Middle school adds options; new vocational classes at high school classes at high school

For the Gazette
Published: 8/16/2016 7:43:32 PM

SOUTH HADLEY – The district will continue to expand advanced course offerings at the Michael E. Smith Middle School this year. High-performing eighth-graders can now take an advanced track Social Studies course.

The school also has advanced classes in math, English and science.

Superintendent Nicholas D. Young said the school recognized that students have different learning needs, including those who need extra help and attention. “We have advanced track programs for students who are ahead of peers,” he said. “We want to make sure we're challenging and meeting their needs, too.”

He estimated that 25 students in grades six through eight will take the advanced courses. The courses are a “precursor” to South Hadley High School’s honors program. The high school also offers Advancement Placement and college prep courses.

“Now we have opportunities for advanced students earlier on to get more exposure to challenging subjects, and to meet their expectations on curriculum,” said Young. He said the advanced courses at the middle school aid in a student’s transition to high school, which can prove tough for students at all academic levels.

The middle school has programs in which students can earn high school credits, similar to the high school students picking up college credits in some courses.

Through grades and test scores, the district identified students at the middle school who might benefit from the advanced-track classes. “It's students who demonstrate that they're above average on state test scores (MCAS) and achievement in the classroom,” he said. “We recognized that no two students are the same.”

He added the district tries to individualize programs for students at all levels. The middle school also offers general track courses and tutoring.

While the middle school remains focused on bolstering academics, Young said the high school will introduce culinary art and a carpentry programs. In addition, the school operates 17 Advancement Placement classes and increased the number of electives, like officiating in the Physical Education program and a “robust” arts program.

The culinary arts and carpentry programs fit into the district's “vocational minded” offerings, said Young, or workforce development. “They're two areas we've been working closely with the state as well as the parents,” he said.

The need has increased over the years for culinary arts graduates and tradespeople, especially for carpentry, electrical and plumbing, areas where the workforce gaps keep expanding.

“They can get these skills and go on to college. They're not the vocational programming of 25 years ago,” he said. “We're educating students for trades but we're also offering skills students can learn to make them better prepared for life.”

Acquiring work skills, he said, not only enhances career prospects for students, but builds a solid a work ethic. “There's something you learn from those hands-on experiences that you can apply to blue collar, white collar jobs,” he said.

Young added that the district is “exploring ties” with Holyoke Community College's Culinary Arts program. The college announced plans in July to move the program to the Cubit Building on Race Street in Holyoke's Canal District.

The college also inked a long-term workforce development agreement with MGM Springfield. The school will train sous chefs and line cooks in its two-year degree and certificate programs.

Young cautioned, though, the high school's culinary program will not officially start until October, when construction on the new center will be completed. “We're heading in a direction where we're strengthening our ties to everybody,” he said.

The district, said Young, speaks regularly with parents about workforce development and students' academic needs.

“People need as much of an individualized education as they can get. They have to have different offerings to meet the needs of students,” he said. “We had a work-based program where we used to have three or four kids in it. Now we have something like 90 students. It runs the whole gamut of possible careers.”

In the past year, the district dedicated the new $28 million Plains Elementary School on Granby Road. The old brick school was torn down in the past year. This will be the first full-academic year at the new school.

Young said the Plains and Mosher elementary schools will focus on literacy development.”We're constantly looking at ways to strengthen our program, our curriculum and professional development. We got some great programs for teachers,” he said.

The Plains School has been fitted with the latest in educational technology, including interactive boards, which enhance the learning experience. “Technology is a big priority for us. There's no shortage of technology in the district, which we'll continue to expand upon,” Young said.

Teachers are receiving help making the best use of the technology. “We're trying to do more professional development to fully understand how to employ our technology,” Young said. “We're trying to get everyone on the same page constantly.”

The district wants a “unified” technology system that works seamlessly with the schools.

Plains and Mosher have literacy coaches on staff who work with teachers on professional development.

At-risk students are enrolled in tutoring programs, particularly children who struggle with reading. “We put a premium on that,” he said.

The district will seek funding to renovate facilities at Mosher. He said the aging school is approaching 50 years old. Young said a facilities study on Mosher is underway. Once completed, the study will be forwarded to the Massachusetts School Building Administration, which oversees school renovations.

“We want to explore what is the next evolution of this building,” he said. “That's the last building in the district that's not by 21st century standards.”





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