AUGUSTA — Mt. Blue High School in Farmington hasn’t been accredited for 20 years. Monmouth Academy never was.

Gardiner Area High School is the latest school in central Maine where leaders have decided to forgo the costly, time-consuming evaluation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accrediting agency also known as NEASC.

School officials generally believe there’s value in some sort of external review, and some are seeking alternatives through the Maine Department of Education or organizations such as the Portland-based Great Schools Partnership.

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the costs of NEASC accreditation have been a common complaint among school superintendents for years, and the department is investigating whether it could set up its own process. Progress on the issue stalled last year after the death of the department employee who was leading it, but Connerty-Marin said a pilot program could be ready by 2014-15.

“It has to be a credible process,” Connerty-Marin said. “The question is, could it be done credibly for less money than NEASC?”

NEASC’s Commission on Public Secondary Schools sets voluntary standards for high schools and reviews them in a 10-year cycle to ensure they’re providing a quality education.

Janet Allison, the commission’s executive director, said the research-based, peer-reviewed process provides both internal and external value: Working to meet the standards promotes real improvement in facilities and instruction, having an accredited high school gives a marketing boost to a community, and colleges use accreditation as shorthand to indicate which applicants had a rigorous high school education.

When NEASC put Cony High School on probation in 1998, due mostly to problems with the building, it was a huge concern for the Augusta school board, said former Superintendent Cornelia Brown, who was hired in 1999.

“I think that the community said that these are good standards for any educational program, we think they are applicable to us, and we certainly want to move in a direction that meets those standards,” Brown said.

Most of NEASC’s concerns were addressed by construction of a new school, but Brown said the work of the accreditation committee and other school staff also led to significant improvements in student achievement.

Mt. Blue High School has not been accredited since 1993, when the school board decided to leave NEASC. RSU 9 Superintendent Mike Cormier, who arrived in the district just after that decision was made, said the board’s choice was between accreditation or a teaching position, because they cost about the same.

People in the community periodically raise questions about accreditation, Cormier said, and the district may look at options once a major construction project at the high school is completed.

Cormier said he doesn’t think the lack of accreditation has harmed either the school or its graduates seeking post-secondary education.

“It has not been a detriment, to the best of my knowledge, to any of our students in 20 years,” he said.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said officials in his district are investigating options for an external review of Monmouth Academy.

“To be quite honest, the real factor with NEASC is the cost involved,” he said.

Hammonds said it appears that the school has never been accredited by NEASC, though not for any particular reason. He said he has not heard of it being a problem for any graduates of Monmouth applying to college.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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