The school committee has delayed the plans for a project-based satellite high school due to the many obstacles it has faced, according to new superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman..
The satellite school was proposed to solve Andover High School’s overpopulation problem and promote a more project-based curriculum. However, the school, originally predicted to be introduced next September, will not be implemented as of now.
“There were a number of factors that came together and people said, ‘Let’s put this on hold for now. We still have a strong interest in exploring innovative teaching strategies and collaboration between teachers.'” – Superintendent Berman
The committee that investigated the satellite school proposal is planning to address the school committee in the School Administration Building at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 5.
Berman stated, “There was a good deal of interest in having a satellite program primarily to enable teachers and students to engage in project-based learning, and having the space and the way of organizing space so that you can engage students differently than in an original classroom.”
Miss Drueke, a special education teacher and member of the satellite school committee, explained, “Project-based learning is a particular approach to learning that has many steps to it. The first step involves the students running the class…with a driving question based on student interest and then it develops from there.”
Junior Meghan Comerford stated, “I would be in favor of a satellite school because I would like to learn with more hands-on activities rather than just standard classes that sometimes don’t interest me.”
Berman recently visited an engineering class creating Rube Goldberg machines here at the high school. “They’re completely packed into the classroom,” he noticed. AHS just doesn’t have an adequate amount of space needed to foster the kinds of innovative learning in a project-based curriculum. “We have 1,800 students in a school built for 1,600,” Berman said.
Some research was done over the summer to see where the program could be moved to and how much it would cost. Researchers found that there really isn’t sufficient space in town to move the program to, and the cost was estimated to be up to a million dollars a year on top of the general budget. Berman lightheartedly questioned, “Where do you find a 40 thousand square foot space?”
Not only did the school committee need to find a large piece of property, but they also needed to find a space that met the requirements of a school, such as the certain fire codes and security. “We take it for granted that this building is a school,” said Berman. “Taking an office building and converting it into a school is a major renovation.”
“Obviously the thing that has put it on the back burner for now is the new schedule. It’ll be impossible to implement a satellite school at the same time that we’re trying to implement a new schedule.” – Superintendent Berman
Aside from the logistical problems, another complication was losing the prestigious reputation of AHS as a whole. Berman spent 14 years as the superintendent in Hudson and recognized that “Andover always had a great reputation.” He claimed that even in Hudson, “[Andover High School] was seen as one of the best schools in the state and the community was seen as one of the best communities in the state.” Berman believes that it has been hard for many people to consider splitting the school in two.
Daryl Price, mother of a junior at Andover High, has a different opinion, and stated that she thinks the satellite school would “offer more opportunities” and improve the high school’s reputation. Comerford, agreeing with Price, also thinks that the satellite school “would make AHS more original and a lot of people would benefit from it.”
Berman also expressed his concern that with a separate school, not all students and teachers would have access to the opportunities the school would present.
The ultimate reason that the school has been pushed off, however, is the implementation of the new schedule at the high school. “Obviously the thing that has put it on the back burner for now is the new schedule,” Berman stated. “It’ll be impossible to implement a satellite school at the same time that we’re trying to implement a new schedule.” A combination of both new projects would just be too difficult for teachers.
“There were a number of factors that came together and people said, ‘Let’s put this on hold for now,’” said Berman. “We still have a strong interest in exploring innovative teaching strategies and collaboration between teachers.”
In the future Berman believes there will need to be an expansion of the high school. He suggested, “If we can add space, then we can change how the space is organized and allow for some of the opportunities that a satellite school would have provided.” Although the satellite will not be created as of now, Berman hopes to see a project-based curriculum incorporated into the regular school. “There may be a satellite school within Andover High School,” he said.
Many teachers throughout the high school are already working with the project-based learning technique. “I’ve noticed that the science classes I have taken have been more project oriented with labs and stuff, and I enjoy that because you can learn from the other people in your group,” Comerford said.
After observing a psychology class studying the brain, Berman explained, “You can memorize parts of a brain, which is a more traditional approach. But the teacher here asked the question, ‘What parts of the brain would be the strongest and which would be the weakest in zombies.’” This intriguing and out-of-the-box question better engaged the students and made the information stick.
By Ceara Manship and Hannah Jablonki