In order to remain accredited, Secaucus High School must submit to a grueling and extensive assessment every seven years. This was the year.
Five assessors from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) visited the campus for three and a half days recently, meeting with teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members to determine the health and quality of the education process in Secaucus.
Their verdict? “Full and unconditional reaccreditation,” according to Frank Radzievich, chairperson of the Middle States visiting team.
In an oral report to school and town administrators on May 1, Radzievich listed both the positive findings at the school and any opportunities they found for improvement.
“The positive climate of this school is amazing,” he said. “It is clear that everyone feels 100 percent supported and respected. School leadership makes every opportunity to recognize everyone who does anything right.”
“Dr. Bob [Beckes, principal] and Mr. [Frank] Costello [vice principal] use fair, consistent and firm consequences while diligently getting to know students personally and maintaining open but discreet communication with them,” he continued.
Radzievich went on to state that the school’s working relationship with the mayor was “exemplary,” and that the Board of Education went above and beyond its role in supporting families with financial needs.
“School rules and regulations are clearly defined,” he stated. “Students feel safe here. The staff has taken diligent care to provide a safe, orderly, and healthy learning environment.”
Other positive comments reflected the strong financial state of the school and the support of the parents and community, as well as the large variety of activities available to students.
Then he turned to the challenges.
“We would unanimously all send our children to this school. That is the ultimate compliment, is it not?” – Frank Radzievich
He also spoke about the need to better prepare for upcoming statewide changes to student testing, and suggested engaging external services “to track student success or lack of it in colleges and universities” in order to better assess how their high school experience prepared them for the future.
With school expansion, changing demographics, and other ongoing changes to the makeup and diversity of the school, Radzievich brought up the need for translation services and reaching out to different communities to make them aware of all the programs available to them.
The MSA team cited three items as lower than average: air quality, lighting, and traffic flow.
Nonetheless, Radzievich summed up the team’s findings by saying, “We would unanimously all send our children to this school. That is the ultimate compliment, is it not?”
MSA is a nonprofit organization founded over 125 years ago. According to their website, “Accreditation is an impartial, third-party validation that an educational institution meets challenging but achievable standards of quality, and provides a mechanism for continuous school improvement… The U.S. Department of Education recognizes accrediting or state approval agencies, including Middle States Association, as a ‘reliable authority as to the quality of education.’”
Reaccreditation is an involved process that begins with a comprehensive “self-study” by the school itself. MSA provides 12 standards that must be reviewed and assessed in a report the school provides to the visiting team.
Vice Principal Costello and Special Ed teacher Roseann Spiekermann served as internal coordinators for the school, overseeing in eight months a process that normally takes 15 to 18 months.
“In our self-study we put out a website survey to the community, to the students, and to the staff,” said Costello. “It was on a 1 to 4 basis, 1 being that we weren’t meeting the needs and 4 meaning we were exceeding the needs. Fortunately in every case, the averages of all the 12 standards came out to roughly 3.4 or 3.5. So we felt like the community was behind us, the kids were behind us, and the teachers were behind us.”
Once the self-study was done, MSA sent their five-person team to the school for an on-site visit. “Their task is to look at the self-study that we developed that was very extensive,” said Costello. “When I did the final document it was 202 pages long. And they came in and moved throughout the school during the three and a half days talking to committees of teachers, board members, central office staff, coaches, teachers, and students.”
Based on their research, at the end of their stay the visiting team rendered their decision, reaccrediting Secaucus High School.
“It shows that we meet all 12 standards,” said Beckes. “That we’re walking to the tune of what we say we’re doing for the community and what we’re doing for the school and the students.”
MSA will follow up with a written report in six to seven weeks with full details of their findings.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.