Few Cape area school districts have felt the effects of school competition more than Bourne. Bourne has a school district that would make any small town proud. Good academics, a surprisingly diverse curriculum for a small district, active athletic teams… Bourne has a lot going for it.
Despite all the good we see in the district, large numbers of eighth graders heading for Upper Cape Tech, a declining population and a level-funded budget have created a “perfect storm” for the Bourne Public Schools.
As “budget season” approaches its peak, we asked Bourne’s superintendent, Steven M. Lamarche, to sit for a virtual interview so our readers might receive an update on developments in his district.
As with all Cape Cod Today virtual interviews, we published Mr. Lamarche’s Q&A in the exact order they were submitted to him. His words are published verbatim with no editing, redaction or change in context.
Cape Cod Today: Bourne Public Schools’ budget has been level-funded around $20M, more or less, since Fiscal 2009. How has the affected program offerings in your schools?
Mr. Lamarche: That is accurate; we have seen a -0.38 increase in our operating budget over that time span. Quite simply, we have had to learn how to do more with less. These have been difficult economic times for individuals and communities. We are very proud of our fiscal conservatism, fiscally disciplined approach to the annual budget process, but we have concerns moving forward as fixed costs reveal that we have very little local control over them. Furthermore, this frugality has impacted our schools and programs, even though we have an incredible staff that operates on pride and care for every student in front of them. With that said, we have had to make tough decisions to balance our operating budget each fiscal year.
Cape Cod Today: Last year the loss of 72 high school freshmen to Upper Cape Tech resulted in the loss of three full time and two part time teaching positions. Right now, 83 eighth graders have applied to the tech. If they’re all accepted, what impact will that have on teaching positions in Fiscal 2015?
Mr. Lamarche: This is a great question. If all students are accepted through the Upper Cape Tech application process our overall BHS enrollment will drop to approximately 450 students. It is important to note that the sheer number of students choosing to attend Upper Cape Tech versus Bourne High School is not an apples to apples comparison in a complex budgeting process. As was the case last year, the administrative team would evaluate the impact and establish a course of action. Last year after the FY2014 Budget was approved, we reduced an additional $222,000 in anticipation of the 72 students choosing to attend Upper Cape Tech. More importantly, the residual assessment to the community of Bourne, with all probability, will increase assessment at roughly $750,000 in FY2016 if all 83 students are accepted.
Cape Cod Today: Bourne High School is a school that would make any small town proud. As you lose students to various choice options, what is the potential to bring in new students under school choice?
Mr. Lamarche: Bourne Public Schools offers a great education to all students Pre-K through 12th grade. As a traditional high school we offer traditional programs that prepare students for life and education after their high school experience. Along with the traditional academic offerings in all disciplines, Bourne High School teachers are dynamic and offer an incredible array of electives that would make any traditional high school envious. Our electives are student centered and are in the subsequent school year's schedule based on the course selection process underway right now. We do not have the capacity to run every elective but I want to provide you with a large sampling of offerings; AP Studio Art, Graphics, Film and Digital Photography, Music Keyboarding, Guitar, Creative Mixed Media Art, Chorus, Band, 2-D Design, Print Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, Music Theory, Theater Arts, 3-D Design, Anatomy and Physiology, First Aid and CPR, Healthy Lifestyles, AP Biology, AP Psychology, Wellness, Astronomy, Oceanography, Engineering Technology, Forensic Science, Robotics, Coastal Studies, Economics, AP Statistics, Personal Finance, Meteorology and Global Climate Changes, Advanced Mathematical Decision Making, AP European History, United Nations, Criminal Law, Civil Law, International Studies, AP English Literature and AP English Language and Composition.
Cape Cod Today: What does Bourne offer that sets its schools apart from other area districts? What can be done to make Bourne an attractive school choice destination?
Mr. Lamarche: I am providing a single response to the next two questions. As you can see in the previous response we offer an incredible array of electives that are based on student interests but speak to the dynamic staff we have at Bourne High School. We have an exceptional Theater Arts program. Our Theater Arts department extends through the upper elementary grades and showcases productions at every level. If a Cape student was interested in furthering their education in Theater Arts, Bourne High School will prepare you like no other high school in the area. In addition, we have joined with the Cape Cod Community College to offer high school student the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and an Associate's Degree simultaneously. This is new to the cape and will provide high school age students who are ready for college, entering their junior year of high school, the opportunity to attend to their studies on campus fulltime at Cape Cod Community College and receive their Associate's Degree as a graduating high school senior. Next year we are rolling out a Bourne Community Internship Program for BHS seniors. Seniors will have the opportunity to complete an internship with a local business and receive course credit. We know that this is not new to high school studies, but we seemed to move away from it and now want to invest in complementary field-based experiences for our students before they graduate from high school. Our next exciting endeavor for BHS students is the conversion of our traditional woodshop into a functional R&D Studio. This environment will be open to all disciplines to provide hands-on student experiences. An R&D Teacher/Facilitator complement classroom lessons through a co-teaching model enhancing conceptual mastery through the hands-on experimenting, designing and re-designing process.
Cape Cod Today: Assuming that additional funds became available to your schools, what are your top priorities for improving Bourne’s schools?
Mr. Lamarche: Number one on our priorities list would be additional professional development for our teachers to enhance and support emerging uses of technology and pedagogy in the classroom. We have a committed staff who has navigated the litany of state mandates in a professional manner, but we must dedicate further opportunities for continuous growth in their classrooms during the school day through collaboration with coaches and targeted peer observation/co-teaching opportunities.
Cape Cod Today: In 2012 Bourne equipped all fifth graders with a Nexus 7 tablet. Have you continued that program? How has it worked out so far?
Mr. Lamarche: We made an evaluative, reflective decision to discontinue the program. Being fiscally disciplined, we understood that we would not have the funding to sustain the program and made the hard decisions not to continue the program. In addition, we learned that a majority of our students and households were purchasing their own device in addition to what the Bourne Public Schools offered. Therefore we decided to invest in the infrastructure. To this point three out of our four schools are fully functioning WI-FI environments. We have a fiber backbone for every school facility on the Cape side of the bridge and have been working tirelessly with the Army Corp of Engineers to complete our fiber backbone to the single elementary school on the mainland side of the bridge.
Cape Cod Today: Are you implementing e-textbooks with your tablet deployment? How much money has that saved the district?
Mr. Lamarche: We have just started that process and know that we will save on annual replacement costs.
Cape Cod Today: A great number of Bourne’s eighth graders are choosing a vocational education. Is there anything Bourne High School can do to combat this migration to Upper Cape Tech?
Mr. Lamarche: Bourne High School sees the value in being student centered and has recognized the need for continuous improvement while valuing traditions. Bourne High School is on the verge of something great. We understand that Bourne High School is a choice in a choice market for high school experiences. We know that students choose to go to Bourne High School and we know that students choose not to go to Bourne High School. We support a family's right to choose, but we expect greater future interest in attending Bourne High School as our staff is committed to the community and providing incredible opportunities. Yes, we offer an excellent traditional education and also understand that a point of evolution or continuous improvement is the key to our success. We know that we are only in competition with ourselves and we must reflect on our practices, as well as offerings and opportunities provided for every individual Bourne student.
Cape Cod Today: Has Bourne taken advantage of the recent trend among Cape schools of enrolling foreign students on a tuition-paying basis? If so, how much revenue has this generated for the district?
Mr. Lamarche: As a community we have welcomed foreign exchange students for many years in Bourne. Our local families have hosted students from all around the world. These students do not pay tuition to attend Bourne High School, but they do enrich our students' cultural awareness at the same time our students enrich theirs. We have explored the current trend of tuition paying exchanges, but have taken an observatory, conservative role at this point while supporting the current policies in place in Bourne.
Cape Cod Today: Where do you see the Bourne Public Schools three years from now?
Mr. Lamarche: I see the current continuum of continuous improvement realized in the unique unassuming manner that I have grown accustomed to here in Bourne. Bourne continues to take strategic, methodical, sustainable steps that value current traditions while embracing emerging requirements to educate every student to the best of our abilities.
It is refreshing to see such optimism in a school district facing so many challenges. While many districts would go into “fortress mode” at a time like this, Bourne appears to be leveraging their strengths and implementing attractive new programs that should help retain students as well as attract the all-important school choice students they need to offset their losses to Upper Cape Tech.
Retired Monomoy Superintendent Carolyn Craigin once told Cape Cod Today that “you can have empty desks gathering dust or you can have a $5,000 check on every one of those desks.” Clearly, Superintendent Lamarche is cut from the same cloth. This should bode well to ameliorate some of the recent setbacks his district has suffered.
School competition is becoming a stark reality here on Cape Cod. Not all school districts will survive as they now exist. Already we have seen the closing of Provincetown High School, the closure of multiple elementary schools in both Barnstable and Yarmouth, the “shotgun wedding” of Chatham and Harwich and now a frightening drop in Bourne High School’s enrollment.
Bourne appears to be pushing back and fighting to remain an independent school district as Cape-wide school competition ratchets up a notch or two.
We hope to visit with Mr. Lamarche again next year and see how his ambitious program has progressed.