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Easthampton High School students celebrate rise in AP enrollments

Easthampton High School sophomore Brian Atwater said he decided to enroll in an advanced placement history class this fall “because of what it might mean for me in my ability to get ahead.”

So far, the class has been “a lot of work,” he said, in an interview last week. “But I’m getting used to it. Our first test was today and that went well.”

Atwater was among more than 100 AP students at the high school invited to a celebration Oct. 10 marking Easthampton’s gains in AP enrollment over the past three years. Since the school joined the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative in 2009, enrollment in AP English, math and science classes has risen from 12 to 114, school leaders reported. The number of students earning scores of passing or better in those three subjects has climbed from 6 to 70.

High School Principal Vito Perrone said the grant-funded initiative has helped expand AP offerings “to everybody, no matter how much money you have or where you live.” He said EHS hopes to add AP classes in statistics, physics and psychology.

“We’re a small school so we can’t offer everything all the time,” Perrone said. “But we really want to give you guys all the options that are available.”

State Sen. Michael R. Knapik, D-Westfield, also spoke at the celebration. He noted that by earning college credits and better preparing for college through AP classes, EHS students “are doing your parents a great service.”

“Bricks and mortar projects are great,” Knapik added. “But what happens inside a school is what really excites those of us in government. The academic achievement you’re showing in programs like this truly makes a difference.”

New attorney sought

School leaders are seeking a replacement for attorney James Connors, who is retiring next month as the department’s labor relations negotiator due to health reasons, according to Superintendent Nancy Follansbee. She said a search committee is reviewing applications, and hopes to hire a new negotiator by Nov. 1.

Follansbee said contract talks with members of the Easthampton Education Association are “basically at a standstill” while the city schools await the outcome of a $1.4 million property tax override measure voters will decide Nov. 6. Funds raised through the override will be used to restore teacher positions that have been cut to balance this year’s schools budget.

The department’s contract with school employees expired in 2011.

Meredith Balise, president of the education association, did not return calls and emails from the Gazette last week seeking comment on the status of talks.

Students reps

This year’s student seat on the School Committee is being shared by Easthampton High School seniors Samantha Brand and Bayleigh Murphy. The pair were elected last spring as co-presidents of the EHS Student Council. They decided to share the duty, “instead of running against each other,” Murphy explained.

Murphy attended her first school board meeting Oct. 9. “I already knew (chairman) Peter Gunn from We the People,” she said. Murphy was one of 10 EHS students who competed in last spring’s national We the People civics championship in Washington, D.C. Gunn was a judge at the statewide competition where the EHS team took first place.

Both students are members of the National Honors Society and the EHS Key Club. Murphy is also involved with the high school’s model United Nations and the school newspaper. Brand is on the yearbook committee, Easthampton’s “As Schools Match Wits” quiz show team and the Regional Student Advisory Council, a statewide group of students elected by their peers to advise Massachusetts education officials on public school issues.

Watch it pour

A video showing a recent concrete pour at the $39.2 million high school building going up on Williston Avenue is available on Youtube. The visual was posted Oct. 5 by Patrick Brough, president of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce.

The project remains under budget and on schedule — perhaps even a little ahead of schedule, project managers say. Two years ago, city voters approved an $18 million debt-exclusion property tax override to pay for the new high school. The state is paying 64 percent of the total project costs, or an estimated $24.1 million. Plans are on track to move students into the new building during spring break of 2013. The city’s 51-year-old high school will be demolished once the new building is complete.

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