In a blistering public attack, Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston alleged the final report by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in its accreditation review of Belmont High School is based on "egregiuous caricatures, exaggerations(,) and outright falsehoods" and the end product "is overdue, the writing infelicitous."
Read the letter and the final NEASC report on this web page.
In remarks in a letter addressed to the "citizens of Belmont" and the Belmont School Committee and read at Tuesday's School Committee meeting, Dec. 4, Kingston – Belmont's interim superintendent since 2011 – said the district's experience in which he believes the accreditation team used out-of-date data, made false assumptions and issued misleading claims leads him to "personally question the future viability of NEASC and the value of public school districts' investment in membership."
It will take towns with successful public education such as Belmont to make major reforms to the accreditation system, to "put a knife in the back" of the current program which the town pays thousands of dollars to be a member.
For more than 125 years, NEASC has provided accreditation services for more than 2,000 public and private institutions in the six state region from Pre-Kindergarten through universities and colleges, using self-reflection, peer review and best practices as integral components of its assessment process.
The 87 page final report, which arrived to Belmont High School Principal Dan Richards in early November, recognized the High School's teachers, student body and parents for their involvement in the school and the excellent work they produce, it also made 31 recommendations for the High School to meet, with 20 related to the physical plant – which the team described to be "in crisis" –including making the school ADA compliant.
According to Kingston the report, written by a team of educators led by Christine Woodman, the World Languages Department head at Montville (Conn.) High School which visited Belmont High for four days in March, is riddled with "several major and egregious misrepresentations" despite corrections and modifications presented by Richards, showing a neglect in "objective fact-checking."
According to Kingston, the final report:
• Continued to use out-of-date reports produced two-to-three years ago rather than conduct follow-up interviews to update the data.
• Incorrectly said the school district suffered from "ongoing reductions to the school budget" and experienced "budget cuts" when the school department saw general funds increase 45.2 percent in the past decade while total funding rose by nearly 60 percent.
"We may debate in good faith – and do so annually – about whether the budget increases are sufficient to meet increasing needs ... but the statistical fact that the (team) could and should have verified is that every year the absolute amount of dollars for schools has increased ... beyond the rate of inflation," said Kingston.
• Major misrepresentations that town budget constraints prevented the high school from being renovated or having a science wing constructed when it was limits in state funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority that prevented necessary repairs or construction while taxpayers approved capital investments to the building at the annual Town Meeting.
Yet despite Kingston's letter and criticism from other town officials, the school district does not have an avenue to alter the substance of the just-issued NEASC final report, that it is, as noted by the School Committee's Kevin Cunningham "set in stone whether it is accurate or not."
Nor does Belmont's accreditation appear to be threatened by a final report filled with disputed assumptions, said Kingston.
Kingston said the best approach for School Committee members to counter the factual errors is to concentrate on answering NEASC's "report card" for the High School that the association is sending to Richards "any day now" that will have specific determinations for the school to meet.
Kingston's comments echoed complaints from a pair of Warrant Committee members who six days previously, on Nov. 28, voiced very similar concerns with the accreditation team's conclusions and "misfacts" in the overall report.