The kids go back to school this year with the richest, most diverse educational opportunities ever offered on the Cape. With some of the state’s best high schools, a K-8 IB program in Provincetown, two good charter schools, strong private schools and an attractive school choice program, our kids have never had it better.
Not everyone agrees that this much choice is a good thing, but where I come from “choice” equals “opportunity”. Families can choose their hometown school, use school choice to get their kids into a better school system, choose a vocational school for specialized training or enter the lottery for one of our charter schools. Families with money can choose from among the area’s excellent private schools.
We’ve been writing for almost five years about school competition here on the Cape. In any competition, there must be winners and losers. Five years in, we offer an overview of the challenges facing the Cape’s major school districts.
Nauset – Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Nauset is the Cape’s leading hometown school district. New superintendent Tom Conrad played a key role in Nauset’s ascendancy. Now it’s his job to see that Nauset keeps its crown as the best high school on Cape and the regional school choice powerhouse. We remain concerned by the school board structure in Nauset, especially the “pack of jackals” action that brought down Superintendent Hoffmann last year.
Dennis-Yarmouth – DY is the dying dolphin that feeds the other predators. No district loses more kids (and revenue) to school choice and charter choice. The parents and school community seem more focused on crucifying their superintendent over a personnel matter. If they expended this much energy on improving their schools, DY wouldn’t be in such a fine mess. DY has no place to go but up, but we fear its best days are behind it.
Monomoy – With recent sticker shock from taxpayers, mediocre test scores and the specter of another charter high school in Harwich, Monomoy it fighting for its life. Led by a team of out-of-towner’s, including a superintendent who threatened to choice his son to Nauset if Monomoy didn’t offer lacrosse, Monomoy has a long road ahead of it. Re-building public trust would be a start and recovering test scores would help seal the deal.
Sandwich – Sandwich is in the first year of a reorganized district, with a grade 8 STEM academy at the high school and the other schools reconfigured in the face of declining enrollment and the high cost of continuing to use the former Henry T. Wing School. And then there’s the $1M swimming pool. Sandwich is a good school district that is showing cracks, making it especially vulnerable to new charter schools that might target the Upper Cape.
Bourne – High school freshmen in Bourne are choosing a vocational education over Bourne High School in record numbers. Bourne offers an excellent school district – one that would make any town proud – but apparently isn’t offering what its “customers” want. A bright light in Bourne is their dual enrollment program with Cape Cod Community College.
Mashpee – This district is a pleasant surprise. On an improvement vector with a virtually all-new administrative team, 2015 MCAS scores will be an important measure in how Superintendent Hyde’s reinvention of the district worked out. Mashpee was bold in the changes it made this year. They did it with talent from this side of the bridge and the passion of a superintendent who devoted his entire career to Mashpee.
Barnstable – Currently under interim leadership, Barnstable has seen some population growth in the lower grade levels but still needs to compete better for students in the upper grades. Barnstable understands the strengths of having a big district and the many programs that enables them to offer. Barnstable earns special praise for their Gateway program for gifted students.
Falmouth – Not that long ago, Falmouth hired a “law and order” superintendent whom we hoped would improve academics. A year later and Dr. Gifford has moved on and the district is under interim leadership. Meanwhile, district-wide 34% of Falmouth’s kids scored Needs Improvement or Warning/Failing on the Math MCAS. 36% scored at those levels for Science, Tech, Engineering. How is this acceptable in the town that’s home to WHOI and MBL?
Sturgis Charter – Sturgis is on top of the world right now but facing a high stakes leadership transition this year. Can Sturgis retain its place as one of the nation’s best high schools when Eric Hieser retires?
Lighthouse Charter – Continues to work hard on mathematics and adjust to demographic shift caused by its move to Harwich. The sobering news is that, if CCLCS ever offers significantly more seats, they may well put Monomoy Middle School out of business.
Tech Schools – This is a golden moment for our regional technical schools. Their programs are so compelling that the town school districts now deny them the opportunity to recruit during the school day. Yes, that sounds ridiculous but it’s an example of how some town districts deal with competition – try to ignore it. Cape Tech in Harwich has some expansion plans under way that will open up more seats to students in member districts.
As the new school year opens, the Cape’s three most vulnerable school districts are Monomoy, Dennis-Yarmouth and Bourne.
Monomoy needs to regain public trust and prove that it has a “product” worth “purchasing”. Word on the street is that most of the “smart kids” have already choiced out to Nauset or “won the golden ticket” to Sturgis. Monomoy is trying to focus on retaining its existing students versus recruiting new “choice-in” students. The question is whether the taxpayers have the patience for Monomoy to evolve or if they’d rather team up with Nauset.
Dennis-Yarmouth may be beyond fixing. Haunted by transients and a “perfect storm” of demographics, the two towns go to war nearly every year over the budget. DY spends much less than the more successful districts down-Cape. Sadly, finance may be this district’s un-doing. And then there’s this kerfuffle over personnel policies. The district is bleeding to death while people are busy trying to lynch the superintendent – and the school board seems not to be standing behind her. Ask yourself – would you send your kid to DY if you had another choice?
It’s About Opportunity
The minute we talk about tech schools, charter schools and school choice, there is always an outcry from the school districts that are losing the school competition game. These districts have become an embarrassment to their respective towns – and a burden on their taxpayers. The “haters” (take your choice of charter haters, school choice, tech school…etc.) beat the drum that all these “choices” are killing their hometown school district.
Charter schools and school choice are not only here to stay, they’re about to grow. Last week Governor Baker introduced his plan to expand charter schools and school choice. The Governor makes no bones about his admiration for charters, saying last week, “charter schools in Massachusetts have delivered a very strong and high-quality product to kids.”
Some will call this educational Darwinism, though “competition” is a more suitable term. Will we see further consolidations of Cape districts? Absolutely. The ones that cannot keep up will be swallowed by the more successful ones.
Will we see more charter schools on Cape? Yes. We predict between two and four new Cape charters in the next five years. The new charters will accelerate the district consolidations.