Friday, March 16, 2018

Oral Report from the Middle States Commission on Colleges and Schools Visiting Team

Oral Report from the Middle States Commission on Colleges and Schools Visiting Team
March 15, 2018

Welcome! We’re glad you are all here for our report. This oral report represents the thinking of our entire Team, not just George’s ideas.

We know that you are accustomed to discussion and open dialogue, and up until now we have asked for questions and encouraged discussion. However, to curb any temptation to ad lib, I will read the team report, and when I am finished, we will head home - no Q & A, no discussion. I know it sounds abrupt, and it is. But we don’t want to get in the way of your opportunity to celebrate. Besides, there will be plenty of time for discussion and reflection when you have received the approved report from Middle States.

At the outset, I want to recognize and thank publicly the four members of our Team for their service to you and to the Middle States Association. This is an outstanding team of educators. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but they are volunteers who have given their professional and personal time to provide this service to you and your school. We team members were all strangers to each other before we came together at the hotel at noon on Monday. Since then, we have definitely bonded as a team. We have worked hard day and night to conduct as thorough an evaluation of your school as is possible. It is a tribute to their professionalism and expertise that they were able to come together with me as a team so quickly and to produce such fine work in service to your school I believe you owe them your thanks for their service to Nora..

It is important that you remember that accreditation is a voluntary activity. We are here because you invited us. You asked us to study the work that you are doing and your plans for the future. Therefore, we came here with several purposes.

First, we were charged with ensuring that Nora meets the Middle States Standards for Accreditation. In addition to meeting the Standards, the protocol you chose, Excellence by Design, requires that you have a system of continuous planning for school improvement. It also requires that you develop goals for improving areas of student performance and that you create plans to achieve those goals. The expectation is that, after our team departs, you will faithfully implement your improvement plan over the next seven years and make a good-faith effort to achieve the objectives you set.

First, I’d like to tell you what the Middle States guidelines require me not to tell you today. I cannot tell you anything specific about our detailed findings and recommendations, and I cannot answer any questions about our visit.

I’m happy to report that the first draft of our team report is written. Once it is assembled and edited, your Head of School, Dave Mullen, and your Assistant Head, Norman Maynard, will have the opportunity to check it confidentially for factual accuracy. They will send me any corrections that need to be made. I will make the corrections and send the revised copy to the Middle States office. There, it will be analyzed by a staff person, reviewed by the Domestic Schools Advisory Committee, and by the Commission on Secondary Schools, and, finally by the Middle States Board for final approval. In a few months, Dave and Norman will get the written report to share, as they determine, with the community here. At that point you will have the official decision of the Board of the Middle States Association.

So now here’s what I can and will tell you about our findings:

I will share with you what our Team considers your outstanding strengths, your areas most in need of attention, as well as our Team’s overall recommendation in terms of accreditation.

Here’s what we see as your Outstanding Strengths:

-A warm, energetic, purposeful and joy-filled atmosphere that makes students, staff, families, and visitors all feel welcome. Your commitment to the school’s mission is impressive. The school embodies your mission.

-A visionary team of administration and faculty with the skills and energy to lead Nora.   

-A governing Board that cares passionately about the school’s mission and uses it as the basis for their policy and financial decision making. The have guided the school’s finances with wisdom and skill as it has navigated the various changes throughout the years including the latest major construction project, the second floor addition.

-A dynamic, exemplary program that is true to your mission, and that is ever-evolving to develop and incorporate the latest best practices to meet the academic, emotional, and physical needs of this community of talented young people.

-The passionate commitment to the Nora mission that is evident in all the people with whom we interacted and observed.

The Major Areas we see as in need of attention:

-Your emerging emphasis on professional development led by faculty and with the support of your Head of School.

-Development of a Curriculum Guide

-Greater visibility for the Mission Statement, as it is written, in every place possible to serve as a reminder of what drives this school, for all who see it.

-Development of a professional performance evaluation process.

-Full-time school counselor.

-Create and support a library/information resource center where students may study and do research.

Furthermore, as I have assured some of you, we will be recommending that Nora be re-accredited. But remember, it is a recommendation only. It will be official only when the Middle States Board approves it.

We hope our report will be helpful to you as you continue on your trajectory of continuous improvement in this exceptional educational adventure.

On behalf of our entire Visiting Team, I want to express our gratitude to all of you and the entire Nora community. You have warmly welcomed us into your lives here. You have taken superb care of us both here and at the Double Tree Hilton. We appreciate the candor with which you have shared your pride in your school, your concerns, and your greatest wishes.

You have a highly effective program here. We heard testimony countless times from students, parents, Board and staff at all levels asserting that Nora truly helps its students to learn, to try new things an d to discover who they are. One student said, “The teachers here are better because they will actually take time to talk to you.” Another said, “Working through tough social interactions allows students learn something from each other.” Yet another said, “Nora recognizes case-specific needs, and that blanket policy is not effective.” And another summarized with, “It’s a really chill environment.”

A parent said, “The teachers know my kid.” Another parent said, “My son just felt so accepted here.” Another said, “The teachers love and care about my daughter.” Yet another said, “Nora is defined by challenge and support for students. Another summarized with, “Deciding to send your student to Nora comes down to the right fit.”

A Board member said, “I’m really passionate about the Nora mission. We use it as a guide for all our decision making, and it’s what fires us up to be a real ‘working board.’” Another said, “Not having current parents on the Board enables us to be objective and stay out of operations. We can concentrate on strategic issues exclusively.” Others concurred.

A teacher said, “This school is about relationships and making connections.” The Head of School said, “Teachers need flexibility, but also high expectations.” Another teacher said, “Nora is a very supportive place for a faculty member.” Another teacher said, “The Lab Period has enabled us to be even more helpful to individual students.” Another said, “The school allows us to get to know the students and what they need.”

Your desire to help others to reach their full potential does not stop with the students in this beautiful building. There is an emerging emphasis on professional development with leadership from the faculty and support from the Head of School.

Another theme that emerged in all our meetings with students, parents, and teachers was the sense of a family-like community at Nora. The care and concern that you, the faculty, staff, and administrators, have for your students is remarkable, and your students are keenly award of your care for them.

Your self-study and your preparations for our visit were outstanding. Your Head of School, Dave, your Assistant Head, Norman, and all the faculty, staff, and students certainly have made us feel welcome. Special kudos to your Internal Coordinating Team, spearheaded by Avé and Norman, who led the Self-Study and orchestrated our visit beautifully, helped by many of you. We have been able to complete our work thoroughly and in a timely way because of the comprehensive and thoughtful effort you made to honestly examine every aspect of your program. As we discovered in writing our report, we found many things to affirm, and we have made recommendations in many areas as well.

In closing, let me say that Nora clearly lives its mission every day. Your new expansion of the building is beautiful, and, more importantly, with it you have appropriate space for your purposes. From the moment we arrived on Monday, we could feel the unusual and special essence of the Nora culture. We have loved being here. We leave today knowing that we have had a full and rich experience of your school. We have learned much from you, much that we can digest and carry back to our own work.

We sincerely thank you for so fully and opening sharing your community with us. It has been a pleasure to be part of Nora during the short time we have been here.

Stay flexible and mindful.

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