By Ann Needle
Now that Nashoba’s Space Task Force has a list of questions it needs answered, it focused work at last Thursday’s meeting on how many students any solution to Nashoba Regional High School’s space woes should serve.
The backdrop to this goal was the Task Force’s March 5 meeting. At that point, the Task Force agreed on an Interim Report to present to the public. The report listed the Task Group’s findings, along with more questions it would like answered. It then will make recommendations regarding how to build more space onto the high school.
Among the conclusions outlined in the report were: about 100 students per class period are not in classrooms or space suitable for study (these students usually are in a study period); there is not enough space for teachers to collaborate with each other or to work one-on-one with students; and the building needs some substantial capital improvements beyond short-term repairs, such as state-recommend upgrades to the Science labs.
The questions the Task Force posed in the report included: how does less than a full day of instruction (such as with students having several study periods), and lack of space for teacher planning, affect students; how much space is needed to alleviate those issues; what are the goals for the high school’s curriculum; and how to estimate the number of future students at the school as reliably as possible. (The complete Interim Report is at www.nrsd.net, click on “NRHS Space Task Force”.)
How Many Students
The Task Force discussed just how to go about getting an accurate picture of how many students will be at NRHS a decade from now. Superintendent Michael Wood presented the annual enrollment projections by the New England School Development Council. This education research and planning organization predicted that district enrollment actually will go down over the next 10 years, while the number of students at NRHS over the decade will “dramatically go down.”
The NESDC estimated the high school’s enrollment will go from 1,063 this school year to about 963 by 2024/25. Some of the reasons the NESDC gave for the downward trend included predictions that school enrollment will drop off across the state over the decade, with any growth centered on urban areas.
However, the Task Force questioned how accurately this could play out. NRHS Director of Guidance Jodi Specht said that the NESDC’s projections from 2013 pinned enrollment for this school year at just over 1,000, though NRHS now has 1,063.
The Task Force’ s Bob Czekanski of Bolton said he was planning to ask for a vote to be taken Thursday on commissioning a formal enrollment study. However, he agreed any vote should wait until after the NESDC presents details on its findings at the March 25 School Committee meeting.
Also, Czekanski noted that, since any borrowing by Nashoba’s towns to pay for a NRHS building project could stretch out 10 to 15 years, any enrollment study also should cover at least that time span.
Wood cautioned that only the first three years of the NESDC’s projections are likely to be close to accurate. He estimated an enrollment study for only the high school over the next 15 to 20 years could cost roughly $10,000 to $15,000.
Reviewing the types of programs and classes NRHS is aiming to add, Bob Czekanski maintained that, even if the number of classes stayed the same, the growing diversity in the types of classes NRHS aims to offer could mean more classrooms — and specialized space — could be needed anyway.
Jodi Specht explained that student requests determine what courses are offered year to year. “Nashoba is built around student requests; it is an incredibly robust curriculum. There are school systems that roll their [curricula] over every year. We build it from scratch.” Naturally, fulfilling these requests gets tougher as space becomes tighter, she added.
According to NRHS Principal Dr. Parry Grahan, the potentially popular classes NRHS hopes to offer next school year include Bioethics and Marine Science, along with an expanded Journalism class.
An alternative education program also is planned for 2015/16, designed for under-performing students not on track to graduate in time “because they don’t click, they don’t come to school,” Graham said. He also mentioned such plans as launching an early childhood education class for future teachers, but finding space in the immediate future is out of the question.
As it is, Graham pointed out that carving out space for some of the recently added, innovative classes was tough enough. With a part-time instructor hired for this year’s new Theater Arts class, he remarked, “Her space is literally in a closet.”