Extra Credit:St Mary’s Aces NEASC Test

St. Mary’s High School students are pictured above during a school day.

St. Mary’s High School students are pictured above during a school day.

St. Mary’s High School spent the better part of two years in a reaccreditation process with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, conducting a thorough self-study in advance of an October visit from a NEASC committee charged with evaluating the school in 15 areas.

While school leaders were confident they did everything in their power to put their best foot forward, you can’t be sure until NEASC sends its report. As it turned out, St. Mary’s passed the test with flying colors, earning a 10-year accreditation.

“We are extremely gratified with the result,” said Head of School Grace Cotter Regan. “The NEASC accreditation is critical for any secondary school. We took the self-study process very seriously and looked at it as an opportunity to examine our school in virtually every area and envision St. Mary’s in 2025.”

In notifying Regan of the reaccreditation, NEASC identified “many areas for commendation,” making special note of St. Mary’s “overall engagement and candor of the entire community in the self-study process” and “its initiatives to develop as a fully independent school with a motivated board of trustees, strategic plan, and building campaign.”

St. Mary’s announced the Building Futures campaign in November 2014 with a goal of raising $14 million – $8 million for a new building, $5 million for scholarships and $1 million for programming. To date, the school has raised $8.9 million.

The NEASC report also offered recommendations for areas in which St. Mary’s could improve, including improved internal communication; consistent data collection on student outcomes; and a succession plan for the principal position. That area has already been addressed to a degree as interim principal James Ridley has agreed to stay on at least through the 2016-17 school year.

In the self-study, St. Mary’s identified a renewed commitment to academic integrity and providing students with scholarly research skills as important recommendations.

“NEASC affirmed the blueprint for success we developed,” Regan said. “We are a digital school with a 1:1 iPad initiative, so it’s important to help students refine their research skills and prepare them for university-level work.”

Board of Trustees Chair William Mosakowski of Swampscott said St. Mary’s will continue to focus on academic outcomes and “delivering on what we are promising to students and parents.” Mosakowski added that a study and assessment of testing data will allow the school to create an academic dashboard that will more accurately measure student outcomes.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Twomey of Lynnfield, board vice chair and Education Committee chair, said the self-study process proved to be invaluable.

“It was a most worthwhile exercise that prompted us to take a serious look inward in order to present NEASC with some honest recommendations on how we think we can improve,” said Twomey, crediting teacher Chris Carmody, who chaired the school’s NEASC committee, with providing steady leadership and significant input throughout the process.

The self-study committee included 120 members from all St. Mary’s constituencies, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, alumni, trustees and donors. There were 15 subcommittees, with each addressing one of the 15 standards on which NEASC evaluates schools. Those areas include: mission, governance, enrollment, evaluation and assessment, student experience, faculty and communication.

As a follow-up to the NEASC report, St. Mary’s will form a committee to implement the recommendations put forth by NEASC as well as the ones that came out of the self-study. Ridley is pleased he will be participating in that process.

“This has been a great experience for me at St. Mary’s,” he said. “Everything is trending in a positive direction. We are looking forward to the enhancing the experience for our current students and those who will be joining us in the fall.”

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