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High school receives proactive NEASC recommendations

September 09, 2009
A visit from the New England Association of Schools and College to Gilford High School last spring resulted in renewed accreditation and a report meant to steer the school toward optimal educational practices.

Over the past two years, GHS has been carrying out its own extensive self-studies to determine if their educational programs have been meeting school and student learning expectations.

According to the report, certain areas need improvement. Such recommendations included clarifying and reinforcing GHS's mission statement through academics by working more with the community, expanding educational opportunities, and adapting to a "changing society" with elements such as technology.

A variety of instructional strategies were also suggested to go along with new educational avenues for forms of critical thinking.

GHS Principal Ken Wiswell said that a lot of recommendations made by the NEASC team will be answered with the start of Delayed Entry Wednesdays, as will the goals faculty members have been working to incorporate into their curriculum.

Although the new Delayed Entry Wednesdays may help to solve some unsatisfactory levels of professional development and team planning time, the NEASC report also suggests putting a new spin on other aspects of learning, such as finding personal mentors for students, other than their guidance counselors, and expanding on literary programs and library hours.

As for dedicating themselves to their mission statement, the faculty members are well on their way, said Wiswell. The statement reads, "The mission of Gilford High School, in partnership with our communities, is to engage each student actively in a broad range of educational opportunities that will equip all students to be lifelong learners and responsible citizens who have the abilities necessary to thrive in a changing society."

"A lot of things the kids are involved with are already doing this. We are always looking for internships and giving the kids credit for community service," he said. "As for a changing society, we are trying to prepare kids to work in an economy with jobs that don't yet exist. That part of the world is changing. People are working at home, not just the factory or work place anymore. We think kids will have five different jobs in their lives."

Technology is one of the biggest elements that students will need to grasp in a changing society, said Wiswell, and technology is indeed being incorporated into more and more courses. The report also suggested that GHS increase their number of computers available at a time.

"Teachers would like to have all of their students on computers at the same time. There are plenty of computers for kids. The question is how can we use resources or how can we work that way with a computer cluster," Wiswell said. "We were thinking of scheduling half-periods."

The report also touched on wide-learning academic expectations and suggests that teachers incorporate more instructional strategies in order to provoke critical thinking in students.

Wiswell said that DEW yet again could come into play, and that the newly accepted proposal would be supported by the report, among other units.

"Teachers are using project based units of learning, which focus on the design and presentation of the project. The staff is also using Edline and storyboards (online). They have students respond to the question over several days, and make a certain amount of replies to one another. It extends learning time," said Wiswell.

The NEASC report also recommended taking support staff to another level and offering students a personal mentor other than their guidance counselor as a go-to person in times of educational, and even personal crisis, throughout their four years at GHS.

Wiswell said that the school was taking this recommendation into serious consideration, but that they still have to work out staff availability and schedule details.

"This is a real challenge because of time. Some guidance counselors are working with 250 kids. An advisor would have eight to 10 kids," said Wiswell.

The plan is to establish "advisorships" where a dozen students max would report to a homeroom teacher for four years, someone they could go to other than their counselor for help on schedules and more. The advisor would monitor where each student is at, said Wiswell.

As for extended library hours, which the NEASC report suggests, Wiswell said this will have to be discussed further because it involves more money from the school. However, he added, a recommendation to expand literacy programs can be accommodated.

"We realized the high school students have literacy problems when it comes to decoding words," he said. "There is a way to handle different handbooks. We are helping teachers to help them access different books and find subjects they need help with."

Wiswell added that the school currently has five people who trained through Brown University doing professional learning, and they will teach the high school's teachers how to utilize new literacy teaching methods.

As for an overall personal assessment on the last school year and a goal for the new school year, Wiswell said that GHS wants to raise the bar of education so kids are experiencing more rigorous learning in the classroom throughout their interdisciplinary studies.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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