LACONIA — The high school falls short on four out of six standards required to maintain accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Laconia High School failed to meet standards for learning resources, professional practices, student learning and learning culture. It met a second learning culture standard and a learning support standard.
Superintendent Brendan Minnihan and Principal Michael Frederickson said there is ample time to reach these standards. They said improvements have been or are in the process of being made.
The report was given to the school over the summer.
The association is the oldest of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States and school officials are intensely interested in maintaining this accreditation.
The review process began with a self-reflection report generated by the school. Then a three-member team spent two days in Laconia, May 24-25, to review that self-study and to meet with administrators, teachers, other school personnel, students and parents, and to visit classes.
In two years, a bigger team will pay a visit to see how improvement goals are being met, Minnihan said Monday.
“This is the way the process works,” he said. “They are looking for areas of improvement. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing anything in those areas, it is just saying, ‘This is an area you can devote time and resources to.”
Schools are given every opportunity to make needed improvements and ultimately pass accreditation, he said.
The learning culture standard requires that “the school community provides a safe, positive, respectful, and inclusive culture that ensures equity and honors diversity in identity and thought.”
The high school did not meet this standard after a survey showed that only 56 percent of students and 62 percent of families said they felt safe at the school.
Student safety was placed in the spotlight last February when 17 people were shot and killed at a Florida high school by a former student there.
Over the summer, security improvements were made throughout the Laconia School District, including improved doors and locks. Security cameras were added. Reflective film was added to strengthen some windows and policies were improved to further restrict unintended public access.
Frederickson said the high school has new front doors and a single main entrance with a checkpoint. This and other upgrades improve security.
Improvement was sorely needed, according to the report.
“The building is not secure before, during, nor after school hours,” it said. “While faculty and students comment on a high level of relational trust, there remains significant concerns about building security.”
Another area where the school fell short was in an area called “learning resources.”
“There are significant concerns relative to the inability of the building and facility to ensure a safe, secure and healthy environment for students and staff,” the report said. “Faculty and students expressed concerns regarding air quality, ventilation and lack of air conditioning.”
The 95-year-old school is showing its age. It does not have a central air conditioning system, many classrooms are small and some maintenance has been deferred.
Minnihan said that some improvements were made over the summer. Masonry and brick work at the front of the school underwent repairs, major potholes were filled in and a radon-mitigation system was installed.
“We try to enhance in areas we can,” he said. “There is good access to technology.
“Some concerns are about comfort, like, it gets incredibly hot in the school in June.”
Minnihan said the optimum would be to build a new high school, but that could cost $50 million to $100 million, and does not appear to be financially feasible at this time.
The school also failed to meet a “student learning” goal.
“Currently, the instructional practices at Laconia High School would benefit from professional development and a school-wide commitment to exploring more active learning in order to meet the learning needs of each student,” the report said.
The report found that there is a written curriculum in a consistent format for some, but not all, courses in all departments across the school. The school has set the writing of such a curriculum as a priority.
Under a “professional practices” goal, the report found that the “school does not have a school improvement plan that includes school-specific goals nor informs decision-making based on the school’s priorities.” But it also said the school community is receptive to creating such a plan.
The report said the learning needs of each student are not consistently met.
“Despite a genuine interest to provide access to challenging academic experiences to all learners, there appears to be a noticeable discrepancy among honors, career-college ready and foundation level courses,” the report said. “This discrepancy is likely the result of several factors which may include: master schedule problems, lack of adequate staffing and a steady turnover in building level and central office administration.”
Meanwhile, the Huot Career and Technical Center came in for praise.
“It is evident that learners in hands-on courses such as pre-engineering, art and other Huot Center programs participate in activities that prioritize deep understanding, analysis and creativity and allow for learners to make connections and understand relationships,” the report said.
The report said budget cuts have resulted in a reduction in staff. It found that there are not enough courses for students and almost half the senior class attends school only part-time, some taking only two courses out of four each semester. Some seniors reported that they are frustrated about not being able to take engaging courses their final high school year, the study found.
“The steady downward spiral of staffing has had a negative impact on teaching and learning,” it said.
“Students express frustration over schedule conflicts as many courses are now not offered or run as singletons triggering a cascade of scheduling issues which negatively impact teaching and learning.
“This dilemma has crossed into the core courses as well. One student reported that he was locked out of English 11 as there were not enough sections being run when he needed the course during his junior year.
“The impact of playing this and other similar situations forward finds students scrambling to enroll in courses required for graduation right up through second semester of senior year.”
Minnihan said school leaders are working on these issues.
“That's been an area of struggle because of budgetary constraints,” he said. “We've expanded the number of extended learning opportunities, where a student works closely with a staff member in a project of interest. That is a way to keep students taking different courses.”
Minnihan said spending limits under Laconia’s tax cap can provide challenges for schools.
“There have been years when we were fine, previous to my time here,” he said. “Over the past couple years, we’ve had to make some reductions in staffing.
“I don’t know if it completely stops us from doing what’s best for the kids, but it makes us go slower.”