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SOUTH HADLEY — After multiple discussions over the past few months, the School Committee approved South Hadley High School to remove itself from being a member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges during its Feb. 15 meeting.

NEASC is a regional accreditation association that provides educational accreditation in the six New England states.

According to the NEASC, accreditation is a respected, effective and time-tested methodology for school improvement and growth. It is not a single event, but rather an ongoing, voluntary cycle of comprehensive internal and external assessments, short- and long-term strategic planning, and periodic reporting sustained by professional partnership and support.

South Hadley High School Principal Elizabeth Wood discussed the original idea of South Hadley High School taking part in NEASC.

She said, “It started in the 1800s and schools wanted a feather to sort of have a feather in their caps to be audited and reviewed by an outside governing agency who has put a stamp of approval on your school as a gold star.”

NEASC does an accreditation review every 10 years along with progress reports throughout that cycle.
According to Wood, starting in 2010 the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does an audit “that is much more strict and more of a deep dive into a schools programming, abilities than a NEASC audit would be.”

Each year it costs approximately $4,000 to be a NEASC member school and 10-year audit cost the school district approximately $26,000 10 years ago, according to Wood.

She said that she imagined that cost would have increase with inflation in two years.

Wood added, “There is nothing additional we gain from being a NEASC member school. Additionally, during our 10-year review cycle, about two years before that happens all of our professional development and time needs to be spent assessing schools, doing our own self-study and so all of our energy, time and focus goes into self-study rather than into teaching and learning and study focused work.”

Besides the monetary value of the move, Wood and her team researched NEASC member schools versus non-member schools to see if there was a difference.

She wanted to see how colleges and universities felt if South Hadley High School decided to not be a NEASC member.

“We surveyed local community colleges, we surveyed state universities, we surveyed private schools. A lot of the admissions reps. were like, ‘you’re still NEASC, we didn’t even know’ so no they are not taking that into account. It was a zero factor for every school we surveyed,” Wood said.

She added that the biggest factor colleges wanted to see is a students’ perseverance, ability to overcome challenges and ability to take on challenging level course work.

Wood said, “We still offer a tremendous number of AP courses and honor level course, so our students are being challenged, the rigor is there. The big thing for me is the dollar amount because I feel that the money, we spend to become part of an organization can be better spent on our cycle inquiries, our own cycle of evaluating teaching and learning at the high school and on curriculum materials.”

Wood also watched closely at neighboring schools who recently left NEASC.

“I gave it a little bit of time to see the implications that would happen to those surrounding schools around us like Amherst, like Northampton, like Hadley, like Granby. I was waiting to see if something is going to change with their testing, with their state rating, with their national rating and nothing changed,” Wood added.

Superintendent Mark McLaughlin discussed the vote by the School Committee.

He said, “People are threatened with change, and I can well imagine that in some cases public uproar was itself enough to force a change back. I wouldn’t have put this forward before the School Committee and nor would [Principal Wood] have brought it to me if she hadn’t felt confident that this was a well-considered move that wouldn’t disadvantage.”

McLaughlin and the School Committee acknowledged that South Hadley High School can still return to NEASC if they choose.

“We will do due diligence to be sure we inform our community. We will be working on a communication plan and will do our best to provide good information and we will do what any responsible manger would to which would be to be humble enough to be able to revisit the decision,” McLaughlin added.

The School Committee approved the removal of South Hadley High School from NEASC with a 3-1 vote.

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