Thursday, May 26, 2016

Winchester parents, students weigh in on high school options

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
WINCHESTER — Choice: This is what many residents attending a forum Wednesday night said they like about having the town’s teenagers attend Keene High School, even as Winchester contemplates sending its students somewhere else.
Students at Keene High have hundreds of classes to choose from, they can take different tracks depending on what they want to do after high school, there are ample extracurricular activities to get involved in, and the Cheshire Career Center provides students with the opportunity to learn a trade, they said.
Choice is also what they suggested students have for high schools, as the five-member Winchester School Board mulls whether to sever ties with Keene and send students in grades 9 through 12 to Pioneer Valley Regional High School in Northfield, Mass.
“I hear a lot of people taking about options and choice,” parent Sarah M. Lounder said. “Anyone who knows kids, or works with kids, knows you just can’t cookie-cut kids, it just doesn’t work one way or another. I think we need to have choices.”
The Winchester School Board held Wednesday’s public forum to gather comments and questions from the community about the topic of high school options.
Superintendent James M. Lewis said school officials didn’t plan to answer questions that night, but would provide responses later by email and on the school district’s Facebook page.
The forum followed presentations given by officials at the Keene and Pioneer Valley schools.
Pioneer Valley covers the Massachusetts towns of Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick, and became an option for Winchester following a visit to the school and tour of the building by local school officials.
Keene, which covers grades 9 through 12, takes in students from the city and Winchester, as well as Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan, Surry and Westmoreland.
Winchester has been sending its high school students to Keene High School since 2003 after town voters approved a warrant article to do so and close the community’s Thayer High School. The school closed at the end of the school year in 2005.
However, the transition to Keene High has been bumpy, leading residents and town school officials to question in recent years if it’s the best option for Winchester students.
Their concerns have included the rising cost of tuition, frustration with what they say is a lack of information about how Winchester students are doing as a group at the high school, and students losing their sense of community because they’re leaving a small school to attend a larger one about 30 minutes away.
Approximately 165 Winchester students attend Keene High, representing 12.1 percent of the school’s enrollment. The cost to Winchester of sending a regular education student to Keene is $13,270, while it’s $29,282 per special education student.
Winchester’s tuition contract with Keene is good for 20 years, starting in 2003, and is automatically renewed every four years.
The document includes a clause that either Keene or Winchester may terminate the agreement at any time by giving written notice. The notice must specify the last school year for which the contract would be in effect, which has to be at least three full school years following the year the notice is given.
Parent Bridget E. Pearce said her three children have had bad experiences at Keene High School, and her two oldest weren’t prepared, upon graduation, to enter the real world. She said she views Pioneer Valley as a better option for her youngest child and other children who aren’t succeeding at Keene.
But Conor T. Hill, a Winchester resident and Keene High freshman, says he loves the school.
Children need to experience going from a small school to a larger school to prepare them for the world outside the classroom, which is a big place, he said.
“I love Keene High. I have gained another family on top of the family I gained from my first day of preschool to my last day of 8th grade here in Winchester,” Conor said. “I wouldn’t trade my experience in a small-town school for anything, but to move a family that has grown so close to a place where there are other families, is something our kids need to experience.”
Resident Kevan D. Whippie encouraged the school board to make its decision based on education, not money.
“This is an educational decision,” he said. “The town has a long history of making bad ones, and this is a good chance to start making good ones.”
Both Selectmen Chairwoman Roberta A. Fraser and former Winchester school board member Colleen Duquette said the question of whether to switch high schools or send students to multiple high schools should be decided by the town’s voters.
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is time for Winchester to understand that their students should not be coded to the tune of $30,000 per year. We have better places to put our dollars and the board in Keene still believes that our kids are "dumb". Thank you Mr. Donegan.
Since Ms. Duquette has no children in the system I do believe that her comment "of my younger children will graduate from Keene" has no merit. That said we as taxpayers and parents need to get the best education for our children. We do not need to be afraid that they will fail the MCASS tests. Our students have been taught well. They are not second class citizens like Keene would like you to believe.
As a former teacher at Thayer, a sub at Keene High and Pioneer we should offer school choice to our students. Parents should be in charge of their child's education. Personally, I would think that Pioneer would be the best. You get a variety of students without the attitude of "greatness." Our students that go to Keene should not feel that they do not compare or can compete with the Keene students. Please think about the attitude of the Keene board when you vote on you decision.
As an aside please ask the Keene District how many teachers at the high school have a Master's Degree. At Thayer before it closed 80% had one. At Pioneer if you have taught in Ma for five years you have one. It may seem petty but these are teachers that are prepared and want to teach your child. Every bit of extra knowledge is shared. Every time you renew your certificate at a different level extra hours are required. Think about it. Your children are worth more than what you are getting at Keene.