After a five-year accreditation process, Wilton High School received a glowing letter of commendation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Commission on Public Schools, the organization that is the accrediting body for high schools and colleges in New England.
Dr. Bob O’Donnell, WHS Principal, and Brian Keating, WHS Associate Principal, presented the letter at the Thursday, Oct. 7 Board of Education (BOE) meeting.
The NEASC is an independent, voluntary, non-profit membership organization that partners with over 1,500 schools in a peer-review process to help them through the process of improvement and achieve a recognized standard of excellence.
Wilton High School’s accreditation process began with an internal school assessment and planning guided by NEASC. In May 2016 the district hosted the visiting team from NEASC for four days to observe the school and validate Wilton administrators’ self-assessments. In October 2018 Wilton received a two-year progress report on its work on the recommendations made following the 2016 visit. In March 2021 NEASC issued its five-year progress report.
On June 28, The Commission on Public Schools voted to accept the five-year progress report of Wilton High School and to continue the school’s accreditation.
The report contains many positive aspects about the school’s achievements, which O’Donnell called “substantive,” and said “are very important things that we’re working very concertedly to accomplish,” including:
- The development of a Portrait of the Graduate involving stakeholders throughout the learning community.
- Curriculum development
- WHS Capstone Project
- The creation of four-year electronic portfolios where students can reflect on their learning.
- The incorporation of technology into the classrooms including document cameras and SMART boards.
- The addition of a mini-intervention class in Algebra and Geometry for students who do not meet targets.
- The institution of a secondary special education coordinator to support special education programs and manage caseloads.
- The inclusive process for decision making involving groups such as the Block Scheduling [Committee], Long Term Planning [participants] and Student Government Executive Board.
- The orientation of each first-year student to the schools’ core values, beliefs, and 21st century learning expectations in the FLIGHT/Digital Literacy Course.
- The development of the WHS Collaborative Center for high needs students
- The Community Steps program for learners aged 18-22 and the multiple support and transitional program found therein
- Development of the Genesis program to engage learners not typically involved successfully in traditional teaching and learning environments
Hastings echoed O’Donnell’s assessement of what the commendation represents for WHS. “To have so many commendations coming from this organization is really quite an exceptional feat.”
The 2011-2019 Standards focused on and measured by NEASC include:
- Core Values, Beliefs and Learning Expectations
- Assessment of and for Student Learning
- School Culture and Leadership
- School Resources for Learning
- Community Resources for Learning
O’Donnell called the efforts made by school administrators, board members, WHS faculty and others “a very in-depth self-study” reflecting great progress. He praised the faculty for working hard for the past six years to make that progress.
He noted that at the two-year report time the district had completed only one recommendation with 30 in progress, five planned for the future and one where no action had been taken; now, WHS has completed 21 recommendations with 16 in progress.
“We have always taken a really good hard look in the mirror. We have a history at the high school of being hard on ourselves in terms of self evaluation and so this progress is certainly very genuine we only report it as completed if it is completed. Many of these (commendations) I would point out will remain in progress … we are certainly making very positive progress as you can see between the two-year and the five-year progress report,” he said.
Going forward, O’Donnell explained the school will continue to work hard and complete more recommendations. “We want to work on as many of those (recommendations) and move them from ‘in progress’ to ‘completed’ and continue the work.”
Board member Glenn Hemmerle asked if there were tiers of accreditation to put into context what the commendation letter meant. Although accreditation only takes a “yes or no” form, Hastings did point out that there are some schools that receive notice of deficiencies from NEASC.
“To see that this is a letter that has commendations, it speaks volumes,” he said.
“It’s just absolutely remarkable,” Hemmerle responded. “Congratulations to you and to the staff, and everybody who makes the high school work.”
In 2025, the next 10-year accreditation review cycle begins again. In the spring that year there will be an informational meeting about how that process has been redesigned. The 2025/26 school year will hold a self-reflection and collaborative visit at the start. The NEASC visit will be shorter, and the 2020 Vision for Learning Standards Accreditation focuses on:
- Learning Culture
- Student Learning
- Professional Practices
- Learning Support
- Learning Resources
Fall of 2028 will mark the Decennial visit from NEASC.