By Ann Needle
In a continuing discussion, the Nashoba Regional High School’s space crunch was on the agenda at the Oct. 26 School Committee meeting. On a related note, the SC was weighing possible changes to the district’s policy on class sizes.
SC Rep. Mark Jones of Stow, who served on the Nashoba Space Task Force, outlined the options for the SC and towns to consider in light of the Task Force’ recommendations for needed space. Because any expansion could range from minor additions and temporary classrooms to an entirely new school, Jones noted that the scope (and price) of any feasibility study on exactly what the school needs could vary widely.
A feasibility study could cost from roughly $500,000 to $1.2 million, depending on what level of detail the district wants in the results, Jones said. Though the towns would likely need to vote on funding a larger study, Lancaster Rep. Jennifer Leone questioned if the district would be footing the bill for a smaller one.
Nashoba likely would be looking for some state funding for any project, so a feasibility study would be a must, noted SC Chair Lorraine Romasco of Bolton. She also pointed out that these studies are valid with the MA School Building Authority only for a limited time while a district is being considered for funding.
Supt. Brooke Clenchy concluded that she needs to call some contacts at the MSBA for more information, partly because she is new to the issue. Also, Clenchy noted that, as part of her task of studying each Nashoba school in depth over the next few months, she is currently working on assessing NRHS. So far, Clenchy reported, she has found the building is “not in horrible shape, but I do think our kids deserve something different.”
Clenchy reported that the MSBA does an in-person “sweep” of each state school every 5 years, and will likely have a report on NRHS later this year. The district could then refer to any MSBA observations on building conditions in this report if writing a statement of intent for a project, she said.
As discussions continue on high school space, students and teachers from two of NRHS’s more innovative clubs and classes updated the committee on their activities. One of the considerations in assessing NRHS’s space needs has been how rooms can be updated to fit the changing demands of 21st century classes.
Teacher Jacqueline Carter explained that she teaches a Journalism and two Video classes, drawing students from these three classes for the weekly Chieftain broadcasts (which are posted on Youtube.com). Also, student and Chieftain Press Editor in Chief Sam Mitchell showed off a copy of the Chieftain newspaper. Business Teacher Stavros Andreopoulos, who has mentored the DECA business club for the past few years, spoke of the club’s successes in past local and national competitions, along with plans to expand activities beyond this year.
Striking the Class Size Limit
Policies around class size limits could be loosened, giving Nashoba’s towns more flexibility in setting per-pupil limits in classes. The current policy calls for keeping the number of students in each of Nashoba’s pre-kindergarten through eighth grades at roughly the same size across the district, while the policy recommends keeping each NRHS classroom at an average of no more than 24 students for each section of the class. The new, shortened policy would strike these recommendations, instead advising that administrators report to the SC periodically on class sizes within their schools.
Explaining that both she and Brooke Clenchy were involved in deliberations on the suggested changes, the Policy Subcommittee’s Rep. Nicole Odekirk of Stow explained, “I was concerned with putting administration in a box. To put a certain number on a class is unfair,” with teaching trends and demographics changing quickly. Given the proposed policy would be so short and broad — and that she has not found any similar policy in other high-performing districts — Odekirk remarked, “I don’t know, in all honesty, if we need this policy.”
Romasco questioned whether budget planning could be tougher without solid guidelines on class limits. Also, she cautioned, “Parents are very sensitive to the number of students in classrooms.” Yet, these limits have been part of the district’s focus in past years on keeping services equal between the three towns, an issue Romasco maintained has “constricted us for years.”
The example Clenchy offered on how limiting class sizes could cost the district was a situation where a classroom in a district town is one student over the recommended limit (which is not spelled out in the current policy), and the class must be split in two, probably calling for the hiring another teacher. Then, Nashoba would need to assure that a classroom in a similar situation in another school would receive the same consideration, whether or not they requested it, she said.
The SC agreed to hold another discussion on the proposed changes at its Nov. 9 meeting.
Lack of Programming for Student Questioned
During Citizens Comment at the start of the meeting, Bolton resident Herb Cabral appealed to the SC to look at the district’s denial of services to his 21-year-old autistic son, Joe. Cabral explained he was told that services Nashoba has provided Joe for years will end on his 22nd birthday in April 2017, due to lack of funding from the MA Dept. of Developmental Services.
Cabral reported DDS basically “told us to go home” until funding resumed in the new fiscal year (July 1). And, though the Cabrals told Nashoba they were willing to work out any sort of creative program to keep Joe active, Cabral maintained the only response he received was from the district‘s attorney indicating it was not a wise decision for the district. Romasco said she would consult with Clenchy on the situation.