Tri-Town Talks High School Space

By Ann Needle
This school year opened with lots of buzz about Nashoba Regional High School’s space needs. Last Wednesday in Lancaster, the Nashoba Tri-Town Committee became the third group in the district over the last two weeks to question just how NRHS should expand to fit its growing population.

Simply put, before deciding how to create more space at the high school, “we need more data,” declared Nashoba Regional School Committee Rep. Lorraine Romasco of Bolton, who also serves on the NRHS Space Task Force.
The STF was launched in the spring, with representatives from Nashoba’s three towns, amidst evidence that the high school was approaching capacity. This space problem became apparent in 2012, when the district attempted to apply for a special state grant for updating and expanding the science labs. Though district towns rejected the potential project—which came on the heels of a +$1 million track and field upgrade—most seemed to agree the outdated labs needed at least a facelift, if not an expansion.

But the science lab topic highlighted the overall growth of the student population, with estimates putting the high school at 85 to 90 percent capacity. At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, STF Member Mark Jones of Stow reported his group has been frustrated by a lack of information to support just what type of expansion—whether added classrooms, or an entire new high school—is needed. (Elsewhere in the district, the Bolton Advisory Committee took up the topic of high school space late last month.)

At the Tri-Town meeting, Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood explained that STF is in the data collection phase, focusing on gathering data that shows a connection between renovated or expanded school space and student performance. He said the data could include anything from tests scores to college admissions. The STF also focused this summer on visiting high schools comparable to NRHS that have expanded in the last few years, he noted.

“We need to figure out what space will get us the educational progress we’re looking for,” Wood said. Referring to talk that the STF has decided to build a new high school, he stressed, “Nothing yet says we need to do ‘X’. All options are still open.”

Lorraine Romasco added that it is crucial that the STF studies just what is needed at the high school to fully support each subject’s curriculum. “There are certain programs the curriculum supports now that we’re not ready to deliver on, such as the science labs,” she said. “Now we’re trying to find out what it is about the science labs that means we can’t support them without making changes.”

Wood said the STF is working on an interim report on space needs, which it will deliver to the Nashoba School Committee this fall. If any plan is agreed upon, the next milestone would likely be filing a statement of interest with the Mass. School Building Authority in January or February, when that agency usually sets up its deadlines for SOIs for the year. (As with the Center School project, if the MSBA approves any high school construction plan, it could fund almost half the cost.)

If state funding came through, “They don’t want us to just tell them we need 12 science classrooms. They want to work with us. They want to hear what we have,” Wood emphasized. He also cautioned that it could take a few years from the time an SOI is filed, to the launch of any construction.

Pumping Up NRHS Ranking
After Wood explained to new Lancaster Town Administrator Ryan McNutt how Nashoba updates its long-range, five-year District Improvement Plan annually, a Bolton official suggested a goal be added to that plan.

Bolton Selectman Stan Wysocki maintained that NRHS comes up short in third-party rankings (such as US New and World Report’s) of comparable, area high schools. Looking at high schools such as Acton-Boxborough and Harvard’s Bromfield, Wysocki asserted, “Their proficiency ratings seem a bit higher than us. And, looking at real estate evaluations, Bolton’s hasn’t bounced back [from the recession] quite as fast as other towns’. There is some correlation” [between real estate value and school rankings].”

Given that he estimated NRHS is at the bottom of the top 25 percent of Massachusetts high schools in these rankings, Wysocki requested that the topic of pushing the high school up the rankings be discussed at the next Tri-Town. He also suggested that shoring up Nashoba’s ranking could be a part of the district’s five-year improvement plan.

“Our goal of improving individual student performance would be a part of that,” Wood responded.

The next Tri-Town is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m., in Bolton’s Houghton Building.