Improving School Culture Through Self-Study
North Haven Middle School - North Haven, CT
When North Haven Middle School began the self-study for NEASC accreditation in 2008, it had recently hired its fourth principal within four years, Principal Philip Piazza. With this recent history of inconsistent leadership, North Haven Middle School teachers had become isolated in their classrooms and lacked a sense of belonging and mission. Piazza reports that parents sometimes avoided the middle school, removing their children from district schools after elementary school and re-enrolling them once they reached high school age. “We needed to change the culture,” Piazza says.
Piazza credits the NEASC Accreditation process and Standards for many changes that he and his staff have successfully implemented over the last eight years. “The Self-Study alone helped move the school in a positive direction and brought us together,” he says. He also cites NEASC’s Standards around core values and beliefs as essential in helping his staff form a guiding principle for their work. “The mission statement we created has been the basis for all our decisions. We say it in our morning announcements, the kids know it, the teachers know it, and it guides what we do every day.”
Piazza, currently in his fifth year as a Commissioner for the Committee on Public Elementary and Middle Schools, says that implementing NEASC Standards has had a significant impact on the culture of his school. Initially, Piazza worked with the district superintendent to map out a five-year plan for North Haven Middle School, and teachers created personal goals that aligned with the school’s goals, a process that has continued annually. “This alone has helped improve the culture at our school because we now have a common goal for all staff,” says Piazza. Teachers are now part of school decision-making and take on leadership responsibilities within the school and district. Piazza reports that the culture has changed dramatically at North Haven Middle School, and as a result, it is now “a place that people want their kids to go to and teachers want to work.” Piazza adds, “I keep reviewing the NEASC culture and leadership indicators to help guide my day-to-day work in this area.”
In addition, the town is now in the process of building a brand new facility for the middle school, as the current school is in disrepair. “The discussions for the new school were a direct result of the NEASC report,” says Piazza. “The selectmen read the report and said, ‘We need to do something now.’”
When asked about the role of NEASC Accreditation, Piazza says, “Just looking through the standards helps you recognize how important accreditation is; if your school isn’t meeting these standards, work has to be done.” He adds that the work accomplished during and as a result of accreditation is not something school leaders can do on their own because more immediate priorities always crop up. Piazza says, “The accreditation process sets down timelines for you, a roadmap to follow, and holds you more accountable than you can ever hold yourself. It is a process and takes time but you come out the other side so much better than you start out.”