land dedicated to parking, and another nearby lot, behind the Phillips School, is shared with the Senior Center. Currently, cars are banned from parking certain hours on the streets around the high school.
“There is a concern about students parking in front of houses,” Hsu-Balzer said. “We could assure residents and give parking stickers to teachers.”
Sideris said he will bring the issue to Sgt. David Sampson, who is in charge of Watertown Police Department’s Traffic Division, along with Police Chief Michael Lawn. The change would have to be made with the Traffic Commission, Sideris said.
The re-accreditation process was a long and arduous one, Lundberg said. It started even before she arrived in 2013. It wasn’t even clear the school would go through the process. Some schools have protested the process and threatened to not go through it, Lundberg said. One reason is because they feel NEASC’s reports are too prescriptive, and inflexible.
“When I arrived, the faculty and staff asked if I would withdraw from the process,” Lundberg said. “It was a difficult question for a new principal. Ultimately we decided we would not pull out, but we did ask for a delay of a year.”
Every faculty member was assigned to one of the committees for the re-accreditation. They spent many hours preparing for the visit of the accreditation team, which spent a few days at the high school.
At the end of the process, one thing stood out for the members of the accreditation team, Lunberg said.
“They said the kindness of the students was remarkable,” Lundberg said. “I am pretty proud that that’s what they picked up on and commended us on the way out the door.”
Over the upcoming years, the school must submit follow up reports. The first will be the update in September. There will be a two year report in October 2018 focusing on improvements in the areas of teaching and learning. There will also be a five year report, Lundberg said. The chairman of the Follow-up Committee will be Laura Rotondo, coordinator of the Career and Technical Education Department at WHS.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day we get something very valuable and we did not waste a lot of this time on this,” Lundberg said.