NORTH HAVEN, Maine — The 65-student North Haven Community School located on the island 12 miles off the mainland city of Rockland has accomplished something remarkable.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges informed the island school on May 8 that it had received a renewal of its accreditation.
“North Haven Community School is truly an amazing place,” the accreditation report stated.
Barney Hallowell, who has been with the school for 39 years, including the past 21 years as principal, said he believes that North Haven is both the smallest kindergarten through grade 12 school to be accredited and the only island school.
The New England Association of Schools provides reviews of more than 2,000 public and private schools throughout New England and New York.
The director of the commission staff noted in the May 8 letter that the organization was impressed with many of the programs and services of North Haven.
“Teaching and learning is the focus of everyone in the North Haven Community School. There is a sense of partnership among the members of the faculty, staff, students and parents that cannot be duplicated anywhere,” the association stated in its report to the school.
Hallowell said that the school first sought accreditation back in 1997 during a contentious time over the future of the school and his employment. He said one of the criticisms of the school was that it was not an accredited school.
“We took that as a challenge,” he said.
Accreditation comes up for renewal after 10 years. The accreditation requires that the school do a self-assessment.
“It was a grueling process but was worthwhile,” he said.
Nan Lee, the president of the North Haven Historical Society, is a co-chair of the school’s accreditation committee.
“We were delighted with the results but not surprised,” Lee said.
She said the self-assessment is so extensive and comprehensive that the school was well-prepared for the New England Association of Schools. The study analyzes everything from how homework is assigned and what type of tests are given to whether the school is clean.
Hallowell noted in an interview earlier this year that his philosophy on education is that it is best learned in the community rather than in a row of seats with a teacher in front of the room.
The New England Association had a team of educators visit the North Haven school in October. In its report announcing reaccreditation, the association pointed out how successful that philosophy has been. The association noted that it was impressed by “the rich and extensive opportunities for students to demonstrate authentic learning,” “the commitment to higher order thinking and problem solving integrated into a number of learning activities beyond the classroom and the campus,” and the “prominence of the school in the life of the community.”
Hallowell noted how on a small island the community needs to be creative to meet some of the national standards set by the association. One requirement of the national standards is to have a certified librarian on staff. North Haven meets that standard through a contract with the Rockland Public Library.
The school is able to provide services through its relationship with the North Haven Medical Center.
North Haven has a year-round population of 335 people, but that increases dramatically during July and August with seasonal residents.
The commitment to education by both year-round and seasonal residents was evident when the community built a new school in 2008. The island raised $6.2 million in private donations along with $1.9 million in borrowing by the town.
The report from the association referenced the community support.
“There are many wealthy summer residents who gave generously to the school to build the new building and see NHCS as a shining example of greatness in the island. This is again a remarkable school and should be recognized as such and North Haven Community School is an example of what can be right in education today when everyone cares,” the report concluded.
The report also notes the individual attention to students’ education with a staff of 15.
“There is a sense of partnership among the members of the faculty, staff, students and parents that cannot be duplicated anywhere,” the report stated.