Bourne School District Struggles To Stem Outflow Of Students
By: Michael J. Rausch
A Super Bowl championship football team.
A state theater festival-winning drama club.
A 2013 graduating class of which nearly 20 percent of the students were National Honor Society members.
It is a list of credentials that should make Bourne High School an enviable and desirable school for the town’s children to attend. Yet, of the 188 recently graduated 8th grade students from Bourne Middle School who are eligible to move up to the high school in September, 101 have decided to attend schools outside of the Bourne school district.
That number has actually dropped over the past week from the 107 that Superintendent Steven M. Lamarche announced during last Wednesday’s school committee meeting, but the superintendent said that the slight decrease is little consolation.
“It’s still the highest we’ve ever had,” he said, adding that his administration has done enough cold calling of families to determine that most of the students who have applied elsewhere are, in fact, going.
Of those 101 students heading outside the district, the vast majority, 71, have applied to and been accepted at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School. Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis had the second largest number of students considering leaving Bourne with 18, and six have been accepted at Pope John Paul II High School in Hyannis. Other schools that middle school students are leaving the Bourne school district for include Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, Tabor Academy in Marion, and Rising Tide Charter Public School in Plymouth. A few others have opted to go to the public high school in different towns, including Falmouth, Mashpee and Sandwich. School Committee Chairman Matthew B. Stuck said that having more than 100 students leaving the school district was “definitely a surprise” to him and that while taking notes during the meeting, he mistakenly wrote down that 107 would be attending the high school, with 81 leaving.
“Either number is huge,” he said, noting that typically there are 50 to 60 students who opt out of the district.
He said that the decline in Bourne’s enrollment is an issue the school committee has known about for a number of years, as charter schools have become more popular and Upper Cape Tech has increased its program offerings. He said that the concern is not over the academics at the high school, because the programs there are very strong. The school district has to find a way to contend with the wider choice that is available to parents and students, he said.
“Because families have so much choice…we should all be looking at our program options,” he said.
Despite the large number of Bourne students choosing Upper Cape Tech over Bourne High, Mr. Lamarche insisted that the high school is not in competition with the technical school.
“If we put ourselves in competition with vocational schools, we’re losing at the start,” he said.
Mr. Lamarche noted that the country’s struggling economy may be responsible, in part, for the particularly high number of students enrolling at Upper Cape Tech.
“They offer a skills-based education, which puts students on a fast track to a job,” he said.
He said that Bourne High School offers a more traditional program in comparison to Upper Cape Tech, but “you can’t question the education graduates get” at Bourne High. He also rejected the idea that the middle school experience could be the reason students are leaving. He said that enrollment at the middle school is actually up, and the school committee recently approved up to 40 slots at BMS for School Choice students.
Jamie L. Gavin of Ridgehill Lane in Sagamore Beach said that she was “ecstatic” when her 8th grade daughter, Danielle, was selected in the Sturgis lottery. Ms. Gavin said that once Danielle was accepted at Sturgis, the family “never ever gave Bourne High a second thought.”
Ms. Gavin pointed to a recent article in US News & World Report that gave Sturgis a significantly higher rating than Bourne when it came to preparing students for life after high school.
“It was a no-brainer to choose the school that received a 93.6 rating score for college readiness over BHS, who received a 26.2 score,” she said.
Ms. Gavin added that she is encouraged by the superintendent and what he has achieved in his short time in Bourne, “but there is still considerable work to be done at the high school.” She said that had her daughter not been picked in the Sturgis lottery, she would have looked at other high schools in the area.
Melissa J. Healy of Lake Drive in Pocasset, a former co-president of the Bourne PTA, said that her daughter, Lily, was “on the fence for a couple of months” before she chose Bourne High over Upper Cape Tech . Ms. Healy said that she was confident that Lily would get a good education at either school, “but in the end, for us it came down to fit and how she felt at both places.”
Kimberly R. Gardner, Ms. Healy’s fellow former co-president of the Bourne PTA, agreed that the right fit is crucial to choosing a school, and that is why her daughter chose Sturgis, where she will be a junior this fall.
“After attending open houses at each school and shadowing at Sturgis, she decided that Sturgis was the best fit for her,” Ms. Gardner said.
Ms. Gardner said that some of the factors that drew her family to Sturgis included the challenging curriculum, small class size and “teachers that think outside of the box.” She also noted that students at Sturgis “celebrate individualism.”
“Most of the students seem to respect everyone as individuals and we see less cliques and more acceptance as a whole,” she said.
Ms. Gardner said that the family discussed the pros and cons of not attending Bourne High and “seeing accomplishments in the local paper, going to the home town games, et cetera.”
“In the end, we respected our daughter’s feelings and brought her to Sturgis, where she has flourished,” she said.
Members of this year’s Bourne High graduating class defended their school and their decision to attend Bourne High.
Renee K. Mulcahy of Shore Road in Pocasset said that she applied to Sturgis during her freshman year but was not selected in the school’s random lottery. A top 10 student who is headed to Northeastern in September, Renee said that she was glad she did not leave Bourne High for Sturgis. Otherwise, she would not have become involved in the school’s drama club, which she called “one of the most noteworthy theater departments on the Cape.”
Matthew C. Schmitt, another top 10 student, who will be a cadet at West Point this fall, said that students need to take some of the responsibility in the quality of their education.
“You can go to a nice prep school and not do anything with it, or you can go to a high school and not do anything with it either. It’s the same universe,” he said.
The superintendent said that it will take the combined efforts of his administration, the school committee and the school district’s faculty to come up with ways to keep the town’s children in the town’s schools.
“It’s not that we’re offering anything wrong. We need to explore and see what else we can offer,” he said. The school committee has already approved Mr. Lamarche’s job description for a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) coordinator for the school district, who will foster early student interest in high tech careers. That position has not been filled yet.
Mr. Lamarche also suggested the possibility of reaching out to businesses in the area to provide internships for seniors and give them a connection with the workforce.
“We have to do everything we can,” he said.
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