EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 12, 2006

Overwhelmed, over budget; North Andover High's accreditation jeopardized

NORTH ANDOVER - Accreditation of North Andover High School is at risk for the second time in as many years as town schools at every level wobble under the heavy burden of classes of 30-plus students, teacher cuts and a $3 million budget shortfall.

A spokesman for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges called Principal Susan M. Nicholson on Friday to tell her of its decision to put the high school on warning status since some teachers have as many as 160 students a day in their classrooms.

"The numbers they explained to us are pretty stark," said Charles McCarthy, associate director of the Commission on Public Secondary Schools for NEASC, the major accrediting agency for schools and colleges. "I haven't seen too many school class sizes and teacher levels at that level and breadth."

A report detailing the specific areas that need to be remedied will be mailed in seven to 10 days. The North Andover school was cited in two of seven categories of standards set by the agency - instruction and community resources - which in the North Andover case refers to dependable funding.

The district will have until June 1 to report back on changes in the works to mitigate the situation, McCarthy said.

It was clear to Nicholson that NEASC had serious concerns when it requested a listing of teachers and their student enrollments a few weeks ago. The highest were 164, 160, and 155 students per teacher spread over five classes a day.

The decision to place the school on warning status was issued shortly afterward.

Nicholson is already hearing about teachers feeling overwhelmed.

In the English department, for example, one teacher has 155 students spread over five classes. If she hands out four writing assignments this term, per the current standards at the school, she will be grading more than 600 papers. Foreign language classes jammed with too many students need to split up the time they work on verbal fluency because there are simply not enough seats in the language lab.

"With those large numbers, we will be challenged," Nicholson said. "You can't cut personnel to that extent and not know that there is an impact on the kids."

School officials hoped to receive a break from the accrediting agency, citing a lack of staff needed to put together a comprehensive report on their school.

Nicholson and her school's management team and accreditation steering committee leaders sent a nine-page letter to NEASC in early September asking the association to postpone a reaccreditation set for October 2007 due to "unprecedented extenuating circumstances."

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