In defense of Monomoy

I would like to offer a different perspective, and would ask for people to look at the data and make their own judgments
Harwich High School social studies teacher John Dickson disagrees with our Monomoy stories.

To the Editor:

In the last few weeks, Cape Cod Today has published a series of harsh articles (see below) on the Monomoy Regional School District written by Walter Brooks. These give the impression that the district has failed even before it opens its regional schools. I would like to offer a different perspective, and would ask for people to look at the data and make their own judgments.

First a disclaimer - I am a teacher at Harwich High School, and have been upset by much of what I’ve read in these stories. Despite this, I will try to offer a rebuttal based on the facts of our new district as I know them.

First, Mr. Brooks attacks Monomoy’s academic performance based on MCAS scores. Let’s look at the MCAS data. Mr. Brooks has used for his analysis overall MCAS scores. This is misleading because it does not consider demographic differences between districts. Recognizing this, the state years ago created the Student Growth Percentile (SGP) which measures how the group of students tested improved their performance since their last MCAS. While there are limitations in using MCAS data to judge the performance of a school, SGP gives a much better indicator of the success of an academic program than the absolute scores. Here are the 2013 SGP data for nearby districts:

The above data might be surprising to those who read Mr. Brooks’ characterization of Monomoy’s performance.

Second, Mr. Brooks suggests that Monomoy is at a disadvantage when it comes to school choice. Let’s look at the school choice data. Monomoy is actually second on the Cape in its net gain of students, with a +61 school choice figure, and Nauset is first at +238. Comparing these two, the districts are actually close in the number of students received - Nauset at 274 and Monomoy at 255. The difference between the two in in the students sent - with Monomoy at 194 and Nauset at 36. Mr. Brooks is probably correct that students who have left the district will stay at their current schools, but as two new schools open in Monomoy, one might anticipate that fewer students will choose to leave the district, reducing the number of students sent, and enhancing Monomoy’s position as a top school choice destination.

Third, Mr. Brooks predicts that Monomoy will never grow to 700 students. In this area we don’t have hard numbers to fall back on, but let’s look at the Monomoy projections. Next year, we expect to average 107 students in grades 10-12 at the new high school (assuming that students already enrolled at other high schools do not return), and 150 in grades 8-9. We are projected to start next year with 621 students. But as larger grades replace smaller ones, in two or three years we will more than meet the goal of 700 students. Looking down the road, enrollment in grades K-6 is around 155 per class, so we would project to stay above 700. This does assume to an extent that the number of students leaving the district in upcoming grades will decline. This would seem reasonable given the presence of new facilities. In addition, it is possible that the number of students seeking to enroll in the district will increase, which would add to the enrollment. It would seem unlikely that there would be any threatened clawback of funds by the state based on enrollment - the MSBA reviewed and accepted the enrollment projections before approving the project.

Fourth, Mr. Brooks suggests that Monomoy needs to offer exciting programs to attract and retain students. I agree, and I know that is exactly what will happen. Actually, Harwich and Chatham already offer great opportunities to their students and in coming together, these will cross-pollinate. Monomoy will incorporate Chatham programs like We The People, the Animal Welfare Club, and the Senior Internship, as well as Harwich’s Music, Arts, Theater, and Peer Leadership programs, among many more. The school will offer an expanded AP program as well, one already selected for the College Board AP Honor Roll. While Mr. Brooks touts Sturgis’ IB approach, Monomoy, like most schools, has chosen AP as the better fit.

Finally, I take exception to the caustic tone of Mr. Brooks’ articles. As a teacher in the district, I know the dedication and excellence of our staff. I have seen our school receive numerous awards and accolades - recognized as a top school in the state for both ELA and Math MCAS performance just this year, as well as past recognition from US News and Business Week, and Chatham has been recognized as a Gateway District for technology and innovation by the Museum of Science. I can’t understand how someone could write so negatively about a district with this much going for it.

Students on Cape Cod have a lot of great educational opportunities in the various districts, and the schools opening in Monomoy offer exciting new ones. I think most Cape Codders understand this and support their schools. I would hope journalists like Mr. Brooks could keep an open mind and not try to tear down a school before it even opens.

John Dickson
Social Studies Teacher
Harwich High School
Harwich, MA

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